It has been eleven days since the conclusion of PELC (Pastoral Evangelism & Leadership Conference), the annual ministerial conference sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It is the largest of our denomination and always has stimulating discussions, provocative workshops and powerful preaching. The theme was of special interest to me since I was told by the one who recommended the it, that he was inspired by a sermon I preached titled, “The 3rd Elijah.” I’m not sure how true it is, but as Martin King once said, “Thank God for the rumor.” All of the sermons were exceptional, powerful, challenging, thought-provoking and inspirational and yet I returned home feeling something was left unsaid. No criticism to any of the preachers or organizers, just a personal observation of a missing piece to the puzzle of presentations for the conference. The missing piece for me is found in Malachi 4:5,6, which reads, ““Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” NKJV.
The text was referenced in one of the sermons preached and mentioned in others but no one really dealt with its meaning. No one addressed the heart of the Elijah message, “And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” The Amplified Bible says, “And he shall turn and reconcile the hearts of the [estranged] fathers to the [ungodly] children, and the hearts of the [rebellious] children to their fathers [a reconciliation produced by repentance of the ungodly], lest I come and smite the land with a curse and a ban of utter destruction.” The Elijah message of Malachi 4:5 & 6 is a message of generational reconciliation. With the racial, cultural, gender, economic and national tensions that exist among us today, the Elijah message calls us to reconciliation in the home. A reconciliation initiated by the hearts of fathers turning toward their children and children toward their fathers. Notice it does not say mothers but fathers and that the force turning their hearts comes from outside of them. “HE” shall turn and reconcile the hearts, the Amplified Bible says. We are incapable of doing it on our own. The power that causes us to turn toward each other must come from God. And the important element to this reconciliation is that it is initiated by the father. The elder turns to the younger.
The real key to the reconciliation called for in the Elijah message is the foundational principle of kingdom of God. The one principle upon which all other principles rest. In order for generational reconciliation to take place, it requires mutual submission.
There is something very basic and fundamental about the existence of God that is often overlooked. When the Bible says in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God,” the word that is used is for God is “Elohim.” In the Hebrew language the word “Elohim” is a collective or plural noun. So when the Bible introduces us to God in Genesis 1:1, the first thing we learn about God is that God exists in community. And since each individual member of the Godhead is deity, in order for them to exist in community is through “mutual submission.” They willingly submit and subordinate themselves to each other in an atmosphere of perfect love.
If you haven’t thought about it, the members of the Godhead elevate and uplift each other while placing themselves in a subordinate position. Jesus submits to the will of the Father. He says in John 5:30, “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” The Spirit uplifts the Son. In John 15:26 Jesus says, “even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” The Father elevates the Jesus. In Philippians 2:9-11 it says, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow…And every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father.” Jesus exalts the Spirit above himself in Matthew 12:33 when he declares, “And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” And finally, the Son magnifies the Father. 1 Corinthians 15:28 says, “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.”
In order for the mutual submission of the Godhead to function, each member must give up their rights, their personal prerogatives so that harmony, unity and community can exist among them. Particularity and personal freedom has no place among them, even though, as God, they have every right to exercise their individual divinity. Isaiah 9:6 tells us that Jesus is “The everlasting Father,” yet in the Godhead, He chooses to be the Son.
Mutual submission, it is a concept that we discuss and is apart of every aspect of the Christian experience. It is central to our understanding of the “Body of Christ.” It is the key principle that distinguishes “Christian Marriages,” from secular marriages. It is the bases upon which the principle of servant leadership is founded and yet it is rarely practiced in the Christian community.
Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have love you, that ye love one another.” “One another” is a phrase of mutuality, mutual submission and mutual love. He then continues, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Again, Jesus uses the phrase, “one to another.” It is a phrase of mutuality. But how can we be sure Jesus means mutual submission? He explains further in John 15:12 & 13, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” Here Jesus is explaining to us the quality of the mutuality. It is the kind of mutual submission that He exemplified. And lest we become confused He makes it crystal clear in the next verse, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
The Elijah message calls us to a higher quality of living in the community of faith that begins with generational reconciliation. That generational reconciliation can only be accomplished through mutual submission. A submission initiated by the elder toward the younger. It means giving up my rights and freedoms for a higher good, the greater good of community and unity. And when we are united generationally, we more fully reflect the character of the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, a Godhead that exists in a loving relationship of mutual submission.
The Apostle Paul sets before the Christian community an ethic of living that says because Christ died for all, those who live no longer live for themselves, 2 Corinthians 5:14,15. He uses this premise to establish a higher principle of decision making that all Christians must exercise. Whatever you may believe your personal rights are, or however right you may believe yourself to be, Paul gives this caution. He says in 1 Corinthians 8:9, 12(TNIV) “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” He goes on to say, “When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.” As Christians when we make decisions, the higher good is to place the other before the self. The harmony and well-being of the community is the higher good, not my personal rights and freedoms, even if those personal rights are not in and of themselves a sin. When we ignore how exercising our personal rights may effect someone or ones in the community of faith and weaken them in their Christian walk, our actions become a sin against Christ. In other words the unity of the community is greater than the individual and to ignore that principle in my decision making is a sin. Paul’s dictum can only be understood and appreciated when we understand the essential importance of mutual submission in the Christian experience. That is, to prefer others ahead of self. And in this instance Paul, as the elder, submits to the younger.
I have often been amazed at how little concern we have today in the church with how our decisions and actions effect those around us. Simply because the Bible gives no clear prohibition against something, is not the sole criteria in determining whether or not we should decide what we do. My personal understanding and conviction of what God requires of me may be the starting point, but it certainly does not end there. Think for a moment if Jesus’ decision-making functioned at that level. If He had made decisions about our salvation based on His personal rights, what would have happened in the Garden of Gethsemane? What decision would He have made with the cup of our salvation? Our salvation would have been in tremendous peril. Most assuredly we would have been lost.
As I think about the generational tensions that exist in our churches today and the growing intolerance that seems to endure, I am troubled by the elders of our churches who seem to have no patience or forbearance with any deviation from the traditions of worship and music that have caused youth and young adults to feel unwelcome in their churches. And yet I am just as troubled by millennials who wear jewelry that they know offends their elders while playing the music they know is difficult for them to adjust to or accept. We may have a personal right or freedom, but that is not the sole criteria which determines a Christian’s decisions or actions. The Elijah message calls us to mutual submission, surrendering our personal rights and freedoms for the good of the community and realizing that the highest good is living in harmony, not conflict and selfish discord. And if true generational reconciliation is to occur, then the elders must initiate the process of mutual submission by following the example of Jesus in John 13:13-17. Among humans, being right is not righteous, it is only judgmental. Only Jesus is righteous and He calls us to a higher standard of living that says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
As many times as we have failed and as messed up as we are, Jesus has not given up on us. He is still depending on His church to preach and live the Elijah message, in these last days of earth’s history. And lest you think otherwise He says to us, “You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you. But remember the root command: Love one another.”John 15:16-17 MSG.
Elijah 3.0, Let’s start preaching it and living it…