30 May 2024

Submission. It’s not domination.

SUBMIT səb'mɪt verb. Yield to or accept a superior force, authority, or will. Consent to their conditions.
2. Present one’s will to another for their consideration or judgment.
[Submission səb'mɪs.ʃən noun.]

Notice there are two popular definitions of submit in use. The more popular of the two has to do with acceptance, obedience, and blind capitulation. To turn off our brains, to do as we’re told. And most sermons instruct Christians to do precisely that. Submit to one another, as Paul ordered.

Ephesians 5.21 ESV
…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

’Cause we kinda have to. If we can’t submit to God—if we insist on our own way, our own standards, our own values, our own lifestyles—it’s a pretty good bet we’re outside his kingdom.

Romans 8.5-8 ESV
5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

So we especially submit to God. Jm 4.7 And to Christian leaders; 1Pe 5.5 we follow the doctrines they proclaim from the pulpit. And wives, submit to your husbands. Ep 5.22 When he says “Jump,” you ask “How high?”

Then there’s the other definition of submit: The one where it’s not typical of a relationship between a benevolent (or not-so-benevolent) despot and their subjects, but between partners, friends, or coworkers. One where we instead bounce ideas off one another. Find out whether these ideas help or inconvenience one another—and of course try to get ’em to help as best we can.

One which sounds appropriate for a παράκλητος/paráklitos, “helper” Jn 14.16, 14.26, 15.26, 16.7 and the people he’s trying to help. For a teacher and his pupils. For a loving God and his kids.

So… which definition d’you think fits what the authors of the scriptures were talking about?

Oh, the benevolent despot thingy? Well it does work for cult leaders and wannabe patriarchs. But in God’s kingdom, where the king calls us his friends, Jn 15.15 where love doesn’t demand its own way, 1Co 13.5 it’s pretty obvious the despotic definition is entirely incorrect. In many ways it’s kinda the opposite of God’s intent. Almost as if the devil got Christians to flip it 180 degrees, n’est-ce pas?

You need a word study? I got your word study.

The word for “submit” in Ephesians 5.21, where we see “submitting to one another” etc., is ὑποτασσόμενοι/ypotassómeni, “[those currently] being submitted.” It’s a present participle. Some translations, like the NIV, turn it into a verb, but it’s not; it’s certainly not a command like the NIV, NASB, and NLT have it. But I’ll discuss that in a bit.

Shave off the ending, and its root word ὑποτάσσω/ypotásso is a compound of ὑπό/ypó, “under,” and τάσσω/tásso, “arrange.” No this doesn’t mean ypotásso automatically means “arrange under,” because sometimes compound words evolve into entirely new meanings, like “bulldoze” and “understand.” But this does give you a better sense of what the person who coined the word was going for: Arranging things under someone or something.

Which can mean either one of our English-language definitions for “submit.” It could mean surrendering your will to that of a lord. It could also mean presenting your ideas to someone for their consideration. So how can we tell which one it is?

Simple: Context. What’s it look like the text is leaning towards? What’s the character of the person one ypotássetai/“submits” to? Bossy tyrant, or loving parent? Fr’instance Jesus:

Luke 2.51 ESV
And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.

What kind of parents d’you think Joseph and Mary were? Harsh taskmasters or protective, loving people? (Especially in a story where they spent three days scouring Jerusalem for Jesus, and didn’t start caning him as soon as they found him.)

Do you imagine Jesus’s parents never unintentionally gave him bad instructions, ones which might lead him to sin if he didn’t already know best? Parents make mistakes, y’know. If Jesus led a sinless existence, and he did, his form of submission can’t have been unthinking, blind obedience. It could only be thoughtful obedience. He obeyed his parents as much as he could. But whenever they ordered him to do something that’d violate the Law, and violate his divinity, he had to disregard it.

