Provocative Bible Verses: Submit to One Another

\”Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ\” Ephesians 5:21

Since the 1970\’s one of the mainstays of pop-psychology has been that in order to be an emotionally healthy human being you absolutely must look out for yourself first. You must make sure that you have a strong sense of self esteem. Most importantly, you must never put yourself in a position of considering others to be more important than yourself. That is seen as degrading and demeaning. You should be strong, positive, stand up for yourself, and rise above the others. In the corporate world that translates into winning by having people serve you, getting the corner office, making people bend to your will. In the marriage relationship it becomes, taking care of yourself, making sure that you are being fulfilled.

Certainly the last thing on the minds of pop psychologists and the liberated 21st century human being is that in order to really be fulfilled we should actually submit to others. Yet that is exactly what the Bible teaches, over and over and over again. The wisdom of God is completely counter-intuitive. Jesus said that if you want to gain your life, you must lose it. He said that if you want to be the greatest among people, then you must become the servant of all. The Bible says that if we want to truly live, then we must die to ourselves. In Ephesians chapter 5 Paul says that if we want to be truly fulfilled, then we need to empty ourselves and submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Somehow in our vocabulary, to submit means to give up and be the ultimate loser. It means that someone else is dominant and rules over you and you have no control of your life. Most recently being submissive is defined in terms of \”having no voice\”. It is the image of a person who, cowering in such fear and humiliation, that they can\’t even speak to defend themselves. What a sad and pitiful definition of a wonderfully powerful and empowering biblical concept.

Mutual submission is not about one person winning and everyone else losing. It is not about having no voice or no power or no control. The reason it is none of these things is because submission as a biblical concept is fulfilled when everyone submits to everyone else because we love Jesus. Submission is never a one way street. Paul tells wives why and how to submit to their husbands. But he also tells husbands why and how to submit to their wives, and children to parents and even parents to children.

You see, what Jesus wants to see happen is that we never have to worry about guarding or building up our self esteem. We should never have to worry about ourselves because others are loving and serving us, even submitting to us with the result that we have every confidence that we are valued and loved. When we in turn submit to others and esteem them, not only are they built up, but we are too. We are built up because in submitting ourselves to others and deferring to them out of love for Christ, we end up being like Jesus. Whenever we live and love like Jesus there is an empowering as well as a blessing that comes our way.

But let me give you an even deeper reason to submit to others. It is not simply in order to be a part of God\’s plan to feel better about yourself and have your esteem built up. The real reason to submit to others is given in the text. we do it out of reverence for Christ. So what does that mean? Jesus made a big deal out of saying that whenever we serve the poor, visit the prisoner, comfort the sick, and so on, we do these things for Jesus and in fact do them to Jesus. When you feed a hungry person, you are feeding Jesus. When you clothe a naked person, you are clothing Jesus, when you house a homeless person, you are housing Jesus. Likewise, when you submit to a brother or sister in Christ, you are submitting to Jesus. You submit to Jesus as he lives in them. So out of reverence for Jesus in them, you need to consider them before yourself. You need to honor them instead of yourself.

When we submit in that way, it is not about us putting ourselves down. It is really about lifting them up. When a husband submits to his wife it is in order to help her become the most wonderful person in Christ that she can be. He lifts her up. And in the amazing way that God works, that husband ends up being lifted in the process. How? Well he is one with his wife so if she is lifted up, so is he. As Paul says, \” if one of us is honored, we are all honored\”. When a parent submits their own desires for the sake of a child and the child is lifted up in love and esteem, then the parent is too, because they are a part of one another. In the Body of Christ, we are all part of one another and when we lift one another up by submitting to one another, in a miraculous way, we are all lifted up.

But the flip side is also true. When one of us is put down, we are all put down. If my wife suffers humiliation, so do I. If my kids suffer, so do I. If my brother in Christ suffers, so do I. So if I try to raise myself up, by putting others beneath me, what I really end up doing is pushing all of us down. By trying to raise myself up, I actually lower myself, because I am spiritually tethered to those I am pushing beneath me. I don\’t even realize that as a result, we are all sinking. How much better is it to willingly submit myself to the task of raising others higher and being pulled aloft by the upward momentum of my connection to them.

