Submission is not a word Christians like to hear. It is definitely not hard-wired into the human nature. Men and women are very independent creatures who like to exert their will over others and aspire to top positions in the pecking order. As we shall soon see, it was not that way in the beginning. Submission is a high calling for all God’s children. Why is that? And why does God even consider it important? The Biblical Scriptures that follow will supply the answers to these important questions. God has supplied these answers through multiple writers in both the Old and New Testaments. Even Jesus Christ has weighed in on this fundamental issue.
What Do the Scriptures Say?
Why is submission so difficult? It certainly does not come natural for believers. The answer to that question lies in the first Book of the Bible—Genesis.
Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Gen. 2: 15-17).
We know the rest of the story. Eve capitulated to Satan’s temptation and ate fruit from that very tree. Adam quickly followed in disobedience to God. The failure to submit to God’s simple instructions precipitated a catastrophic fall of mankind into sin. All Adam’s descendants are born with a sin nature that cannot be removed by human hands.
This original sin precipitated many long-lasting consequences for the human race. Human rebellion against authority is one of these consequences. God prophesied of this rebellion when He judged Adam and Eve after the fateful event. “To the woman He said, I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth; in pain you will bring forth children; yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). The word ‘desire’ refers to a longing for an elevated role of authority in the marriage relationship. God prophesied Eve would resist the leadership of her husband, yet he would rule over her. Submission would not come easy for Eve, or for any of her descendants. This is exactly what has transpired over the course of history. Human nature detests submission. The natural desire of every human opposes authority. Satan is the ruler of this world until Jesus subjects him to eternal punishment. Satan continually revolts against God’s authority. He does all in his power to drag mankind into his rebellion. Humans born in sin are Satan’s children. They reflect the nature of their father. They behave like Satan. They resist authority—especially within institutions established by God. God foreknew ‘the fall’ and its consequences on humanity. Therefore, He established His institutions early in this world to enable His plan to move forward. The Book of Genesis delineates these institutions—marriage, government, family, and work. Each institution requires the submission of its participants. Satan hates these institutions and corrupts the hearts of his children to rebel against all of them. Therefore, governments fall into anarchy, marriages crumble through divorce and homosexuality, and families loose their anchor. Satan has blurred the definitions of all God’s institutions. When God reaches down to touch human hearts, He gives a new nature to each of His children. Submission to His will and to His institutions becomes possible once again. However, the old sin nature still desires dominance in every believer until Jesus removes the shackles of earthly bodies. Nevertheless, He commands the submission of all believers to His institutions.
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond-slaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear (1Pet.2: 13-3:6).
Wow! The Apostle Peter penned these words when Roman rulers targeted Christians as deviants of society and persecuted them relentlessly. It would have been convenient for Peter to instruct believers to rebel against their oppressors. Yet he commanded them to submit to authority. That is God’s will.
Peter instructed slaves to submit to their masters, even when their demands brought unjustified pain and suffering. Jesus submitted to worldly authorities, even unto the cross, despite He had never committed sin nor voiced rebellion. Most importantly, through His submission He bore a victory for God and for mankind that can never be annulled. The fruit of this victory will continue to blossom to the very end of history.
In like manner, Peter instructed “wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.” The he noted that even Abraham and godly men of old were exhorted to stay within the boundaries of God’s Word by the submissive behavior of their wives. Wives naturally rebel against the authority of their husbands due to sinful human nature. Peter asserts submission softens the hearts of sinful men and promotes godliness. The Apostle Paul provided even more insight regarding submission of wives to husbands:
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband (Eph. 5:22-33).
What a wonderful revelation! If God’s people could only apply this in their marriages, the Body of Christ would have much greater influence in this world.
Ephesians chapter 5 reveals the mystery of marriage as the reflection of a magnificent union between Christ and His church. The holy union of marriage presents a picture of the Body of Christ to the world. If a marriage is broken it cannot reflect the oneness of Christ with His body. This is a secret God held from the foundation of the world. The Christian wife submits to the authority of her husband because this reflects the submission of a believer and the church to Jesus Christ. The husband provides spiritual guidance and addresses the material/emotional needs of his wife just as Jesus Christ does for His Body in this world.
