Biblical Submission
By Paul Robison

“During the reign of Queen Victoria (1838-1901), the Punjab province of India came under the control of England.  The young Maharajah from that region, who was just a boy, sent a gift to his new monarch.  It was the beautiful 186 carat Kohinoor diamond; Kohinoor means “mountain of light”.  The stone was placed with the other crown jewels in the Tower of London.  Several years later when the prince had grown to manhood, he came to England and visited the Queen.  After paying honor to her, he asked if he could see the Kohinoor, which had been re-cut.  The Queen was surprised at his request but ordered that the diamond be brought by armed guard to Buckingham Palace.  The Maharajah took the priceless jewel, stepped over to the window, and examined it with great care.  Then, as the court looked on, he walked back with it clasped in his hands and knelt at the feet of the Queen.  His voice choked with emotion as he said, ‘Your Majesty, I gave you this jewel when I was young.  Now I want to present it in the fullness of my strength with all my heart and affection and gratitude, now and forever, fully realizing all that I do’” (Acheson).  This story beautifully illustrates the act of submission.  This is act of yielding to the power or control of another.  It is certainly not being promoted in our century.  The cries we here today are: “Demand you rights!  Do you own thing!  Get what you deserve!”  You know, when you try to be spiritual, you are going to be going against the grain.  Someone made an interesting observation that simple living goes against our culture’s call for wealth, and solitude goes against our culture’s call for noise, and fasting goes against our culture’s call for consumption.  You can do any of these things, and people with probably think of you as being a little strange.  But when we try to explain living a life of submission, many people will think you’re not only crazy but also just flat wrong (Wilkins).  So let’s look this morning at biblical submission.  We’ll quickly examine four aspects: some examples, some limits, some areas, and some benefits.

Now, here are some examples.  Let’s go all the way back to Genesis 16, which gives us the story of Hagar.  You remember that Hagar was an Egyptian slave of Sarah.  And when Sarah was not having any children, she decided to let Abraham try though her slave.  “And when Hagar was able to birth a child for Abraham, she began to get an inflated idea about her position.  She began to rub her motherhood in the face of her mistress, Sarah.  And understandably, this upset Sarah” (Mennon).  And after Hagar continued to chide her for her barrenness, Sarah just had it, so she really begins to rake Hagar over the coals.  So Hagar decides to abandon ship and runs away out into the dessert.  God knows what has happened, so He sends an angel to Hagar with this message found in verse 9: “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.”  So Hagar takes this advice and serves Sarah for another 13 years.  Hagar’s example shows that submission often involves putting ourselves under another’s rule.  Now let’s look at a second example over in 1 Chronicles 29.  In this chapter, we find the inauguration of David’s son Solomon.  After an enormous sacrifice and a big celebration, verses 23-24 state: “Then Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as king instead of David his father, and prospered; and all Israel obeyed him.  All the leaders and the mighty men, and also all the sons of David, submitted themselves to King Solomon.”  This example shows that submission often involves recognizing and respecting someone who has legitimate governmental power and authority.  The last example is that found in our reading from the New Testament in John 19 where Jesus is standing before Pilate.  Pilate asks Jesus a question, but Jesus does not respond.  So then, Pilate says: “‘Are You not speaking to me?  Do you know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?’  Jesus answered: ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above’” (John 9:10-11).  Isn’t this amazing?  “Pilate, this limited governor of a backwater province in the Roman Empire, has the Creator of the universe standing before him in human form, and Jesus submits Himself before this man” (Wilkins)!  This example shows us that submission can sometimes flow out of great strength!  Jesus could have called 72,000 angels to His aid (Matthew 26:53), but His primary submission was to God’s will!  So, Hagar, Solomon’s court, and Jesus provide three good examples of submission, which show us putting oneself under another’s rule, respecting governmental authority, and submitting to God’s will above all.

Now let’s look at some limits of submission.  Those who practice submission are equated with weakness by the world’s standards, but nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, “living in submission to God and other people takes a whole lot of backbone and courage.  It’s not easy, but it is rewarding. … God created us in such a way that we usually find ourselves lifted up when we serve others and brought down when we serve ourselves” (Acheson).  But sometimes, there can be limits to submission.  For example, there can be a greater power who requires obedience than a lesser power who demands submission.  A classic example of this is found in Acts 4.  At verse 18, we see the Jewish Supreme Court, the Sanhedrin, ordering the apostles not to speak any more about Jesus.  The apostles respond in this inspired way: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.  For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”  Submitting to God, a greater power, is more righteous than submission to a lesser power, the Jewish Supreme Court.  So, the apostles kept right on preaching about Jesus, and God blessed their efforts.  Another time when one might not submit is when sin might be promoted.  A classic example of this is found in 2 Samuel 13:13-14 where Amnon tries to seduce Tamar.  Tamar gives this reply in verse 13-14: “No, my brother, do not force me, for no such thing should be done in Israel.  Do not do this disgraceful thing!  And I, where could I take my shame?  And as for you, you would be like one of the fools in Israel.  Now there, please speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you.”  Notice how Tamar rightfully does not submit to fulfill Amnon’s abusive lusts.  She tires to reason with him that there are other legitimate options available to maintain righteousness.  So, there are few limits to submission.

