Friday, April 22, 2005

Submission and Authority

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any
participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by
being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more
significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests,
but also to the interests of others.
Have this mind among yourselves, which
is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count
equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the
form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in
human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even
death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him
the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee
should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phillipians2:1-11


We are told in Philippians chapter two to be imitators of Christ, that he is to be our example. We are to emulate him in his humility, obedience and in his purpose. (Phil 2:1-11)
Submission and obedience go hand in hand, The opposite of obedience is rebellion. As Christians we are called and specially chosen to be obedient to God. If we are to be disciples of Jesus we must face discipline. Submission forms an important part of this growing process.
Its Gods desire that Christians not become automatons. They freely choose the discipline of The Way. Love is the basis for Christian submission.

Submission to Earthly Authorities

Submission is always personal. It is unique in nature among the elements of character in that one cannot make another person submit. They may submit outwardly for a time, but true submission springs from the heart. There has to be a decision, a choice made to submit. One of the fathers of modern psychology, Victor Frankyl discovered this secret in Auschwitz. Despite of all the hideous atrocities that took place there, Frankyl concluded that there was one area where the Nazis could not control him. How he reacted to what they did. His will was still free. He could choose to love or to despise them in spite of their actions. He made the statement;

"They can take away everything except one thing: the last of the human freedoms,
Man's own ability to change his own attitude in any given circumstance."

As submission is a subjective and personal experience, it can only be truly understood by means of case studies, metaphors, character studies and the like. In light of this I will endeavor to give you an example from my own experience.

In my own life I had to make difficult choices to submit or resist authority. Growing up in Apartheid South Africa as a young man I was faced with enforced conscription. Would I serve in the armed forces of an illegitimate regime where I may be ordered to kill my own countrymen, or do I become a conscientious objector and possibly face a prison sentence.
As a young Christian I wrestled with this decision, agonising over it long into the night. In spite of my own fears I had an inner peace. God had already prepared a place for me.

I submitted myself to the authorities, and after basic training was seconded to the Air force museum. I spent a year going to Trade shows, air shows and working with photographs dating back to the First World War. I never had to fire a gun in anger. I never had to do any of the horrendous things which the apartheid war machine was famous for. God had protected me.
Old Testament


As a young boy Samuel submitted himself to the corrupt priest Eli. When he heard God calling him in the middle of the night he believed it to be the old man calling him. In obedience to him he listened to Eli and did not hold back from rebuking Eli and his sons, as God had told him. God was from then on able to use Samuel mightily.


Saul was Gods anointed King for Israel. God chose him and caused him to be lifted up above his contemporaries. Yet under pressure Sauls character flaws began to show. He was jealous, moody and impatient. This impatience led to his undoing when he sacrificed animals to God when it was only Gods anointed priest who could make sacrifices. Ultimately his rebellion and lack of submission was his undoing. In fits of rage he tried to have David killed, the man whom God had chosen to succeed Saul.


During his time hiding from Saul David had several opportunities to take Sauls life. He did not. He submitted to Gods anointed as ruler over him. This showed not only great submission and strength of character but also faith.

David was perhaps the most successful King of Israel. He was a leader of men and a mighty soldier. Under his rule Israel enjoyed many blessings. During a time of relative peace in the Kingdom, David looked around at the great palace he lived in. He compared it to the place where the Ark of the Covenant stood and was saddened. He deeply desired to build a Temple to house the Ark and said so to the prophet Nathan. God told Nathan that David was not to build a Temple for God, but that it would be build by his son Solomon. David submitted to this word from God.

Submission and Christ

Our example

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. Heb 5:7

If Christ is the head of the Church, as scripture tells us, it is most logical that the body would be subject to the head. What a bizarre spectacle it would be to see a body and a head working at cross-purposes to one another. Yet this is frequently what is seen in the life of many churches and many Christians. Many believers feel defeated dry spiritually and lacking in the deep abiding joy which comes from an intimate relationship with daddy God.
Watchman Nee put it this way;

"God is working towards recovering the oneness of the body. But for this to be
accomplished there must first be the life of the Head, followed by the authority
of the Head. Without the life of the Head there can be no body. Without the
authority of the Head there can be no unity of the Body. To maintain the oneness
of the body we must let the life of the Head rule."

The Scripture from Hebrews illustrates the principle that "open heavens" between God and man requires flexibility and yielding of heart. If this was required of Christ, who was Gods son, how much more would it be asked of Gods other children.

Just as a train is not freest when it is careering through the paddock, but on the train tracks, so the Christian is truly at liberty when submitted to the master. In all this we have Christ as our forerunner, our example.

Perhaps the most telling display of Christ’s humble submission to God was that he only did what the Father told Him to do. In fact none of the miracles which Christ performed came from his supernatural deity, but merely the power of God being manifest through a life submitted completely to Him.