Same applies to us. If our leaders, pastors, parents, bosses, or anyone in authority orders us to sin, what are we to do? And you’re actually gonna find certain Fundamentalists claim we should obey ’em regardless—that any sins we commit are really their fault. Of course if that’s the case, Daniel and his friends weren’t heroes for defying Nebuchadnezzar Da 3 and Darius, Da 6 ’cause it was all the neo-Babylonian and Medean kings’ faults for ordering them to sin. And hey, if our government wants ’em to shut down their churches and surrender their guns, the Fundies oughta be just fine with that too. Right? (…Oh, that interpretation was just hypocrisy so you’d get people to blindly obey pastors and parents? Why am I not surprised?)

You can see the obvious, serious flaws in the “just following orders” defense. It applies to all forms of blind submission. And whatever submission means in the scriptures, it doesn’t mean that.

So in his first letter, when Simon Peter instructed his churches to submit, that’s the consideration we have to bear in mind.

1 Peter 2.13-17 ESV
13Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Again: Do you believe government gives us infallible orders which would never lead to sin? I sure don’t. (And partisan Christians are mighty quick to realize this whenever the opposition party is in power.) Was it sin for Moses to stand up to the Egyptian pharaoh? For Gideon to overthrow the Midianites? For Elijah to face down Ahab? For the Maccabees to revolt against the Seleucids? For Christians to refuse to worship Caesar? For Americans to drive out the British during our revolution?

Sometimes rulers are evil tyrants. We can never blindly obey them. Especially in a democracy, where they answer to us. Again, we put some thought into how we submit: We take the government into consideration, and obey its laws as best we can, where we can. But when the laws oblige us to sin, we must get ’em changed. And in the meanwhile, respectfully, refuse.

Last example: Prophecy.

1 Corinthians 14.32-33 ESV
32…and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

This passage has to do with decent, orderly prophecy. Rather than the chaos which you’d see in Corinthian churches, Paul and Sosthenes ordered the people to get hold of themselves. The excuse, “But the Spirit was moving me to speak!” won’t fly—not then, not now—because the prophets’ spirits submit to them.

Which spirits were the apostles speaking of? Well, any spirit can speak to a prophet, but the only ones we oughta listen to are spirits sent by God: Angels carrying God’s messages, and of course the Holy Spirit himself. These righteous spirits don’t overwhelm the prophet and force ’em to speak, like a demon would. They submit to the prophets.

That’s right: Angels submit to human prophets. The Holy Spirit—who is God himself—submits to the people he wants to speak through. Let that bend your brain for a moment: God submits. And if that idea seriously bugs you, it’s probably because you’re not worshiping God so much as worshiping and coveting his power.

If the Holy Spirit submits to us, we can’t be talking about blind obedience. That doesn’t work in the slightest. We can only mean taking one another into consideration. God can, and regularly does, make us do what he wants. But when it comes to prophecy he’d much rather partner with us, and in so doing he accommodates his prophets. He submits.

Getting the idea? Hope so.

Why do we insist submission is blind obedience?

Bluntly it’s because we wanna be obeyed.

When Christians claim “submit” means “obey,” it’s because we want their capitulation. Not consideration; we don’t want ’em to think about it; we want ’em to do as we told ’em. If they ask our opinion, we don’t want it to merely be advice, but an order, with all the might of the Almighty behind it.

So it’s a pride thing. Hubris. Control.

It’s not even how God behaves. If he wanted robots he’d have created some. He doesn’t want slaves; he wants children. He doesn’t want our blind obedience; he wants dialogue. Which isn’t gonna happen when we merely yield. God wants us to know his mind—why he commands certain things, why he does things his way.

Imagine if Moses had simply yielded when God spitballed the idea of wiping out Israel and starting up again with Moses’s family. Ex 32.10 Imagine if Simon Peter had simply yielded when God told him to eat the unclean animals; he’d have never learned the lesson that what we traditionally call unclean isn’t how God sees things. Ac 11.4-17

So submission requires us to interact with God. To learn his mind. To sometimes challenge his mind: “I can’t believe you’d do that!” as Abraham responded when God talked about smiting Sodom. Ge 18.25 Message

And that can be intimidating. Telling the Almighty to explain himself? Yikes. No other authority is so willing to take questions, and actually pleased with us when we do. And that’s precisely the problem: God’s patient, gracious, and understanding. Humans aren’t. We immediately assume questions are a prelude to rebellion. God doesn’t. After all, what rebellion against him has any chance of success?