28 thoughts on “Provocative Bible Verses: Submit to One Another

  1. Carol

    It appears to me that oftentimes the word “submit” can be substituted for the word “serve”…and vice versa. This has given me something to think about today, Dan—as I suffer from cabin fever (it is snowing again!). I appreciate your thoughtful explanations…………..:)+

  2. This is outstanding! I think that it is vitally important for all of us Christians to hear. I also hate when people change wedding vows from submit to respect. I absolutely hate that! I am s psychology student, and you are right about the trends. Especially with women’s roles.

    Thanks again.

    Christina Cooper
    If I Only Had One Wish

  3. Ruth Ann

    What you say is true and powerful, but it doesn’t go into enough detail to touch on a related problem that I’ve experienced, powerfully and negatively, in the Christian community. I grew up in an ardent family of faith and a fundamentalist church where my earliest memories are of being encouraged to put others first, to look out for newcomers (in the 4-year-olds’ class!) to make them feel welcome. My service began as a pianist at age 10. I spent 35 years of my life as a doormat for other Christians — yes, there is such a thing as having no voice. What I’ve realized through several years of Christian counseling is that you can’t lay down your self in service to Jesus until you have a self to sacrifice. And the formula doesn’t work very well when, in any given relationship, it’s one person doing all the laying down of self and the other side having a field day.

    Plenty of psychologically and spiritually immature Christians intuitively prey upon people like me; they lead programs and make decisions and are not open to suggestions, no matter how thoughtfully and graciously put, that some part of their domain or m.o. isn’t working too well or is actually hurtful or unreasonable. If you are the person who raises an objection, you have a spiritual attitude problem, you lack humility, you have a problem accepting authority. (Such leaders apparently think they speak and act with apostolic authority.) I see this all the time in churches and Christian schools. I call it Christian bullying. In some places it is so pronounced that it’s virtually systemic.

    The irony, of course, is that it’s the leaders in these situations who are failing to serve and submit. My submission to Christ will come in finding a gracious way to challenge wrong and hurtful policies, to protect my children from such decision-makers and to serve respectfully in the program or ministry even when my input is not respected and honored. Sometimes I will serve, knowing that God will make it right someday, or I will remove myself from the situation where the hurt is too great to withstand.

    But those who rightfully teach us about submission and service need to remember that submitting often requires speaking up first — an act of faithfulness that some Christians, by virtue of their temperament and upbringing, are loath to do. Saying yes as a pleaser of men is not the same as godly submission. Being a peacemaker is very, very different from being a peacekeeper! The peacekeepers — the ones who don’t want you to roil the waters with your “unspiritual” questions — are the bullies. They are not the ones Jesus deemed “blessed.”

  4. Bridget

    I really like where you went with this. The only thing I think you left out was the ONE and only exception to submitting to authority…when it is out of line with God’s command. But even Biblically obeying with the wrong attitude is not submitting (Look at what happened to Saul when he did ALMOST everything God told him when He said to destroy an evil people. “In God’s name” he kept the livestock to make sacrifices.) But a great book to read about what it means to submit without becoming a “doormat” is Undercover by John Bevere

  5. Dan Lacich

    Thanks for the suggestion. Check out the latest post that deals with the issue you raise

  6. MistryUnique

    Dan – THANK YOU. I’ve been searching online for someone to explain subsmission to me in a way I understood.

    I am currently working as a secretary for my church (4 years) and we have a new pastor who is completely different than the one before. He’s constantly telling me things aren’t ‘biblical’ that I suggest for classes or when I tell him something about my family. He’s constantly making me feel as though I am less than worthy of his attention and I can do nothing right. He is a micromanager and thinks HIS way of doing things would work much better. I’ve done everything I can to keep the peace – smiling and all while doing it. His response to me was ‘it’s about time you humbled yourself and submitted to my authority”

    I’ve struggled with that comment so much in the last 2 months. The submission I was practicing was that ‘one way street’. I was told yesterday by the personnel committee that I am replaceable and he is not – what he says GOES.

