Submission Recognition is a weekly posting on the topic of submission. Join me every Tuesday as I work to expand our understanding of a commonly misunderstood calling on every Christian’s life. You can review last week’s Submission Recognition.
It can be so easy to be submissive when the person you are yielding to is like-minded and well equipped to lead. In fact, there are times we are blessed with leaders in our lives that are so qualified, kind, and gentle in their leadership that we submit to them without thinking. There are many times, however, that the shortcomings of an authority figure are so apparent in our eyes that submitting to them feels quite difficult.
You might be the wife of a husband that has made some foolish choices in the past that had big consequences. You might be a teen daughter who feels your parents can’t possibly understand how you are feeling and their decisions seem more hurtful than helpful. It could be that you strongly disagree with recent decisions that were made by the pastor of your church and you are finding it difficult to listen to his sermons on Sunday mornings.
As a young Christian, I would have told you that there is no reason to submit in the above circumstances. After all, if you disagree with someone, why in the world would you act supportive towards their leadership? I am reminded again that God’s ways are not my ways. My gut feeling on this issue as a young Christian was far more influenced by the culture I grew up in, and far less concerned about what the Bible had to say on the issue.
If we study God’s Word, we find that God commands us to submit even when our leader is clearly flawed. As I said last week: while there are many passages throughout the Bible that show God approves of disobedience to authority (for example Exodus 1:17 or Daniel 3:12-18, among others), these are all instances where being obedient to authority would require disobedience to God. We will deeply address this distinction in later posts.
There is no greater example of a man who fully embraced submission than Jesus Christ himself. With this in mind, my favorite place to start when discussing this topic is Luke 2:41-52. As you read the passage, I would encourage you to imagine Mary’s perspective, and then read it a second time considering the perspective of Jesus:
“Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances,and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 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. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
Six points I would like you to consider from this passage as they relate to our topic of submission:
1) While Jesus was indeed fully human, he demonstrated in the temple an understanding of God that surpassed all expectations, even amazing teachers and any others who were listening.
2) Mary and Joseph clearly reacted in a way that demonstrated their lesser knowledge of God’s will and lesser understanding of Jesus himself than that of their young son’s.
3) Jesus did not rebuke them for their failure to know where he must be, he did not respond with disobedience or disrespect, and he did not see their inferior understanding as a reason to disobey their authority.
4) Jesus returned to Nazareth with his parents as they desired and he was submissive to them, just as God desires children to be submissive to their mothers and fathers.
5) Mary treasured these things, suggesting “these things” may refer to the willing submission and obedience her son showed to her as well as the incredible understanding he had demonstrated in the temple.
6) “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” while in submission to his mother and father.
Have you ever struggled to submit to an authority in your life for the simple reason that you had more knowledge than they did on a particular subject? Maybe you’ve caught yourself reviewing their areas of weakness and even applauding yourself for your own strengths in those same areas. Are you pridefully believing you “know better” and choosing to disregard their authority and approach things in your own way?
Even at the age of twelve, Jesus showed more knowledge and understanding about the will of the Father than his parents. Still, he continued to be submissive to them. Not only did this committment to submission bless his mother, but scripture makes it clear that he thrived in this submissive relationship and found favor in the eyes of God and man.
While God permits us to withdraw our submission in specific areas that would require us to be disobedient to Him, we are still called to submit to others in times when we simply know more, our opinions differ, or we recognize many weaknesses in the person. We may even have times when submitting causes us pain or discomfort (a topic we will dive deeper into in future weeks). Christ served as an example of perfect submission for us, from childhood to the cross, and I can’t wait to explore the beauty of this truth further as we continue this study on submission together.
For this week, I hope you will focus on circumstances where submission is required even when the person you’re submitting to seems underqualified in your eyes. Where is God calling you to walk in humble submission and let go of your pride?
Here are some practical tips for you to cultivate a submissive heart in challenging circumstances:
1. Pray, pray, pray! While some might consider a position of submission a place of weakness, in many situations true Christ-like submission requires more strength than you have on your own. Pray that God will be your strength in this area. Also, pray often for the person in authority.
2. Always focus on remaining Christ-like and relying on the Holy Spirit: counting others greater than yourself, remaining humble, putting the priorities of God in front of the priorities of man (including yourself).
3. Check on your thought life and make some changes. It is tempting to be submissive with your actions while harboring contradictory thoughts and a bitter attitude towards your authority figure. If you catch yourself frequently going over this person’s weaknesses and faults in your mind, it needs to stop. It doesn’t honor God, and it will certainly not help you readily submit when you are called to do so.
4. Seek to know this person’s strengths and focus on their positive attributes as much as possible.
5. When talking with others, never take the opportunity to speak disrespectfully about this person or complain about their leadership. If the topic comes up, use it as an opportunity to stay positive. This is the classic, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
6. Think eternally. There are many moments of tension in our daily lives that fuel the reactions of our flesh: anger, bitterness, hostility, pride, disobedience. In these moments, when you feel yourself welling up with pride and selfish ambition, look beyond the moment and remind yourself of the race that is being run for the glory of God.
7. If possible, talk with the person to whom you are struggling to submit. No, not to point out all of the flaws you have noticed. When appropriate, express to them that you are praying for them. Ask for ways that you can pray more specifically, or possibly ask for practical ways you can be of more help to them if you are in a helper role. It might be necessary to confess your ill feelings to this person with a truly repentant heart and ask for their forgiveness.
8. It might be necessary to seek help from a trusted friend, biblical counselor, or your pastor. If this struggle is happening within your marriage or between a parent and a child, it might be helpful to have a third-party talk through it with the two of you. Sometimes an outside perspective can make observations about the relationship that you have not made and provide helpful guidance in repairing the relationship. They also may be able to help you better communicate with one another and reach a biblical understanding of your situation.