What Is Submission?
by Emerson Eggerichs
The universal will of God on submission is located in 1 Peter 2:13–15. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.”
When Peter wrote in verse 15, “For such is the will of God” is he referring to what he said just before that about submitting to authority? Or, was this a prelude to what he said immediately after about doing right to silence foolish men?
First, it related to submission to authority because of the larger context. Peter addresses submission with several groups. We are to submit as citizens (2:13), as slaves (2:18), as wives (3:1), as husbands “in the same way” (3:7), and as the younger (5:5).
Submission literally means to place under or rank under. We submit by placing ourselves under or ranking under another’s authority. Such submission is a choice we make. We are the ones who choose to obey the command.
In 1 Peter 2:17–18; 3:2; and 3:7, Peter instructs everyone—particularly slaves, wives, and husbands—to put on honor and respect when submitting in doing what is right. Submission includes both actions of deference and attitudes of deference. When a person submits in action but shows contempt in attitude, that individual misses the spirit of Peter’s instruction. Paul teaches the same and specifically states we are not to be “disrespectful” (1 Timothy 6:2).
Why does God command us to respectfully submit? Because we don’t have a natural craving to do this on our own. If we did, the command would be moot. It is not natural to be respectfully submissive when required to do what we do not want to do. We prefer not to defer when it demands sacrifice. Something in us wants to be unsubmissive and disrespectful when told to do what we do not want to do. The fact is, most submission entails doing what is legally required according to the rules and regulations of the institution, and those policies are not evil per se, just demanding. We do not submit to an authority who demands we do what is wrong.
Second, this is why Peter stresses “doing right” (1 Peter 2:15), the other dimension of submission. We submit in doing right regardless of an authority figure standing over us.
What does it mean, “doing right”? Paul may help us understand what the apostles meant. We read Paul’s instruction in Titus 3:1–2, “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.” Are we:
obeying the rules,
ready to do good deeds,
maligning no one,
If so, we are submitting to doing what is right in the eyes of God.
Authority figures themselves must submit in doing right when no one oversees them. This is the reason the Bible tells them to recognize that they too have a Master (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1). Ultimately, all of us do this “for the Lord’s sake.” On a practical note, some of us live independently enough that we are not under the watchful eye of a supervising authority figure (Luke 12:45). Our focus needs to be on submitting in doing what is right for the Lord’s sake when we have the freedom to do what is wrong and can get away with it before other people.
Why else submit in doing what is right when no one is looking? If we have critics—and most Christ-followers do—those critics will look for us to do something wrong, or notice it when we do. For this reason, when we keep submitting in doing right, we silence the foolish critics insofar as having hard facts against us. They cannot slander us for doing wrong since we did nothing wrong. Yes, there will be people criticizing us for doing right. People thought my friend an idiot for turning in the $2,800 diamond. There might be mockery, but there can be no incrimination. The mockery and criticism will quickly die without substance. When, though, we submit in doing wrong, and we have critics who find out, they will use this against us to our humiliation and punishment. No one will come alongside of us and praise us.
According to 1 Peter 2:13–15, such submission prevents punishment for wrongdoing and garners praise for doing right, silences the false and foolish critics of our faith and values, and in effect wins the approval and protection of those over us.
As odd as it sounds, when we submit in the way Peter addresses, we exercise spiritual authority over the hearts of those over us! Submission leads to influence. There is power in submission. However, this happens over time, and may not happen at all. The issue is following God’s will in submitting in doing what is right regardless of the outcome, but always with the vision that God will favor us (1 Peter 2:19–20).
Excerpted with permission from The 4 Wills of God by Emerson Eggerichs. Copyright 2018, B&H Publishing Group.
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