Where there is no authority, there is confusion, chaos, and fear. Yet in our culture today, we prize independence and resist anyone who tells us what to do. Often, if matters don’t go as we please, we’re quick to stand up for our rights—even when they haven’t been violated. Though many people today think negatively of having a submissive spirit, it’s what God desires to see in His people.
Let’s read James 4:4-10 to see what God has to say on the subject.
“Authority is a tremendous thing in the universe—nothing overshadows it. It is therefore imperative for us who desire to serve God to know the authority of God.” —Watchman Nee
[D]o you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
The Bible uses two Greek words to convey the idea of “submit” or “subject.”
- Hypeikō is composed of two root words, hypo (“under”) and eikō (“to yield”), and means “to submit to another.”
- Hypotassō is a combination of hypo (“under”) and tassō (“to arrange”) and means “to subject oneself to another.”
Implicit in both these words is the idea of obedience. With regard to God, we are to arrange our lives under His guiding principles and submit to His authority over us.
Judson Van De Venter penned the hymn “I Surrender All” 19 years after he submitted to God and entered full-time ministry. One of the many places he served was Florida Bible Institute, where he inspired a number of young preachers—including Billy Graham.
Submission to the Lord involves deferring to authorities He has established over us in four areas of life. They are:
- Government. It is God who establishes governing authorities (Rom. 13:1-7). As Christians, therefore, we’re to submit to them—even if we didn’t personally vote for them.
- Work. Obedience to our superiors is not to be contingent upon our employer’s character (Col. 3:22-25; 1 Peter 2:18-21).
- Home. In Ephesians 5:22-33 and Ephesians 6:1-4, the Lord has ordained His order of authority for families. Even if the one in authority lack godliness, that does not alter the command to submit (1 Peter 3:1).
- Church. We believers are commanded to obey and submit to our leaders because they keep watch over our sould (Heb. 13:17).
There are limitations to submission. Our primary submission is to the Lord. Therefore, obedience to God must supersede any directive or request that is against His moral standards or commands. If we must refuse to comply with a superior’s order, then we’re given the opportunity to suffer with an attitude of praise and thanksgiving that we have been counted worthy to suffer for Christ (1 Peter 3:13-17). For instance, when Peter and John were commanded not to teach in Jesus’ name, they obeyed God rather than man (Acts 4:18-20). Like them, believers should never compromise moral standards in order to obey an authority. As God’s beloved children, we’re commanded to be imitators of Him (Eph. 5:1). Lying, stealing, immorality, impurity, or greed should have no place in our lives.
“God built into the creation a variety of cultural spheres, such as the family, economics, politics, art, and intellectual inquiry. Each of these spheres has its own proper ‘business’ and needs its own unique pattern of authority. When we confuse spheres, by violating the proper boundaries of church and state, for instance, or reducing the academic life to a business enterprise, we transgress the patterns that God has set.” —Abraham Kuyper
God fulfills His purpose for believers through their submission. The Father’s goal is to conform us to the likeness of His Son (Rom. 8:29), and submission is one of the tools He uses. If we reject the authorities He’s placed over us, we are resisting His sanctification, removing ourselves from the umbrella of His protection, and failing to be a godly example to the unbelieving world.
- Is there any area—government, work, home, or church—in which you are resisting submission to God?
- How does your perception of submission change when you realize God uses it to make us like Christ?