Those who demand we obey, claim it takes strong faith to follow God, do as we’re told, without asking questions. Well, it can; namely when we have our doubts. But the best way to develop strong faith is to deal with these doubts: Interact with God. Work with him. Participate in his kingdom. Learn what he’s like. Know him so well, it’s easy to trust him, and obey him quickly.

If we simply obey without ever wrestling with doubt: That’s actually based on no faith whatsoever. Fear, maybe. Not faith.

That’s the ultimate problem with blind obedience: It’s fake faith. It swaps out actual fruit of the Spirit for a pathetic substitute.

Thus many a Christian has taken advantage of this false understanding of submission. Instead of loving one another, considering one another, and working with one another, they simply dominate one another. Pastors demand their churches obey. Sexists demand all women obey. Parents demand their children obey. Bosses demand their employees obey. And Christians are instructed to turn off our brains—despite God’s instructions for us to get and learn wisdom Pr 1 —and blindly obey.

It doesn’t work for Ephesians 5. Wanna know the context of “…submitting to one another”? It’s to eliminate fleshly behavior, because it’s wholly inappropriate for Christians. Ep 5.3-5 It’s to let no one trick us into believing otherwise. Ep 5.6-7 It’s to expose evil rather than be part of it. Ep 5.8-14 It’s to be wise, not unwise, and redeem the time. Ep 5.15-20

All these instructions require brainpower. We need to recognize fleshly works, avoid tricks, recognize evil, and be wise. Especially since people are gonna try to disguise all that crap as good religion, patriotism, pragmatism, and good character! When we turn off our brains and blindly obey every authority, we can’t obey this chapter of the bible.

So once Paul followed up his previous instructions with “submitting to one another,” obviously he can’t mean, “Use your brain for these previous things—but now wives, cave in to your husbands; children, knuckle under your parents; slaves, bow to your masters. Use your brain for everything but authority figures.”

He can’t have meant blind obedience. The sense is entirely wrong.

Submit properly.

Blind obedience doesn’t foster relationship. It appeals to pride, lust for power, our selfish will, and the temptation to become our own little gods and lords. And many Christians unquestioningly follow their leaders—sometimes to destruction—because of it.

Hence the correct way to submit is to love one another enough to incorporate their thoughts, wishes, and feelings into our daily lives. If I don’t give a rip about other people, I’ve not submitted to them.

When we look at that Ephesians passage about submitting to one another—here, I’ll translate it—

Ephesians 5.21-28 KWL
21When submitting to one another out of respect for Christ,
22the women do so to their own men
like they do for the Master,
23because man is woman’s head
like Christ is the church’s head;
he’s the savior of the body.
24But like the church submits to Christ,
likewise the women do to the men in everything.
25And men: Love your women like Christ also,
who loves the church and gives himself up for it.
26So Christ, who’s clean,
can sanctify it with baptism in water and the word,
27and can personally stand by an honored church.
One which shouldn’t have a stain, wrinkle, or any such thing,
but so it’s holy and blameless.
28Thus men are obligated to love their own women.
Like their own bodies!
He who loves his own woman, loves himself.

—obviously we’re talking about submitting to one another. Wives to husbands, and husbands to wives. Because Paul held up Christ dying for his church as the men’s example: You husbands need to be willing to submit unto death for your women. Just as Jesus did.

So what’s mutual submission look like? If a wife does as she pleases, without checking in with her husband, she’s not submitted to him. And vice-versa.

Same with the children. If they don’t let their parents know what they’re up to, they’ve not submitted to them. If Christians don’t keep their churches up to date on what’s going on with their lives—in other words, their pastors and fellow Christians have no clue how to help or pray for them—they’ve not submitted to their churches.

Same with every Christian. If we don’t check in with God, or ask his will, or ask him to reroute us when we go astray, we’ve not submitted to him either.

We have to include Jesus in our daily plans. If we haven’t been doing so, or if we’ve only been saving it for the “important” things, we need to submit all things to him.