“And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hand.” Genesis 16:9
God gave this instruction to Hagar as she fled the face of Sarai, “Go back and submit yourself to your master’s wife.” As I looked at the definition of submit used here in Genesis I was astounded. It literally means to bow down, to humble ones self or to afflict, become low, downcast, stoop. It includes the possibility of being mishandled, humiliated or oppressed. God is actually telling Hagar to go back to her God-given role of servant and be occupied or busied with the action of submitting to Sarai. And, she did.
Sometimes in life we come across people who are hard to obey. Due to their difficult personalities, stringent and seemingly irrational demands, we bristle at being under their authority. I have known of employers and parents whose treatment of those under them bordered on or actually were abusive. Yet, the call to obey and submit was still the order of the day.
It is hard for us to comprehend that God would require us submit in situations that place us under such irrational hardship. We think our personal rights supersede the command to obey or submit. We are taught to speak up and to demand change. But that is not the way of God.
When the demands of Pharaoh put the Hebrews slaves under great pressure, they obeyed. It was hard. They complained to Moses, but they obeyed. When Abraham told Sarah to lie about their marital status and go into the house of Abimilech, she was probably fearful, yet she obeyed. When God called Isaiah to preach and then told him no one would listen, he still went forward to preach, as did Jeremiah. And when the Son of God knew the cross was his final act of submission – he endured the suffering for us all.
Obedience and submission are not assurances of a peaceful and easy life. However, they are a sign of trust and belief in God’s ability to take a bad situation and turn it for His glory. Hagar’s life did not get any better because she obeyed God. As a matter of fact she was later ousted from the family after several years of obedience to God’s command, but God remained at her side and gave her promise for her son.
In the midst of living with difficult and irregular people, remember that God is not irregular. He knows what you face. He asks that you but trust Him to work things through. Submit to those in authority…as unto Him.
“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves…” Hebrews 13:17
Now, lest we think that only servants like Hagar, children, and employees should submit in difficult situations, we come to this verse in Hebrews. The definition is straightforwardly telling us to not resist. All of us are to give way, or yield, to the authority and admonition of those over us.
We might be tempted to ask, “Why?” But I think we would hear God say, just as our parents told us years ago, “Because I said so.” God is not saying submit if you agree. He is not saying submit if the person asks you nicely or if you can figure out why they are asking. He is also not saying submit with any real promise attached. Obedience is not up for debate.
However, there is a hidden and mysterious blessing for those who have learned to submit without getting ruffled and balking. A peace of heart is theirs as they simply yield to the instruction. And, I have seen the blessing of God come forth as a person places themselves solidly upon this truth.
Understanding that God is the one who sets up thrones and establishes authority is paramount. He is also the one who takes them down. As employees and workers, we are not the ones with power. In the home, God’s order is resolute and best functioning. If we try to take things into our own hands, we create more problems and we step outside God’s place of blessing and protection.
Why do we struggle with submission to authority? Because we are sinful, willful creatures that want to have our own way. We do not like to be told anything by anyone. But with an attitude like that we are actually setting ourselves up for more hurt and disappointment. Better to simply do as we are told and allow the one in authority to carry the burden of responsibility for their decisions.
Do you balk at authority? Are you a contentious employee?
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” Ephesians 5:22
Ah, the one verse on submission that is so often quoted! Wives – SUBMIT! It means to arrange under or be subordinate. It also has the idea of being subject by choice or agreement or being under the control of another’s advice or admonition.
So what is a submissive wife? I think of it this way. In my wedding vows I promised to love, honour and obey my husband. If I act lovingly, do things that show him that I respect his position as leader of the home and provider for the family, and seek to live in a way that would be pleasing to him in all I do, including obeying any instruction he gives, then I am a submissive wife. If, however, I do just the opposite – use harsh and unloving words and action, bring him disgrace or embarrassment by my choices, and blatantly do the opposite of what would be his instruction, then I am definitely not submissive.
CC Bure said, “A submissive wife is one who makes a choice not to resist her husband’s will. That is not to say that she cannot disagree with him or that she cannot express an opinion. Indeed the submissive wife is, by definition, a strong woman and will usually therefore have her own opinions and these may often be different to the opinions of her husband. Can she express them? Of course she can, and indeed it might often be wrong for her not to express them since she is, after all, supposed to be her husband’s helper, not his slave or doormat. Expressing her opinions and giving advice and suggestions will often be a valuable part of the help that she gives her husband.”
The difference in a submissive wife and the Hebrew slave is that submission is a choice to arrange one’s life by agreement with another. The wife enters the relationship willingly and knowingly. And the one in authority has a different motivation. The slave’s master has only one goal – performance that yields profit. The authority of the Christian husband is entirely different – a oneness that creates harmony and is a picture of Christ’s love for the church.
Submission holds no fear for the wife who is assured that love will be reciprocated and her role, performed with submission, is valued and appreciated.
“Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteh the proud, and given grace to the humble.” I Peter 5:5
This verse has the same definition as the wife’s call to submission. It is to arrange under, to subject or submit one’s control to another by choice or agreement. The word, subject, has the exact same definition. So, we understand from this verse that younger people should be subject or submissive to older folks and that ultimately, we should all have an attitude of submission to each other.
It is interesting to note the two choices of attitude with which God equates our submission. We are either humble or proud. A humble person has no problem with submission. They know their place and gracefully yield to authority. A proud person refuses to submit quietly. They are outspoken and resistant. Hence, God uses the same approach – He is resistant to the proud and graceful to the humble.
A quick study on pride reveals that pride creates wrath and wrath creates contentions and strife. Inside true submission there is no place for any of these qualities. It does not mean that we simply go through life with our heads in the sand. We are not to be blind leaders of the blind or ignorant about life. However, we are also not to be contentious and self-willed.
A submissive working together in community, in the home, and in the church produces a unity of spirit and a peace that glorifies God. Submission may look like obedience, but it also may look like thoughtful questioning and exploration of solutions. It has the facet of being helpful and uplifting of others. Hence, God calls us to be submissive – helpful, thoughtful, uplifting – toward others.
What is your attitude toward submission?
“Submit yourselves therefore to God…” James 4:7
The ultimate object of our submission should be to God. This is again the same definition - It is to arrange under, to subject or submit one’s control to another by choice or agreement.
When Adam fell in the garden he made the choice to not subject himself to God. He broke fellowship by his actions. Fallen man is in the same position. His fellowship is broken with God. He is not submissive to God. He is diametrically opposed to submission.
When we come to know Christ as our Saviour we make a choice. We are recognizing His authority in our lives and our rebellious state. We ask for forgiveness and bring ourselves into line by agreement with God’s authority. Baptism is a picture of what has happened in our lives and an open acknowledgment of our desire to walk in newness of life – out with the old, in with the new.
Over and over in our Christian growth we are faced with ever deepening levels of this submission. New growth means we learn to become faithful to church, to pray and read our Bibles with set regularity and to tithe. Then we are challenged with heart attitudes that need to change and we start submitting to God’s requirements on forgiveness, obedience, service, etc. I find that the deeper one goes in the Christian life, the more submission is challenged. We see the rebellion of our heart in more subtle ways and are faced with the choice of surrendering these fallacies over to God’s working.
Submitting to God can also be seen in our life situations as we face death, job choices, personality clashes, child rearing, and marriage problems. Over and over we are being faced with the choice of submitting to God or doing things our own way.
Submission is a life long choice – what choice are you making?