The Principle of Submission

The Principle of Submission

© C. O. Bishop, January, 2019

Colossians 3:18-25


We last talked about what it meant to act or speak “in the name of Jesus”…and how it meant being completely in submission to His will and acting in accordance with that will: acting and speaking in accordance with His Word and His will. Our words and deeds should match, and both should line up with the commands of Christ.

The next eight verses lay out a pattern of submission, which is not simply a “chain of command,” such as military organizations use, and which many commercial companies mimic. This is both more powerful and less oppressive than a “chain of command.” Since the Church is the Body of Christ, and every believer a member of that body, there is no one who “has to go through a chain of command” in order to approach the throne of God. My elbow does not tell my finger when it itches: it tells my brain, and my brain sends my hand to relieve the itch. I always have access to the throne, directly. So does every member of the body of Christ.

I may be an employee, or even a genuine, bought-and-paid-for slave, in some country, but I still have direct access to the Throne of Grace. No one can cut me off from that privilege. A wife may be married to a loving, Godly husband, who makes few, if any, demands upon her, or she may have a miserable wretch of a husband, who is very demanding, and not at all loving. In neither case is she required to “go through the husband” to get to God. Every single believer is a priest in the body of Christ, and every one of them has full access to the throne of Grace.

Submission to God through submission to others.

With all of that in mind, consider that God has established some order in the world. All of us have some person (or persons) to whom God calls us into submission. I do not have to like a police officer who gives me a lawful order, but I do have to obey that order, because of the authority of the Law…and it would be wiser to do so without making a fuss over it. So God gives examples of that submission, here:

18 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

Is it possible that a husband can require something of his wife that is not “fit” in the Lord? Yes, I believe it is: he cannot force her to disobey the law, whether civil or divine. He cannot force her into immorality. But, within the godly relationship there is some authority. A wise husband does not abuse that authority. A godly wife respects the authority of God, even in her flawed husband, but it is much easier to do so when the husband is obeying God, as well. Further, notice that this submission is to her own husband, not to men in general. There is no injunction in the Bible saying that women should be subservient to men. There are examples in scripture where women gave commands to male servants or stewards. There is definitely not a “male-dominance” taught for society in general.

19 Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

The key, here, is in the nature of the relationship itself: A husband who is unconditionally loving his wife (as Christ loves the Church) will inspire her to want the best for that relationship, too. Notice that the command to the husband is not only to “Love” his wife (remember that the agape love is always an action, not a feeling), but also to not be bitter against her. That one is a heart-issue, not just an outward act. A husband who is loving his wife, and who is never angry toward her, inspires her to want his approval.

If I am angry toward my wife, or critical against her, even in the secrecy of my own mind, it is sin: it is that simple. There does not have to be an outward manifestation for it to be wrong. Bitterness is an inward thing, and God forbids me to have it toward my wife. So, when I am feeling grumpy, and begin to blame my feelings on my wife, God convicts me immediately, and I recite this specific passage to myself (“Husbands love your wives and be not bitter against them!”) as I confess to Him that I am wrong to be angry.

Jesus does not see the Church (the Body of Christ) in a negative light! I am to imitate that attitude toward my wife. He does rebuke local assemblies for their sin and their bad testimony, but the Church as a whole (often called the “universal church”, but this phrase can be misused) is beyond rebuke. God sees us only in our new natures. We husbands are called to see our wives in that light, as well. We are not to be critical. The reverse is true as well: wives are not to be disrespectful or critical toward their husbands.

20 Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.

Again, I think there are limits, here. When we hear in the news of some horrible parent selling his or her precious child into sexual slavery, or worse, we never think, “Well, children, make sure you obey your parents!” We recognize that those evil parents and the pedophiles to whom they sold their children are all criminals, and we desire to see the criminals punished, and their victims delivered from that abuse and bondage! No decent person wants those children to be subjected to such evil. So, obviously there are limits. But where are those limits?

In the first place, it seems to me that the command must be directed primarily to juvenile children, probably not to those who have reached majority, and who are making adult decisions. For instance, in any military organization, the commanding officer does not have to check with the parents of his troops (most of whom may be young, unmarried men) before he gives a command. They are adults, and their oath of obedience is no longer to their parents. They have chosen to bind themselves to obedience to their officers. Similarly, employees, in this very passage, are commanded to obey their supervisors: So, what if their supervisor disagrees with their parents? These are adults, and they are no longer bound to their parents.

