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Understanding Submission

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If you are an American, I have bad news for you. You may have more trouble with submission than most people. Submission is considered not only un-American but downright anti-American. “Give me liberty or give me death,” was Founding Father Patrick Henry’s famous declaration during the American Revolution. And, indeed, Americans value liberty more than almost anything else. Certainly, to many people, submission looks like a loss of liberty. We might paraphrase “Give me liberty or give me death!” as “I’d rather die than submit!”

A nation that prides itself on a notion such as this will view submission negatively, and there are two problems for Christians who also find themselves in this category:

  1. The Bible speaks frequently of submission, so if you have a problem with submission you will have a problem with much of the Bible.
  2. Submission—or having a submissive spirit—is spoken of positively. If you do not want to be a submissive person, you are going to have a hard time following Christ.

Submission Is Not Only for Wives

Often when we hear the word “submission” the first thing that comes to mind is God’s command for wives to submit to their husbands. But wives are far from the only believers commanded to submit; every Christian is called to submit in a number of ways. Before Peter commands wives to submit to their husbands in 1 Peter 3:1 he first discusses submission in a number of other relationships:

  • 1 Peter 2:13–17 commands believers to submit to government (see also Romans 13:1–7).
  • 1 Peter 2:18–25 commands slaves to submit to their masters; in our society this would translate as employees’ submitting to employers (see also Ephesians 6:5–8).
  • 1 Peter 5:5 commands congregations to submit to their elders (see also Hebrews 13:17).

Additionally, in Ephesians 6:1, the apostle Paul commands children to submit to their parents (see also Colossians 3:20). He also instructs wives to submit to their husbands in Ephesians 5:22, but one verse earlier, he commands believers:

Submit to one another in the fear of God.

Ephesians 5:21

What Does Submitting to One Another Mean?

Have a submissive spirit that is willing to give up rights and wishes for the sake of unity in the body of Christ:

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3–4

Our spiritual liberty is not only about freedom but equally about giving up—i.e., submitting—our rights for others. If a brother or sister in Christ would be offended or stumble on account of one of our liberties, we submit to that person by laying down our rights (see Romans 14:14–23; 1 Corinthians 8:9–13):

  • Romans 12:18—If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.
  • Hebrews 12:14—Pursue peace with all people.

Establishing this peace, whether in the marriage relationship or any other relationship, involves submission. It involves making sacrifices in deference to others.


For a better understanding of submission, watch this message I preach at Marriage God’s Way Conferences

“Submission” is frowned on in the world’s eyes, but it’s a clear command to wives in Scripture. What does it look (and not look) like for wives to submit to their husbands as the church does to Christ? Also, how can husbands make it easier to submit to them?

The Way We Submit Is as Important as Submitting

When I taught elementary school, I told students on the first day that the way they did what I asked was as important as doing what I asked. For example:

  • If I instructed a student to take out a book, and the student slammed it defiantly on his desk, he would be in as much trouble as if he had not taken out the book at all.
  • If I told a student to push in her chair, but she pushed it in while rolling her eyes, she would be in as much trouble as if she had not pushed in the chair at all.

The way we submit—whether students to teachers, children to parents, congregations to elders, believers to government, employees to employers, believers to one another, or wives to husbands—is as important as submitting itself. If we submit with a bad attitude, we are not really submitting. We may think of submission as an outward action, but it is something we do inwardly. Submission is an issue of the heart.

One interesting note about the Greek word for “submit”—hypotasso—is that it is actually a military term meaning “to arrange (troop divisions) in a military fashion under the command of a leader.” It reminds me of a lesson I will never forget from my time in the United States Army. A superior officer asked those of us under his command: “What do you do with every command you receive?”

We gave any number of answers:

  • “Make sure you know exactly what you are being asked to do.”
  • “Learn from the order.”
  • “Carry out the request as quickly as possible.”

Nobody had the right response. Finally, we were told: “Take the order and make it your own.”

