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Christian submission

 A text transcript of the message preached at Elijah Ministries on 24th April 2005


The subject that’s been put on my heart today is that prickly old subject of submission…

Submission is an often talked about subject, one that I’m sure most of you have heard and probably even studied. It is a controversial subject that many Christians don’t really understand or apply in their lives or just blatantly ignore, and that’s probably because it has with it many commands that are extremely difficult to follow and apply in our Christian lives. I hope to be able to show you today that it’s not that difficult a subject if we examine how God wants us to deal with it. 

Our main Scripture is from 1 Peter chapter 2… please keep a bookmark there, because we’ll be returning there often.

Lets begin by defining Submission…

The word SUBMIT, according to Strong’s Lexicon is the Greek word hoopo-tasso, which was originally a Greek military term meaning “to arrange troop divisions under the command of a leader”.  In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, of cooperating, of sharing a burden. In other words, when the word submit is used in the Bible, it refers not only to a yielding and obedient attitude of the heart, but also, and equally importantly, to an attitude of co-operation and support. Without co-operation and support, things just don’t work they way they should. Consider a military leader who doesn’t have the support and co-operation of his troops… he’s on a hiding second to none….

much like our SUPER 12 RUGBY teams!! On a hiding second to none. And what do you expect when the leadership is of the caliber that it is at the moment. No surprises here.

Yet the way the world sees submission is vastly different from the way a Christian sees it and deals with it.  Christian submission goes far beyond obedience to those in authority over us. To really understand submission, we need to explore the biblical definition of it – and its definition becomes clearer when we contrast it with the worlds view.

In the world, submission is viewed as a weakness, you submit as little as possible, take the road that causes the least inconvenience to me, you snooze - you lose, it’s the survival of the fittest, it’s dog eat dog; The natural man always tends to measure his worth by his status, his ego. His status is determined by how few are above him when compared to how many are below him – a perfect example is the corporate ladder, where the goal is to reduce those in authority above you and to increase the number under you – the more ruthless you are, the better and it doesn’t matter who you trample on in the process of getting there. When you near the top, you become the head-honcho, the top dog, then you know you’re the main man! I’ve finally made it! I’m the greatest!

Unfortunately, we even see this horrible human trait in the thinking of the disciples, who continually argued with each another as to who was the greatest. In the eyes of the world, the greatest is the one who has no one above him, no-one to answer to. But lets read what it takes to be greatest in the kingdom of God, keep a bookmark in 1 Peter and turn with me to Mark 9:

 Mark 9: 33And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that you disputed among yourselves on the way? 34But they held their peace: for on the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. 35And he sat down, and called the twelve, and said unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.

Then a few pages on, to Mark 10: verse 42

 Mark 10: 42  But Jesus called them and said to them, You know that they who are accounted rulers over the nations (referring to the gentiles) exercise lordship over them. And their great ones exercise authority on them. 43  But it shall not be so among you. But whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant. 44  And whoever of you desires to become first, he shall be servant of all. 45  For even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

 Are you prepared to be a servant for just one person, let alone a servant of all?

You now understand why Biblical submission is so difficult and why so many Christians, like myself, get it so wrong. These 2 passages sum up what the Christian definition of submission is. And once you really understand submission, you will understand how important it is – that it is a fundamental part of the Christian walk.

 So we are to be servants, not only to some, but to … ALL.
Ephesians 5:21 says submit one to another in the fear of the Lord. And this is how we submit, always in the fear of the Lord. We do ALL things as if we were doing them unto the Lord.

And this is a concept I always try teach my sons, if something is worth doing, then its worth doing properly…. To the best of our ability….  Unto the Lord.

 Lets study further…

1 Peter 2: 13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance (or law) of man WHY? It says for the Lord’s sake, because of the Lord, …whether to a king as supreme, 14  or to governors as sent by Him for vengeance on evildoers, or for praise on well-doers. WHY must we do this? Verse 15 says because it is the will of God, doing good to silence the ignorance of foolish men; as free, and not having freedom as a cover of evil, but as servants of God.

