Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
The world equates the word “authority” with abuse, selfishness, narcissism, and tyranny. And the world equates the word “submission” with slavery or a Fifty Shades kind of scenario. This post is not about our culture’s ideas of these words. So let’s leave all of our preconceived notions at the door and see what God really wants to communicate to us.
Note – Please check everything I say against Scripture. My opinions and wisdom mean nothing. Only God’s wisdom and His truth matter.
A Whole New Way of Thinking
As we think about what God means by authority and submission, we can’t forget God’s commands for us all to love Him with all our hearts and to love others selflessly with God’s agape love (the 2 greatest commandments Matt. 22:36-40). We must keep in mind the backdrop of the entire Bible, especially the New Testament and the Gospel.
God’s concepts of authority and submission can’t exist properly in a vacuum apart from the rest of God’s wisdom and Scripture.
Some people act as if the only verses that matter in all of the Bible are the ones about how wives are to honor, respect, and submit to their husbands. They ignore all the verses about how all believers are to relate to God and to all other people with honor and love. They cut out the verses about husbands honoring (1 Pet. 3:7) and cherishing their wives and about how husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25-32). They forget the rest of Scripture and twist the Word of God to suit their selfish, ungodly desires and to abuse and to truly oppress women. This is not heart of the Lord! God hates abuse of all kinds!
Where God’s Concepts of Authority and Submission originated
Authority and submission have always existed in the Godhead and spring from the purest possible love, honor, and mutual respect. God the Father has the position of authority in the relationship. Jesus, the Son, submits to the Father in great humility and love. Then the Father glorifies the Son. Both are God. Both are equal as part of the Godhead but there is no power struggle. There is total unity, cooperation, and oneness.
We are to submit to God in love, faith, obedience, and trust as we follow the example of Jesus as He submitted fully to the will of God for His life.
- And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” Matt. 26:39
This is exactly our calling, to say to Jesus, “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” We can know that He understands what it is like to submit to the authority of God the Father. He is not asking us to do anything He has not done, Himself. And He is willing to give us the power of the Holy Spirit to help us so we can obey, if we belong to Him.
Absolute Authority Belongs to Only One
There is only one Being in the universe who has absolute authority over us as humankind. That is Almighty God.
He is the Creator. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. We owe Him all worship, obedience, trust, faith, and submission. But He is not a tyrant. He doesn’t demand our obedience and submission. He wants people to love Him voluntarily because He knows that forced love is not love at all and forced submission is slavery, not real reverence and devotion.
He gives us free will to choose to love and submit to Him or to rebel.
He isn’t capable of evil or selfishness. He is completely loving, kind, and good. He has all wisdom, knowledge, and power. And He is holy, perfect, sinless, and just. He must punish sin. He can’t tolerate any sin in His presence at all.
If we choose to love, honor, and obey the Lord, we benefit in countless ways. If we choose to rebel against the Lord, we will suffer. But He doesn’t force us to love Him. He doesn’t force us to submit. There is no coercion or abuse on His part toward us. Submission must be voluntary. Yes, it is a command, but we choose it out of love and reverence for God.
In God’s economy, all people are called to a life of submission to His authority because He, alone, is LORD.
Absolute submission to the Lordship of God is His command and His will for each of us. No human, who is able to understand, is exempt. There is no discrimination. We are each to live a life of willing submission to Christ. That is what Christianity is! We receive the free gift of salvation Jesus offers to us by His finished work on the cross and through the resurrection on our behalf. And we acknowledge that Christ is LORD. Our Lord.
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. Romans 10:9-10
If Christ is LORD, we must submit to Him!
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?“ Luke 6:46
There will be a day in the future when the time for us to willingly submit is over. On that day “every knee will bow” and “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” Phil. 2:10-11.
It is critical to remember that no human is worthy of our complete and total obedience and submission, only God is. And Jesus is God in the flesh.
