Two cars met on a narrow one-way bridge. One man leaned out of his window and yelled, “I never back up for fools!” The other called out, “I always do,” as he reverses his automobile.
Question: which of those two men is the stronger? Obviously, the one who gave in to the other.
The interstate traffic was heavy, fast, and aggressive. This was no place for timid drivers if they wanted to survive. Suddenly, a speeding car cut in front of two others without giving a signal and almost clipped the bumpers of both vehicles. The two drivers were shocked, then frightened, and then enraged. One driver took out after the offender, the adrenalin of his anger fueling his determination not to let the culprit get by with such behavior. The second driver calmed himself down and reminded himself that his goal was to arrive safely at his destination, and most definitely not to get revenge, not to teach other drivers a lesson, and not to let his anger get him into trouble.
Now, which of those two drivers is the stronger man? Clearly, the one in control of his spirit.
How does that line go from Proverbs? “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” (16:32) The point is made in the opposite way in Proverbs 25:28, “Like a city that is broken into and without walls, is a man who has no control over his spirit.”
The little church had decided that the two leading women of the congregation would get together and select the new carpet for the auditorium. Eloise wanted a neutral color. She said, “We’re still not sure what color they’re going to paint the walls and we don’t want to clash with that. And, this color will go well with the choir robes.” Evelyn, however, had her heart set on a bright red. “We had red in our last church and it brightened up the place so much. I’m not going to budge on this. It has to be red.”
Church fights and congregational splits have been built on differences as slight as this. But Eloise was determined not to let that happen. She said, “Let’s do it your way, then. I’m sure red will be fine. It’s not as if this were the most important matter in the world.”
Good for Eloise.
Gibbie McMillan, Baptist Men’s and Disaster Relief Director for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, tells of something that happened in his pastorate some years back. “We had had a great worship service, and 12 people had made decisions for the Lord. I was sky high. As I was standing at the door, shaking hands with the people as they left, a woman came up to me with her eyes blazing. She said, ‘I’m not going to stand for it! If it happens again, I will not be back at this church!'”
Gibbie continued, “I wondered what in the world could have upset her so much. As she ranted and raved, I just stood there placidly. Finally, I turned and looked all around me. She said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Trying to figure out what you’re talking about.’ She said, ‘What I’m talking about is that tie you’re wearing!'”
Gibbie said, “I reached up and pulled the tie off and handed it to her. I said, ‘If this tie ever comes to church again, you’ll be wearing it!'”
There’s another famous line–this one definitely not found in the Proverbs–that goes, “A dog can whip a skunk, but it’s not worth it.” Some fights are not worth waging. It takes a strong person to refuse to fight when simply ceding the other person’s point and walking off ends the matter.
“Submit yourselves to one another in the fear of Christ,” God’s people are commanded in Ephesians 5:21. I suggest that this is the most neglected command in the Bible.
Submission is a big subject in Scripture. Not a very popular one, to be sure, but found all through the Word. Sarah submitted to Abraham and even called him ‘lord,’ we’re told in I Peter 3:6. Believers are to submit to the government, according to Romans 13:1. Children to their parents (Colossians 3:20) and wives to husbands (Ephesians 5:22). And God’s people to each other.
To submit means to give in to the other. “Even if I disagree, let’s do it your way.” “Well, both suggestions are good. Let’s go with your idea.” “The most important thing is that we get this thing built. Let’s use your plan.”
Citizens submit to the government every time they pay their income taxes. Children give in to their parents many times a day by their actions. Husbands and wives illustrate the power of submission when they discuss a matter, then come together on a decision, frequently by one willingly giving in to the other. Scripture calls on wives to give in, but any husband worthy of the name will often be the one who accepts what his wife wants to do.
We can give in to another when the issue is of no earth-shaking importance, when nothing essential is on the line, and when it’s just a matter of differences of opinion.
The church custodian said to me, “The administrator has asked me to build a wall in such-and-such a room on the second floor.” I said, “So?” He said, “It’s the wrong place. It needs to be down the hall in the next room.”
