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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

On Submission

One of the greatest lessons I've ever had to learn as a Christian has been the art of submission. Yes, I know it's not a popular term. In fact, in the culture where I live (U.S.A.) it's considered pretty nasty. It just isn't done. In fact, people will flee it at all costs. But the Bible is replete with very clear instructions that God's people are to be submitted.

God calls His people to submit to Him first and foremost. His ways are to be obeyed and followed acutely. He calls His people to submit to the spiritual authorities that He places over us (in churches). God calls His people to submit to the political authorities that He places over us (in government). And of course God calls His people to submit to the workplace authorities that He places over us (bosses).

This would seem to be quite enough submitting for God's people to do. But it doesn't end there. God calls husbands and wives to submit themselves to each other. He calls children to submit to their parents. He even calls sinners to submit themselves to other sinners as they confess their sins to each other (James 5:16).

I got into an argument in my church one time, with another staff member at the church. A deeply spiritual man, possessing considerably more spiritual maturity and religious experience than I, he ultimately told me that I "had a lot to learn about submission." At the time, those words hurt me deeply. I was offended by what he said. Ironically, I knew he was right. It was true. I did have a lot to learn about submission. It wasn't anything I'd ever done well.

Even as a child, I didn't submit well to my parents, teachers or others in authority over me. I manipulated well instead. I would scheme and connive to convince them that I was submitted ... all the while going about doing things my way. It never looked like outright defiance. (I was too good of a manipulator to allow it to look that obvious!) But this of course, is still far from submission. defines submission pretty blandly. In fact, its definitions leave quite a bit to the imagination if you ask me. But they do offer some word history that I find helpful.

Word Origin & History: submission
early 15c., "act of referring to a third party for judgment or decision," from O.Fr. submission , from L. submissionem (nom. submissio ) "a lowering, sinking, yielding," from submissus , pp. of submittere "lower, reduce, yield" (see
submit). Sense of "humble obedience" is first recorded mid-15c. Mod.Fr. submission has been replaced by doublet soumission .
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Notice this act of yielding or deferring to a third party for the decision. It is allowing someone else to have their way with me. As defined for Christians, that would be allowing God, spiritual leaders in my church, government authorities, bosses at work, teachers at school, my spouse, and others to literally have their way with me. It sounds absolutely crazy when you put it like that. But I'm coming to understand that it is precisely like that. Anything less than that is simply not submission.

A few years ago, my wife and I felt led to join a different church. We had visited it several years earlier and it seemed innocuous enough. But this time when we showed up at the Sunday morning service, God spoke to me. Specifically, I was listening to the Sr. Pastor on the stage and God said, "Submit yourself to this man." That was it, the end of the discussion. I knew it was God speaking. And I knew it was His final word. I had no questions and I had no arguments.

Now for a guy who'd never excelled at submission, I also knew it was no small task what God was asking me to do. In the subsequent years, I've discovered that submission can be costly. It can be inconvenient. It can go against what I think is best. And it can require cooperation, compromise, sacrifice or other such things that modern day Americans don't take kindly to. Nevertheless, that's what God had said, "Submit yourself to this man."

It's a few years later now. Sometimes I wonder how I'm doing. Am I submitted to my pastor? Is God pleased with the level of submission that I have managed to accomplish over the years. Would my friend from the old days still tell me that I "have a lot to learn about submission?" Perhaps I do have a lot to learn. But to be clear, I have learned a considerable amount already!

I've come to a very clear understanding that being in a right relationship with God is not possible without a strong measure of submission. Similarly, I've come to a very clear understanding that having God-honoring, reconciled relationships with other people is not possible without significant submission on my part. Mind you, I'm probably not any more of a fan of submission with this knowledge. But I certainly recognize and concede its paramount value.

The thing that makes me wonder though, is why submission seems to be such a lost art. We Christians, we don't to it well. It doesn't seem that most of us really want to submit. It also doesn't seem that most of us know how much we need to submit. And even if we did, how many of us really know how to submit? Can't you just see it now, a church offering a new class on submission? I bet not too many people would be chomping at the bit to sign up for that one!

If I had one prayer for Christianity today, one wish for modern day Christians, I think it would have to be that each of us get a deep revelation from God about this whole concept of submission. Shift our paradigms about it. Teach us the art of it. Let all of us earn a black belt in submission. Perhaps then, we could truly be God's people - and He would truly be our God.

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