Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer‐reading‐project‐2019. The schedule is online.
I’m doubling up this week because I missed last week’s summary due to my travels. With this update we should be back on track.
This week, we examine the discipline of submission, which entails the rejection of the lust for power and even the presumption of autonomy.
“Submission is an ethical theme that runs the gamut of the New Testament. It is a posture obligatory upon all Christians: men as well as women, fathers as well as children, masters as well as slaves. We are commanded to live a life of submission because Jesus lived a life of submission, not because we are in a particular place or station in life. Self-denial is a posture fitting for all those who follow the crucified Lord…. the one and only compelling reason for submission is the example of Jesus.”Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline page 117
Our culture celebrates the autonomous individual, and concepts such as “self-actualization” and “self-fulfillment” are pervasive. Our society’s main attitude toward the self is to indulge it, but Scripture’s main attitude toward the self is to deny it. The habit of submission denies self in a powerful way, and so two of the main opportunities we have to deny self are to submit to God and to submit to legitimate human authorities.
Submitting ourselves to God means obeying His Word, especially when we are puzzled by His commands. There is a very real sense in which we are not submitting until we disagree (or at least don’t understand). When we do what God says because it makes sense to us, it is not God we are obeying but ourselves. Meditating on Romans 12 might prove helpful as you think about this.
Submitting ourselves to legitimate human authorities means that we honor governmental leaders even when we disagree with them. Disagreeing with our political leaders is not uncommon; in fact, I cannot imagine a California voter who is simultaneously thrilled with both governor Gavin Newsome and president Donald Trump. Nonetheless, we honor and pray for both. Not only do we honor and pray for them, we also obey them when they are acting within their sphere of authority. Likewise, we honor spiritual authorities such as pastors and obey them when they are acting within their sphere of authority. We also honor our parents and obey them when they are acting within their sphere of authority.
I keep repeating “when they are acting within their sphere of authority” because keeping that in mind is what protects us from abusive and toxic situations. Every human authority has limits placed upon them, and when they step outside of their realm they should not be obeyed. Tyrannical governments, cultish religions, controlling workplaces, toxic family systems — wise Christians flee from or stand against these things.
Spend time thinking Biblically about the proper spheres of human authority — it will bear great fruit in your life. Sometimes, like in Acts 5:27–29, the point is made very clear — the government has no right to forbid you to obey God (I’m looking at you, China). But other times the lesson is an implication of the text rather than its main point. For example, Acts 5:3–4 presupposes that Peter would have had no right to command Ananais to sell his property or to give all of the proceeds to the church. That illustrates an important limit on spiritual authority. These are just two examples from one chapter of Scripture — I encourage you to keep the concept of spheres of authority in the back of your mind as you read Scripture. You’ll find insights in unexpected places.