Friday, October 19, 2012

1st Clement 38 - Submit to one another

The key to living in Christian community is to learn to submit to one another. Paul told us to "be subject to one another in the fear of Christ." (Ephesians 5:21) I must confess that I troubled over this scripture wondering how I could "submit to one another" when each "one another" had so many differing interests and demands on my life? How could I submit to "one another" if the "one anothers" could not agree on what they wanted me to submit to? One may want me to be silent and one to speak up; what was I suppose to do? Fortunately, Clement clarifies what Paul meant and simplifies his command.
"Let our whole body, then, be preserved in, Christ Jesus; and let every one be subject to his neighbour, according to the special gift bestowed upon him." (1 Clement 38)
We are not to be subject to every whim and impulse of our neighbor, but we are to be subject to them according to the gifts they have received from God. This is not a blind subjugation but it is a subjugation based on gifting and function.

When we think of the church we typically think of it in hierarchical terms: Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, etc, or in the Protestant church; Senior leader, Associate leader, Lay leader, etc. But Jesus thinks of His church as a body. The eye submits to the foot, not because it has a hierarchical relationship with the foot, but rather because there are things that the foot does better than the eye and for which the eye was never meant to do. You were never meant to walk on your eye nor see with your foot. Therefore, the eye submits to wherever the foot wants to take it and the foot submits to the eye to know where the path is and to be alerted to dangers around it. This submission is based on purpose and function; the eye's and the foot's purpose and function being different and uniquely assigned to them by God.

The same should be true of us in the church today. We should submit to one another functionally, based on the gifts each has received from God. Pastors should submit to teachers, knowing that they have received a greater gift from God to teach and understand God's word, and teachers should submit to pastors understanding that God has given them greater wisdom in how to lead and direct God's people. Someone with an administrative gift should submit to one with a prophetic gift, knowing that doing things does not matter if it is not done according to His will, and prophetic people should submit to those with administrative gifts, knowing that seeing what God is doing and organizing a plan to embrace and participate in what He is doing is two very different things.

However, this submission is not just spiritual but can also be very practical.
"Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect unto the strong. Let the rich man provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor man bless God, because He hath given him one by whom his need may be supplied. Let the wise man display his wisdom, not by [mere] words, but through good deeds. Let the humble not bear testimony to himself, but leave witness to be borne to him by another. Let him that is pure in the flesh not grow proud of it, and boast, knowing that it was another who bestowed on him the gift of continence." (1 Clement 38)
The rich should not despise the poor but rather should submit themselves to their needs, understanding that God has made them to be their benefactors. Similarly, the poor should not despise the rich but should submit themselves to giving thanks to God for them, thus fulfilling, in part, the place of praise and thanksgiving in the church. And so forth, until all learn to submit one to another.

This idea of mutual submission based on gifting and function is the center counsel of this entire letter from Clement. To miss this is to miss the heart of what He wants us to learn.

David Robison

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