What does biblical submission look like? As I have tried to answer that question for myself, I have concluded that the Bible actually says very little about what the submission it asks of us looks like. But we do have some outstanding examples.
The greatest example of biblical submission that comes to my mind is that of Jesus, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, only a short time before he would be crucified:
39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:39-44 TNIV)Jesus knew how much he would suffer and would have liked not to have to suffer like that. But he submitted himself to his heavenly father: "not my will, but yours be done."
It seems to me that another example of submission is found in Mary's response to the angel who told her that she would bear a child, Jesus, the Son of God:
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”Mary's final response is one of submission to God's plans for her.
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-38 TNIV)
Notice that in each of these two examples, the one who submitted discussed the matter. Jesus was open and honest when he prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me." Mary was open and honest when she asked the angel, "How will this be ... since I am a virgin?"
I can't prove that such discussion on the part of one who submits is an integral part of biblical submission, but it seems to me that it does indicate that God is not displeased when we honestly question something. Neither Jesus nor Mary were doormats when they submitted. They chose to submit. That aligns with the fact that biblical instructions to submit are typically in the middle voice of Greek: we are to submit (or subject) ourselves to the desires of another. It is not blind obedience. It is a voluntary choice.
Let's review who the Bible specifically states are to submit to whom:
- Believers are to submit to Christ and God (Eph. 5:22, 24; Heb. 12:9; James 4:7).
- Believers are to submit to each other (Eph. 5:21).
- Wives are to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1)
- Slaves are to submit to their masters (1 Pet. 2:18) as well as obey them (Eph. 6:5).
- Young men in the church are to submit to older men in the church (I Peter 5:5).
- We are to submit to governmental institutions (1 Peter 2:13).
We are not told specifically what it means for believers to submit to each other, but there are many instructions which might come under that umbrella, including:
- Humbly consider others better than yourselves (Phil. 2:3).
- Lovingly serve one another (Gal. 5:14).
- Be humble toward each other (1 Pet. 5:5).
- Be kind to one another (Eph. 4:32; 1 Thess. 5:15).
- Honor one another (Rom. 12:10).
- Love one another (John 13:34; Rom. 12:10).
- Be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50).
- Put up with each other (Col. 3:13).
- Live in harmony with one another (Rom. 15:5).
- Forgive one another Eph. 4:32).
- Bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2).
What are some other biblical examples that you can think of that illustrate submission?
What else would you like to add to this post?