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:
- The Bible speaks frequently of submission, so if you have a problem with submission you will have a problem with much of the Bible.
- 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…
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.
- What comes to mind when hearing the word submission? Are your thoughts positive or negative?
- Does Scripture present submission positively or negatively?
- Aside from marriage, in what other relationships are Christians called to submit? Which of these is hardest for you to submit? Why?
- Discuss a time you gave up rights to be at peace with others:
- What are the differences between submitting outwardly and submitting inwardly?
- How do your actions demonstrate your attitude about submission?
- 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?
- 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?
- What are the differences between a wife respecting her husband versus submitting to him?
- Why is submission in marriage necessary?
- How does the idea of equating submission to working as a team encourage you?
- Discuss the blessings of a time your wife submitted to you.
- List three of your wife’s actions that demonstrate her submission to you.
- 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).
- List three things you do that make it easier for your wife to submit to you:
- List three things you do that make it harder for your wife to submit to you:
- What changes will you make so that it will be easier for your wife to submit to you?
- Discuss the blessings of a time you submitted to your husband.
three actions that demonstrate your submission
to your husband.
- Do you feel you exasperate your husband by presenting countless variations of the same opinion stated in different ways? Why or why not?
- List three things your husband does that make it easier to submit to him:
- List three things your husband does that make it harder to submit to him:
- How will you begin praying for your husband so that it will be easier to submit to him?