Tom Elliff
Oklahoma City, OK

After pastoring for forty-two years, Tom Elliff served the International Mission Board, first as Senior Vice President for Spiritual Nurture and Church Relations from 2005-2009, then as President from 2011-2014. Tom served pastorates in Arkansas, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma and as an IMB missionary in Zimbabwe. Tom also served as president of the SBC Pastor's Conference and two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Christmas — A Lesson In Submission To Authority

By on December 9, 2010

A few weeks ago, Jeannie and I stood with several friends on the outskirts of Bethlehem. Gazing across the Judean hillsides leading up to the city of our Lord’s birth, it occurred to me that deeply embedded in the Christmas story is a lesson that our society desperately needs to hear. I am referring to the importance of understanding and submitting to authority, both human and Divine. Without the proper exercise of submission there would actually have never been a Christmas story.

Think of it for a moment. Jesus submitted to the will of the Godhead, humbled himself and came to earth in the form of a man (Philippians 2:5-8). Mary submitted to the authority of God, choosing to be a “bondslave” of the Lord (Luke 1:38). Joseph countered the culture of his day and “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Matthew 1:24). To these primary players in the Christmas story you could add others such as Elisabeth, Zacharias, the shepherds…and the list of those who are found submitting to authority continues to grow.

And it was not always Divine authority to which these personalities submitted. Sometimes it was human authority. Joseph took Mary went to Bethlehem to register according to the decree of Caesar Augustus. Mary, though only days away from the time of her delivery, still made the necessary trip of several days from Nazereth to Bethlehem. A Paul reminds us, even human authorities are instruments to accomplish the will of God (Romans 13:1).

I mention the issue of submission to authority because it is not a popular concept in our “nobody is going to tell me what to do” society. But there it is, deeply embedded in the Christmas story and absolutely necessary for the advent of Christ as the prophets foretold; a lesson in submission.

So how are you getting along with the “authorities” in your life, both Divine and human? Are you seen as humbly submissive? Or can those around you easily spot your foot-dragging, weary compliance with the authorities in your life. Are you “under authority,” as was your Master? Or, is your life one series of gripes and complaints against authority.

Though He will one day be crowned as King, Jesus didn’t spend much time complaining about earthly authority. Of course, He did challenge authorities that practiced injustice toward others. But in the face of grave injustice toward Himself, He rarely spoke in His own defense. As the old gospel song relates, “He never said a mumblin’ word.”

“So what’s the point here?” I hear you asking. Simply this: The Christmas story was facilitated by people who operated under authority to accomplish the will of God, and set the stage for the redemption of all mankind. It’s my guess that a lot more kingdom work would take place this Christmas, if you and I would simply utilize the freedoms we have to share the Good News.

Is everything the way I’d like it, culturally, religiously, or politically? Not in a long shot! But neither was it in the days of Christ. Yet somehow the will of God was accomplished by folks who operated within the constraints of an incredibly repressive society. Some things are worse than a repressive society. Among them are a consistently bad attitude and the refusal to move forward in concert with the plans of God. It is the irrepressible joy of Christ that causes the Christian faith to prosper under the most deviate rule.

So in the midst of our celebrations this Christmas, lets not overlook the lesson on the importance of submission to authority.

Rejoice evermore!

Tom Elliff

2 Tim 1:12