Jesus may have passed by many lepers, He only healed those whom the Father empowered Him to. He did not go out looking for the woman with the issue of blood. He was about His fathers business, more interested in being obedient to the Father out of love and reverence for Him. It was this that took him to the cross. It was the joy that he knew he would have forever with His father that allowed him to go through the suffering that he did.
Jesus was submitted to the point of death. He was more interested in the Fathers will than in His own comfort. That is why he could say "not my will but yours". One of the results of Christ’s Submission was that God exalted Him. We read in Philippians:

And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted
him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is
to the glory of God the Father. Phil 2:8-11

Christ’s Authority

On the basis of the authority Christ gains he sets all Christians everywhere a task. He gives them a mandate. That is to make disciples. Too frequently this passage is read as making converts, but a disciple is far more.
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been
given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching
them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:18-19

Authority and Submission

Submission is expressed in and through people.

It is seen clearly in ;

  1. The life in communion with others, that is in the Church,
  2. In ones character and the way in which one interacts with others.

Communal – Submission and the life of the Church

The Church is where we find a clear expression of the relationship between submission and authority. Submission is the basis of Church governance. As members of His body we are to be submitted to Him as the head first and foremost. When we are submitted to Him, we then must live in humble submission with each other.

Contrary to the image the word humble evokes of someone who is downtrodden with a "woe is me" attitude, humility in the biblical sense means being who you are. Not making oneself out to be more than you are, and not putting yourself down in false humility, but thinking of yourself honestly, with sober judgement.

If God has given you a service to perform in the life of the church, one should serve.
Life in community is life in submission. Subjection is to be the basis for New Testament relationships. The scriptures encourage submission to leadership in particular.
Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 1Th 5:12 & 13

Here we see that we should accord our leaders respect because of the work and the effort that they put in. Admonish carries with it a sense of warning and correction, therefore we are also to respect those who correct us. A true pastors heart disciplines those whom he has oversight over from one of two motivations;

A love of that individual sheep
A love for the flock

This is a reflection of the love we see in Father God (Hebrews 12:5,6). Special honour is to be awarded those who preach and teach. (1 Thes 5:17) and 1 Corinthians sets us the example of submitting to those who serve us.

You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and
they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you,
to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the
work, and labors at it. 1Co 16:15 & 16

The basis for this authority rests in the submission of these leaders themselves. They are submitted to God and therefore answerable to Him. Like the Roman Centurion who has authority because they obey his commands just as he obeys the commands of those who sit in authority over him.

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. Heb 13:17

Deacons, elders and pastors differ greatly from the priests of the old covenant, the Levitical priesthood. Theirs is no longer man go-between to God. Through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus we have direct access to the throne of grace. This does not mean that there is no need for pastors, elders and deacons. They still have a vital and integral part to play in the body of Christ.

Personal Revelation and the walk of faith

For many the command to submit oneself is merely rubrical, but it must be practically expressed in everyday life, as ones faith is walked out. It cannot be merely imaginal, existing is form but without substance. As discussed earlier, it is impossible to make someone submit. True submission can only occur when there is a genuine willingness to do so from the heart.
Submission concerns itself with character building and trust. Trust needs to be tested, and unlike forgiveness, must be earned. It is a common saying that God is more interested in our character than our comfort. We learn more about ourselves when times are tough than in the easy patches in life. The true skills of an accomplished sailor come to light in the storm. It is through submission in these difficult times that we are refined.

There is a well-worn saying that God wants FAT Christians, that is faithful, available and teachable. A soldiers courage is tested under fire and a Christians faithfulness is tested in adversity. The scripture reveals this testing has two purposes, to remove the dross and to bring forth the gold. It is interesting to note that in Jesus story of the vine both the healthy vine and the sick vine are pruned. When we submit ourselves to the masters pruning, we prove our faithfulness.

In summation
Submission is a personal experience which must be freely given with the heart. It is given to God, to ecclesiastical and secular authorities as Gods appointed rulers. The privilege of submission is growth, in character and Christlikeness. It can be understood by revelation but must be walked out in faith in everyday life.


Val said...

What do you believe regarding women submitting to men?

SmootherPrince said...

I guess my comments are aimed really at the question of submission as an act of response to God in all christians, It was therefore not aimed primarily at distinguishing the rights and wrongs of the ordination of women.
This does however beg the question as to the role submission plays in the spiritual life and journey of women seeking to serve God.

When Paul says he does not allow a women to have authority over a man, is he speaking as Paul the man or as Paul the apostle?

Do we simply ignore such scriptures because times have changed and moral relativism rules therefore anything goes? I think not. Paul himself gives reasons in the passage for his statements which shed further light on what he is saying.
The truth is that God can and does use anyone and everyone to do his bidding, but He will gladly use a submitted heart, be that male or female.
Much of this really relates to ones heart motivation. Perhaps you are facing an area of submission in your own life? We did a great debate on this at Bible college, I just wish you could have been a fly on the wall. The heart of the question is "do woman have a complementary ministry which is different to men, or are they exactly alike?
The truth is that the battle between the sexes will never be won because there is too much fraternising with the enemy.