Why is submitting so difficult? There are two basic reasons: education and attitudes. The one occurs because we all want to be free. Everyone wants to have more liberty than he has right now. Liberty is a major theme in the Bible, but we have a problem: We have been mis-educated.
Because of this mis-education, each of us puts a different spin on what it means to be free. Being free does not mean the same thing to every person because the same things are not equally important to everybody. Some people have placed their spin on freedom, because of their circumstances, as a need for more food. Other people want to be free to exercise their sexual passions with a great deal more liberty. Everybody puts a little bit different twist on what he or she would like to be free to do. Why? Peter writes,
. . . knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct [conduct going nowhere] received by tradition from your fathers. . . . (I Peter 1:18)
Tradition is that cultural way, method, or outlook that is imposed on us from birth. The influences of our culture are layered on us like an onion. What layers of culture and therefore, traditions, heaped on us?
The initial layer is impressed on us by the home, the family—or the lack thereof. It begins to set our minds about what is important in life. Then there is a slightly larger segment—the neighborhood. At first, the neighborhood does not have a great deal of influence, but once we begin to expand our lives outside of the home, mother's and dad's influence slowly begin to wane. Our peers in our neighborhood begin to impress upon us a little bit broader cultural layer because we have escaped, as it were, from the home and have now gone out into the neighborhood. We keep layering it out: The city has an impact on us, the state, the region, and then the nation.
Peter said that we have been redeemed from tradition. In the United States, this thing about tradition has become crazy. One of the buzzwords of our time is multiculturalism. We have people in the United States who want to make sure that English is not the official language of the nation because they want to hang on to another culture. It used to be that, when people immigrated to our nation, they strove to conform to the American culture and tradition. They wanted to become full-fledged Americans. So what did they have to do in order to do that? They had to submit to the customs and traditions of their new homeland.
But today there is a powerful drive to get people to do just the opposite, to hold on to the customs and traditions of their former homelands. This process is helping to tear the nation apart! We are slowly being driven toward an absolute confusion of ideas because these cultures cannot agree. We have an environment ready-made for conflict—unless someone submits.
The world is the way it is because Adam and Eve took of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which indicates knowledge from many sources. This was sort of a preview of multiculturalism—knowledge from many sources without the spiritual guidance of God. We have to get God into the picture.
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (II Thessalonians 2:15)
God has His traditions too! On the one hand, we have the traditions that God is teaching us through His Word, through His ministers. He has traditions to which He wants His Family to conform. But we have brought traditions with us out of the world. It sets the stage for conflict! The traditions of God and the traditions that we have from the world will not mesh! When we add to this our desire to be free, it makes an interesting mess!
But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. (II Thessalonians 3:6)
The major difference is that His traditions are right and true, and they work! However, because conversion is a process, and because we do not instantly and magically know all of God's traditions, we all bring our former traditions into the church with us. Thus, the church is set up for conflict, which is a major reason why Paul wrote the book of Ephesians. It shows that for there to be unity, both Israelite and Gentile have to submit to Christ because both of their cultures and traditions are wrong!
Again, we have been mis-educated by the traditions of family, society, region, state, and nation. We carry those characteristics with us. Not every one of them is wrong, but they do set us up for conflict with God and with each other. Only the traditions of God are completely right and true and will produce the right things. When there is conflict between the traditions that we have brought in to the church and God's traditions, we have to submit to God because we are not free to do as we please. If we do as we please because we put our own particular spin on what we think liberty is, it will bring us into conflict with God—and that is not nice! It is detrimental to one's spiritual health and one's relationship with God!
The second reason we have trouble is because our attitudes are perverted.
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh [notice drives human beings: This wicked spirit is motivating the lusts of our flesh], fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
There is a spirit characterized by desire—lust—to have it our way. Mis-education combined with negative attitudes equals conflict. Human nature is a package of attitudes dominated by the desire to gratify the self. That is why there is so much conflict (see James 4:1-3).
Our desires—whether it is husband and wife in marriage, or in business, or in politics among nations—keep crashing into one another. Conflict will never end until everyone is keeping the traditions of God. That is why we are in the process of conversion. It is our responsibility to convert over to God's traditions so that we stop crashing into one another. We have to overcome this mis-education and this attitude to gratify the self.
Satan is ultimately the source of both of these. We have to recognize that we are still influenced and that we pick up on his broadcasts. It makes submitting so difficult. The adversary is still working and bringing about conflict. Anywhere Satan goes, conflict erupts. He is a master at producing it.
Liberty without guidelines (like laws, principles, doctrines, policies, or even the example of another person) to which one submits (meaning we as individuals submit through self-control or self-governing) will turn into chaos because of the desire for the power to control. The desire to control is what we would call freedom—liberty. That is why there are so many horrible divorces and re-marriages. Submission, whether accepted willingly or grudgingly, is a necessity. It is better to accept it and do it grudgingly than not to do it at all.
