Last week, we looked at the above subject as a general Christian principle. In our discussion this week, we will explore how this principle is applied to real life situations. When we think of submission we tend to think of marriage. As someone put it, “The house in which a man is the boss is probably still under construction.”
Submission, however, is not limited to the marriage relationship. It is much more pervasive than that. The Bible deals with six areas of authority and submission. These are: wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves (employees) and masters (employers), citizens and government officials, younger men and older men, church members and elders (overseers).
Submission must always be seen in the light of Jesus Himself. He is the model of submission. Though He exercised leadership and initiative, He never did so in a bossy, totalitarian way. The power and authority exercised by Jesus was always for the purpose of self-fulfilment for His church, not domination. Submission does not have the connotation of inferiority or inequality in the Bible.
Although Jesus was equal with God the Father, He voluntarily and humbly submitted Himself to His Father. He emptied Himself of his status and rights, His honour and glory, to serve and save humanity (Philippians 2:5-8).
Even though Jesus was equal in worth with the Father, this did not mean that He was to have an identical role. Equality of worth is not identity of role. Husbands, parents, masters (employers), government officials, older men and church pastors have been invested with authority to which others should submit.
God is a God of order. In His ordering of human life (whether in the state, church or family) He has established certain authority or leadership roles. Because such authority has been invested by God, others must conscientiously submit to it. Therefore, as John R. Stott puts it, “Submission is a humble recognition of the divine ordering of society.
Paul begins his application of the principle of submission in three areas. The first area is the husband and wife relationship (Ephesians 5: 22, 24 cf. Colossians 3:18). According to the Bible, God’s word, a woman’s beauty is found in her submissive spirit, her gentle and quiet spirit (Titus 2:3-5; 1 Peter 3: 1-6a). God’s word, His truth, is applicable to all times and generations. This truth has not changed.
In speaking of a woman’s submission to her husband, Paul also pointed out the husband’s responsibility to his wife (Ephesians 5: 25, 28; Colossians 3:19). Firm, loving leadership; not harsh, dictatorial, totalitarian authoritarianism is to characterise a husband’s treatment of his wife (1 Peter 3:7; 1 Corinthians 7:3-5a).
Mutual consent, mutual consideration, must present in a marriage if there is to be harmony as God meant. This takes place when the husband truly loves his wife as Christ loved the church and when the wife is submissive to her husband as Christ was submissive to His heavenly Father.
The second illustration of the principle of submission Paul used is that of children and their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3; Colossians 3:20). This command of obedience to parents in “everything” is limited only to matters of law and conscience. If parents command their children to lie or worship idols, they are to disobey their parents and obey God. God must always come ahead of parents, even Christian parents (Luke 14:25, 26; Acts 5:29). Apart from matters of law and conscience, children are not to be selective when it comes to submission to their parents. They simply have not been given that privilege by God!
While authority has been given to parents over their children, this authority is to be tempered with sensitivity and consideration (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). Love without discipline leads to selfishness and rebellion. Discipline without love leads to exasperation, bitterness and despair. Love and discipline must go hand in hand if children are to grow up to be healthy adults. Parents who have learned submission will admit to fault and failure to their children, whereas parents who only cling to their authority will rule with an iron hand.
Paul even included slaves when it came to submission. They too, were to have respect for authority (Ephesians 6:5-8; Col. 3:22-25; Titus 2:9, 10). When we submit, we try to please, and this, says Paul, helps in showing the one in authority over us that we can be trusted. And when we can be trusted, we make the gospel attractive. We make the gospel attractive to others by being submissive (1Pet. 2:18; 1 Pet. 2:23).
Jesus submitted Himself to suffering even though it was unjust. He could have called a thousand angels to rescue Him but instead, for our sake, He gave His life. This is true submission, a submission born out of love. Since slavery has been abolished, the closest application we can make in our society today is the relationship between employees and employers. Masters also have a responsibility to their slaves (Eph. 6:9; Col.4:1). While employers have authority over their employees, their authority is not exercised in an authoritarian, bossy way. Authority and power must always be tempered with grace or it leads to oppression.
In addition to these examples of submission both Paul and Peter add a few more. The Bible makes it clear that we are citizens of two kingdoms: the kingdom of heaven and this present earthly kingdom. As a result we have responsibilities to both. When Jesus was asked whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar or not, He replied, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar, and to God what is God (Matt. 22:2, cf. Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17).
The responsibility of submission and obedience when it comes to our government is limited only by God’s law or our conscience. Only when we are asked or commanded to do something which violates our relationship with God should we disobey. At such a point civil disobedience becomes our Christian duty. To submit to God, in such a case, would mean refusal to submit to human beings (Acts 5:29).
The principle of submission is central to all relationships. While God has ordained power and authority to certain people and institutions, those same leaders and institutions are to be careful that they exercise that God given authority properly. A relationship where there is no authority leads to confusion and anarchy. On the hand, a relationship where authority and power is exercised without sensitivity and grace leads to dictatorship and totalitarianism. Love apart from authority leads to anarchy, while authority apart from love leads to oppression. Both this paths must be avoided.
By Rev. Eric D. Maefonea