Too many chiefs: and the need for Submission in the Christian life


Submission is a dirty word in America. We are a people who threw off the yoke of aristocracy in order to become a people where everyman is his own king. The only problem with that idea is that many chiefs make for much war in the camp and too few Indians doesn’t make a tribe. The scriptures give us an insight into the life of a people when everyone is his own king.


The book of Judges records the result: when everyone does what is right in his own eyes, sin abounds, oppression results, deliverance is needed, and then the cycle starts all over again. All of that is because when a people can’t submit to God they are unable to submit to one another in little things and in big things. And when they can’t submit to one another then fights break out, lawsuits abound, angers flare, etc.


Contrary to what many think, submission isn’t the belief that some are more valuable and others are less valuable, rather submission is the willing laying down of one’s rights in order to see God’s plans and purposes fulfilled. No person has an inherent right to lord his or her power or ideas over another, nor does any husband have an inherent right to demand the deference of his wife. But when each party understands that God is the sovereign Lord then he or she is able to accept the ordering which The Heavenly Father has laid out in the Scriptures. Children submit to parents, wives submit to husbands, church members submit to church leaders and all submit to God. Submission is God’s divinely ordained way of keeping peace in the community and ensuring that a family, a church or a nation can move forward in fulfilling God’s plan to declare among the nations the gospel message of Christ crucified, buried, resurrected and ascended.


So what does this look like in daily life? For the child, it means obedience to the parents’ requests. Submission may mean using “Please” and “Thank you.” It may mean saying, “Yes, sir” and “No, sir.” It definitely involves carrying out chores without grumbling or complaining. For the wife, it means laying aside her preferences in order to carry out her husband’s. This isn’t demanded; she willingly renders it for the furtherance of peace in the home. Submission means that when a disagreement on the direction of the family arrives, the wife will lay aside her purposes in order for her husband to lead the family. For the church member it means trusting God to guide the leadership of the church towards Christ-likeness. When there are disagreements over church plans, styles, or preferences the membership defers to the leadership of the Church. When church leaders ask members to actively do or refrain from doing something, the member accepts the direction of those responsible before God. Submission requires caring for the reputation of the one who is leading. It means not speaking evil of a leader or seeking to undermine their authority.


And for the every believer, submission to God means carrying out His plans and purposes. It is the ordering of our lives around God’s instruction and desire, instead of our own. In all of these things, submission calls us to consider others better than ourselves. Submission calls us to love one another, to seek peace and pursue godliness. Submission is the invitation of God to become like Christ by humbly following Him. As Hebrews 5:7 declares, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”


But submission is only possible for us if we recognize the authority and sovereignty of God Almighty, as Jesus did. For when we realize that The Lord is actively leading and overseeing our world, then we can believe that every authority has been installed by God and that as long as the leadership’s directions and demands don’t contradict the written Word of God, then the Lord has allowed them to request such and so from us and the Lord will use these requests for our good.


As you can see, submission requires a high degree of trust in God. It is a radical call for a radically individual society. So let me ask a few questions: Do you desire a quiet life? Do you desire a peaceful church? Do you yearn for a godly family? Do you yearn for holiness in your life? Then learn to practice submission. For as the Word says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21) and “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17)

About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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