What he meant was any time we are given a command, we should do it as though we want to do it. If a soldier moaned, groaned, rolled his eyes, complained, or argued with his commander when asked to do something, he would be considered insubordinate. To say it would be frowned upon is an understatement. Likewise, we should recognize how much it is spiritually frowned upon if we do that when submitting. This can apply to:

  • Students when they submit to their teachers
  • Children when they submit to their parents
  • Employees when they submit to their bosses
  • Wives when they submit to their husbands

And this applies to husbands when they do things for their wives. Will it really bless a wife if a husband sighs and complains while changing a diaper or washing the dishes?

Following Jesus’s Example of Submission

A wife should then be encouraged to submit to her husband by looking at Jesus’s example in submitting to the Father. In Peter’s discussion of submission, he also stated: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Jesus set down the example for us to follow. This does not apply only to wives’ submitting to their husbands but to any relationship previously mentioned. When children demonstrate submission to parents, congregations demonstrate submission to elders, believers demonstrate submission to government, and employees demonstrate submission to employers, they are demonstrating the heart of Christ. A submissive heart is a heart like Christ’s. To submit is to be like Christ.

Just as Jesus is the premier example of submission, so Satan offers the premier example of rebellion. Scripture provides vivid images of Satan’s original rejection of God as his head, which resulted in his being cast down and out of heaven (Isaiah 14:12–20; Ezekiel 28:12–19). Then, in the Garden of Eden, we see him as a serpent stirring up similar rebellion in Eve. Consider the parallelism between the words he spoke to himself and the words he spoke to Eve:

  • Isaiah 14:14—“I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.”
  • Genesis 3:5b—“Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.”

Satan is saying here in essence: “You do not need to submit to God. You can have His position instead.” To be rebellious and reject the authority God has placed over us—whether parents, church leadership, government, employers, or husbands as head of the family—is to follow Satan’s example.

But let’s not conclude with our focus on Satan. When we think of submission, we should think about:

  • How Jesus was willing to submit—perfectly
  • What He was willing to submit to—the wrath of God that our sins deserve
  • Why He was willing to submit—His great love for us

Nobody has ever had as much to submit to as Jesus did. Nobody has ever submitted to any trial or suffering as well as Jesus did. Whenever we are facing a situation that calls for submission, we should be encouraged by the example Jesus set for us.

Discussion Questions

  1. What comes to mind when hearing the word submission? Are your thoughts positive or negative?
  2. Does Scripture present submission positively or negatively?
  3. Aside from marriage, in what other relationships are Christians called to submit? Which of these is hardest for you to submit? Why?
  4. Discuss a time you gave up rights to be at peace with others:
  5. What are the differences between submitting outwardly and submitting inwardly?
  6. How do your actions demonstrate your attitude about submission?
  7. Since we recognize submission is necessary for orderly leadership in so many other areas of life, why do we see such a struggle to embrace it in marriage?
  8. Since wives are commanded to submit to their husbands five times in the New Testament, why do you think some churches and/or couples reject it?
  9. What are the differences between a wife respecting her husband versus submitting to him?
  10. Why is submission in marriage necessary?
  11. How does the idea of equating submission to working as a team encourage you?

Husbands

  1. Discuss the blessings of a time your wife submitted to you.
  2. List three of your wife’s actions that demonstrate her submission to you.
  3. Do you feel your wife exasperates you by presenting countless variations of the same opinion stated in different ways? If yes, discuss at least one time this took place (preferably recently).
  4. List three things you do that make it easier for your wife to submit to you:
  5. List three things you do that make it harder for your wife to submit to you:
  6. What changes will you make so that it will be easier for your wife to submit to you?

Wives

  1. Discuss the blessings of a time you submitted to your husband.
  2. List three actions that demonstrate your submission
    to your husband.
  3. Do you feel you exasperate your husband by presenting countless variations of the same opinion stated in different ways? Why or why not?
  4. List three things your husband does that make it easier to submit to him:
  5. List three things your husband does that make it harder to submit to him:
  6. How will you begin praying for your husband so that it will be easier to submit to him?
Your Marriage God's Way book and workbook by Scott LaPierre

The content in this post is found in Your Marriage God’s Way and the accompanying workbook.