Types of Authority
All legitimate authority originates with God because He created all things. We submit ourselves to God-given authority because of our reverence for, love for, gratitude, and obedience to the Lord.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. Rom. 13:1-2
- Direct authority – This is the most powerful authority there is.
- God the Father – Isa. 45:18
- God the Son (Jesus) after His resurrection, God put all authority under His feet – Matt. 28:18
- God the Holy Spirit – John 14:16-18
- God’s inerrant Word, the Bible, which we are to handle rightly – 2 Tim. 2:15, 2 Tim. 3:16
- Indirect/delegated/positional authority – These are people God has placed in positions of leadership. Their authority is limited to the scope defined by God and their authority is supposed to accomplish only the will of God. People can choose to use these positions for good or evil. The goal is that there should be other authorities who can hold someone accountable should someone abuse such a position.
- Government – Rom. 13:1-7, Matt. 22:21, 1 Pet. 2:13-16
- government officials(national/state/local)
- police officers
- judges in court
- laws (unless the laws go against God’s Word)
- church leaders – Heb. 13:17
- older people in the church – 1 Pet. 5:5
- pastors/elders/deacons – James 3:1, Acts 20:28, 1 Tim. 3
- teachers – James 3:1-2
- each other as fellow believers – Eph. 5:21
- bosses/managers/supervisors – Col. 3:22, 1 Tim. 6:1-2
- Teachers/administration – Matt. 10:24
- husbands – 1 Cor. 11:3, Eph. 2:22-33, Col. 3:18-19
- parents – Col. 3:20-21, Eph. 6:1-2
- Government – Rom. 13:1-7, Matt. 22:21, 1 Pet. 2:13-16
- Influential Authority – This is the kind of power a trusted advisor has with a king or ruler. It, too, can be used for much good or much evil. It is God’s will for us to pray for all those in positions of leadership that His will might be done. 1 Tim. 2:1-4
- Citizens of a nation – People can vote or voice complaints and concerns. We can make requests and petitions. We can refuse to follow a king or president into sin and we may protest. 1 Kings 12:15
- Church congregation – We are to test the spirits and reject false teaching. We are to encourage and honor our leaders, but if a leader is involved in abuse or sin, we are to confront the sin. We may even need to remove a leader from his position if that person won’t repent. Eph. 5:21, 1 John 4:1, Matt 7:15, Matt. 18:15-17, 1 Tim. 5:19
- Younger believers – They are to set a godly example for everyone else and treat older believers respectfully as mothers and fathers.1 Tim. 4:12, 1 Tim. 5:1-2
- Employees – We are to set a godly example for those in management over us, even if they are unbelievers, to make the gospel as attractive as possible to them and to others.Titus 2:9-10, 1 Tim. 6:1-2
- Wives – We are to set a godly example for our husbands and children and use our influence for the kingdom of God. Esther 4:15-16, Esther 7:1-3, 1 Pet. 3:1-2, Titus 2:3-5
- Children – Even children can choose to set a godly example for their unbelieving parents, if that is the situation. By their respect and obedience to their parents, they can witness for Christ to them. Eph. 6:1-2, 1 Tim. 4:12
A person with influential authority has the power to influence leaders by words, actions, and especially, by his or her godly, Spirit-filled example.
And, of course, all believers have access to the Holy of Holies through Jesus Christ and to the throneroom of heaven to appeal to God. And all believers are under the authority and power of Christ and can act in the authority of Jesus to do His will.
However, people never have equal authority with God.
There was one angelic being who decided he wanted equal authority with God. His name was Lucifer originally. He was the highest ranking angel in heaven. Now we know him as Satan. His great sin, pride and a desire to be God or to have equality with God, got him cast out of heaven and doomed to eternal punishment.
If someone claims to have equal authority with God, run!
People in positions of delegated authority are to do God’s will, not theirs. They answer to God for what they do. They have no authority to lead people to rebel against God or to sin.
