the weblog of Alan Knox

Requiring what can only be given

Posted by on Jul 27, 2009 in discipleship | 5 comments

I’ve noticed a trend, but I don’t think this is a recent trend. Christians are requiring of others what can only be given themselves.

I know that sounds confusing, but let me try to explain with an example. Paul writes to the Philippians to consider others as more important than themselves. This type of consideration, though, can only be given; it cannot be taken. However, today, many expect or require consideration from others. They do not begin by consdering others as more important; they begin by expecting or requiring others to consider them more important.

This is a huge distinction, but one that we must understand in order to live as followers of Jesus Christ. Consider for instance the example we have in the short letter that Paul wrote to Philemon. Paul wanted Philemon to release his slave Onesimus. But, Paul knew that forgiveness and freedom was something that Philemon had to give, not something that even Paul could demand.

We often look look at Philemon with confusion. Why didn’t Paul just command Philemon to release his slave? Paul even said that he had the right to command that, but Paul refused. Why? Because Paul understood something that we struggle with: you cannot require what can only be given.

This applies in many areas of our life and our walk with Christ. Consider for example the familiar (and at times unpopular) passage from Ephesians 5 where wives are told to submit to their husbands. However, husbands are never told to force their wives to submit or to require submission of their wives. Submission can only be given (in this case, by the wife).

When we turn the instructions around, we then turn them into something completely different. Now, instead of wives submitting to their husbands, we have husbands commanding their wives to submit, which becomes subservience instead of submission. Submission can only be given.

Of course, we see believers turning scriptural instructions around in other areas as well. For example, consider church leaders (i.e. pastors/elders). According to Paul, we are to give double honor to those elders who work hard at teaching and leading. Again, double honor is to be given but not required. But, when pastors/elders require honor (in various forms) from other believers, they have turned honor into something else. This is why Peter warns elders not to serve for monetary gain.

It seems, in these cases and many others, that some who follow Jesus Christ are more concerned with the obedience from other believers than from themselves. And, of course, they’re usually concerned with those areas that would benefit themselves.

For example, we can respect hospitality from others, without giving hospitality ourselves. We can require service from others, without thinking about serving for ourselves. We can expect others to demonstrate love for us, without considering whether or not we are demonstrating love for others. We can require others to disciple us, without making disciples ourselves.

This is a backward view of the life of Christ in us. As the Spirit indwells us, his first desire is to transform our own lives. He does not desire for us to begin examining the lives of others and to require from them what the Spirit requires of us.

Of course, requiring and expecting sanctification and maturity in others is much easier on us than walking in submission to the work of the Spirit in our own lives. But, this is not the way of Christ. Those of us who desire to mature in Christ should start giving of ourselves and stop requiring from others.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 7-27-2009

    Hi Alan
    Once again you have really ‘hit the nail on the head’. This requiring something from others goes back to where we are gaining our sense of significance and identity from. If we are relying on our position in Christ as where we gain our fundamental identity as we should, then we don’t need anything more. However, if we place ourselves at the centre, as gods of our own little world, as we all tend to do, then we start to need ‘input’ to maintain that pretence. This input may be having others serve us, it may be keeping an area of ministry as ‘ours’, it may be believing we have positional authority over others. As you rightly describe, it is usually some form of requiring from others something which we have no right to require from them. Fundamentally it boils down to our sinful tendency for ‘self worship’ and putting ourselves on the throne of our lives instead of God.
    Keep blogging and enjoying grace!

  2. 7-27-2009

    Amen. I appreciate the way you pointed that out, and made such clear and appropriate inferences and points.

  3. 7-27-2009


    You’re absolutely right. We do this (require of others what we should give to others) because we are focused on ourselves. We become our own idols – even if we don’t admit it.


    Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed this post.


  4. 7-27-2009


    Excellent, and very pertinent article! In my experience, I have seen this ugly phenomenon many times, especially when taking up a new appointment, when there would always be some who came, ostensibly to welcome the new pastor, but made sure I was well informed about the foibles of members of the congregation.

    Lack of love in the other was the most common complaint. When the suggestion that giving love was the best cure, such suggestion was always met with stony resistence.

    In almost every situation, I eventually discovered the complaint was the personal perception of a very self-centred person.

  5. 8-10-2011

    “So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant”

    Humility is the soil in which everything good in the Christian’s life can grow. Insecurity is pride and that to me is where this need to demand from others what can only be given stems from, seeking one’s identity in earthly position, status, rank, rather than from one’s secure position in Christ. I freely commend you on this article, Alan.