 Again the servant thing. Our submission as Christians is always first to God, it’s always in the fear of God, and it’s always the will of God. In James 4: it says  GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE."
 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

Again humility and servanthood.

This submission to the laws of the world and to the civil authorities that Peter speaks about is an extremely important part of Christian Submission ….bookmark 1 Peter and turn with me to Romans 13:

Reading from the MKJ    1 Let every soul be subject to the higher authorities. For there is no authority but of God; the authorities that exist are ordained by God.
(This is a good example of how absolutely Sovereign our God is. Even though the government of a country may be evil, and the chances are that every government in the world is evil, God is still in control, He allowed them to come to power for a specific purpose and very often that purpose is judgement of the people. One of the reasons, I believe, that the ANC came to power in this country is as a judgement on white people, for the terrible sins of Apartheid. The Bible says you reap what you sow. But nevertheless, whatever you want to believe, the facts of the matter are that God ordained them to be there. So although we may not really understand why a particular government is chosen, we must accept that they are there in order to accomplish God’s purposes, and we have to obey them.)

VERSE 2  So that the one resisting the authority resists the ordinance of God; and the ones who resist will receive judgment to themselves. KJV actually says the ones who resist will receive damnation. So to disobey the governing authorities is a serious thing – and for a Christian it is specifically condemned.

Still in Romans 13…. 3  For the rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the bad. And do you desire to be not afraid of the authority? Do the good, and you shall have praise from it. 4  For it (talking about the authorities) is a servant of God to you for good. For if you practice evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword in vain; for it is a servant of God, a revenger for wrath on him who does evil.
He’s saying here that the rulers, even though they may be heathens, are still servants of God! Even though they have many evil works, God is still in control of them … and thank God for that – there’s still hope for us here in South Africa.

v 5  Therefore you must be in submission, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6  For because of this you also pay taxes. For they (the authorities) are God’s servants, always giving attention to this very thing. (Even the Bible knows that the Receiver of Revenue doesn’t miss a thing!)   7  Therefore give to all their dues; to the one due tax, the tax; tribute to whom tribute is due, fear to whom fear is due, and honor to whom honor is due.

If you’re not paying your taxes or evading tax, regardless of whether you agree with them or not, then you risk God’s wrath, never mind the wrath of the tax man and a prison sentence. Just the thought of being sodomized in jail should make you want to be a law abiding citizen. So Pay your taxes….
Verse 8  Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.

How difficult is this? To obey the Government and to be in submission to them! In South Africa it’s really, really difficult. The Lord says in Proverbs 17:15 that there are 2 things that He finds detestable: freeing the guilty and condemning the innocent -  that’s exactly what our government is doing where they approve of child sacrifice and condemn the innocent through abortion and then they set criminals free because the jails are too full! Besides that, our prosecution system is a joke, where 1% of all reported rape cases result in a conviction. Nevertheless, no matter how much we disagree with our Government and their policies, we still need to be honest, we still have to pay our taxes and we still have to obey the laws. And in South Africa we’ve got it lucky, imagine having to submit to a Godless tyrant like Robert Mugabe!  We need to keep praying for our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe. Vengeance is MINE says the Lord..

Having said all this, it’s important to recognize that there are several levels of submission – Scripture describes order, never disorder. There is a hierarchy in everything. When submission to one authority conflicts with submission to another, we are obliged to submit to the highest authority. The highest authority is always God. And so when the President tells you to pay tax – you pay tax; when he tells you to drive on the right hand side of the road, then you drive on the right hand side of the road. But when he says bow down to me, or take this mark in your forehead or anything else contrary to the Word of God, we must, like Peter, say, “We must obey God, rather than men” and accept the consequences of our answers, and in the last days that may even be martyrdom.

