Submission is a word that is offensive to many. It speaks of oppression, abuse and other relational evils. Unfortunately, there’s too much truth to that take. People have abused power and privilege in relationships from the beginning of time. We are all all-too-familiar with the sad stories we have heard too frequently from too many people. So, it’s understandable how any mention of the word “submission” causes some people to cringe, roll their eyes or shake their head.
This is a world away though from the treatment of the word in the biblical witness where it is a glorious term. It is anchored in the incarnation of Christ—the supreme example of surrender and submission that Paul celebrates in Philippians 2. It is liberally used across the board by Peter (and others) for all manner of relationships—the younger submitting to the older 1 Peter 5:5), disciples to the government (2:13), slaves to their masters (2:18), wives to their husbands (3:1) and each of us to the other (3:8).
It seems that how we ultimately look at the word will depend upon which kingdom we are pursuing. We can view at it as a evil structure of the ancient world that enlightenment has enabled us to work our way past, or we can view it as something of continual relevance in the kingdom of God. It is a word of God or Satan, heaven or hell, good or evil. The choice is ours.
Whatever our choice, this much is true. We won’t understand the life of our Lord in any meaningful, substantive way apart from submission. His submitted to His mother (John 2), His disciples (John 13), to the temple tax (Matthew 17), and to the Jewish and Roman authorities. And of course, it all flowed from His submission to God (Philippians 2:5-8). He chose to submit when it was simple and when it was difficult; when it was easy and when it was costly; when it was popular and when it led to a cross.
And in the middle of his pleas for submission, Peter points us back to Jesus. “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Christ’s submission (the cross) brought suffering to Him and life for us. This we know. But Peter also interprets His submission and suffering as being done to provide us with an example of how we should live—we live submissively even when it brings suffering to us. This is not as well known and even less appreciated.
James Thompson is spot on when he tells us, “The Christian lifestyle grows out of the Christian story.” The story of Christ is the story of submission! It is to this we have been called! To proclaim Christ and then lord ourselves over whatever we are able to is a mixed message. We proclaim Jesus to the world by emulating this other-worldly trait. Some will look at it and mock, belittle and scorn. But not all. Some will look at it and wonder what kind of people would put the interests of others ahead of their own. The answer is: the people of Jesus. Our conduct will point them to Christ (Matthew 5:13). That’s not wishful thinking for Peter says as much (3:1-2).
Let the world frame the narrative any way they want to—we know better. Submission is the call to live out the story before a watching world.