    I’m finding myself in Ruth Ann’s shoes. She said, “If you are the person who raises an objection, you have a spiritual attitude problem, you lack humility, you have a problem accepting authority” That is where I find myself today. So, I do as I can and continue to work with a smile, while removing myself from the church I grew up in, my children were baptized in, and I had always felt safe.

    And I see myself as Ruth Ann said, “saying yes as a pleaser of men” and I realize now that is NOT the same as Godly submission. My prayer now is how to actually be subsmissive according to God’s will, while keeping my dignity. Lots to think about. Thanks!

  7. Bro Joe

    Take another look at the phrase; “submit one to another”-this is called a paradox. A paradox can be either: 1. apparently contradictory statement but true or 2. apparently contradictory and in fact false.

    To test the statement let us replace “submit” with a synonym such as “put yourself under”. So the phrase becomes “put yourself under one another”. This is at the very least physically impossible and is intellectually impossible as well.

    So no matter how you put it “submit one to another” is a ridiculous statement! St. Paul would not make this kind of command on a purely logical level. What did he mean?

    Grammatically is possible to translate …ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις ἐν φόβῳ Χριστοῦ… as “submit with one another in fear to Christ”.

    This makes sense on two levels: 1. it logically can be done, 2. it follows through with the message of Ephesians as a whole—submit to the Lord only.

    A slave of Christ
    Bro Joe

  8. Dan Lacich

    Bro Joe,

    Although the translation you give of the greek is one possible translation on the face of it. It simply does not fit the context of the passage. The connecting of husbands/wives, slaves/masters, parents/children that follows makes it clear that Paul is talking about our relationships to one another and how we defer to one another. Paul deals with a similar issue in Philippians when he says that we are to all consider others better than ourselves. If we all do that we end up submitting to one another. This is about attitude, and it is certainly possible to have an attitude that honors everyone else above ourselves and thus we submit to one another.

  9. Bro Joe

    A parable of context:

    A man is comfortably reclining before the fire in his domicile. His beloved and honored wife is happily reading with the sound of happy children in the background. The home is well kept with a cadre of servants doing the wishes of the master.

    Suddenly the door is thrown open and the King strides into the room. He says, “I am wet and hungry, you there, get me the best pair of your husband’s boots and one of his dry suits. Man, I saw a young calf in the stall a I stabled my horse, kill it and bring me the fillet mignon with some of that bread I smell in the oven.”

    To the servants he also began to give orders, “Take care of my men and find them dry clothes from your master’s stores and feed them immediately.”

    To the son of the couple he commanded, “I am in need of another messenger, you are now part of my troop. Get your things ready we leave in the morning.”

    As much as the wife loved and honored her husband she immediately ran and did the King’s bidding, out of fear of the King.

    As much as the man loved and honored his wife and cared for her feelings he immediately rand and did the King’s bidding and killed her prize calf, the one she had raised with love and tenderness, out of fear of the King.

    As much as the servants loved and honored and served their master they immediately went to his storerooms and took care of the King’s men, out of fear of the King.

    As much as the son loved his father and wanted to follow in his business, he ran and readied himself to leave the next morning, out of fear of the King.

    This is context. To honor someone does not mean to obey or submit to them. To love some one does not mean to obey or submit to them. You may honor and love a person and not obey them. Unless of course you have a two year old at the mall, that two year old is obey and submitted to when he begins to throw a tantrum.

    Provocative Christian living is radical; it is about getting to the root of what it means to be a follower of King Jesus or king three year old?

  10. Dan Lacich

    Brother Joe,

    It all goes back to what was Paul’s intent in Ephesians. Clearly he says that we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. When I serve my wife, I am submitting my desire to NOT serve her to the call from Christ TO serve her. That honors her but it honors Jesus more. Submitting myself to another does not mean that at all times and all places I do whatever they want or demand. Although there are times when it would mean that this is the case. Ultimately to submit my desires to another for the edification and as an act of serving them is a mature Christian response. It is motivated out of love for Jesus the King and not some three year old. It follows the example that Paul marks out in Philippians 2 when Jesus submitted himself to human form and came as a servant to the point of death, then calls us to do the same for one another.

