by Dianna Lightfoot
When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to Him who put all things in subjection under Him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:28)
John Phillips became my step-father when I was an adult, and his inclusion in my family was one of the greatest gifts God has ever given. For over a decade, I was blessed to be influenced by a man who’s private and public lives were completely in sync. He was the most humble man I’ve ever known, dedicating forty years to studying and writing about God’s Word so that others might come to know Him.
With more than 50 books to his credit, he was well known in faith communities around the world. Yet his demeanor was always low-key, preferring to be in the background instead of the spotlight. He was also kind and giving, with a uniquely dry British sense of humor, and I loved him very much.
One of John’s most interesting characteristics was his attitude about submission. He was a living example of the truest meaning of the word. Here was a man who spent half of his life studying biblical principles, and reading voraciously so he would have interesting illustrations for his books. He was in demand as a speaker, and loved by many---but not always appreciated by everyone. Sometimes the faith arena can be a rough and tumble world of differing positions. Still, John was unwavering in presenting his literal biblical beliefs, choosing to let others disagree without allowing those differences to become a battle. He was a man who submitted to appropriate authority, and also showed great respect for others.
John moved slowly, methodically and purposefully through life, keeping his eye on the goal of fulfilling what he believed God’s mission for him to be: to make the Scriptures as clear and understandable to as many people as possible. And he succeeded beautifully.
In the ninth year of his marriage to my mother Betty, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. At first, the symptoms were intermittent; at times he was lucid and coherent. But over time, he deteriorated, and was no longer able to do what he loved most—to write and speak. My mother valiantly kept him at home, watching over him, taking care of him with great love, even though it was an extremely difficult time for her both mentally and physically. Only toward the end was it necessary for him to be moved to a facility. Even then, she was there with him every day.
Though John’s brain was changing, the man he was at his very core did not. He was modest, always concerned about propriety, language and avoiding anything inappropriate---that was true to the very end. Even as his memory faded, he often referred to key biblical concepts, and the one he mentioned more as time went on concerned submission.
He was not in a place where he wanted to be….he wanted to be at home, but he sat quietly and allowed my mother to read to him, or walk with him. And while he often asked to go home, he never begged; he submitted.
One day as I sat with him trying to stir his memory, stimulate his thinking or elicit something coherent, he suddenly looked at me and said very clearly, "It’s all about submission; this is where God wants me now." I was stunned. But the relinquishment of his will, in this unhappy place and condition made an extremely powerful impression. I am a strong willed person, rarely willing to give up or give in when facing adversity. Yet here was a brilliant, accomplished man, losing his mind—and on the way to losing his life; and he was submitting.
Not long after this conversation, John became ill with an infection. It was not diagnosed quickly enough, and so it became systemic. After many days in the hospital, the family was told he could no longer eat, and was not going to recover. He was moved to hospice where one or more of his family was with him around the clock. He was for the most part conscious, and I believe much of the time knew what was going on around him. I prayed constantly that God would remove his suffering, but he never once complained or asked for anything except water.
One night when everyone else had gone, I sat by his bed holding his hand. It was hot from fever, his eyes were closed and he moaned and writhed as the lack of moisture in his body caused painful leg cramping. He would hold his arms up as though reaching toward heaven, and at one point, I could no longer stand to see the suffering. I began to cry and pray out loud, “God please, please take this away, don’t let this go on.” Suddenly, the room became very quiet. I opened my eyes, and he was looking at me. He took my hand and placed it on his heart, with a weak smile he shook his head slowly no, and said one word, “submission.” I will never forget that word as long as I live. It may have been the most instructive moment of my life.
John Phillips was welcomed to his true home shortly after that; we were with him during his last breath. For many minutes before he died, he reached upward; I believe simply waiting for heavenly hands to lift him up. And when they did, this amazing man of God, who left such a legacy to the world, most surely heard a resounding chorus of “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.
1 Peter 5:6