Now let’s sees what the Scriptures have to say with regards to areas of submission.  With God being the most powerful being with the  highest authority, we should expect the Bible to teach submission to Him.  In fact, the Scriptures are very clear about submitting to God.  James 4:6-7 says: “But He [God] gives more grace.  Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’  Therefore, submit to God.”  We see here that “God sets Himself against those who do not set themselves under His authority, …” (Roberts).  A similar passage is found in Hebrews 12:9-10: “Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect.  Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?  For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.”  We submitted to imperfect earthly fathers, so how much more should we submit to our Heavenly Father who always has our best interest and divine holiness at heart?  Failing to submit to God means that we turn away from real living, and so often, we begin to trust in ourselves or in earthly matters (Hughes).  So, we should submit to God.

Next, we should submit to Christ.  Paul explains this about the Jews in Romans 10:3-4: “For they [the Jews] being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.  For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”  Paul explains that God has a new means for providing righteousness, but the Jews have been ignorant of what God has done.  So they continue to keep the law and fail to submit or put themselves under God new means of righteousness.  Paul then says that Christ is what the law has been pointing to all along.  If the Jews would submit to Him by putting their trust in Him as the living Lord and reigning Messiah, they will be made righteous in God’s eyes!  That same grace is extended to us this morning! None of us can earn our way to heaven by trying to keep the law’s demands, but if we will submit ourselves under God’s new means, put our trust in Christ and let ourselves be immersed in His name, then we too can be made righteous in God’s eyes!  Paul also states in Galatians 3:26-27: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  If you have never submitted to God’s new means of righteousness which comes through trust in Jesus and baptism in His name, please don’t hesitate and make this important step today!  This is the only way that we can be made righteous in God’s eyes.  Let’s submit to Christ!

Next, we are to submit to church leaders.  Let’s look quickly at a passage in Hebrews 13:17: “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.  Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”  When one becomes a Christian, he is added to the Lord’s church, and the church does have servant leaders who watch out for the spiritual welfare of every member.  Submission to such leaders is reasonable “since they bear a solemn responsibility.  [So, all members] should be willing to put forth every effort to cooperate with [their] acknowledged elders.  [They] should seek to lessen the pain of leadership, and not add to it” (Lightfoot).  We should live obediently and submissively so that when they give an account, when they give their report about us before God on the Judgment Day, that account should be in our favor, and not against us!  Let’s submit to our elders so that their reports can be joyous ones!

Next, we should submit to church members.  The apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 5:5: “Likewise, you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders.  Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’”  Not only younger people, but all of us need to practice submission to one another.  The verb “clothed” refers to an apron which a servant would often tie over his own robe as he went about his duties.  None of us is putting on any airs here; we are not looking at members because of their economic status, their business status, their educational status, or anything else by which the world might try to rank us.  We are all slaves of God, and that common bond causes us to serve one another in humility knowing that God does not bless those who act arrogantly.  Let’s submit to all our brothers and sisters in this congregation!

Next, we are to submit to governing authorities.  Notice was Paul writes in Titus 3:1-2: “Remind them [the Christians] to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing humility to all men.”  When we think of fact that Paul had been mistreated on several occasions by Roman authorities, that he had been beaten unjustly, and that he had been imprisoned and detained by them, it is somewhat amazing that he desires Christians at Crete, an island known for its rebellion, to be submissive to Roman officials (Coffman),  “regardless of the character of the administrator” (Spain).  And we see how Paul expands Peter's showing humility to other members to showing it towards all people!  Governing authorities could also be our employers.  Paul admonishes slaves to work for their masters as if they were working for the Lord, and he commands masters to treat their slaves with fairness while constantly aware that they too have a Heavenly Master! These instructions are seen in Col. 3:22-4:1.  Let's submit to governing authorities!

Next, we should submit to family members.  Wives are instructed to be as submissive to their husbands as they are to the Lord.  Husbands are instructed to love and cherish their wives, just as Christ deeply loves and cares for the church.  Children are instructed to obey their parents, and fathers are instructed to be kind, to teach, and to encourage their children (Ephesians 5:22-6:4).  We should always be making allowances for each other in our families, which includes submitting the time to listen, to play together, to worship together, to discuss, to forgive, to apologize, to serve one another, to discipline, and to practice mutual respect.  Someone made this good observation: “I believe that God gives us families to practice love on, because if we can love them, we can love anybody, and if we can submit to them, we can submit to anybody” (Wilkins).  Learning submission starts in the home, doesn't it?  Let's submit to family members as God's Word teaches.  We have learned that areas of submission include: God, Christ, church leaders, church members, governing authorities, and our family members.  The world may not think so, but we see in the Scriptures that submission is an often repeated admonition, for our own good!

