The humility and discipline of submitting to those over us has a subtle and unique power. It is not power over the leader, but power over self. Power over selfishness. To place my desires and perspective and opinions below that of another person (husband, parent, pastor, teacher, rules, etc.) Is not only a freeing thing, but an empowering thing.
Modern feminism, even “Christian” feminism, rebels against this. This militant movement seeks to supplant the hierarchy God has ordained, and seize power. Of course, Eve learned quickly that this is one of Satan’s lies. He would have us believe that power is always authoritarian, and that humility is always demeaning, and service is always servility. God says that the power of God is in obedience to His Word (1 Cor. 2:4-5, 2 Cor. 4:7).
Most of the power of submission is in the spiritual life, not necessarily in the temporal world. Oh yes. There may be loss of rights, loss of pride, loss of control, loss of identity sometimes if we submit to an authority, especially an imperfect one. But what do we gain? Scripture is clear that we are not to value this life, but rather seek things that will last in the next (Mark 8:35; Matt. 6:33). We gain the perspective of our leaders. We learn from our leaders. We grow under the ministry of our leaders. We learn to get out of the way and let God work. We store up treasures in heaven that do not burn up, but are precious throughout eternity.
You may say, “But what about that situation they’re not seeing? I have this knowledge that surely my leader needs to have in order to be a good leader! How can he be a good leader if he doesn’t do A, B, or C? How can THAT be God’s will? What he’s doing doesn’t make sense to me.”
Here’s the perspective you must have as one in a submissive role, which is not always for women, by the way. Men also have times they must submit to authority. God has placed that leader over you. God has led that person there, just as well as He has led you to your place (situation). God is in control.
In my relationship with my husband, I went through a time of struggle having been a very strong willed single adult supporting myself and then becoming … a wife. Aron and I knew each other as good friends for 6 years before we were married. I knew he was a godly man, a man who was strong and sought to please the Lord above all other things. But even having a good man as my leader, it was still difficult for me, because I was not very submissive at first. Indeed, I still struggle to submit. (I can just hear all of the egalitarians groaning.) I was so enamored by my own abilities and strengths that I neglected to follow my leader. It took me a long time to really watch what he was doing and follow his lead.
Aron has a different mindset than I do, partly because of the call on his life from God Himself to serve in full time ministry which gives him more time devoted to the Word and to prayer. He has more experience in applying the truths he has studied because of his calling as well. He also has a perspective based on his experiences that God has led him through and a unique personality that God has given him. There are numerous things that my husband does that don’t make sense to me, things that I would not have thought of first. But I’ve learned to watch him, and wait. I’ve learned to ask him what is his reasoning for this or that action. I wish I could tell each person who does not know him as well as I do, “Watch him. Look what he’s doing. Follow his lead. You’ll like where it takes you.” Not because he is perfect, but because he really is a good leader. He has been so to me and to others. I would never have learned this joy had I not submitted when I disagreed or when I saw him mess up.
That is submission. It is following, not leading. A follower is not to be the stopgap for the leader. It is not my job to check up on my husband and make sure he’s doing right. My job is the submissive roll, the helper’s role. He may perform as a servant leader and serve his family and church as God has called him, and that may reveal his humility and meekness. My job, though, is not to point out whether he’s doing it right or doing it wrong.
I still haven’t answered the question. How is this empowering then? Andrew Murray’s book, Abide in Christ answers us.
And so His people are still taught to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. When He strengthens them, it is not by taking away the sense of feebleness, and giving in its place the feeling of strength. By no means. But in a very wonderful way leaving and even increasing the sense of utter impotence, He gives them along with it the consciousness of strength in Him. ‘We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us.’ The feebleness and the strength are side by side; as the one grows, the other too, until they understand the saying, ‘When I am weak, then am I strong; I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me.’1
So the real challenge to us is not so much to submit to my earthly authorities, but ultimately do I submit to God? And, after all, do we believe in God’s sovereignty? Is God really in control and is His will really for me to follow THIS leader? Yes. Check how many times we are to OBEY from a submissive stance:
To parents: Eph. 6:1
To husbands: Eph. 5:22, 33
To employers: Eph. 6:5
To government: 1 Pet. 2:13-17
To pastors: Heb. 13:17
Submission to my leaders, even imperfect leaders, can move a prideful and impulsive girl toward humility and patience and temperance. So that makes my point. Pride, impulsiveness and selfishness are weaknesses. Humility and patience and self-control are strengths! Those are the qualities that God can use. These good fruits of the Spirit clear the way for God to work through me. The fruits of my spirit only quench the Spirit. Submission will allow that quiet dove to convict and change me from within. The Potter will smooth out the bumps and mold the clay into His vessel. Spurgeon said,
That rough looking diamond is put upon the wheel of the lapidary. He cuts it on all sides. It loses much – much that seemed costly to itself…. Let faith and patience have their perfect work, for in the day when the crown shall be set upon the head of the King, Eternal, Immortal, Invisible, one day of glory shall stream from you. ‘They shall be mine,’ saith the Lord,’ in the day when I take up my jewels.’3
Modern feminism and so-called Christian feminism or egalitarianism miss this point. The power to be satisfied, fulfilled, at peace, and with joy is not in finding yourself. It’s not in avoiding pain or suffering. It’s in trusting, resting, abiding, serving. It is in submitting to the Lord. I must quiet my soul and “behave myself like a weaned child” (Psalm 131:2).
We must submit to God at the point of salvation. Why do we fight against it in our Christian walk? Submission is power. The Potter may choose to make me a vessel for honor that is admired by all, or He may make me just a clay pot to be used and then broken for His purposes (Romans 9:21). Either outcome is reliant on a submissive lump of clay in the Master’s hands, and either outcome is good.
Submission is power. But it’s not my power. It is God’s power working through me.
None of self, and all of Thee
By Theodore Monod
Oh, the bitter pain and sorrow
That a time could ever be,
When I proudly said to Jesus,
“All of self, and none of Thee.”
Yet He found me; I beheld Him
Bleeding on th’ accursed tree,
And my wistful heart said faintly,
“Some of self, and some of Thee.”
Day by day His tender mercy,
Healing, helping, full and free,
Brought me lower while I whispered,
“Less of self, and more of Thee.”
Higher than the highest heaven,
Deeper than the deepest sea,
Lord, Thy love at last has conquered:
“None of self, and all of Thee.”
** Rebekah Schrepfer is a regular contributor to Aletheia and a blogger at MostlySensible.com.
- Murray, Andrew. Abide in Christ(pp. 109-110). Wilder Publications. Kindle Edition.
- You might say, “What about when he’s asking me to sin?” In that case, your red flag is correct. Although we have earthly authorities, they are not our sole authorities. Only God is our sole authority. Of course, there will be times when a leader may use his power wrongly and that will mean that those under his power will suffer. There is provision from God for those who are suffering and if you are one who is in an abusive situation perhaps, then please seek help. It is never ok to sin, though. Abuse is not a problem with the hierarchy. It is a sin problem.
- Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening: Daily readings(Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.