But alas! Marriage is in dissolution. The divorce rate among Christian marriages is the same as non-believers—at least 50%. Recent studies show this rate continues to creep higher. Evil forces controlling this world have successfully pushed for liberal definitions of marriage. Satan knows the Scripture—including this ‘mystery’ God has revealed to His children. If marriage reflects the union of Christ with His church (His Body in this world) why not promote divorce and blur the definition of marriage? Satan clearly understands such a debacle would tarnish the testimony of the Body of Christ. When we pull back the curtain and examine the worldly evidence, it becomes painfully clear Satan has already accomplished this very thing.
Satan continues to corrupt God’s marriage institution. He has pushed women to rise up and overthrow their bonds, usurping authority over their husbands. He has promoted homosexual marriage. Marriage no longer reflects the oneness of Christ with His church.
Who can undo this mess? The Body of Christ is currently on very shaky ground. The permanence of marriage and the ‘oneness’ of Jesus with His Body on this earth seems a distant mirage. But we know the end of the story and it is glorious, indeed. God has revealed this mystery to the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation.
‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.’ It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints (Rev 19:9).
Somehow, someday, there will be a glorious eternal union between the Lamb and His bride—the Body of Christ. The above Scripture describes the bride clothed in fine, bright linen, depicting the righteousness of Christ imputed to His followers. Jesus will consummate that union. God will make it happen, because He is omnipotent. The current path Christians walk until that time is unclear. But God has recorded instructions for His followers.
Marriage is a permanent covenant meant to last till death. This should admonish every Christian to consider the seriousness of entering that covenant and the need to keep it ‘until death do us part.’ Likewise, members of Christ’s body have been united with Christ at salvation. He has purchased them with His blood. All believers are slaves to their Master Jesus. He has commanded their allegiance. Obedience reflects oneness with Him—a union that will last for eternity.
Peter instructed all believers to submit to governmental authorities, as noted earlier. Several other New Testament authors have issued similar commands—Paul and Jesus Christ.
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves (Romans 13: 1-2).
Paul instructs both believers and non-believers in this passage. Hence, governments establish laws and consequences for breaking them in all nations of the world. God supports submission to leaders in power, even if they are evil.
Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. “Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away (Matt. 22: 15-22).
Even Jesus affirmed submission to governmental authorities. The poll tax was an onerous burden for all Jews living in the Roman Empire at that time. They detested it and shared great resentment towards the Romans. Yet Jesus admonished them to pay it because that was the law of the land.
But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ (1Cor. 11:3).
The above verse not only confirms Paul’s earlier teaching in Ephesians, but it also gives insight that submission is very important to God. Truly, it is a reality within the Godhead! The woman submits to man within marriage and the church. The man submits to Jesus Christ, and Jesus submits to God the Father. Jesus’ life portrayed the reality of submission within the Godhead. The following Scriptures demonstrate this principle.
“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day (John 6: 37-39).
Jesus lived by the principle of submission. He submitted to worldly authorities, but most importantly, He submitted to His Father in heaven through all His accomplishments in this world. Submission within the Godhead is extremely important. There is no resistance and no complaining. It just comes naturally.
Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him (John 5: 19-23).
“I am the good Shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one Shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10: 14-18).
Jesus’ prayer to God the Father prior to His suffering and crucifixion reveals His submission to the Father.
“I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. “Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. “I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. “I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled (John 17: 4-12).
Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt: 26: 38-39).
Submission naturally occurs within the Godhead as Jesus demonstrated by His own words and behavior. Submission glorifies God, our Father. The creation submits to the will of the Creator. He commands all His adopted children to live by this standard. Satan is a rebel and resists God’s authority. When believers reject submission to God’s institutions, they manifest their old sinful nature. Satan controls that nature and he opposes God. The spirit of a believer is always at war with the flesh. Submission is a battle the spirit must win, for it reflects the very Godhead operating in this world. A believer is no different from a worldly unbeliever if he flaunts submission in his life. He merely follows Satan’s leadership. Yet the believer who faithfully submits portrays a wonderful picture of how the Godhead works. As Jesus instructed His disciples the night before He was crucified while washing their feet at the Passover supper: “I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13: 16).