 Go back to Peter…. Continuing then, in 1 Peter 2: 17  there are further instructions on submission - 17 Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. 18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God, a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right, you suffer for it and patiently endure, this finds favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but committed himself to him that judges righteously: 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

 Here in verse 23 we see how Jesus Himself submitted to His Father – He committed Himself to Him that judges righteously, to God the Father, and that’s the example that WE are supposed to follow.

Now Peter here was talking to servants or slaves, and they were commanded to be submissive to their masters, including those who were abusive. Their suffering was for living righteously as Christians, and it was to be endured silently. The example they have to follow was and always is, JESUS, the ultimate “Suffering Servant.”



Then in the next verse in Ch 3 v1 it reads:

In the same way,(or likewise),  wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, (in other words they are unsaved), they may be won without a word by …. the behaviour of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behaviour.

The expression “likewise” indicates that their conduct is to be Christ-like, like a suffering servant.
And How are the unsaved husbands won? …..WITHOUT A WORD, BY THEIR WIVES BEHAVIOUR. If your husband is unsaved, it’s no good bashing him over the head with the gospel. Once they’ve heard the truth, it’s time for you to keep quiet about it and win them over with your behaviour. This reminds me of one of my favourite sayings – preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words. Walk the talk. Practice what you preach. All too often, we see the wives of unsaved husbands nagging them, always on at them, bashing them over the head with Scripture and offending them with the Gospel. The Bible says you won’t win that way. It says that you must preach the Gospel with the way you live your life, as Christ did, like a suffering servant.

And this is precisely what Peter requires.

 Verse 3 And let not your adornment be merely external-- braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;   4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
(Notice that a gentle and quiet spirit is precious in the sight of God).


Onto verse 7…

7 You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

This honour that we grant our wives is not the same respect that we honour kings and presidents with. That would be the very minimum expected of us. We grant her honour in that she is a child of God, she has the same grace extended to her unto eternal life that you the husband has. As husbands, we have to treat our wives as children of God, otherwise our prayers may not be heard… the last part of verse 7 says grant her honour as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. If you believe that your wife is inferior to you in the Lord’s eyes, then the chances are that your prayers are hindered, they don’t even get heard.
How is it men… That we treat our friends with more honour than we treat our wives? Something is wrong…

 But it doesn’t end there. Turn with me to Ephesians 5.

Ephesians 5 deals with submission as well. In this book, Paul is speaking to the saints, to the faithful believers in Jesus Christ at Ephesus. But before we get to the submission part, I just want to digress slightly here. Verse 11 reads:

11And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them (or expose them). 12 For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.

This is a commandment not to fellowship with people whose works you know are evil. This goes hand in hand with the commandment to be not unequally yoked with unbelievers – but this is a whole sermon on its own and we won’t go into it here, suffice to say that we need to be extremely careful with whom we have fellowship with, because if you do it often enough, their darkness will drag you down. Do not fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, no matter who they might be.


Back to submission….Ephesians 5: 20

20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; (and remember now he is talking to the saints at Ephesus) 21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
(The oldest Bible manuscripts all say in the fear of CHRIST). As Christians we are to submit ourselves to each other in the fear of the Lord. You see, this submission issue is really important, it becomes a basic principle of how we should be living our lives as Christians, by serving others with the love of Jesus, at the same time keeping in mind that we do not ever want to displease Jesus, which is what the fear of Christ means.


 22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be subject to their own husbands in …….. everything,  ….. in …everything!  I like that Scripture!

 But seriously, how difficult is that to put into practice! Especially when we husbands behave like such idiots sometimes, that’s got to be a really difficult thing for a wife to do…. Nevertheless, wives are to submit to their husbands … as unto the Lord…. in …everything. And that doesn’t mean only when the husband behaves himself, or when you feel like it…. As you serve the Lord by doing everything unto Him, to His glory, so you submit to your husband. And remember our definition of submit? That includes your support and co-operation.