We have to understand, then, that there is authority. It may be God, another human being, a law, a precedent, etc., but there will be an authority. It is an unavoidable fact of life. We face it all the time. Everybody lives under authority, and everybody must submit, even if it is only to the laws of nature—there is hardly a person who will not submit to the law of gravity while standing on the edge of a thousand-foot drop. It is that simple. Thus, because we step away from the cliff and not over it, we have submitted to a law. Why? Because we want to preserve our liberty, our desire to live. We know if we break that law—if we do not submit to it—it will break us to bits at the bottom of the cliff.
Notice that this subject has a broad application. Submission does not involve only relationships with God or relationships with other people. Submission occurs in almost every area of life, even in submitting to things we would call common sense or the laws of nature. Anybody who has the mind of God will be looking for every opportunity to submit because that is, paradoxically, where true freedom lies.
Recall John 8:32, where Jesus says, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Is not His implication that one shall be free only if he submits to the truth? Knowing the truth is not enough; liberty comes to those who submit to the truth. If one is standing on the edge of a thousand-foot drop, common sense and the truth of God say that one should obey the law of gravity—unless one desires to give up his freedom to live. True liberty consists of submitting to truth. It is the liberty God wants us to have.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Submitting (Part 1)
This commandment flew in the face of the Greek culture because, like ours, it glorified self-assertion and aggressiveness. The Greeks worshipped bodily perfection and "wisdom," as they called it, flaunting it before others as a basis on which a relationship would be conducted. Feeling better than, or being seen as better than, others was very important to people in the Greek world.
God commands us to be clothed with humility. Humility is pride's opposite, its antonym. We learn a great deal about humility when we just do the opposite of what the Bible teaches us about pride. Part of the key to understanding humility is in this short phrase "just do"—just do the opposite of pride. True humility is a choice. It is not something that comes naturally. We have to choose to do it.
Peter says that we must "be clothed with humility." We must put on humility just as we put on our clothes. Doing either of these activities is a choice. In this phrase, the apostle is reminiscing about Jesus at His last Passover, when He clothed Himself with an apron and knelt down before His disciples, including Peter, washing their feet as an example of His mind, His attitude, toward them (John 13:1-17). He girded himself and performed this lowly act. He had to put on, choose to practice, humility to do that.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part 7)
Humility has its basis in an honest and realistic comparison of us with God. To compare ourselves with other people always allows us a great deal of wiggle room because we can always find flaws in other people's character. But these rationalizations are not really honest because our goal is not to be in the image of other people or them to be in our image. Our goal is to be in the image of God, and therefore the comparison must be with Him.
When we do that—and we do it honestly—we always come out on the short end of the stick. We are woefully poor (poor of spirit) of any value, any quality or characteristic one might even begin to imagine. We fall so far short of His holiness that it knocks the props right out from under any idea we might have to take pride in what we are.
If we are striving to be like Him, to walk in His steps, to be in His image, this comparison gives us a much more realistic foundation to work from in relating both to Him and to fellow man. It is a wonderful attitude adjuster and regulator of relationships.
Humility tends to be the flipside of faith, because where the confident—the faithful, the trusting—will push themselves forward, the humble has a tendency to hesitate. It is a matter of restraint.
In the humble, there is a consciousness of emptiness, of potential weakness, of helplessness, of worthlessness. However, we should never get the idea that the humble are weak. Paradoxically, they are among the strongest of all people on earth! It all depends on one's perspective. In God's perspective, these people are strong, while from a human perspective, it depends on whom they want to impress.
Humility is so important that God gave Paul some help to make sure that he would stay humble (II Corinthians 12:6-10). Yet, if we would evaluate that, from the time of Jesus on, no one was more spiritually powerful than Paul. It all depends on one's perspective. Who is the humble person being compared with? In comparison with other men, Paul did not appear very strong, but when God looked at him, He liked what He saw—a powerful, effective servant of God.
This is so important because humility's dominant thrust is its willingness to submit to God and to what is right and true. Some, of course, would submit willingly to death if it would glorify God. Our level of humility, therefore, pretty much sets the tone of our relationship with Him and with others. In both cases, that is, with God and man, the humble esteem the other better than themselves. This quality will guard the unity of the spirit (Ephesians 4:3).
Humility or lowliness goes hand-in-glove with meekness. Meekness is a rather complex subject requiring many items to describe it accurately. However, it contains an evident element of restraint. The meek are kind, gentle, and sensitive to others needs. They are thoughtful, agreeable people. They are not aggressive, assertive, insistent, or argumentative. They are easily approached and easy to get along with. Again, we should not be mistaken: The meek are not weak. Certainly, we would not classify Jesus and Moses as being weak, but meek they were. They were firm and uncompromising regarding following truth, but they did not feel constrained to overwhelm those who were aligned against them.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Unity (Part 8): Ephesians 4 (E)
The most important thing that we can take from these verses is the understanding and the knowledge, the belief and the conviction, that humility is a choice. Peter says, "Humble yourself!" We can choose to go the right way, and when we do, we have humbled ourselves. Humility is not a feeling but a state of mind wherein a person sets his course to submit to God—regardless of his feelings. This is a terribly hard thing to do.
