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The Way of Submission

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The Way of Submission

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Submission is based on a humble and meek attitude, actually esteeming others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). It is a viewpoint turned away from the self and toward others. A submissive spirit is not strong-willed and opinionated, but willing to listen to and consider the opinions of other people. It does not want its own way so badly that it cannot give in to the needs or desires of others. It endeavors to be a peacemaker.

The primary Greek word for “submission” is hupotasso—a military term meaning to rank under, to arrange under, to submit, to be subject, to assign beneath. Hupotasso means to place ourselves under or beneath. It is voluntary—we must choose it. No one can impose it on us.

The opposite of submission is selfishness, being opinionated, having a strong self-will and only looking out for one’s self. This often leads to biting and devouring one another (Galatians 5:15). Without submission, our relationships suffer—in our marriages and families, at church, at work and in our communities. We cannot have healthy relationships without submission—it must be an essential ingredient in all our relationships.

A submissive spirit does not mean we never stand up to a wrong or evil. There are times to stand up for what is right: for example, when Jesus on two separate occasions drove out the animals and moneychangers at the temple (Matthew 21:12-13; John 2:13-16). The apostle Paul also, when he was falsely accused, stood up and appealed to Caesar’s judgment seat (Acts 25:10-12). The way of submission does not mean weakness—quite the opposite. When we must stand up, we should do so with a right attitude and a right spirit, never with hatred or hostility. We regret in our heart that it has become necessary to stand up; we would much rather sit down and reason together, and to agree and be friends.

The Value of Submission

There is a lot about submission in the Bible. Of course, first of all we are to “submit to God” (James 4:7). He is our Creator, and therefore we readily submit to His rule in our lives. We submit to His will for us, even when it is not necessarily what we want or expect.

Scriptures also instruct us to submit in our numerous relationships with our fellow man. We are to submit to civil government, unless there is a conflict with God’s laws (1 Peter 2:13-14). Employees are to be submissive to their bosses, even if the boss is harsh (1 Peter 2:18). In the family, there is to be a lot of submission between husbands and wives and children (1 Peter 3:1-7; Ephesians 5:22-33; Ephesians 6:1-3).

In the Church, there is to be submission to leadership God has appointed (1 Corinthians 12:28; Hebrews 13:7, Hebrews 13:17). Younger people are admonished to be submissive to older people (1 Peter 5:5). And all the members are instructed to “be submissive to one another” (1 Peter 5:5), “submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21).

But it goes further—there is submission even to our enemies. Jesus said to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Paul wrote that if your enemy is hungry and thirsty, give him food and drink (Romans 12:20). By submitting to the needs of our enemies, we are imitating our Father in heaven, who sends His rain on the evil and the good (Matthew 5:45), and is kind to the unthankful and the evil (Luke 6:35).

Altogether that’s a lot of submission—to God, to civil government, to the boss at work, in our families, in the Church and even to our enemies.

Biblical Examples of Submission

The Scriptures provide many excellent examples of the way of submission.

In Genesis 13, when there was strife between Abraham and Lot’s herdsmen, Abraham solved the problem by exhibiting submission. Abraham said to his nephew, Lot: “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brethren” (Genesis 13:8). Abraham then proposed that they separate and go in different directions—and uncle Abraham let his nephew choose which direction he would go. So they separated and preserved their relationship. What a beautiful example of submission!

Another good example is Joseph with his brothers in Genesis 50. After their father died, the brothers feared that Joseph would seek revenge for the evil they had done to him. When they came asking forgiveness, Joseph broke down and wept. He told his brothers: “Do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Genesis 50:21). Joseph comforted them and spoke with kindness to them. By submitting to his brothers even though they had wronged him, he helped to heal the breach in their relationship.

In the teachings and life of Jesus Christ, we see the way of submission. Jesus taught to turn the other cheek, to be willing to suffer wrongfully and to be willing to come up on the short end (Matthew 5:38-42). He said that we are to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us and to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). He exhorted us not to seek to be the greatest, but instead to be a servant to our fellow man (Matthew 20:20-28). Then Jesus submitted in the greatest possible way, yielding His life on the stake for our sins. Jesus taught and exemplified the way of submission perfectly.

We also see the excellent example of the apostles and elders in the early church. In Acts 15, at the Jerusalem conference concerning circumcision, a spirit of submission is evident among the apostles and elders. After “much dispute” they listened to the experiences of Peter, Barnabas and Paul (Acts 15:6-12). Then James said, “Men and brethren, listen to me”—and he gave a recommendation concerning circumcision which “pleased the apostles and elders” (Acts 15:13-22). As the apostles and elders submitted to one another, led by the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28), they reached a spiritual consensus on circumcision. What a wonderful example of submission in the leadership of the early church.

We have often seen the same collaborative spirit in the modern era of the Church of God as in the early church, both in the ministerial leadership and in the membership of the church. The way of submission works. May it continue in the years ahead.

Submission is a very important biblical doctrine. Let us learn to defer in humility to one another, loving others so much that we readily submit to their needs and desires to preserve peace when doing so does not break God’s law.

In all our relationships, let’s be living and practicing the way of submission!