There are folks who believe that the children, as offspring, are bound until they are married, or even beyond. But this is not borne out in scripture. So, it seems that there is such a thing as reaching adulthood, and being “on your own.” There are examples in scripture, however, particularly early in Israel’s history, when sons were obedient to their fathers, long after reaching what we would consider adulthood, so, perhaps “adulthood,” even from God’s perspective, varies from culture to culture. Marriage norms certainly vary from culture to culture, and apparently so does the age of assumed adulthood. I know people who insist that their grown children should be obedient to them, long after the rest of the culture considers them to be an adult, and it causes serious strain in their relationship, because of the unreasonable demands by the parents.

Responsibilities of Leadership and Response to it

21 Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.

We need to realize that, as parents, we can make it much more difficult and discouraging for our children to live in subjection to our authority. We (fathers, particularly) are commanded to not do things to provoke our children. Making unreasonable demands on our children, and/or not allowing them to “grow up” in a reasonable time frame, could easily contribute to such frustration and anger. We will see in the next chapter that the same is true of Employer/Employee relations…and that the person in responsibility is answerable to God for his or her actions toward those who have been subjected to his or her authority.

22 Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God;

This is where we can readily apply the scripture on a daily basis…or fail to do so. Most of us have human taskmasters. Some are quite reasonable, some are not. But, in every case, the servant is to serve from the heart, not just grudgingly doing as little as possible.

I saw a story, possibly a joke, about a welder, applying for a job. The stated pay-range was 18-24 dollars per hour. The applicant made two welds; one looked terrible, one was absolutely perfect. The employer pointed to the ugly weld and asked, “What happened here?” The applicant replied “that is an $18/hr weld, the other is a $24/hr weld.” The story was supposed to be either “funny” or some sort of social comment, pointing out that “you get what you pay for.” But, to me, if I am capable of doing good work, and deliberately do substandard work, I am in violation of the principle, here in verse 22.

I am to serve from the heart, regardless of pay. If I take the job, I am to do my best work. If I am dissatisfied with the pay, I can either negotiate for more money or leave. If I am asked to do something illegal or immoral, I can refuse, and explain why. And it will very likely cost me my job to do so. But it may not. On several occasions over the years, I have had supervisors demand that I lie for them, or sign off on a document that was false. In every case I have refused, and in every case they have been angry, but ultimately relented. I am sure that it has cost me a number of raises, as they then accuse me of not being “a team player,” or some such thing. One told me that he thought I should leave my morals at home. This was a mid-level manager, who evidently did not see the other side of that issue: that, if someone will abandon their morals, and lie for him, they will certainly also lie to him, and about him.

Practical Conclusion

23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

That is the bottom line: we are to live our lives, in every detail, as though it were Jesus, in person, whom we serve…because it is! He is not some mystical being who lives in some imaginary plane of existence. He is a real person, present with us, and living in us. And He is still our Creator, Sustainer, and Savior. He deserves our full obedience, as well as our love and worship.

Further, we should be aware that our reward—our “wages”, as it were—are coming from Him, not from our earthly paymasters. It is very easy to become distracted by the “current events” of our lives, and not see the overall picture: then we fail to see the long-range results of our lives.

24 Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.
25 But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.

This is a good place to remind ourselves of the coming “Judgment Seat of Christ”, where the works (not the sins) of believers will be evaluated and judged. (2nd Corinthians 5:10)  

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”

This is not a judgment as in a criminal court, but rather an “awards ceremony”… everyone on the team at least has that blessing: we are “on the team.” All believers are “in Christ,” permanently. In 1st Corinthians 3:11-16, Paul points out, however, that there will be those whose works result in reward, and there will be those whose works had no eternal value. It is not that they were doing “bad things”, necessarily, but perhaps that they were doing everything for the sake of their own glory or to look good before others, or something of that sort.

This passage in Colossians tells us the key to having reward: serve Jesus personally, being conscious of His presence and authority, so that your reward comes from Him and not from human approval. This is a difficult thing for some of us, as we are so conscious of the world around us and its pressure to conform and gain approval from other humans. But the standard is the same for all of us, and a teacher or pastor is judged more critically than others as his failure will affect others. It is very easy to fail in this regard. When a teacher is feeding a flock, or teaching a class, he or she will either be consciously looking to teach faithfully, responding personally to the Head of the body, or…not doing so. And if not, then the teaching becomes an effort to prove a point, or to prove oneself to be knowledgeable, or “more spiritual” than others, or some such thing. It lacks eternal value, because it was not “Jesus teaching through the teacher.”

The same principle applies, regardless of what it is God has called us to do. We are to serve from the heart, and cheerfully subject ourselves to those He has put in authority.

Lord Jesus, help us to walk with you, and to learn humility at your feet, walking in your shadow. Give us the Grace to serve from our hearts, and to willingly be a blessing to all around us. Teach us to see through your eyes, and to respond as you would respond.

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