Biblical Submission

I always appreciate comments and conversations that flow out of these blogs, and I am humbled to be a part of this process. Through these blogs we are able to have deeper discussions beyond worship on Sunday morning, and I am thankful for that. One important question that has surfaced out of my last blog called “Dethroned” goes something like this: “Am I supposed to submit if that person is evil or wrong?” Surely Christ would not call you to submit to someone that is evil or someone that has misused, or even abused, their authority. We often find ourselves thinking, if not saying out loud, “Christ is the one person that modeled perfect leadership and perfect submission, and he is the only one I will fully submit to!” That is exactly the opposite idea I proposed in “Dethroned,” and I believe it is absolutely contrary to what Scripture has to say about submission.

When I boil down our issues with submission, I think I can reduce all of our problems with authority to one issue: I’m not sure Jesus’ ideas of discipleship and self-denial fit very well with our Western worldview that values physical health over spiritual health. The funny thing is Jesus has already answered the question above of whether or not we should submit to others “only if they are worthy of our submission” in the Sermon on the Mount.” He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38–42 NIV) The verse I quoted above is out of the section of Jesus’ sermon that talks about authority and how we should relate to it. This command makes us all a little uncomfortable because it addresses someone that already has positional authority over us and has the ability to force us into situations we do not wish to be a part of. This command presupposes that we have laid down our “right to have it our own way.” And I believe Jesus’ word to us is really saying, “Don’t just submit and do what that person asks you to do, but go even further to please this person.” The idea that we should only submit to others when there is a guarantee they will not lord it over us, dominate us, or abuse us with that new found authority may be a rule in Western pop-psychology, but it is certainly not an idea that comes from the Bible.

Dallas Willard has a great quote when discussing the subject of submission to authority and dying to self. He says, “One source of difficulty in dying to self is that we may confuse our desire for what is good and right with our desire to have our own way.” The reason this idea of submission is so important to God is because we are not the ultimate Judge of what is “good and right.” We are not the Author and Creator of good. The other reason this is so important is because we will never be able to submit to God if we cannot submit to one another. You may think it is easier to submit to a holy God rather than a fallen human, but it actually is not. What happens when God calls you to go “there” or to help “her?” How will you ever submit to a voice that is often mysterious and subtle if you cannot submit to the person that is right in front of you?

Our desire to have it “our way” is so apparent you need to only look at the business sector in the West to see how marketing is targeted at fulfilling this longing. From “have it your way” to “the customer is always right” to “just like you like it,” businesses prey on our desire to “be boss,” even if it is only for a brief moment when ordering a hamburger. If you are going to hold to the idea that you will submit your life to another when you find someone worthy of your submission, good luck. I doubt you will ever make it through school, be good at sports, join a church, get married, or even be able to function as a child in a parent/child relationship. The point of submission is not whether or not that person will exercise servant leadership over you. The point of submission is not even about making you a better, healthier person. The point of biblical submission is about one thing and one thing only: death to self. And until you die to self by submitting to others no matter what happens, you will be unable to bear any lasting fruit. (John 12:24-25)

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