18 Responses

  1. I love the relaxed style of your videos – I think videos may be a really important way of engaging in mission and ministry online – I’ve done a little bit of it, but keep thinking I should try it more. I think the style you use may make it less intimidating. There’s also a good mix of Biblical points and down-to-earth wisdom.

    Advent blessings

    Bosco

    1. Thank you Bosco.

      It’s definitely more my wife’s encouragement that allows these videos to take place. I feel much more comfortable behind the pulpit with my notes in front of me. The “live” aspect of Facebook Live is what makes it a stretch for me :). You could say preaching behind the pulpit is live too, but for some reason it seems different to me.

      Anyway, thanks for your encouragement!

  2. I can relate to the second part of this post about how to disagree with your spouse in front of your children without it being a conflict. My husband and I think it’s important for our children to see this behavior modeled, so they will know how to communicate during disagreements with their future spouses. Also, it’s important to show children they should think for themselves instead of just swallowing what everyone else tells them. Their relationship with God and faith will be stronger for it.

    1. Hi Rachael,
      That’s wonderful that you’re taking into consideration the example you’re setting for your children, not just for their lives now, but for their marriages in the future.

      I think it’s true that daughters look for men who will treat them the way their fathers treated their mothers, and the same for sons with their future wives.

  3. It is so true that conflict doesn’t win people over. I like how Paul would look for common ground with people when presenting Christ. Yes, he was presenting a different point of view, which some violently disagreed with but, he used something they were already familiar with.

    1. Hi Kristi,
      I’m glad you caught that from the video. Pride flares up and makes us want to argue, but instead of helping us get our point across better it destroys our case.

  4. This is tough. I couldn’t imagine being married to someone who mocked Christianity. How hard it would be to stay humble and show the grace and love of a god to that person. Major prayer would be needed!

    1. Hi Jolleen,
      I couldn’t imagine it either. I appreciate the woman’s desire to honor the Lord in a really difficult situation, and raise her children to know God.

  5. This is sound advice, Scott. I so appreciate that you said to teach understanding on minor issues. It supports your point from your book- “submissive wife” is not synonymous with “doormat!” I love a good theological discussion ??

    1. Beka,
      Thanks for your comment, and you quoted my book. Of course I think that’s great :).

      “Gentle and quiet spirit” versus “gentle and quiet mouth.”

      Yes, we all have differences with our spouses. Just an issue of handling/discussing them peacefully.

  6. This jumped out at me:

    “Our spiritual liberty is not only about freedom but equally about giving up—i.e., submitting—our rights for others. If a brother or sister in Christ would be offended or stumble on account of one of our liberties, we submit to that person by laying down our rights.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve seen families where the spouses lash out at each other all the time and the kids get the message that married life is full of fighting, etc. I’m constantly trying to make sure to watch not only my words but my attitude when there is a point of disagreement between us.

    1. That’s great, thanks Laura.

      Yes, instead of being convinced of some theological position, when the parents argue about their beliefs the kids simply become convinced that religion is a point of contention.

      Katie and I try to discuss in front of the kids, but argue in private :).

