Numbers 3:9 (NIV)
9 Give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to him.
To help Aaron the high priest and his sons with their priestly work, God gave Aaron a team to work with: the entire tribe of Levi. In verse 9 God says of the Levites, "they are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to him [that is, Aaron the high priest]." Underline those words in your Bible: "given wholly to him". In other words, the Levites were to dedicate their entire lives to helping and serving Aaron and his sons.
Now consider this. Aaron was a human leader - imperfect, in need of a Saviour, a guy who made mistakes. Yet God expected the Levites to give themselves wholly to him; that is, to submit to him, to follow him, and to serve him as best as they could.
Why? It's because in the kingdom of God, the way we show our submission to God is in how we submit to our God-given human leaders.
Submission is not a popular word these days, especially in Western culture where it's all about individualism and believing in yourself. But the truth is, while so much of Western culture is fueled by the power of "me", the kingdom of God is fueled by the power of "we", where people submit to their God-given leaders who in turn submit to their God-given leaders. The result is a united, effective, powerful army for Jesus Christ.
That's why the Levites in the Old Testament submitted to Aaron, and Aaron in turn submitted to Moses. That's why in the New Testament, even Jesus submitted to the imperfect human authorities God placed over him. And that's also why we as Christians today are called to submit to our God-given leaders, as imperfect as they may be.
Question for you: How quickly and willingly do you submit to your pastors and other God-given leaders?
As a younger Christian I used to think -- stereotypically -- that submitting to my pastors was a scary, burdensome, enslaving, freedom-sucking thing. But as I began to actually submit to the pastors in my life, I discovered some things about submission:
1. Submitting to my pastors was not nearly as scary or burdensome as I thought, especially when my pastors loved God, loved me and had the best in mind both for me and for our church.
2. There was always a sense that God is honoured, glorified and present with us when I willingly submitted myself to my pastors. As Judges 5:2 says, "When the princes take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves - praise the Lord!"
3. I grew so much more spiritually -- in my character, in my attitude, and as a leader -- when I followed my pastors instead of resisting them. Did they always make decisions I agreed with? No. Did they make some mistakes along the way? Maybe. But God always seemed to bless the times when I would submit to my pastors humbly and joyfully. When I would submit, we always seemed to accomplish so much more together and have fun along the way. When we would submit, the entire team experienced a unity, a joy, a strength, a momentum and a sense of team and family that could never come if we kept seeing ourselves as independent from our pastors.
4. When I willingly submitted to my leaders, I set an example for disciples coming after me. Whenever I go back to Torch Church in Taiwan and I see the way that young people submit to their leaders, who in turn submit to their pastors now, I'm amazed at what a strong, united team can do together. I'm always touched because it seems like the DNA that we had as a church planting team in the early stages of Torch Church - a DNA that was very much about team and submitting to and honouring our leaders - has continued on and has caused new leaders to be raised, a glorious church to be built and so many more people to find Jesus Christ. I believe the submission that that first generation of leaders showed to their pastor has set the tone for every generation of leaders that has come after. That's what happens when I submit to my pastors: I help to create a culture in my church that pleases God.
5. I learned that submission is not for weak, dumb people. In fact, you'll find that the wisest, most mature, most joyful Christians are ones who joyfully submit to their pastors, whereas the ones who often stumble, are difficult to deal with, and immature are the ones who have difficulty submitting to authority. When I submit to my pastors, I show that it's not about me. It's about honouring Jesus through real, practical love and submission to my God-given leaders.
You will never go deeper and stronger -- whether as an individual follower of Jesus or as a church -- until you joyfully submit to your pastors on an ongoing basis. It's no wonder Hebrews 13:17 says:
Hebrews 13:17 (NIV)
17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Praise God! God is taking us deeper and stronger. If we want to get there, a big part will depend on how we submit to God by joyfully submitting to the leaders God has placed over us.
May you master the art of submitting to your pastors and find that God takes you deeper and stronger than you ever could by being a "lone ranger" Christian.