Submission is among the most difficult of the spiritual disciplines to put into practice. Every time that we place another above self we run the risk that out submission will be abused. The Christian is willing to be obedient to the Lord in this risky venture but we search for limits and these are reached when submission becomes destructive. This point is clear in the words of Christ,
Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40)
We are challenged by Peter who described a radical submission to wordly authority in his first epistle. He says “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.” Our submission is a clear sign to the watching world that we see authorities as vested in their position by God. We are obedient up to the point at which the submission is abused and it becomes destructive.
This ‘spiritual authority’ is the key indicator that the modern Christian is alert to. We are deeply aware of the differences found in a world of Christians and those who are antagonistic toward Christ. Are we allowed to refuse to submit in situations where spiritual authority is absent? For the most part, no. We are to emulate the radical submission of Christ to greatest extent we are able until such point that it becomes destructive. Until then, we model the Gentle Soul and pray that their hearts will be touched.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (The Christ Hymn, Phil 2:3-4)
The spiritual discipline of submission operates on two planes. We first submit ourselves fully to God and His Word and then we follow the example of Jesus and take an attitude of submission to others. Submission is not slavery. It is the willing humility of oneself to another, making their needs paramount to your own in emulation of the humiliation of Christ on your behalf. In addition to imitation, the Christian subordinates themselves to others in love, valuing them and treating them according to kingdom principles.
When this topic is preached in the modern Christian church it is often stated in general terms. We submit to our neighbors and those we encounter in our daily lives. True submission however requires that we be more intentional in our quest. We must remember to practice submission within our families carrying their burdens and being transparent in our own. We are to seek out opportunities to honor the broken and despised by being among them and loving them. Perhaps the great challenge of submission is to practice this discipline within our community of belief. As the Church mirrors the culture and its emphasis on recognition and position, we seek the lowliest ministries far away from the platform to demonstrate the love of Christ within the Body.
The discipline of submission is the least natural of all of the practices. Our self rebels against it, insisting that it get its own way. We train ourselves to control this desire, to understand that the sacrifice made on our behalf by the God of All makes it uneccessary to continue to demand what we see as ours. We can have confidence that as we submit ourselves to others, they may soon do the same for us.
“…he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Phil 2:8
The cross life is for all of us but it also presents us with one of the Lord’s most challenging teachings. His most radical social teaching was that the leader of others would be subordinate to them, he or she must be the servant of all. The cross life consists of your free acceptance of this servant role.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Eph 5:21
We all, at various points in our lives, expect others to subordinate themselves to us and when they don’t do so, we’re offended and even, disrespected. Our difficulty in submission is rooted in this expectation. To consistently and regularly submit to others is not a natural desire, it runs contrary to our self’s desire to gain our own way. Practicing the discipline of submission helps us transition into the cross life and trains our self to put the needs and desires of others in a superior position to our own.
To begin practicing the discipline of submission in the Spirit of Christ, that is to begin the cross life he has ordained for you, requires the first step of submitting to God. You must return to the Cross daily, whispering a prayer that yields body, mind, and soul to God’s purposes before your own. Thomas a’ Kempis left us a morning prayer to be utilized upon awakening; “As thou wilt; what thou wilt; when thou wilt.” This consistent first act of submission builds the strength in our knees to submit to others in a similar fashion. A similar prayer before the long darkness of night reminds the soul in subconsciousness to focus on subordination rather than swimming in dreams of dominance.
Remember that we practice the spiritual disciplines as a means to an end. In themselves they are nothing but soul strengthening exercises. In the case of submission, we seek a new orientation to world that will hopefully be emulated by those that surround us. Our guide in these exercises are the Scriptures. We submit to them. We submit to hearing the Word, to receiving the Word and obeying it. In this way our submission does not become a way to draw attention to ourselves. It becomes a demonstration of the truths of the Bible to a world desperately in need of such truths.
Let’s bend a knee together this morning as the sun lights the sky…
The spiritual discipline of submission releases the Christian from the ongoing need to get their own way. When you consider the things that we all in one way or another struggle with — judging others, pride, demanding that we be first, etc. – we discover at the core of each of these the demand that we get our own way in things. Submission is difficult to put into practice because it guarantees we will not get our own way. Letting go of that need/desire is one of the biggest, most challenging steps that the Christian takes.
Submission is at the core of a biblical faith in God. Consider these passages:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other Gods before me.” (Ex 20:2-3) (This includes the god of ME)
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mk 8:34)
“So the last will be first and the first will be last.” (Mt 20:16)
Submission is all encompassing. We submit to God and His Lordship. We submit to His Word and obey. We submit to one another within the Body, putting others ahead of ourselves. We submit to the world at large, even if they are not a part of the Body. We seek in every instance to reduce ourselves while lifting others. We do this all in the joy of knowing that our salvation and the new life of today and eternity was purchased with the ultimate act of submission.
The practice of submission is often abused and this abuse contributes to the struggles we have in putting it into practice. A prime rule for practicing submission is that we do so until it becomes destructive. That is, we submit to others until the practice becomes a denial of the law of love and our submission threatens to revert to a slavery outside of the boundaries of the Bible. We are then called to speak out and remedy the situation as best we can.
Image Bruce McKinlay