  7. Hi there! I don’t remember how I recently stumbled across your blog, but I’m so glad I did. I’ve been reading many of your posts and watching your videos. The video here is probably the one that resonates the most with a situation I’m currently going through. It is a long story, but I will try to sum things up here so perhaps you can give some advice/counsel. My husband was a pastor up until this last year, when God moved us from the western US to the southeastern part of the country. I actually married him while he was the youth pastor, and together we served at two churches out west. Then, God called us here, where he could teach Bible in a Christian school. We were excited, as my in-laws live close by and we knew the pastor and wife pretty well. So, we were confident in our decision, especially because if you teach at the Christian school, you also have to be members of the church. After a few short weeks of being here, I got involved in one of their ministries (that I have done in the past elsewhere), and it seemed to be a good fit–at first. But then, the Lord began tugging at my heart that didn’t seem right Biblically speaking. So, I prayed about it, talked with my husband, and he suggested I remove myself quietly. It was a hard thing, as it is something I know I can be a great asset in with prior experience and heart, but I thought I would just pray about future things at the church. I have been (or currently am involved with), some teaching/nursery help as much as able, but I’ve also had some physical issues, an ectopic pregnancy that recently led to a tubal surgery (yes, it’s been rough this past year!). However, because this ministry reaches all ages every week, my children have had an option to be a part, if parents want them to. I had been approached about this, but was told I couldn’t help with it (or lead in it), because I didn’t fully support this particular ministry. (this was a few months after I stepped out quietly…and honestly, had never had to deal with this anywhere else). I talked with my husband about it, and because of my personal decision months prior, told me that he didn’t want to be a part of it. For months, he has been telling me that I have been rebellious, not following him (submitting) or the church—all because I stepped out quietly for something I believe the Bible doesn’t want me to “go with the flow” about. I have led in this area for years, have felt confident and at peace of where I stand, but now…things are different at this church. My husband has never belittled me for where I stand on this issue, and there have been things he thinks strongly about that I have respected him on as well. After the processing with this, I have hardly mentioned this at all to him, nor do I judge others who are a part or even talk about it with other congregants. But, now with our kids being asked to join, and my husband saying for me to deal with it, I have…but recently exploded at me when he got upset over something else. This is when it becomes a contentious thing in our relationship. We will talk about other things, and perhaps a disagreement gets heated, and then I’m reminded that I’m not following him again in this particular situation. For the past few years, I have noticed that he will use the “submission” thing against me with some of these “non-essentials”…almost as if God can only speak through him for me. My opinions seem devalued many times and it has been discouraged. I have been teaching my kids things, but never have I said that they shouldn’t listen to Daddy’s point of view. In fact, some of these things, he has been very quiet on, until–he gets frustrated/upset about something and then he throws it in my face, as if it is wrong to apply Biblical principles, or have a different view than himself or others at church. In this case, he was initially worried that he would lose his job. I agree that we as parents need to be careful that our kids don’t see these arguments, but sadly, ours have so many times (even if the talks are loud and then it wakes them up…sad). I have suggested counseling, to no avail. I have sought counsel from our pastor with how he handles conflict, but I didn’t share this particular situation because he and I don’t agree on why I stepped down “if God led us here.” If you could help me, I would appreciate it. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells all the time, even though I don’t bring up the situation. With God closing this particular door at the church, He has reminded me that my primary ministry is the home, so He’s been working through me through all of this. If you could give some guidance, I would appreciate it…and if you need more info as to the particular thing I believe in, I wouldn’t mind sharing more details. I desire to do the right thing and be at peace with my husband. But at the same time, don’t have the “fit” that I have had before at other churches this because this area permeates a lot of what the church does, and the philosophy there, as well. Thanks so much!

    1. Hello Theo-Ann,
      I thought it best to copy your comment down and respond below certain parts.

      Hi there! I don’t remember how I recently stumbled across your blog, but I’m so glad I did. I’ve been reading many of your posts and watching your videos. The video here is probably the one that resonates the most with a situation I’m currently going through. It is a long story, but I will try to sum things up here so perhaps you can give some advice/counsel. My husband was a pastor up until this last year, when God moved us from the western US to the southeastern part of the country. I actually married him while he was the youth pastor, and together we served at two churches out west. Then, God called us here, where he could teach Bible in a Christian school. We were excited, as my in-laws live close by and we knew the pastor and wife pretty well. So, we were confident in our decision, especially because if you teach at the Christian school, you also have to be members of the church. After a few short weeks of being here, I got involved in one of their ministries (that I have done in the past elsewhere), and it seemed to be a good fit–at first. But then, the Lord began tugging at my heart that didn’t seem right Biblically speaking.

      Do you mind sharing what exactly it was that didn’t seem right? I hate to pry, but I’m not sure I can respond well without knowing.

