“Why do I have to submit to my parents? I’m 18!”
“My boss isn’t a Christian. I shouldn’t have to respect him.”
“Just because I go to this church doesn’t mean the pastor gets to tell me what to do.”
Perhaps the loudest complaint heard among conservative Americans today is, “My government is corrupt. My president is corrupt. The Supreme Court hates the Bible. Why would I submit myself to the American government?”
Every person in every stage of life is told to submit. As children, we are to submit to our parents (Ephesians 6:1). We grow up and leave our parents’ home, perhaps to get married or to go to work. Married women are told to submit to their husbands as to the Lord (Ephesians 5:22). Servants – we could say employees today – should submit to their masters, whether they are gentle or unreasonable (1 Peter 2:18). Church members are to put themselves under their pastors and elders (Hebrews 13:17). The Bible also says in multiple places to submit to the government (Romans 13:1).
The Greek word translated “submit” in the New Testament means to put oneself under someone’s authority. The literal meaning combines the words “underneath” and “command.” It is to put another person’s concerns and demands before our own agendas.
But submission is not easy. To put ourselves under another person goes against the grain of our sin nature and often doesn’t fit with how we want to live our lives.
So, how and why are Christians to submit? Paul’s answer in Ephesians is, “as to the Lord” (5:22). Those few words change the Christian’s outlook on submission completely.
When we are walking with the Lord, submitting to Him is natural and even joyful. If Christians see who God truly is, we will not only see that He is King over all and thus deserves our submission, but we also see His love and want to love Him in return. Because we love Him, we want Him to be glorified. We are happy to forget ourselves, happy to submit.
Submitting to someone who is being difficult must be done “as to the Lord.” We submit to an upset, unconverted boss as an act of love unto the Lord. Out of love for God, Christians submit to a pastor who may not understand the whole situation. Submitting out of love for the Lord does not mean it will be easy, but obedience as an act of love is better than performance out of a sense of duty.
How do Christians submit to non-Christians, especially to an openly non-Christian government? Paul tells the church members in Rome, the city famous for its gruesome persecution of Christians, to obey the governing authorities. Imagine being told to submit to the government that imprisoned, burned, and even crucified Christians! Yet, even Jesus paid His taxes to Rome (Matthew 17:27). If Christ submitted to the Roman government and commanded other Christians to do the same, American Christians have no excuse to disobey their government.
Unless … the government commands us to do something directly against God’s word. This is one deep line in the sand that we cannot cross when it comes to submission. We should never disobey God for the sake of obeying someone else; think of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. They refused to obey King Nebuchadnezzar and faced death rather than breaking God’s law.
Whatever our age or present circumstance, we ought to put ourselves under another person “as to the Lord.” Ultimately, however, we are God’s subjects, and we are to obey Him over every other authority.