What’s even more important to understand about this passage is that just as Christ is the head of the Church, so is the husband the head of the family. Husbands, do you understand what sort of responsibility that is? Christ is the spiritual head of the Church, and the husband is the Spiritual head of the wife and the family – he is spiritually responsible for leading his entire family in the ways of the Lord – and he will have to answer to the Lord one day for how well, or how poorly,  he did it!

 And then we get to what I believe is the crux of the matter of submission -

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 FOR THIS CAUSE A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE; AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as he loves himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband.

 Guys, as leaders of the family, we husbands have a critical role to play. And just how critical, I don’t think many husbands even realize.

We are commanded to leave our fathers and mothers and cleave to our wives when we marry, to join to them in such a way that we become inseparable, ONE flesh. We become ONE before the Lord.
We are commanded to nourish and cherish our wives,
we are commanded to love our wives as much as we love ourselves;
we are commanded to love our wives just as Christ loved the church – and how much did Jesus love the church? So much so, that He gave His life for it. Are you, husbands, prepared to die for your wives? ………Considering the way many of us treat our wives, I don’t think too many of us are.

You see people, this is such an important concept because it is here that marriage and the family succeeds or fails - through the husband’s leadership. The husband has been placed in that position by God. It is not an option for husbands to choose or decide on. It is an absolute. A husband has no choice in the matter.  A Managing director or CEO of a company that doesn’t do his job, or displays poor leadership – what happens? The company fails… eventually leading to bankrupcy. Now the same thing applies to a husband who shirks his God-given responsibilities and doesn’t do his job. What happens? The marriage fails… eventually leading to a dysfunctional and Spiritually bankrupt family. And believe me when I say I know what I’m talking about… before I was saved, through the God-given principles of a man being the leader of his family, I was leading everyone around me straight to hell! That is a massive responsibility - their blood was on MY HANDS!!

You see, it all began with Adam and it all continues with the husband. The husband has to get his priorities straight according to God’s hierarchy, not by our pathetic attempts to justify ourselves before our friends and family.  As I said before, Scripture is ordered, never disordered. God has a prescribed order in everything. We see that order, for example, in the Trinity, where the Son and Holy Spirit are in submission to the Father, and each has a specific role in the Father's ministry. Scripture is full of examples of the principle of such Godly hierarchy. Now the same is true of that God-established sanctuary known as the Christian home, the Christian family. There is a prescribed "order", a hierarchy, and prescribed roles to be fulfilled,  IF the home and marriage are to function the way God wants it to. That order is: Christ-Man-Woman-Child. OR Christ – husband – wife – children; all answerable to each other in that order. In other words, Under Christ, a mans Number ONE priority is his wife, not his children and certainly not his job. If he cannot prioritise in the way God wants him to, then the marriage and the family is doomed to fail.  Notice too, that within this immediate family hierarchy, there is no place for the in-laws! Jokes aside people, there is no place in the immediate family hierarchy for mothers in law !!!

You don’t believe me…. Turn with me to 1 Tim 5

1 Timothy 5…   8, But if any man does not provide for his own and especially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever. Lets read it again…. But if any man does not provide for his own own here means his entire family, aunties, uncles, cousins, everyone and especially for those of his own house own house refers to immediate family, wives and children - , he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.

Again we see an order, a hierarchy. A man’s immediate family takes precedence in all things over the extended family members. Extended family includes the in-laws. Lets clear this up - We are told that we, as husbands, wherever possible, are supposed to provide and look out for all the members of our family, including our extended family, and we are also commanded to honour our mothers and fathers, however, if ever a conflict of interest arises between in-laws and a husband or wife, as it so often does, then it is the immediate family that must take priority, according to God’s heirarchy. In terms of the husband, that means Wife and children are their priority. In terms of the Wife, that means Husband 1st, then children, and only then, mom or dad.

If you want to solve problems with in-laws, then follow God’s principles and hierarchy of submission in the family.


Back to Peter …1 Peter 3:8 Finally, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 9 not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.

 And this inheritance is confirmed in Colossians 3: Turn there..

 Colossians 3…

17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. 18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them. 20 Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.