- Jesus answered him (Pilate), “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” John 19:11
We never put a person’s authority above the authority of God and His Word. Ultimately, we must obey God and seek to please Him.
- Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29
- For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Gal. 1:10
We all have various people in positions of God-given authority in every area of our lives. Different positions of authority affect different areas of my life. A president doesn’t have the same kind of authority over my life that my husband does. And a police officer doesn’t have the same kind of authority that a judge or boss has. Each person in a position of authority has a certain sphere of authority and limits to his/her authority. And if someone abuses his/her position, there are other authorities I can go to for help.
I have authority over my own life, too
I have the authority and responsiblity to choose to love God and obey Him or to rebel against Him and disobey Him. My choices belong to me and I am responsible to God for every thought, word, and deed.
- So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Rom. 14:12
- And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15
The Biblical Concept of Authority
Check out the definition Jesus uses for authority:
- But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matt. 20:25-28
Scripture teaches that godly leaders are to be gentle:
- Not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 1 Pet. 5:3
- Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Col. 3:19
- Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Eph. 6:4
- And masters (or we might say, bosses/managers/supervisors), do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him. Eph. 6:9
Jesus announced that those who want to lead and have authority in His kingdom must humble themselves and serve others, loving them, and looking out for what is best for other people. In fact, the entire reason God places people in positions of delegated authority in our lives to protect, shepherd, and provide for us. He gives us leaders to create order and prevent chaos and harm because He loves and cares for us.
People may abuse their positions of God-given leadership. But that is never God’s will.
They answer to Him and He will hold them accountable and responsible for what they do with their authority. And any leader who abuses his/her position of authority should be held accountable by someone in a position of authority here on earth, as well. That is why we have police, government, church leaders, and business leaders.
How Jesus Used His God-given Authority:
- He taught people God’s Word, healed people from diseases, forgave sins, and cast out evil spirits. Mark 1:27, Matt. 9:5-7, Luke 9:1
- He washed His disciples feet, a job usually reserved for the lowest of slaves. John 13:12-17
- He loved us with a greater love than the world has ever known. John 3:16, John 15:13
- He lived the perfect life we could not live. He died to pay the massive price for our sins to provide salvation to the world and to give us the chance to be right with God. He used His great strength to rescue us in our weakness. John 17:1-3
- He gave His authority to His followers to bring many more people into the family and kingdom of God. Matt. 28:17-19
- He overcame Satan, sin, and death on our behalf. He reversed the curse. He opened the doors to heaven for us. He defeated Satan and his demons in an eternal victory on the cross and through the resurrection. 1 Cor. 15:23-25
Jesus set the example for us about how anyone in His kingdom should use the authority He gives them to love and serve others selflessly and humbly. There is no room for pride in Jesus’ kingdom. Pride and self have to die!
The Biblical Concept of Submission
The New Testament Greek word is hupotasso, which means “to put under or arrange under.” It is a military word that refers to lower-ranking soldiers arranging themselves under the orders of higher officers.Submission, then, comes from an acknowledgment of proper order and authority.
The military uses the chain of command to streamline their power and to accomplish their mission quickly and efficiently to protect the nation, defeat the enemy, and help the people. The chain of command in the Christian kingdom does the same thing!
Submission in the military and in Christ’s kingdom don’t make individuals weak. They make the kingdom strong!
God generally accomplishes His purposes and His will by leading us through established human authority just as He did with Israel and the leadership of Moses, Joshua, David, and others. In the New Testament, He led His people through Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and the Apostles and church leaders. If we truly desire to live in the center of God’s will, we need to honor His methods.
As believers in Christ, we are to submit to the Lord but not ever to sin or to Satan. We have been set free from slavery to sin and to the enemy of our souls! We are to submit to people in positions of God-given leadership in our lives, but we are never to follow leaders, or even our own hearts, into sin or rebellion against God.
- Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7
If a leader does ask us to clearly sin against God, we must respectfully refuse to do what the person asks and obey God alone. Some examples in Scripture of people who had to respectfully not follow a human leader’s sinful instruction include: Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Jeremiah, the apostles, and others.
Submission is not just for Christian wives. It is for all of us in every sphere of our lives.
We are all to seek to honor and cooperate with people in positions of delegated authority in our lives out of reverence for the authority of God as we yield in absolute submission to Christ as LORD of all.
Through submission to the Lord and His ways, we work together with Him to accomplish His purposes, bring people to Christ, make disciples, bring glory to His Name, and further His kingdom on earth!
Verses about Submission to Human Authorities
Verses about Submission to God
What Does the Bible Say about Authority? by www.gotquestions.org
What Does It Mean to Submit to God? by www.compellingtruth.org
Why Should I Trust and Submit to God?
Identifying the Lies We Have Embraced – about God, others, relationships, and self
Why Is God the Absolute Authority? by answersingenesis.org
According to the Bible, to Whom Are We to Be Submissive, and Why? by www.gotquestions.org
15 Amazing Attributes of God by www.biblestudytools.com
What Is the Authority of the Believer? by www.gotquestions.org
When Is Civil Disobedience Allowed for a Christian? by www.gotquestions.org
My posts on submission and about submitting
Spiritual Authority – by a minister at my church
When Would I Not Submit to My Husband?
A Husband and Wife’s Authority in Marriage – positional and influential authority (by a minister at my church)
The Peaceful Wife: Living in Submission to Christ As Lord – there is an entire chapter on submission to the Lord and a chapter on submission in marriage, what it is and what it is not.
Absolute Surrender – by Andrew Murray $0.99 on Kindle
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World – by Carolyn McCulley
I’m preparing a sermon on the authority that the centurion recognized in Jesus, so this post is very timely! I couldn’t help but thinking, though, that the Bible says that one day everyone will be forced to submit to Jesus as Lord– every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. We also know that Jesus tells his followers that if they love him, they will keep his commandments.
So while the period of opportunity to submit to him willingly versus unwillingly seems like it is the Church age, does it not?
True! Right now we have a choice, but eventually the time to choose willingly will come to a close. Every knee will bow to the Lordship of Jesus one day.
Feminism has taught women to fear and reject biblical submission to Christ and to our husbands. Women are taught to rebel against God and dominate their husbands out of a fear of being oppressed and controlled. Men in marriages with domineering women are very unhappy and frustrated. They are not allowed a voice to complain about the way they feel. They are not given the chance to lead their families. It’s very heart-breaking.
I pray that more and more women would open their eyes to the beauty of submitting to God and our husbands…especially since recent studies show that traditional, religious women are the happiest wives in the world!!
Yes, this is what the radical feminism of our culture teaches. It says that women are “goddesses” and that we have all wisdom and authority, not God or His Word.
I would suggest that everyone in a family with a domineering wife is unhappy! The husband, the wife, and the kids. It is completely heart-breaking. How I regret treating my husband that way for so many years earlier in our marriage.
That is my prayer, too! And yes, I saw that article. It’s no surprise to me! Thank you for sharing it. <3
Great article! Some really good points in here. I especially like your example of Jesus submitting to the Father – he said what he wanted (for the cup of suffering to be taken away) but then said “Father, let your will be done”. A great illustration for marriage, I think! I also like the way you listed all the different types of authority, with scriptural references. An excellent resource!
I’m so glad this was a blessing. Yes, Jesus gives us an incredible example of submission to God – and it is also an example for us about how to submit in marriage, as well.
YES! I love how you point out that Jesus is the ultimate example of submission. I have been studying Phillipians 2 recently and in verses 2:9-11, we see that God exults Jesus but in the end, it is to the glory of GOD.
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The relationship is a full circle that comes back around – much as it should be with submission in marriage.
What a powerful passage of Scripture!
And yes, the interactions between God the Father and God the Son do come full circle, just like it should in the marriage dynamics. Thanks for sharing!
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