Submission: A Universal Biblical Command – Part 1

In the United States of America, we have a strong sense of independence. I meet very few people who want to be under anyone’s authority. I’m one of those people. I’ve had a number of jobs where I felt it was my duty to hold the leaders and authorities of those organizations accountable to their own standards. I was always looking for flaws and trying to find ways to fix what I think is wrong. I always thought I knew better, and being underneath an authority that I thought was inadequate really irritated me.

However, since moving from bi-vocational pastor to full-time pastor, I’ve had a lot of time to think about submission. I’ve discovered that no matter what role we are in, every one of us has been called to submit to some higher authority. Some of us have more than one authority that we answer to. Scripture requires that every person be under at least three authorities. I’ve decided to do a series of posts on this idea of “submission” in an attempt to remove the negative stigma it has, particularly in American Christianity. I also hope to show that following God’s command to submit to an inadequate, and incompetent leader, is better than fighting to get out from under, or undermining, that leader.

Before getting into the meat of this topic of submission, I want to simply define what it means to submit, and consider how this idea makes us feel.

The primary definition of the word submit according to is:

“to give over or yield to the power or authority of another”

The Greek word commonly translated submit in the New Testament is hupotasso. Thayer’s dictionary defines this word as:

1) to arrange under, to subordinate
2) to subject, put in subjection
3) to subject one’s self, obey
4) to submit to one’s control

Submission, then, is giving authority, and control over to another. To put it another way, it’s obeying another and trusting their decisions over our own. We allow them to choose on our behalf, rather than wrestling control from them and running off and doing it our own way. I’ve found that this idea of submission is quite foreign to many in the church today. Personal independence has trumped all else, and even the church has a tendency to praise those who stand up against the authorities.

I suspect it may not only be due to American history which praises a nation that broke free from the bondage of tyranny to set up a land of freedom. I think in the church it goes even deeper to our roots in the Protestant Reformation when great men like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others stood up to the establishment and broke free from the Roman Catholic church. I’m not suggesting that either of these events were wrong. However, I do wonder if this sense of individuality, and pride in mutiny, has lead us to miss a very prominent command in the Scriptures to submit.

It seems our views of submission all have to do with tyrants forcing people into submission. When we think of submitting, we think of overbearing Popes, oppressive monarchs, and evil slave masters. This spills over into our view of marriage. Any woman that’s asked to submit to her spouse must have a controlling husband. We almost never see submission in a positive, God glorifying, light. Is it a good thing to break away from that which God has called us to submit to?

Questions for Discussion

To whom does God require you to submit to in Scripture?

Do you submit to anyone?

Why is it hard to submit?

Why might it be better for you to submit to an incompetent leader, rather than rise up against him/her?

Photo via Flickr

Jeremy Lundmark
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