Fall 2023, by Matthew McDill
One day, there was a huge fight taking place in my house. It seemed that every family member was involved. So I called a cease-fire and invited everyone to peace talks. We sat down in the living room, and I read this single question from James 4:1: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” What a simple and powerful question! If we could understand the cause of our fights, maybe we could prevent them from happening. James goes on to explain:
“Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?
You desire and do not have, so you murder.
You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.
You do not have, because you do not ask. . . .
Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?
Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. .
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
(James 4:1-2, 4, 7)
The three biblical enemies for living in freedom appear in this passage: 1) “your passions…within you,” 2) “the world,” and 3) “the devil.” James teaches that these desires, systems, and spirits that oppose God destroy relationships. He exhorts us to turn to God with our needs, to refuse to align ourselves with the world, and to resist the devil. These actions can all be summarized this way: “Submit yourselves therefore to God” (James 4:7a). So the first way we can avoid conflicts with others is to entrust our desires and needs to God.
Not only are we called to submit to God, but we are also called to submit to each other in various ways. Submission is the key to functioning well in any community or relationship. Submission takes place when one person yields to another person. When two cars are headed for the same lane at the same time, one driver must yield, or there will be a wreck. In the same way, when one person isn’t willing to yield in a conflict, there is going to be a fight. The second way, then, that we can avoid conflicts with others is to learn to submit to them in the right ways. There are certainly times when we should teach our children not to submit to others, but that is another subject. Let’s begin by teaching them the three important reasons the Bible gives for submitting to one another: love, truth, and authority.
We submit to one another because we want what is best for each other. Love is demonstrated when we sacrifice ourselves for the good of another. This means that we are yielding our wills and desires for the benefit of someone else. We must understand, though, that loving others is not trying to make them happy by giving them what they want. Getting what we want will not make us happy in the long run. Instead, loving others means giving them what they need. So, when we submit to one another in love, we are putting someone else’s needs before our own desires and needs, as defined by Scripture.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,
but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Let each of you look not only to his own interests,
but also to the interests of others.
We submit to one another when we speak what is true and right to each other. When truth is delivered to us by any human agent, it is our responsibility to submit to it. Over and over in Scripture, we are instructed to teach, correct, warn, exhort, encourage, and remind one another of the truth. “Speaking the truth in love” is central to the function and growth of the body of Christ (see Ephesians 4:11–16). Jesus gives authority to the individual believer and to the church to call our brothers and sisters to repentance from sin (Matthew 18:15–17).
We submit to those to whom God has given the responsibility to lead. God has given each of us particular roles in our various communities. Some are given the authority to lead and others the responsibility to follow. In marriage, the husband is given authority to lead, and the wife is called to submit (Ephesians 5:22–33). In the family, parents are given the authority to train and discipline their children, and the children are responsible to obey (Ephesians 6:1–4). In the church, elders are given the authority to teach, care for, and lead God’s people (Acts 20:28). The church is responsible for following their lead (Hebrews 13:17). In the world, there are people with authority to lead in our employment (Ephesians 6:5–8) and in the state (Romans 13:1–7). If God has given someone authority to lead us, then our job is to submit to their leadership.
Have you already considered how countercultural all of this sounds? Our culture encourages self-gratification and individualism instead of love. Dominated by secularism, our culture has difficulty acknowledging that truth even exists. Since there are no absolutes, everyone is entitled to his or her own truth. In addition, our culture values autonomy to such a degree that almost every God-given authority is rejected.
Instead of following the pattern of the world, we can teach our children to do things God’s way. What would our relationships look like if we submitted to one another in love and truth and if we submitted to those in authority? Imagine each of us looking out for the interests of those around us instead of our own. Imagine each of us listening to others when they are helping us get on the right path. Imagine each of us faithfully following those who have the authority to lead. If we all lived this way, there would be significantly more peace. These are the kinds of relationships we desire in our families and for our kids as they live their own lives.