There are a thousand ways that I could start this post—a story of submission gone awry (I have plenty), or my general philosophy on rules and my compulsion to break them, or a historical background of cultural patriarchy during Biblical times. But instead, I want to start with Jesus and how he modeled submission for us during his life on earth. I love that we have a high priest who is not unable to sympathize with us, all things considered. So let’s start there…
Jesus is Equal with God
First we need to establish Jesus’s equality with the Father…
“Truly, Truly I say to you. The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise…The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him… (John 5:19, 22)
“Have this in mind—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” (Phil. 2:5-8).
Jesus Submits to the Father
Though Jesus and the Father are one, they are autonomous (cue differing desires in the moment) and Jesus still submits to the will of the Father.
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
Jesus Submits to Government
Though the governmental authority was far beneath His own authority, not to mention agreement, Jesus still submitted to it.
“So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”…Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands…He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 18: 33-38, 19:1-4, 9-11).
Jesus Submits to Suffering
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with us in our weaknesses, “For it was fitting that he, of whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering… Since therefore the children shar in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death… Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make the propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:10,14,17-18).
I want to start here because when I think about submission, I never start at the cross. I tend to get up in arms and rolly-eyed about how unfair it is that I should have to submit to anyone or anything, that women should have to submit to their husbands, that anyone should tell me what to do. Rude. While forming my diatribe of whys and why nots and shoulds and shouldn’t have tos, I forget to remember that God himself modeled this for me on a far greater scale than I ever will. Though equal to the Father, he made himself subservient, saying “not my will, but yours, be done”. Though the Creator of mankind, he submitted to mankind in its ignorance– to the Jews, to the government (if ever there was a time for a #notmyking movement…). Though outside of death, he submitted even to death.
Who then am I to feel oppressed to adhere to laws I don’t agree with? Who am I to receive instruction as a personal affront? If there has ever been anyone who had the right to say, “I shouldn’t have to do this” it’s Jesus. And yet he 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… and I’m ready to fight because the man told me where I couldn’t park.
When I fix my eyes on him, submission is self-controlled, obedient, and meek. When I fix my eyes on myself and my agenda, submission is weak, oppressive, and offensive. As per usual, it’s a matter of perspective.
Throughout His submission, Jesus’ Deity was never compromised. At no point did his equality with God falter. In fact, it wasn’t even a matter of question. God himself was submissive, so who on His earth do I think I am to feel altogether above it?
“submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). The main thing that I cannot overlook is that our call to submit is not limited to women submitting to men, but all of us submitting to one another. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” So, in theory for the believer, the argument of patriarchy should stop there. That aside, our submission to one another is a command, for starters, and has NOTHING to do with the other parties involved. Our submission is supposed to be a response out of reverence for Christ. It really has nothing to do with the other person. It’s not conditional on whether or not our husband, boss, government, or whomever else is worthy of it, or always have the right idea, or is a strong, wise, infallible leader, much less whether or not we agree with his decisions. Nope, we submit to one another out of our reverence for Christ…. and after seeing all the clowns He submitted to, I am truly in awe. Reverence is certainly the natural response.
Submission in Marriage
So let’s consider this idea in the context of marriage, because marriage is typically where our minds go when we hear the “S” word. Overtime, submission has developed a wonky working definition that looks, sounds, tastes and smells nothing like the submission we see modeled by Jesus. We’ve seen men abuse it, through spiritual shaming or physical dominance, forcing women into a fear-filled or resent-filled surrender. This is not what Christ modeled for us, it is certainly not how God the father interacted with Jesus, and consequently, that nonsense has no place in the body of believers. It is unfortunately a deplorable reality and therefore worth mentioning. If you find yourself in a relationship like this, I highly recommend counseling and would love to connect you to some true salt-of-the-earth saints who can help a sister out.
But for anyone who isn’t in that boat, but is filled with the “but this” and the “but thats”, I would point you to the cross. We get to submit to others– husbands, bosses, governments, girlfriends alike– out of reverence for Christ, not because he/she/they/them are qualified, not because we are less equal than them, simply out of reverence for Christ.
So I’m proposing that prayerfully make effort to flip the script. That instead of begrudgingly submitting or whatever, with a huffy attitude and rolly eyes, because we “have to”, that instead we consider Christ, what he did for us, and choose to model our submission after his, not by becoming a doormat, not by forfeiting our voice or opinions, but rather as equals, as teammates, in support of that person we chose to marry, (or happen to work for, or the democracy we happen to reside under) in likeminded, mutual reverence of, and mutual submission before, the king of kings.