I said, “Did you tell him that?” He said, “Yes, but he said to put the wall where he told me.” I said, “Well, that settles it, doesn’t it?” He answered, “But it’s the wrong place. I’ll have to come back later and move it.” I said, “All right, if that happens, then he’ll see you were right and you will grow in his sight. However, if I overrule him now, he loses face before you and every relationship is injured–yours with him and he with me.”
Two weeks later, the custodian slipped into my office and said, “He told me I was right and that I’ll have to move the wall and put it where I said in the first place.”
From the standpoint of the pastor, the relationship of these men with each other was more vital than the expenditure of a few dollars and a couple of hours spent moving a partition. Harmony within the congregation is infinitely more important than that the carpet on the floor is compatible with the color of the walls or the choir’s robes.
“With humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) That’s hard to do, we answer. Two verses later, Paul calls on us to do something infinitely more difficult: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus….” And what did that get him? A trip to earth where he became a lowly human, a journey to the cross where he died as a criminal, and then the exaltation of the Father by which his name is exalted above all other names.
Humility, submission, servanthood, acceptance of God’s will–characteristics which our macho culture dismisses as weakness, but which are the epitome of strength. Only the truly strong can walk away from a fight when he could win it. Only the truly strong can humble himself to get down and wash the feet of others, as Jesus did the disciples. Only the infinitely strong can take the sins of mankind on himself and remain on a cross to provide for our salvation.
The toughest job you will ever do is to submit yourself to another.
Preaching to a congregation near a military base, I asked, “How many of you are active in the military?” A lot of hands went up. “How many of you are former military?” Another large group. I said, “So, when you salute an officer, do you this because he’s a lot smarter than you?” Heads were turning. Not at all.
“Is it because the officer is bigger and stronger than you? Better looking? Richer? A better person?”
No, they all agreed. One does not salute for any of these reasons.
“You salute an officer because that’s the system. It’s the order of things in the military.”
Suppose you were allowed to choose whom you would salute, I suggested to the congregation. Suppose each person could decide for himself whether to obey this officer or not, to report for duty or stay in bed today. The effect would be to undermine all training, and when the battle came and the forces took the field, our people would be unprepared.
Whether in the military or in life, we submit for the higher good, for the success of the greater cause. In the military, that cause is preparedness. In civilian life where we submit to laws, the greater cause is the well-being of the nation. In the family, children submit for their own safety and well-being. Husbands and wives submit for harmony in the family.
In the church, God’s people learn to submit to each other for the health and unity of the church and the advancement of the Lord’s work.
Hebrews 13:17 amounts to a restating of the command to “submit yourselves to one another in the fear of the Lord.” “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for that would not be profitable for you.”
I call Hebrews 13:17 the scariest verse in the Bible. The pastors are informed that they will be giving an account before God for the members of their congregations. Tell me if that’s not a frightening thought. So many of the pastors don’t even know their members! How can they account for people they’ve never even met?
The members, on the other hand, are commanded to obey their leaders. Parse it any way you please, it still comes out to members giving in to their leadership for the greater good. In this case, the unknown writer of Hebrews warns that if the pastors come to grief while accounting for you, it will not go good for you. Scary thought.
Jesus submitted Himself to the Father’s will by going to the cross (Philippians 2:8), and in order to do that, submitted Himself to the arresting soldiers and the various religious and civil authorities.
I can hear someone saying, “I’m the pastor. I am called by God to lead. Why should I submit?”
Sometimes you don’t submit. Sometimes you clear off the ground and take your stand and live or die there. At other times, you give in to others for the greater good.
The Holy Spirit will lead you to know when to do one or the other. The point here is not to be afraid to give in to others, and to teach your congregation the value of doing so. As with anything else, you’ll need to show them how by setting the example.
The last church I pastored, the First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana, had its two blocks dissected by Compromise Street. I used to say to the people, “If that’s not a call from God for us to be willing to give in to one another and work in sweet harmony, I don’t know what it is.”