    I am curious why used your last line to take what appears to be a cheep shot at the purpose of this blog. That hardly seems like something that would come from a follower of King Jesus. But maybe I am completely missing what you are trying to say.

  11. Bro Joe

    Three cheap shots—or provocative statements by the Lord who we follow:

    1) ἀσύνετος –asunetos n. stupid, witless, not able to understand

    But the One said, “Yet also you are witless.” JWET

    There is a sense in the world that certain people do not say certain things. This is because a “mystique” has been created that surrounds them not allowing the real person to be seen. This in fact distorts the message that the person intended.

    Jesus is one of those around whom a false image has been created in a misguided attempt to build him up, (it is thought) but it damages the message that He intended. This image is often manipulated by well-intentioned translations that soften the “harshness” of certain words.

    And Jesus said, “Are ye also yet without understanding?” Matthew 17:16 KJV

    This translation dampens down the shocking statement that Jesus intended to make when he used the word asunetos in responding to Peter.

    But the One said, “Yet also you are witless.” Matthew 17:16

    Jesus follows with an explanation of what makes a person defiled, that which comes out of the mouth, not what go into it.

    Matthew then leads us to another encounter, one with the Canaanite woman where Jesus makes a couple more shocking statements:

    2) Matthew 17:24 But the One after being singled out He said, “Was I not sent if not to those stupid lazy people, the ones being destroyed from house Israel.” JWET

    The word πρόβατον- probaton is an insult when used in reference to people! (stupid lazy person).

    Then Matthew relates another parable given in two parts, Jesus starts it and the Canaanite woman

    3) Jesus: “it is not good to have taken the bread of the children even to have let it fall to the puppies.” Matthew 17:26 JWET

    Canaanite woman: “Yes Master, for even the puppies are eating from the crumbs having fallen from their masters’ table.” Matthew 17:27 JWET

    Matthew 17:28 Then having been singled out the Savior said to her, “Oh woman, your great trust, the thing you ask must have been brought about for you even as you are purposing”, and her daughter was healed from that hour. JWET

    The point of that parable was not to insult the woman–but to show that she knew were she had to go to get relief the Master!

    Yes the King took some “cheap” shots to provoke. Being provocative might lead to a cross.

  12. MrPete

    I came across this page and am saddened by the final comments listed here. It might give some the impression that Bro Joe is somehow a knowledgeable person who has found a flaw in Dan’s presentation.

    My sense is that Bro Joe may be justifying his own attitude by placing it on Jesus. And he’s simply wrong in his key claims.

    There are 19 different greek words for “lack of understanding” — a great deal of nuance is available. In Matt 15:16 (not 17:16 as stated), Jesus was certainly not trying to be condescending or take a cheap shot.

    Jesus used the proper word for a person who does not understand something, because their mind does not (yet) comprehend it… other words could have been chosen if He were saying Peter was incapable of understanding, or stupid, etc etc.

    Likewise, in 15:24-26 etc, Jesus did NOT say “stupid lazy people.” He said “sheep”: that is what the word probaton means. Jesus repeatedly used the image of we as sheep and He as good shepherd. And while it does imply that we need His care, he never said it in an insulting way.

    I fail to see how allowing my mouth to spew generic insults would be compatible with disciplining myself to always love.

    I’m also saddened by the images presented by Bro Joe. Jesus never shows himself to be an imperious, demanding, aloof King as pictured above. The good shepherd is about as far from that as one can imagine.

    In the Ephesians 5:20 passage, it seems quite a stretch to claim it can be translated “submit with one another.” Nowhere in scripture is the key word (allelon) translated as “with one another,” and for good reason. This word means reciprocal relationship. It is the word that gives us everything from “be kind to one another” (Eph 4:32) to “said to one another” (many places) to “members of one another” (Ro 12:5)…always a reciprocal relationship among people.

