Submission. The word chafes. The first occurrence we have of this word in Scripture is surprising. Challenging.
Genesis 16:9 – Then the angel of the LORD told her [Hagar], “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”
Hagar, young and afraid, alone in the desert. Her abdomen swollen with Abraham’s baby, a baby she never chose to have. Her mistress, Sarai, chose to use her as a baby factory and then sent her into the desert to fend for herself. An angel of the Lord appears to her and says… go back and submit.
Ephesians 5:22 – Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.
Oh, that one really hurts. No comment is even necessary.
Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.
1 Peter 2:13-14– Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
Obey your leaders. Submit to the king, to the governors, to authorities instituted by men. The original audience who unsealed these words in a handwritten letter were facing vicious persecution. Unwarranted, undeserved, unjust. The divine message to them? Submit.
Why is submission so difficult for us to swallow? To submit to authorities, to submit to leaders, to submit to the government, to submit to our husbands?
In my own personal opinion, one of the root reasons we struggle with this is fear. Fear of having no voice. Fear of decisions being made for us that may not be in what we see as our best interest. We struggle and fight and chafe because our culture’s cry of “this is my right!” beats like a drum in our ears. If we don’t fight for our rights, we will lose them! We need to be independent, defiant, nobody-steps-on-me pillars of strength that no one will mess with. And we are terrified that if we give up this fight we will be in bondage to others forever.
The discipline of submission can be practiced only as we grapple on a deep and very personal level with the sovereignty and authority of our very good and very trustworthy God. I sometimes, often even, do not agree with the government which rules over me. But I am called to submit. I sometimes have not agreed with the authorities over me in my daily life – authorities at church, authorities at work, authorities at school. But I am called to submit. I sometimes do not agree with my husband. But I am called to submit. I sometimes chafe against those around me – but I am called to submit my will out of reverence for Christ.
Submission can be mistaken for bondage. But in this serve-to-become-great, last-is-first economy of God’s kingdom, submission brings us freedom. Freedom from the shouting to have our voice, freedom from kicking against every authority in our lives, freedom from fear.
If I really believe that my God is sovereign, if I really believe that my God is loving, if I really believe that my God is the one who sets up authorities and takes them down, if I really trust Him to be who He says He is, love me like He says He does, plan for my good as He promises to do, I am free. I am free to submit my will to those around me because my value and worth does not come from being heard and being recognized as the one who is right. I am free to voice my opinion respectfully and then obey my authorities because I know that my loving Father is the one who sets kings up and takes them down and holds each day of my life in His hands. I am free to submit to my husband without nagging, without frantically attempting to manipulate him into making the “right” decision; I know that as I rest my hand into the hand of my husband, the hand of our loving Father holds us both.
The discipline of submission – the discipline of choosing to yield my will and stop fighting, stop clamoring to be heard – is a discipline of trust. To the world it looks like bondage, but in the kingdom of God it is freedom.
Trust Him. Yield your will. Stop fighting. And be free.
This post is not intended to deal with abusive situations. TRI-R ministries has a booklet entitled “Submission: Are There Limits?” which you can order here.
They point out that Scriptural submission is voluntary, is ultimately done unto God, has limits, and allows for petition. Scriptural submission pictures the righteous relationship between Christ and the church.
Victimization is involuntary, is done in the fear of man, has no limits, and pictures Satan’s relationship with his subjects.
Codependency is a response learned as a means to feel needed and self-sacrificing. It allows women who fear petition and confrontation to avoid it. Based on fear and insecurity, it is pictured in the relationship of God and the wicked servant with one talent (Matt. 25:24-29)
If you feel that you are being victimized, or that you are in an unhealthy codependent relationship, please seek professional Christian counseling.