Did you hear about the little boy whose mother punished him by making him sit on a stool in the corner? He sat down, but declared, “I’m sitting on the outside, but I’m still standing on the inside.” That is not submission! The idea of submission is not very popular today, yet for the Christian it should be a way of life. Still, the human nature in each one of us wants to “do its own thing.” Why can’t we? Submission pertains to authority. Authority means “having rule or control over.” Submission is simply yielding to that authority (or to the will of another). Christ is the perfect example of submission - both to the Father’s will in going to the cross (Mt. 26:39), and also to the human abuse of a trial, beatings and crucifixion (Mt. 26:57; 27:2,26).
How was Christ able to submit to the Father’s will and man’s abuse, when it required Him to deal with sin – something so foreign to His divine nature? Submission requires humility. One’s own will must not interfere with his doing the will of another. Again, Christ is the perfect example: “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8 nkjv).
Is this attitude natural? No! Wanting to do our own thing is natural. Rather than submit, we rebel. Rebellion is the rejection of authority, and it began long ago. Isaiah 14:12-15 describes Satan lifting himself up to God’s level and throwing off God’s authority. Of course God acted swiftly in judgment, casting Satan out of His presence. Rebellion is the outgrowth of pride. Humility and submission go together; so do pride and rebellion.
What’s so bad about a little rebellion? Don’t we all go through a rebellious stage? Maybe so, but listen to God’s opinion of it: “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Sam. 15:23). The Old Testament method of handling a rebellious son was simple: stone him to death (Dt. 21:18-21)!
The new nature is of Christ – divine and holy – leading us in a path of humility and submission to God’s will. We are encouraged to have Christ’s attitude (Phil. 2:5-8). The old nature is of Satan, sinful and deceitful (Jn. 8:44), leading us in a path of pride and rebellion, resisting God’s will. Which path will you follow? If we have been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20) our desire should be for “things above, where Christ is” (Col. 3:1-3).
Let’s look at four dimensions of submission: divine, family, church and civil, as they are presented in the Bible.
1. The Divine Dimension
According to James 4:7, we are to “submit to God” (as children, since He is our Father). This seems reasonable enough, since He is the ultimate authority. Even Christ comes under God’s headship (1 Cor. 11:3). But there is more. Only in submitting to God can we fulfill the rest of the verse, which tells us to “resist the devil.” “Your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). He far outclasses and overpowers us in strength, trying to destroy us. Yet we can actually resist him by a force stronger than Satan himself – the power of God. We must be in step with God (in His will) in order to avail ourselves of His divine power. You see, every directive from God our Father is for a purpose, and is for His good as well as our own. He loves us!
Furthermore, we are to be subject to Christ as head of the body, His Church: “Christ is head of the Church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore … the Church is subject to Christ” (Eph. 5:23-24). The corporate aspect is stressed here – all believers functioning as one body. But individual responsibility is not ignored, especially since the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. Only as we (as individuals) submit to the will of Christ on earth, can we (as the Church) show His love and glory to a dying world. Already, this first dimension has ruled out the privilege of “doing our own thing.” We have a greater privilege – doing His thing!
2. The Family Dimension
From the divine aspect, submission takes a giant leap right into the middle of our closest relationships of everyday life. These truths are not popular today, but are still the way of blessing for believers – and even for unbelievers! Wives are to be subject to their own husbands. Ephesians 5:22-24 mentions this twice. Is God trying to tell us something?
Verse 22 tells the wife to submit “as to the Lord.” For the Christian wife, this presupposes that she has already submitted to the Lord. The feminist movement does not support this, but then the movement doesn’t really bring satisfaction and fulfillment either, as many women are realizing. God’s formula guarantees both, as faithful wives can attest.
Between directives for the wife to submit, the husband is mentioned as her head, but in the context of Christ being his head. If the husband is submitted to Christ, and loves, understands and honors his wife (Eph. 5:25; 1 Pet. 3:7), submission will be his wife’s response. How could she resist?
This foundation being set in the home, the children are told to submit to their parents (Eph. 6:1). Why? Because children can benefit from their parents’ experience. They can benefit from mom’s example of submission to dad, and of both parents’ to the Lord. They don’t have to make the same mistakes their parents did! Early training in submission is invaluable, since all of life will be lived under someone’s authority. A child who never learns to submit becomes a selfish, stubborn, unhappy adult. A girl who doesn’t submit to her parents will have difficulty submitting to the Lord and her husband. A boy who can’t submit to his parents will have a problem submitting to the Lord and being a good husband.
3. The Church Dimension
The third dimension of submission widens out from the immediate family to the Christian family. According to Scripture, young believers are to submit to older believers (1 Pet. 5:5). Once again, the young can learn from those with more experience. How wonderful when youthful enthusiasm can be guided by wise, older Christians, both working together!
In assembly, women are to be in submission. What sense does that make? Well, man is God’s representative here on earth, with woman as his helper (Gen. 2:18); therefore the woman is to be in submission to the man, not only in the home, but also in assembly around the Lord Jesus (1 Tim. 2:11,12; 1 Cor. 11:3). Notice these Scriptures say man and woman, not husband and wife: unmarried women are also included. This is God’s order!
Last of all, as believers we are to submit to each other (Eph. 5:21). Actually, this verse comes first! Is this contradictory? How can the husband submit to his wife, and the parents to their children, when other verses say the opposite? Because the idea here is the submission of wills, not position. For example, a husband and father may submit to the desires of his family as to choice of restaurants. In submitting, he is not relinquishing his headship in the family; he is still in authority, but he is sensitive to their feelings. We have a Father like that, don’t we?
4. The Civil Dimension
Last of all is submission to other authority. Servants (employees, students, etc.) are to submit to their masters (employers, teachers, etc.) willingly and respectfully, as if serving Christ Himself (Eph. 6:5-8). The Lord will reward anyone for doing good (v. 8), and our employer will notice and appreciate our efforts. When I was in the army, we were told that the “conscientious objectors” (many of whom were Christians) were among the best soldiers because of their conviction and dedication. We can be a good testimony for the Lord by serving our masters wholeheartedly.
Finally, we are to subject ourselves to governmental authority, since it is ordained by God (Rom. 13:1-2). Unless the government forces us to disobey God, God expects us to obey the government. Those who resist are resisting God’s authority, and will reap judgment (v. 2). He does not make exceptions, even under the guise of “serving Him.”
It seems that the biggest struggle comes not in this dimension, but in the first, with God’s will, which often seems intimidating and unappealing. A young lady said to an evangelist: “If I give myself wholly to the Lord, I’m afraid He’ll send me to the mission field where I’ll be miserable.” Years later they met again, and she told him, with a glowing face, “God called me to the mission field, and my heart is filled with joy!” She had learned the meaning of submission, and couldn’t have been happier.
How about you? Do you dare to submit yourself entirely to God’s will? Don’t be afraid to entrust your welfare to One who knows not only what is best for you, but also what will make you happy and bring glory to Himself!
By Tim Van Ryn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org