  13. JDS

    Ruth Ann :Thank you very much Ruth. These are the exact words i needed to read to make a decision. I am being preyed upon. LOL Serve? Im LUNCH! lol God bless! P>

  14. Vince

    To me this scripture means to give yourselves to each other in the Lord laying down and sharing all that you are in the Word and the Spirit

  15. Dan Lacich

    Would you like to explain why you said that? It is easy to throw out a comment like yours but that really doesn’t help anyone does it. It would be much better if you actually gave a critique of what you find objectionable and offered an alternative view. Otherwise your opinion really has no impact.

  16. Zac Helmberger

    Thanks for the uplifting discussion, Dan! Love it!

    BTW I just wanted to correct the spelling of ‘loosing’, ‘looser’, etc. as used in the article.

    It should be ‘lose, loser, losing, etc.

    The word ‘loose’ can be used like this, “That fellow has a few loose screws”. Similarly, ‘looser’ can be used like this, “If you make the knot a little looser, you adjust the height more easily”.

  17. Karl C. Fazekas

    It seems, that when the Scripture is demands something we don’t like, we create all kind of logical gyrations to get away from the demand of the text. Isn’t is basic to biblical interpretation, that whatever is clear and logical in a text we take it verbally? The word: submission has two component, the first is SUB- which means UNDER. Thus, “submission” means: I put my point of view UNDER the other persons opinion or view regardless if I am right or not. Yes, it means, the other person “wins”. Paul doesn’t say, that your opinion was not justified. In fact, if you SUBmit, you were above! The reason for submission is because Christ did the same Paul says “for Christ’s sake”. This 25 verse of Eph. 4 demands the question: how did Christ submit. Read Phil. 2:5-11: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus..”-read on!
    By the way, Eph 4:21is the end verse of a discourse on “living as Children of Light” which starts with 4:17- and ends with 4:21
    This shouldn’t be confused with the command [and suggestion!] to the wife to “submit to their husbands in everything”. [Eph. 4: 22-24] Submission of the husband to the wife would contradict the logic: the commander cannot submit to the soldier. The Holy Spirit then instructs Paul to command the husbands to “love” their wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. Verbal interpretation: in a situation where saving the life of the wife demands the death of the husband, the husband should choose death to save her life!
    No cheep way out for anyone who takes God’s word seriously!
    Dear Brother and Sister, let’s face the Scripture honestly no matter what the consequences.
    Yes, we all will appear before the judgment seat of Christ and all ps7chology or logical excuses will burn as hay and stubble.
    Karl C. Fazekas, MD

  18. Dan Lacich

    Dear Karl,

    When Jesus washed the disciples feet, did he not put himself in submission to them? He made himself lower. Submission is not just about putting your opinion under some other persons idea. Submission is about putting the other persons need before your own. Thus Jesus submitted himself to the cross on our behalf and in your example, a husband submitted his own life to death for the sake of preserving the life of his wife.
    The idea that submission is only about obeying some other persons commands and ideas is too short sighted and limited.
    I am always curious that people who disagree with what I say the text means, never take on the context of the following two pairs of submission, parents/children and slaves/masters. It seems so obvious to me that this whole passage must be read together to get the full meaning. Far from this being an easy way out of the text, I say it is actually calling for an even deeper level of submission.

  19. Dan Lacich

    Jesus laid down His life for the church in far more ways than just his physical death. It started when he emptied Himself of His glory in heaven, taking on the form of a servant. In that way, Jesus submitted His own position and status to the welfare of His bride. Serving your wife by pushing her out of the way of a speeding car and you getting killed is certainly heroic and it is submission of your life to hers. But you will in all likelihood NEVER, EVER, get that chance. What you will get a chance to do is die to yourself daily on her behalf and submit your own wishes and wants to the service of her your bride. Far to much of our discussion of submission revolves around who gets to make the decisions and set the rules when biblically a great deal of the talk of submission also surrounds servanthood. That seems to curiously get left out by those who want to talk only of command and control.

  20. Jon

    I’m teaching sunday school this sunday on Ephesians 5:18-6:4. I’m stumped on what to do about vs 21. How can everyone submit to everyone? The only way I see it is everyone should think of others before thierself, which sort of makes sense I guess. My mind sometimes just goes crazy when I try to prepare a sunday school lesson, but I love teaching sunday school because it forces me to get into The Word and makes me realize what an awsome God we have! Just a quick question, what if everyone followed Christ’s example? (which I think these verses are trying to say to do) Wait, let me ask that question again. What if everyone who says they are a christian followed Christ’s example?

