So far we’ve discussed that we are to love one another, edify one another, exhort one another and admonish one another. Now we turn to a topic that is closely related to these, yet is not very popular to think about. We are to serve one another.
Eph. 5:21 “subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.” It is kind of amusing to think of how many sermons are preached about the next verse and how few focus on this one. We are to be in subjection to one another. To be in subjection means to be under the control of another. We are to choose to submit to each other. What’s really interesting is that the word for “be in subjection” actually isn’t in the next verse, referring to wives. Most modern translations which paragraph out the text put a paragraph break between vs 21 & 22. That is probably an error, as the text actually reads “subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ; wives unto your own husbands as unto the Lord.” The implied verb is obviously to be in subjection, but the construction makes the duty to wives just a subset or an example of the duty we all have. And in case you are wondering, yes the word is the same as the one used in Col. 3:18 “Wives, be in subjection to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” In other words, what men expect from their wives, Christ expects us to do for each other.
Wait a minute, now, I’m a free man! I’m not subjecting myself to anyone! I’m an American! Yes, we are free, but that comes with responsibilities. Gal. 5:13 “For ye, brethren, were called for freedom; only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another.” The reason God has made us free – from the burdens of Law, as well as currently as Americans – is not so we can just live it up. Freedom is not for the flesh, but so that we can love each other. It is our love for each other that leads us to be servants for each other. Parents, have you ever felt that you were more servant to your children than parents? No matter how much you raise them to respect authority, to obey you, to be good kids, there are days when all you do is take care of them. When they are young it is diapers, feedings, walkings, dr. appointments, etc. As they grow up it morphs into other things, but they are children, unable to completely take care of themselves and when they need something, they often need it NOW. And because you love them, you give them the service needed. The same is often true of elderly parents who need care from their adult children. We do for them what is best for them. That is the service of love that the Bible teaches. Notice the parallel statements of Paul regarding fulfilling the law. Gal. 5:14 “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” & 6:2 “Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” Love fulfills the law; bearing each other’s burdens fulfills the law. Love often boils down to bearing each other’s burdens.
This takes humility. Peter acknowledges this: 1 Peter 5:5 “Likewise, ye younger, be subject unto the elder. Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God resists the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” First, notice that we have another example of being subject to one another in a subset. The younger are to be subject to the older. He goes on to say that we all are to be subject to each other. But, to do this he says we need to gird ourselves with humility. The KJV says “clothe yourself” which is accurate enough, but the idea here is not just getting dressed in something, but dressing in a way to prepare for action. Wrapping yourself in humility is the preparation needed to be subject to each other. Serving here is putting others before self. Being humble enough to not insist on your own way. This is the exact opposite of the 1980’s catchphrase “look out for #1”. We are looking out for others first and “number one” last.
“Wait a minute! I’m the chief song leader and the substitute preacher! I’m also the Wednesday night Bible Class teacher. Surely you don’t expect me to serve!” Yes, that is exactly what is expected of me, as well as each of you. Gal. 6:2-3 “Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man thinks himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” If I start to think myself too important to serve, I will soon learn otherwise. Remember also our Lord’s words: Luke 17:10 “Even so ye also, when ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do.” Given the price God paid for our ransom, there is no way we can ever “show a profit” for Him. So, who am I to get a big head? I am to serve and be subject to my brethren.
So, How do we do this? Be willing to give in to others. Never compromising the truth, but if you prefer things one way and the other guy prefers it another way, don’t fight about it. Give in and do it his way. Whether or not the Lord’s Supper is before or after the sermon should never cause fights in the church nor in business meetings. Nor should the choice of a hymnal. Nor should the wording on the sign. Nor should. . . clothe yourself in humility and serve. If everyone is looking first to serve, everyone will get along.
As always, Jesus was the perfect example of this. John 13:12-15 “So when he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and sat down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me, Teacher, and, Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you.”
In an age of unpaved roads, the best transportation being your feet, and everyone wearing sandals, there was a great need to wash off one’s feet upon entering a home. In most homes, water and a towel would be provided and each person would wash his own feet. In the more well-to-do homes, a servant would wash the feet of guests. This was generally a job for the lowliest servant in the household. It was considered a demeaning job. This explains Peter’s reaction in vs 8. He held to Lord in esteem and didn’t want Him debasing Himself for Peter. This understanding makes the Lord’s example even more powerful. “Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me, Teacher, and, Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.” If there was ever anyone on the planet who had the right to say “not me, I’m not humbling myself to serve!” it was Jesus. He was Lord. And yet He was humble enough to give the apostles a lesson they needed After all, if the Son of God was willing to take on the most menial task because His brethren needed it, is there anything I shouldn’t be willing to do for my brethren? Why was He so willing? He loved them. vs 34 “love one another; even as I have loved you” Given that He repeats this statement in chapter 15 with a clear reference to the cross, I believe here He is looking back on all the love He has already shown them. He was willing, as Lord and Teacher, to serve His disciples. Can I follow His example?