Along these lines, fasting makes us think about where our life-sustaining provisions come from. They are not inherent but have to come from outside of us—even the physical food, water, or air. We do not have self-sustaining life. Spiritual provision is from exactly the same source. The necessities that sustain spiritual life and produce the kind of strength that we want to have—the sense of well-being that we desire, along with a clear conscience—all of these vital "nutrients" come from God. They are directly tied to our submission to Him because "God resists the proud, but gives grace [favor, gifts] to the humble."
If we are waiting for a "feeling" to come along before we submit to God, we will be waiting a long time. It may come; it may not. However, we may use feeling in the sense of a decision that is reached. When we say that we "felt" we had to go in a certain direction, we may not be speaking of an emotion at all. In that case, our "feeling" is correct and would be a right understanding of I Peter 5:5-6.
Nevertheless, our part in settling the disagreement with God is to be humble before Him. The separation will not be bridged until we do what Adam and Eve did not: humbly submit!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Division, Satan, Humility
"On this one will I look" in Isaiah 66:2 means "I will pay attention to this person." It is another way of saying He will draw closer to such a man or woman. James 4:6-8, 10 reinforces the importance of humility in our relationship with God. Why is humility so important? It plays a major role in producing obedience and thus a good relationship with God. Put another way, humility manifests itself in obedience. It is the attitude of ready submission to God's will, as well as an expression of dependence upon Him. This quality of character is essential to growth, witnessing for God, glorifying God, receiving honor from God and salvation itself. The Bible reveals an order to these things: humility, submission, obedience, and honor (I Peter 5:5-6).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Nine
Those with humility submit. Their dealings with other people are very restrained.
It is interesting that Peter says "be clothed with humility," which in Greek literally means "put on the apron of humility." An apron is a symbol of service. He is likely thinking back to the last Passover with Jesus, where He "took a towel and girded Himself." Then what did He do? He served. This leads to what humility produces next: The humble choose to serve. They do not fight—they serve. They do not judge—they serve.
The Bible shows quite a number of men who did not look humble on the outside but were in reality—in the eyes of God—humble! Moses and David were both warriors and powerful political figures. In what way were they humble? Regardless of what they were—judge, king, prophet—they submitted to God. Regardless of what it cost them, they submitted to God, and sometimes they had to give orders or do things that we would consider to be quite difficult to do, like going to war or executing transgressors.
For a person to be humble in the biblical sense, he must know what is true and right, have a good grasp of reality, and submit to it. Ephesians 5:21 and Philippians 2:3 both show in broad principle what humility tends to do to a person. They are restrained, but at the same time they are constrained to serve and to submit. Conversely, those who destroy unity are those who exalt themselves against God, men, doctrines, and right traditions (II Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Unity (Part 7): Ephesians 4 (D)
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders - Peter adresses presumption by starting with the young people. Just as young people are supposed to submit to their elders, so are we to submit in whatever positions we are in.
Yes, all of you be submissive to one another - Peter broadens the instructions. It is not just whether you are younger than another person, or that you are in a lesser position than another person is. It says all of you be submissive to all of you. One another—whatever your rank, whatever your position. Whether you are a toenail on the body or the left elbow. All of you submit to the other.
And be clothed with humility - Not only are we to submit, but we are to do it in humility. And have it clothed—fully draped over us—because that is the attitude that will keep presumption at bay.
"God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble" - This is where the favor will come—to those who are humble. "God resists the proud"—that is an understatement! God backhands the proud. God will not give even the time of day to the proud. That is how much He "resists" the proud.
This passage gives the antidote to presumptuous sin: 1) submitting, 2) being humble, and 3) waiting for God to exalt—not taking it upon ourselves to do it ourselves.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Notice all the words that suggest leading and/or following: elder(s), shepherd, flock, serving, overseers, lords, entrusted, and examples. This clearly establishes that God's church is a body in which He has placed leaders to oversee and care for His people. Further, the leadership is to provide examples for them to follow.
The Bible nowhere anticipates independent Christians in its instructions, but it always assumes the body has ministers given by Christ to provide teaching and guidance. Too frequently, people separate from one group then regroup around a person whom Christ has not appointed to teach His Word. It is not that this person cannot teach at all but that Christ has not given him the gifts to teach His people in His behalf. He was not placed in the body for that purpose. Steady spiritual degeneration within that group occurs.
John W. Ritenbaugh
'I'll Never Follow Another Man!'
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 1 Peter 5:5:
1 Peter 5:5-6