  21. Dan Lacich

    You have the right idea. We are to consider the needs of others before we consider our own needs and wants. In that way we submit ourselves, our needs, wants, and actions to the needs of the other person. This is exactly what Paul talks about in Philippians 2 when he says that we are not to consider ourselves before others but rather to have the mind of Christ who gave up His place in glory to take on the form of a servant, who died on a cross.
    Keep teaching the Word my friend.

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  23. michelle

    Submission as being defined here also can be represented as love and humility. I believe if you are loving one another and being humble you will put off some of your own desires for the sake of the other person but mostly for the sake of Christ because He is the Head of us all. If we see these qualities in our leaders, husbands, bosses, parents…it is far easier (it becomes more natural) to submit to their authority when you see and know they do keep your best interest in mind but above all Christ’s best interests. Christ submits to His Fathers authority and the authority of Rome by taking His place on the cross (even though the authorities in Rome were not followers of Christ). He puts off His authority and His desire to take His life into His own hands, for our sake. That is humbleness and His great love for us. If that is the same thing as submission…very well then he submits to us as well. I don’t know that the act of humbling one’s self (seeing others, just as or more important than self) equals to submission though. Seeing yourself as higher or more important than your brothers and sisters in Christ because your in a position of authority is not biblical. However, we can bring things to our pastors and leaders hoping for a change, if they are under the proper position in Christ they will consider your input for the sake of the body but mostly for the sake of Christ who is the Head. Hopefully, through careful thought and prayer they will be able to discern what Christ wants for the church, it is their responsibility to maintain biblical standards, under their authority they may reject or approve the change. There is still order and authority. Being in submission to Christ they may put off what they desire, but they may also be required to put off what the other church member desires to maintain biblical standards. That, is submission in it’s proper order in the church. We are asked to submit to “each other” or submit to the “proper authorities which Christ gives” government to people, wife to husbands, children to parents, etc. more so than what is being taught here to each other-people to government (visa versa), husbands to wives (visa versa), parent to children (visa versa),…it may result in submitting to one another desires but ONLY because it went through the proper authority line first. Pastor went to Christ to deem it fitting to make a change by the request of the people. I hope I explained that well enough to be understood. The Pastor did not just submit to the people but He submits to his Authority, Christ, who is for the Church and for the best interest of the people. I think we are way far off the mark with some of our churches today because Pastors and leaders are submitting to the wrong authority (the people) and not adhering to the biblical standards, Christ has set as our King and Authority.

    When is comes to submission to our government officials, bosses and husbands who are not Christ believers is different is a sense, but we are still subject to their authority. When we are persecuted unfairly for Christ’s behalf we witness our faith in Jesus and God can bring conviction back on them for their unfair treatment but also they will be able to see Christ in us through our submission to authority but ultimately to our submission to Christ. We can be assure that Christ will revenge the improper use of authority which was given them. Being in submission to Christ we maybe asked even forced to go against our beliefs it maybe even result in imprisonment or death because we cannot perform or do what they are asking. That is losing ones life for Christ sake to the extreme. But it has happened through out history, happens today all over the world and is happening more throughout America (so be ready). Our position under the authority of Christ always triumphs the position of the authority of the land.

  24. michelle

    I feel, as nice as this blog sounds, we have to be very careful not to muddle the order of authority that was given in Ephesians. It only causes confusion. I believe a lot of what is portrayed here is humbleness and love which is not the same as submission.

  25. michelle

    And to be a servant, as Dan posts above as submitting to one another, is actually being devoted and guided by Christ to serve others. Your submission is to Christ, in service to Him you become a servant to others. In that aspect our Pastor is a servant of Christ to us the church. He service us under the Christ’s authority. He is not in submission to us by his service to us, but to Christ. Servant hood is not the same as submission to authority as Ephesians explains it. These may seem like small difference, none the less they are important.

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