Living for God through Christ means submitting to one another. Yet I have been learning that if there is any word in the Bible that rivals “predestination” as a word that Christians would prefer to avoid, it is “submit.” One of the easiest places to see this is in Christian hymns and praise songs. There are lots of songs that talk about the need to surrender to God, but can you name me one song that talks about the need to submit to God? I am sure there might be a few out there, but I don’t personally know of any.
The interesting thing is that we are never asked in the Bible to surrender to God. Not once. Did you know that? The only time surrender is mentioned in the Bible it is in the context of giving up to an enemy.
I submit to you that God is not interested in your surrendering to Him. To surrender means to give yourself up to another under duress, it is done under compulsion, it is done because you are forced to. What God is interested in is your submission to Him, His authority and will. To submit, when it is used in relational contexts, means to recognize another’s authority or position and agree to accept it and work with it or under it. You can surrender to God without submitting to Him. As a matter of fact, I think that is a picture of what hell is like—a place full of people who are now surrendered to God’s authority but are not at all submitted to it.
Now, I am willing to concede that when Christians use the word surrender they don’t mean “Ok God, I give! I surrender! You can have my lousy life!” That’s not what they mean, they mean that they are joyfully, gratefully, freely giving themselves to God…which sounds an awful lot more like submission—recognizing God’s holiness and responding appropriately to it.
Apparently the ideas that come to mind when we hear the word “submit” are so bad that we would rather not say it at all. So before we take some time to look at what it means, let’s take some time to clear up what it does not mean.
- Submitting to one another is not servile. It is not blind obedience. For instance when Paul says that wives are to submit to their husbands in verse 22, he is not saying that they should without question obey anything and everything their husbands command. Being submissive does not mean saying yes to everyone all the time. Sometimes the right thing, the loving thing to do is to say “no.”
- For those of us who tend to be more reserved and people pleasers, submitting to one another does not mean being everyone’s welcome mat. It does not mean you have to let people walk all over you and wipe their feet off on you. This verse does not give permission for people to take advantage of you or to treat you poorly.
- For those of us who tend to be more shall I say, large and in charge, submitting to one another is not a license to get your own way. This is not a verse you can use as a justification to get people do to what you want. This submission goes two ways. It is to one another, not to another.
What this submission does mean? The opening verses of chapter 5 tell us where to look to find out: Ephesians 5:1-2 (NIV), Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. We are God’s children, dearly loved children. Since we are, we His children, we should act like our Elder Brother, Jesus who showed us what loving submission to the Father looks like and how that translated into His loving submission to His Church.
- Right off the bat, Paul gives us the motivation for submission to one another: it is done out of reverence to Christ. Since it is done out of reverence to Christ, however this submission looks, it should demonstrate our love and submission to Christ. It should reflect well on Him. It should present Jesus in a favorable light.
- It is done in love. Remember this submission is in the context of explaining what it means to walk in the way of love (5:2). Christ’s love for His Father drove Him to gladly submit to Him, to do whatever He asked, because He knew that His Father was never going to ask Him anything that was not for His good and glory and joy. Christ’s love for the Church—for you and me—drove Him to submit to us, providing everything we need, even at the cost of His life. In the same way our love for Jesus should lead us to lovingly submit to one another. Love makes you want to do strange things when those we love—it makes you want to give for them even if it hurts, it makes you want to sacrifice for the person you love, it makes you willing to do painful things that you would not do without love. Without love, it is impossible to submit to one another in the way that God is looking for in His children.
It is done in humility. It is done in humbly recognizing our place and responsibilities God gives us in our relationships to one another. Wives are to submit to God’s design that their husband is the primary person God has given them to provide for and care for them, physically and spiritually.
Husbands submit to their wives in that their care is their responsibility; they are to love and care for them no less than they would for their own body. Their care and love for their wife should reflect Jesus’ love and care for the Church.
Children submit to their parents by recognizing their parents’ authority and honoring them and obeying them.
Parents submit to their children by creating an atmosphere where they are encouraged not discouraged, where they get the godly leadership and instruction they need to grow up into Christ-like men and women.
In our places of work we should work as if our employer was Jesus Himself and should show submission to our employers by treating them with respect and doing the best work we can. Likewise employers should submit to their employees by treating them well, as Christ takes care of you and treats you well as His servant, your place as an employer means you are to mirror that care for those who work for you.
- This submission is done with the good of the other in mind. It is not guided by our own private good, but is focused on the needs of others. Therefore this submission is marked by compassion, grace, and mercy; it is marked by kindness and goodness.
So submitting to one another is not about blind obedience, or being taken advantage of or a weapon by which we rationalize taking advantage of others. It is a mindset in which we are led to honor God by serving one another in the capacities and roles that we have for Christ, in love, in humility, and for their good.