Now let's think for just a few minutes about some of the benefits of submission.  First of all, it exalts God's will.  God wants us to be submissive people.  1 Pet. 3:1-6 not only admonishes wives to be submissive, but it also provides an interest motivation in verses 3-4 when it says that women should adorn themselves with “the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”  God is the author of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33), and His wisdom from above is characterized as pure, peaceable, gentle, and willing to yield (James 3:17).  With such a disposition, we can see how those who promote peace through submission are imitating God and His nature.  Being submissive exalts God's will for peace.

A second benefit of being submissive is that it personifies Jesus' nature.  We see Jesus' submission in two well-known passages.  We see Him submitting to God when He prays, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  He voluntarily places Himself God's control, despite the horrible suffering and persecution that must be endured.  Jesus submits to His disciples when He puts on the apron of humility by taking up a towel and washing His disciples' feet.  We are then instructed to serve with such submission as well (John 13:13-17).  We see that Jesus' nature was one of submission both to God and to others. Whenever we are submissive, Jesus' nature is once again made alive before others.  Stephen’s death did this for the apostle Paul (Acts 7:59-60)!  Being submissive provides a wonderful visual aid to others about Jesus' nature!

A third benefit of being submissive is that it promotes God's kingdom.    Peter says in 1 Peter 4:14-16: “If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit and glory of God rests upon you.  On their part, He is blasphemed, but on your part, He is glorified.  But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters.  Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.”  Just as God used the cross to become a magnet to draw all nations to Himself, so God uses our submission in suffering as a way to promote His kingdom.  One Roman historian tells that when the Christians were being ruthlessly persecuted by Nero, the populous of Rome saw Nero's cruelty and began to be more sympathetic towards the Christians' beliefs (Tacitus).  Submission during persecutions for righteousness' sake is the leaven that quietly advances God's kingdom in all kinds of cultures.


A fourth benefit of being submissive is that it produces social order.  Paul tells us in Romans 13:1 to submit to governing authorities.  Such submission causes no fear because we are doing what rulers are asking of us.  But if we are rebellious and do evil, then Paul says we should be afraid because the authorities do not bear the sword in vain.  The same is true on other levels.  Without submission, all sports would have lost their regulations, all driving would become dangerous, all business transactions would become chaotic, and our environment would become very unsafe.  We may not like submission, but we see very clearly that it does produce social order.

A fifth benefit of being submissive is that it brings personal freedom.  Someone wrote this interesting idea: “What freedom corresponds to submission?  It is the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way.  The obsession to demand that things go the way we want them to go is one of the greatest bondages in human society today.  People will spend weeks, months, even years in a perpetual stew because some little thing did not go as they wished, they will fuss and fume.  They will get mad about it.  They will act as if their very life hangs on the issue.  They may even get an ulcer over it.  [Through] submission, we are released to drop the matter, to forget it.  Frankly, most things in life are not nearly as important as we think they are.  Our lives will not come to an end [nor will the world stop spinning] if this or that will not happen” (Foster).  Luke tells us that Jesus steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, knowing full well that the cross would be the ultimate climax of His journey.  But He was devoted to doing God's will, so He teaches us in Mark 8:34 that we too must learn to deny ourselves and take up our crosses.  “Deny yourself” certainly goes against our culture's call to pamper and to promote ourselves, and a crucifying our desires certainly is never easy.  On one occasion, some Christians tried to talk Paul out of making trip to Jerusalem.  When Paul would not concede, they then said, “The will of the Lord be done” (Acts 21:14).  They submitted themselves to letting God take care of the situation.  They did not have to win the argument at all costs; they would turn the matter over to God.  Maybe imitating them would be good us too!  Being submissive brings personal freedom!

So we have seen at least five benefits of submission: it exalts God's will; it personifies Jesus' nature; it promotes God's kingdom; it produces social order; it brings personal freedom.

The Maharajah
meaningfully submitted his great gift to Queen Victoria.  Today, Jesus stands before you.  He is asking you to submit your life to His control, to His rule, to His teachings, to God's will, and to the Spirit's holiness.  He is not asking the impossible, but it will be challenging, and sometimes even painful.  But it can be done; just imitate His submission.  Follow Him in baptism if you are not a Christian or ask Him to help you to be more submissive if you have been rebellious.  Give the gift of your heart to Him!