The topic of submission is often shunned in our society. Self reliance and a “do it yourself” mentality is touted as paramout to success. Oftentimes, we don’t like the idea of answering to anybody but ourselves. But is this Biblical? What is submission and how does it relate to our relationship with God and others in our life? This answer doesn’t come from one passage of scripture but is a vein of truth that runs throughout the old and new testament.
We read in 1 Samuel about how Saul lost his kingship. The background to the key passage is found in the command of the Lord to destroy the Amalekites completely. Saul mustered the army and defeated the Amalekites but spared the life of their king Agag, and the best of the sheep and cattle. When he encounters Samuel he claims to have completely carried out the command of the Lord, but Samuel cuts his answer short. “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” Saul’s claim that these animals were brought for sacrifices to the Lord is cut short by Samuel.
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of
the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you
Have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.”
Insubordination to the word of the Lord is no small thing. It is here compared with the sin of divination or witchcraft. We cannot therefore make light of a situation in which a rebellious attitude manifests itself.
God has set up a series of authorities in our life here on earth. These authorities are institutions which derive their position of power and authority ultimately from God’s own authority. Defiance of a human authority, other than in cases where their command is contrary to the will or command of God as revealed through scripture, is ultimately defiance of God’s authority. Submission to God’s authority is of utmost importance for the believer, since relationship with God is only possible in such an attitude of submission. James warns the believers that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The word here means that God arrays himself in battle against the proud person. Pride is the very sin of the devil who exalted himself against God and now stands in proud opposition to God attempting to devour and drag away as many as possible into the very same sin of pride and rebellion against the LORD. James offers this remedy;
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and
he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves
before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
The train of thought here starts with the submitting to God as a general principle for living the Christian life, which then results in being victorious over Satan’s attempts to lead you astray, closeness to God and genuine repentance that will lead to mourning over our sins and humbly acknowledging our sinfulness and desperate need for God. This attitude of total dependence will result in being lifted up and cared for by God. More than simply standing by and watching events unfold, submission does not simply speak of a passive standing by, but according to Motyer describes an attitude of “active enlistment” for the purposes of God. Motyer quotes Francis A. Schaeffer’s position, that we are dealing with “active passivity”. The passage seems to be describing a willful and active subordination to the purposes of God. If we break down the latin root we see: sub=under and mission= an important assignment; getting under an important assignment. We submit to God’s authority because He is worthy and in that submission we are a part of His plan and purposes on this earth.
Flowing from this primary submission to God flows our submission in all other areas of life. As I mentioned above, God has set up structures of authority that govern every aspect of life. These structures include Governments and rulers and all who are in authority over the civil affairs of man; religious leaders such as the elders and pastors of churches; husbands as leaders in the marriage relationship; and parents who are God’s ordained authority in the realm of the family. The scriptures teach submission in each of these facets of life, a submission that ultimately shows submission to the authority of God.
“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except
that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted,
And those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”
This passage makes it quite clear that the authority of the government is given by God and must be obeyed (again the obvious exception is a command that goes contrary to the scripture, in which case we must disobey, gladly bearing the consequences of our actions).
Peter conveys a very similar message in his epistle. The great Apostle goes down the list of those who occupy positions of authority and he plainly states the need for men and women to submit to these authorities.
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the
king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong
and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the
ignorant talk of foolish men.
Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate
But also to those who are harsh.
Wives in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they
may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives.
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the
Submission is not only commanded when we agree with what we are to submit to, or are treated kindly, but in all circumstances, so that God’s authority would be honored and He would receive the ultimate glory. Like those in civil positions of authority, spiritual leadership is set up by God and designed to protect, nourish and care for the congregation as a good shepherd does for his flock. Jesus challenges the disciples and with them all future spiritual leaders to not lord it over those they are leading as the Gentiles did, but to be servant-leaders. He also demonstrated his willingness to serve in washing the disciples’ feet. Leaders are to display this same kind of sacrificial servant-leadership. In the same way followers are commanded to obey their leaders:
“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give
an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage
The Apostle Paul addresses a number of different relationships as well. In each of the situations submission is commanded out of reverence for Christ. Thus he addresses the relationship between slaves and masters in Colossians, 1Timothy and Titus, as a relationship of submission and obedience. In Ephesians likewise, Paul addresses the issue of submission. In the context of living a life that is characterized by “walking worthy of the calling by which you have been called”, Paul urges for believers to “walk in wisdom” and to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In this letter to the Ephesians Paul urges the believers to live lives of submission. This submission will play out between wives and husbands, children and parents, and slaves and masters.
Much has been made in regards to the submission of the wife to the husbands. This submission of the wife to her own husband is a non-negotiable in scripture, as the submission to God-ordained authority. However a few caveats ought to be included in any discussion of such submission. First, this submission must never extend to anything that is ungodly or unbiblical. Second, it does not refer to the submission by all women to any man, but specifically to the submission of a wife to her own husband. Third, a young woman will need to submit to her Father while she is not yet married (which stems from the submission of children to their parents), then once she is married she will submit to her husband. This submission does not apply to boyfriends or even fiancées. Fourth, submission does not mean that the wife is expected to live her life “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen”. Finally, this submission presupposes the husband’s sacrifice.
As we study Ephesians 5 it becomes very clear that the wife’s role is likened to that of the church which is submissive to Christ, and the husband’s role is likened to Christ, who laid down his live for the church. As a husband honors, and loves and sacrifices for his wife it will become much easier for her to submit to his leadership. This submission does not mean that she should not or can not have an opinion on any given subject and give input. Husband and wife should have a partnership in which they can communicate and pray about any given decision and carefully weigh the options and consequences together. In most cases they will be able to make the decision together. Should they be in disagreement and be in a position where they cannot wait to make a decision, the husband is ultimately responsible for the decision and its possible consequences. Ultimately, this brings freedom to the wife who is allowed to rest in her husbands accountability to God for his decisions.
Submission is a God-ordained response to God-ordained authority. Doubtlessly it is made much easier for the subordinate to submit if the person or persons in authority are loving and considerate. When employers are considerate and inclusive with employees; parents are loving and consistent with their children; governments are set up for the benefit of their citizens and dispense justice and order with impartiality; husbands love their wives sacrificially; and pastors and spiritual leaders are servants who do not lord it over their congregations but carefully and conscientiously care for the flock this submission comes easy, or at least easier. However, even when those in authority are inconsiderate or authoritarian we do not have an excuse to refuse to submit unless what is demanded is unbiblical or ungodly.
 1 Samuel 15:14
 James 4:6
 J.A. Motyer: “The Bible Speaks Today: The Message Of James”, pp.151-153
 Romans 13:1-2
 1 Peter 2:13-15
 1 Peter 2:18
 1 Peter 3:1
 1 Peter3:7
 cf. Matthew 20:25-28
 cf. John 13
 Colossians 3:22; 1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:9-10
 Ephesians 4:1
 Ephesians 5:21
 cf. Ephesians 5:22-33
 cf. Ephesians 6:1-4
 cf. Ephesians 6:5-9
 Ephesians 5:22 (NKJV)