      So, I prayed about it, talked with my husband, and he suggested I remove myself quietly. It was a hard thing, as it is something I know I can be a great asset in with prior experience and heart, but I thought I would just pray about future things at the church. I have been (or currently am involved with), some teaching/nursery help as much as able, but I’ve also had some physical issues, an ectopic pregnancy that recently led to a tubal surgery (yes, it’s been rough this past year!). However, because this ministry reaches all ages every week, my children have had an option to be a part, if parents want them to. I had been approached about this, but was told I couldn’t help with it (or lead in it), because I didn’t fully support this particular ministry. (this was a few months after I stepped out quietly…and honestly, had never had to deal with this anywhere else). I talked with my husband about it, and because of my personal decision months prior, told me that he didn’t want to be a part of it. For months, he has been telling me that I have been rebellious, not following him (submitting) or the church—all because I stepped out quietly for something I believe the Bible doesn’t want me to “go with the flow” about.

      I’m sorry, but I’m a little confused. Earlier it sounds like you said you spoke with your husband and he suggested you remove yourself quietly, which you did. It sounds like you did submit to him?

      I have led in this area for years, have felt confident and at peace of where I stand, but now…things are different at this church. My husband has never belittled me for where I stand on this issue, and there have been things he thinks strongly about that I have respected him on as well.

      Can you tell me what “issue” you’re referring to? Without knowing, I’m not sure how to provide counsel.

      After the processing with this, I have hardly mentioned this at all to him, nor do I judge others who are a part or even talk about it with other congregants. But, now with our kids being asked to join, and my husband saying for me to deal with it, I have…but recently exploded at me when he got upset over something else. This is when it becomes a contentious thing in our relationship. We will talk about other things, and perhaps a disagreement gets heated, and then I’m reminded that I’m not following him again in this particular situation. For the past few years, I have noticed that he will use the “submission” thing against me with some of these “non-essentials”…almost as if God can only speak through him for me.

      Interestingly, nonessentials should be the area where wives have the easiest time submitting to their husbands. It’s when husbands ask their wives to submit in areas that could be considered essentials, or very clear in Scripture.

      One other difficulty in responding to your post (aside from not knowing the actual issue at hand), is I haven’t been able to hear your husband’s side. Scripture says both sides should be heard before coming to a conclusion, and most times it’s not that either person is being dishonest. It’s simply an issue of them seeing things differently. I’d be glad to know your husband’s side, at least the best you can present it.

      My opinions seem devalued many times and it has been discouraged. I have been teaching my kids things, but never have I said that they shouldn’t listen to Daddy’s point of view. In fact, some of these things, he has been very quiet on, until–he gets frustrated/upset about something and then he throws it in my face, as if it is wrong to apply Biblical principles, or have a different view than himself or others at church. In this case, he was initially worried that he would lose his job.

      Do you mean his job in ministry? I would say if he’s in ministry at the church he needs to work for unity with the elders. If he’s so at odds with the theology of the church he can work for change, but if he’s considered divisive then the issues are large enough he should move on. It sounds like perhaps your husband feels like you’re differences are putting him or you or your family at odds with the leadership?

      I agree that we as parents need to be careful that our kids don’t see these arguments, but sadly, ours have so many times (even if the talks are loud and then it wakes them up…sad). I have suggested counseling, to no avail.

      If your husband is in ministry and you two are having these types of problems, you should definitely get counsel. If you don’t, more than likely it will simply erupt at some point, people will be shocked, and it will be much worse than if it had been handled earlier.

      I have sought counsel from our pastor with how he handles conflict, but I didn’t share this particular situation because he and I don’t agree on why I stepped down “if God led us here.” If you could help me, I would appreciate it. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells all the time, even though I don’t bring up the situation. With God closing this particular door at the church, He has reminded me that my primary ministry is the home, so He’s been working through me through all of this.

      Yes, that’s a very good view. I hope you can be encouraged that this is on your husband’s shoulders, and you’re largely responsible with supporting him, versus making the decisions yourself.

      If you could give some guidance, I would appreciate it…and if you need more info as to the particular thing I believe in, I wouldn’t mind sharing more details.
      Yes, that seems to be very important to know ?. In fact, I feel like there’s little I can say without that info.
      I desire to do the right thing and be at peace with my husband. But at the same time, don’t have the “fit” that I have had before at other churches this because this area permeates a lot of what the church does, and the philosophy there, as well. Thanks so much!

      Thanks for reading, commenting, and asking. I will try to respond more thoroughly when I have more information.

      In Christ,
      Scott

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