In a sermon entitled "Be Subject to One Another," Christian author and speaker Francis Chan expounded on what it means to be a humble servant of others. In a culture where it is commonplace to exalt one's own opinion, to disrespect those in authority over us, and to lead others with a heavy hand, Chan reminds us that the Lord has positioned certain people in our lives in order to help us develop Christ-like character.
In 1 Corinthians 16:15-16, Christians are called to be subject to one another; Francis Chan would argue, however, that the church is often indistinguishable from the world when it comes to submitting to authority. The former pastor fears that such an inclination toward self-rule can carry over into our relationship with the Lord as well.
"This is the world we live in, [one] that hates authority, and that's why you have people that question God for His laws, saying, 'He has no right [to govern me].' Just like 'The President has no right,' just like 'That teacher has no right,' just like you as parents 'have no right,'" he says.
In Romans 13:1-7, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that God ordains all of those who are in positions of authority. God's word instructs us to follow our nation's laws - even when we don't agree with them - to the extent that they do not conflict with His commands. "There comes a time where laws may be set up in the land that directly oppose Scripture," Chan says, and in such cases we must obey God rather than man (see Acts 5:27-32). "[But] up to that point, you submit to those authorities because God put them there. He put them there for a reason," he says.
The Lord desires for us to be subject to one another, yet our culture loathes the idea of submission. "Jesus was submissive to everything - He [said], 'I don't do anything unless the Father tells me to do it, I don't say anything unless the Father tells me to say it, [and] I'm in total submission,' - but we hate that word." Unfortunately, the church's view of submission to authority often parallels the world's.
It should not be so in the church, Chan implores - "We don't look at authority that way ... We actually pray for the authorities. We speak well of them, we respect them. It's different in the kingdom," he says. In his experience, the church has almost just as bad of a track record as the world does when it comes to complaining about leadership. The former pastor has seen a lot of churches fall apart because people did not want to submit to authority, exalting their own opinions above their leaders' direction. Conversely, he has seen those in leadership abuse their authority over others. "Where is the humility?" Chan asks - "Where's Jesus in this? Everyone's fighting to be right."
Jesus had all authority, yet He chose to be a servant to all. John 13:3-5 says:
"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him" (English Standard Version).
Chan sees this as a beautiful a picture of humility and of service for those who are in leadership positions. "What kind of King does this?" he asks - "This is our example. This is how life is in the kingdom. If you've been given power ... [Jesus] says, 'Let me show you what you do with it.'"
Again, in Luke 22:24-27, Christ says that His followers should not lord their authority over others. Think of the impression that it would make, for instance, if the CEO of a large corporation served his employees in humility. Surely some would inquire about the motivation behind his acts of kindness, and his incredibly counter-cultural desire to serve those around him would magnify Christ.
"[Jesus] knew Who He was, but gets on His knees and starts washing feet," Chan says incredulously - "What does that tell you? That things are upside down in [His] kingdom. That the great ones are actually servants."
Chan remembers when his name first started getting big as a pastor in southern California and he began to feel convicted that he had lost his servant-mindset when reading passages like these. "People start treating you with respect and then pretty soon you start expecting it. People start taking tasks away from you, and then you enjoy that or you get used to it, and people treat you with honor and you accept it," he says with regret.
"Our King set a different example," Chan proclaims - "Jesus says, 'Don't you know how it's going to end up at the end? It's the one who serves that's going to be [at] the top.' If you believe in eternity, you fight to serve."
The former pastor emphasizes that a Spirit-filled life results in submission to others (see Ephesians 5:18-21). "The sign of a Spirit-filled person is that they understand submission - submitting to one another out of a reverence for Christ," he says. A beautiful example of this is the way that wives are called to submit to their husbands and the way that husbands are called to love and to serve their wives, like Christ laid His life down for His bride (see Ephesians 5:22-33). A wife's submission to her husband may be frowned upon in our culture, but it is highly esteemed in the kingdom.
"Christ knew how to follow the Father, and He knew how to be Lord to the disciples ... Jesus was the perfect follower, and the perfect leader," says Chan. He exhorts Christians not to try to change their current position with hopes of getting to the top in life. "Don't worry about it. God put you in a position right now, and just submit wherever you are. So if you're a child right now, don't try to be the parent ... God put you in that position. It's for your own benefit. They're not always going to be right, but that doesn't change your position. And then, as parents, even though you're the leader, you don't go exasperating your kids," he says (see Ephesians 6:1-4).
Hebrews 13:17 reveals that those in authority will have to give an account to God for their leadership. "People want to aspire for leadership ... Teachers are going to be judged more strictly. You seriously want to stand before God and be judged more strictly?" Chan asks.
We ought to pray for our leaders, Chan says, rather than constantly question their actions behind their backs. "We've got to believe less in our opinions and more in our prayers," he says. Conversely, Chan exhorts those in leadership positions to strive to serve one another more and to "depend less on their ideas and more on their prayers."
Jesus is the perfect picture of humility, yet He chose to serve. "There should be this fight for the bottom. It's like a race to the bottom. That's how the kingdom works," Chan says.