In an age of permissiveness, submission sounds like an antiquated idea that even many Christians want to avoid. But submission is not the four-letter word some seem to think it is.
Submission is God’s loving plan for reestablishing relationship with him. In Matthew 12:50, Jesus marked obedience to the Father as a condition of our relationship with him. Looking closer at Scripture, we see that Jesus illustrated experientially the need for submission and what it means to be under the authority of others. Even his coming to earth was an act of submission to the will of the Father.
It’s not enough to merely recognize the authority of Scripture as God’s voice; we are to submit to it wholeheartedly. This submission protects us and brings blessing. “Submit to God and be at peace with him; in this way prosperity will come to you” (Job 22:21).
So what exactly is submission? One basic definition is “the action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.” The biblical definition goes deeper: “Acting always obedient, particularly to a master.” And it’s that always that trips us up. We’re okay submitting sometimes, but always? Isn’t that too much to ask? According to God, no.
While on earth, Jesus submitted to the Father in several important ways. We can learn from his example.
First, he never said or did anything that was in opposition to the Father. I know a woman who brings every purchase she makes before God. If she doesn’t feel that he has given her the go-ahead, she doesn’t buy it. I’m not that woman. I hope one day I’ll be at that level of submission. She’s also a woman who hears frequently and clearly what the Father is saying. I believe her level of submission is why.
Next, Jesus lived his life here according to Scripture. “This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet” (Matthew 21:4). Could it be that our own lack of submission to Scripture is the reason some of it has yet to be fulfilled? Something to think about.
The third basic way Jesus submitted to the Father was through complete obedience, even in the hardest of areas—the cross (see Philippians 2:8). Yes, submitting is sometimes so hard that we think we just can’t do it, but because Jesus did, so can we.
So, how does submission work out in our everyday lives? Let’s take a look:
When a man is fully submitted to God, he’ll be fully committed to his wife. I know of no woman who wouldn’t willingly and joyfully submit to such a man. However, when a spouse is not in full submission to the Father, it’s difficult for the other to submit to that spouse. Difficult, but not impossible.
For the first 28 years of my marriage, I lived with a spouse who was outwardly committed to the Lord but inwardly living a lie . . . a lie that affected me directly. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is submit to my husband under such circumstances. And honestly, I didn’t always succeed. Thankfully, it’s the heart that the Father looks at and he knew my submission (successes and failures) to my husband stemmed from a heart that wanted to honor and obey him. And God always honors obedience. After many years and full confession and repentance, my husband has been restored. And so has our marriage.
We recently brought home our 6-year-old adopted son from a Haitian orphanage, where submission was strict and forced. As his parents, we’re now facing the task of teaching him proper submission, not submission out of fear. We ultimately want him to understand that submission is a gift.
Our other four (biological) children range in age from 11 to 21 and while we also had to train them in the area of submission, it was not a retraining as it is with their brother. The blessing of this all is that it has provided us with the opportunity of refreshing our training and initiating discussions of submission with them too as we retrain their younger sibling. And it’s made me realize that submission training at home is meant to be an ongoing process, not a “one and done” teaching moment. And a timeless submission lesson is that even Jesus had to learn obedience “from what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). A great reminder for us all.
Everyday situations provide ample opportunity in the home to discuss submission. Even television programs or the circumstances of your children’s friends can be used to discuss how submission was or wasn’t implemented, and if not, what should have been done. Our adopted son has reminded me that submission at home is important at all ages and stages.
These days church splits and divisions are at unprecedented numbers. The lack of unity in the church is often the result of a lack of submission.
The fact is that we don’t have to agree with every little thing. God is ultimately looking at our individual hearts and submission defers to another.
I’m not responsible for how the church service is handled, but I am responsible for my submission to the authorities there. The church will become a more accurate reflection of Christ when each individual determines to submit.
My husband once worked for a company that was not run very well in many ways—nothing immoral or illegal, just sloppiness. While it bothered my husband greatly because he believes our excellence in work honors God, he still had to choose to submit to the authority he was under. This meant he had to do things the way the bosses wanted, even though he knew there was a better way. It also meant not speaking negatively about the leadership.
In matters of legality, God’s rules reign. You may lose your job by submitting to God above people, but by putting God first and submitting to his commands, he’ll not only take care of you, but will in time, promote you.
In Psalm 81:11, we see that Israel was disciplined so often because the people “would not submit” to God. We are fooling ourselves if we believe that our own lack of submission will have no consequences.
Submission in society involves obvious authority figures, such as police officers, but it also includes deferring to others by putting them ahead of ourselves. Submission requires humility and service and love—all the characteristics of Christ that enabled him to submit to the Father, thus fulfilling his mission.
Tammy Darling is the author of 1,300 published articles. Her first two books, And She Danced and While We Wait: Devotions for the Adopting Parent, were recently published. She writes from her home in rural Pennsylvania.