In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage (exploited or grasped); rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant (slave), being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. — Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV)
We are not God. Yet, we are exhorted to have the same mindset as God. What is this mindset? It is a mindset that chooses servanthood over equality; it is a mindset that chooses to focus on the good of others sometimes to the penultimate detriment (even death!) of self.
At times we are like the disciples of Jesus who put the cart before the horse and also often seem to manage to forget vital points. In Matthew 18 the disciples come and ask Jesus, “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus calls a nearby child to come over among them and then relays, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Yes, God as Father exalts God as Son because of the Son’s mindset of self-giving Love and the person who takes on the vulnerable orientation of a child is named as among the greatest in heaven, but such gifts secondarily and dependently accrue essentially to those who are no longer driven by the desire for such gifts. The gift of chosen service becomes its own reward.
Word Made Flesh (WMF) professes Submission as one of its Lifestyle Celebrations. It is affirmed that WMF celebrates submission to Jesus, to each other, and, poignantly, to people suffering the scourge of impoverishment. (wordmadeflesh.org/about)
The idea of celebrating submission can be disconcerting due to the concept of submission often being associated with egregiously negative qualities of this world such as debasement, humiliation, disempowerment, and other oppressions. However, Gospel submission is not about this. Gospel submission is ultimately about dignity, affirmation, humility, and empowerment of self and of others.
We now find ourselves quickly and deeply into Gospel counter-cultural, “upside-down Kingdom” (where the last shall be first and the first last, and etc.) orientations. Healthy submission is not something foisted upon another person; rather, it is a principle that is voluntarily chosen in order to gift others. This is why John the Baptist can write about Jesus“…For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3: 29 & 30) Voluntarily chosen submission as part of vocational trajectory can offer deep internal satisfaction of soul as we are so poignantly taught through Psalm 23’s depiction of the Lord as Shepherd/Caregiver who lovingly offers His people restoration, goodness, comfort, a home, and more. As with John the Baptist, voluntarily chosen submission can almost inexplicably provide one with great joy.
Healthy, Gospel submission is not necessarily about moving oneself into a position of social marginalization (though this could transpire), rather it is more about maintaining a posture of interconnected vulnerability and humility in whatever role/position one finds oneself.
For instance, in the Gospel of Luke chapter 7 we find a “foreigner” and “outsider” in a position of leadership who approaches Jesus in a healthily submissive posture requesting a gift of healing from the Lord. The outsider is not just any outsider, but happens to be a centurion — a ranking member of the occupying power’s military guard that is actively oppressing Jesus’ own people. This centurion seemingly already has more than three strikes against him considering who he represents, what he does, and the particular position of power that he holds in the midst of it all. Yet, Jesus hears his request and engages it. There is intriguing variation in how this story is relayed in other texts, but in Luke we find that the Centurion has asked Jewish elders to come to Jesus on his behalf to share his request. The Centurion did not stay distant out of pride, but instead followed this protocol of sending others out of submissive respect for Jesus. He sought to acknowledge the importance of Jesus’ position and person.
The elders were willing to agree to meet Jesus on behalf of the centurion because of the care that the centurion had already consistently shown for their people. The centurion, through care, had transformed from being simply a organizational representative of a distant power to becoming a known person in his own right. In fact, the passage says that the elders say of the centurion, “he loves our people.” The Centurion’s request for healing is not primarily for himself, but is for a cared for slave in his household. Upon hearing the request, Jesus agrees to come to the aid of the man in need. Yet, as Jesus is on the way, this already remarkable passage takes a couple more remarkable twists. We read,
“when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.”
So, we find that Jesus heals the man in need without ever coming to him. Still, most surprisingly, we find that Jesus lauds a military leader of an occupying power at a scandalous level — “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Why does Jesus offer such magnanimous praise? It is the quality of the centurion’s submissive humility that Jesus finds extraordinary.
Beyond seeing the incredible breadth of God’s inclusive Love in this passage, we also can importantly take note that submission is not necessarily antithetical to either leadership or to holding positions in society that have forms of power associated with them. What we can come to understand is that healthy submission is primarily related to the posture that one takes in the midst of whatever one is doing wherever one finds oneself for the sake of others.
As we truly walk the path of submitting ourselves to God, we will find that we will begin to follow in His footsteps. Following God’s example will naturally and healthily lead us toward compassionately submitting ourselves to others around us – particularly, to those in great need.
In this edition of The Cry, you will encounter stories, reflections, and other content that seeks to sift through the concept of submission in order to better lead us into celebrating submission. My prayer is that you will find new ways to allow this spiritual discipline, this Lifestyle Celebration, to saturate your life and to further influence the lives of others.
Let us remember:
God opposes the proud…but shows favor to the humble.”
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:6, 7, & 10)
Let us also, remember, as Bob Dylan reminds us in “You Gotta Serve Somebody” from his Slow Train album:
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
I pray that we will all serve (submit ourselves to) the Lord with gladness…For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endures to all generations. (Psalm 100)
Grace and peace,
Executive Director of Word Made Flesh