Verse 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as unto the Lord rather than unto men; 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Jesus Christ whom you serve.

Even in the church there are laws of submission.

Back to Peter, in Chapter 5… 1 Peter 5:  Peter exhorts the elders of the church to lead by example, never using their authority to Lord it over the members of the church. And then in Ch 5 v5 he says:  You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 cast all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.
Isn’t that beautiful to know?…. You can cast all your fears and anxieties onto God because He cares for you.

We are to submit to the elders of the church. So if PJ asks you to jump, you’ve got to ask “ how high”?

Another reason why submission is so important is that it is the key to unity and harmony in all human relationships. In the Godhead, in the church, in marriage, and in any relationship, submission is the basis for unity. Turn with me to Phil 2:…. and Keep a bookmark there

 Phil 2: 1 If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. [and what is that purpose] 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

 What he’s saying here is that in order to have any unity, any meaningful fellowship even, we have to humble ourselves beneath everyone else.

And people please, be sensible. This doesn’t mean we have to be the doormats of the world. It doesn’t mean that you should let evil people take advantage of you nor that you submit to ungodly laws. What it means is that we have to be servants, doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.

  All these commandments of submission… whew doesn’t go down too well with the natural man. Our own spirit baulks at the very idea of submitting to anyone. So, then how are we supposed to cope and deal with all these issues?

The prerequisite for obtaining the strength needed is a word that we sometimes don't like, and don't hear much about anymore, but which is the key to the victorious Christian life: and that word is surrender. When we are born again by faith in Christ, we submit to God, to the authority of His Word, and to Christ as His means of salvation.

Once we have truly surrendered to God, submission will be the natural outworking of the Holy Spirit within the Christian. Godly submission isn't something you try to perform, it is the natural fruit of a close walk with Christ.

And this is confirmed in Galatians 5…

Gal 5: 16 But I say, walk in the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.  Verse 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

 But before we can bear all this beautiful fruit, we have to first develop a fully surrendered and intimate walk with our Saviour, Jesus.  Then, as we surrender ourselves to Him, as we study and give ourselves to His Word, so we become empowered by the Holy Spirit, and we will find that submission is as natural to our new nature as rebellion was to our old one.

Then we will bear the fruit of His Spirit within us. Will our submission be perfect? No, because we still have our own fleshly spirit, which wars among our members. The presence of the Holy Spirit does not take away our own sinful spirit, but it makes true victory over sin possible in our lives by giving us a godly choice, and empowering us as we walk in that choice.

So what have we learnt so far about submission?

submission, true biblical submission is the will of God, it is from the heart, it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
It is voluntary, a voluntary act of obedience and faith. We can no more force one to truly submit than we can force one to convert to faith in Christ.– you cannot force anyone to submit. The way to deal with a wife who refuses to submit is to turn to the one who can change hearts. Instead of trying to force our wives to their knees in submission, we should be falling to our knees in prayer. 

Biblical submission is motivated by faith, hope, and love which will always result in self-sacrifice, the perfect role model being the example of JESUS.

 In Conclusion

Submission is the attitude with which men and women turn to God in faith for eternal salvation.

I submit to you that a man cannot truly be a spiritual leader until he has come to submit himself to those whom he leads. He must humble himself before those whom he leads. He must put their interests first, before his. And here the great and wonderful paradox of Christianity becomes evident.

When we die to self, we live; when we give up our lives, we find them; when we abandon our pursuit of pleasure, we become totally fulfilled. And so submission is the path to great blessing.

 I must say to those of you who have chosen not to submit to God, that while God presently allows men to rebel against Him, soon He WILL subject all creation, when He comes again. The choice is ours, we can submit now or be subjected by force later. Either way, we WILL bow the knee to Him who is above all and over all. The difference is that Christians submit joyfully now, while unbelievers will be painfully forced to do so in the near future as they prepare to enter their doom:

 Turn back to Philippians 2 and reading from verse 9 Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 And may we, by God’s grace, practice true submission, from the heart, to His glory.