By Nelson Thomas Mumbai

More than any other period of time, today man is more concerned about their freedom and self-expression, and they even go to the extent of abusing these rights. The general attitude is that nobody is behind anybody; hence, submissiveness is a mark of weakness.

We know that man is basically selfish and rebellious because of their Fall (Tit. 1:6, 10). Moreover, education, wealth, status, position, etc., instead of reforming them, seem only to boost their inherent sinful nature.

In such a society, the word of God exhorts the followers of Christ to be characterized by mutual submissiveness and humility.

Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 5: 18: “…submitting to one another in the fear of God.”

Peter also wrote: “Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility.”

The Meaning:

There are many who reject the concept of mutual submission. For, they think that submission is always to a person with authority; therefore, it cannot be reciprocal.

It is true that the scripture demands submissiveness, particularly in certain spheres of life such as the following:

a. At home; wife to the husband and children to the parents, Eph. 5:22

b. In the Church; young believers to the elders, 1Pet 5:5; Heb. 13:17

c. At the workplace; servants to masters, Eph. 6: 5,6

d. In society; public to the officers/governors, etc. 1Peter 2:13,14

Definitely, God has not put an end to any of these hierarchical orders in society. The absence of any such authority will lead to chaos among people.

However, a careful study of each of the above passages shows that those with ‘authority’ are also instructed not to abuse their position, but to be considerate and gracious in their dealings with one another. Consider the following examples:

a. A husband should lovingly give himself to his wife just as Christ gave Himself to the Church, Eph. 5:25, 26

b. Parents should not provoke their children nor discourage them, Eph. 6: 4; Colo. 3:21

c. Masters should not threaten the workers or deal unjustly with them, Eph. 6:6; Colo. 4:1

d. Elders should not lord over the assembly members, 1Peter 5:3

Thus, all those who are in authority are clearly told to remember the One who has supreme authority over them and be careful in their relationships with people entrusted to their care.  Any authority must be exercised only with love and kindness toward one another.

In fact, the meaning of submission itself refers to a functional order like in a military. Submissiveness does not make one inferior and the other superior; rather it’s an arrangement for the smooth functioning of the institution whether family or society. It’s not subjugation or slavery, rather each one comes under their own rank or place willingly for the benefit of all.

The Examples:

  1. Submissiveness of Christ.

The most appropriate example of such submissiveness is found in the Lord Jesus Christ. Even as a child, though He was conscious of His position, yet, willingly He submitted to His earthly parents (Luke 2:49, 51). During His public ministry, Christ submitted Himself to the Father’s will and even yielded to a painful death (John 5:19, 20, 30; 15:10; Matt. 26:38, 39). Scripture also reveals that though He is equal with God the Father, our Lord is subject to the Father even through eternity. (1Cori. 15:28).

Apostle Paul poignantly puts it,

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." (Phil. 2:5–9).

Paul exhorts believers to follow this example of the Lord Jesus, forsake selfish ambitions of any kind, and practice treating one another as superiors in all humility (Phil. 2:3, 4).

  1. Mutual submission of the organs of our body.

Another example of mutual submission is the functioning of our body. In a healthy body, each member has a specific role and place, and accordingly, each member submits to the other too. Then only can the body function efficiently.

Paul applies this principle to the functioning of the local church in 1 Cor. 12:14–27. Without this mutual submissiveness, a congregation cannot continue successfully.

The basis

In Ephesians chapter 5, Apostle Paul presents mutual submission as the highest evidence of a Spirit-filled life. Paul says that when a believer is controlled by the Holy Spirit, a number of things happen in his life:

a. Their mouths speak of the Lord, v. 19a

b. Their heart is joyful, singing unto the Lord, v. 19b

c. They are grateful to the Lord, v. 20

d. They submit to each other in the fear of God, v. 21

Notice each step here; mutual submission is not possible till one comes under the control of the Holy Spirit. In other words, as long as a believer is led by their carnal nature, reciprocal submissiveness is impossible for them. Such believers will be plagued by various troubles, like bitterness, irritation, complaining, criticism, and so on.

A believer who has wholeheartedly consecrated themselves to God will not find it difficult to yield to a fellow believer for the glory of God, in spite of their position or status (Rom. 12:1, 2).

The application:

The practical application of this principle is in our interpersonal relationships. Even as we respect the divinely ordered authority and institutions, our one-to-one dealings must be governed by the principle of mutual submission. Notice the possible outcomes of having such a mindset:

1. Humility, with no show of power or authority, 1Peter 5:5

It’s noteworthy, that Peter while exhorting saints to submit to each other connects it with humility and pride. Haughty and arrogant people naturally make a show of themselves even to the extent of putting others down. This is not an exemplary trait for a believer (3 John v.9).

2. Respecting and preferring one over another, Rom. 12:10

We are aware of the value of each member in the Body of Christ because they complement each other without competing. For the same reason, we are not threatened by the other’s wellbeing and progress.

3. Listening and cooperating

We need to pay attention to the views of another person even if they are different and gladly collaborate wherever we can. Refuse to argue and fight over simple matters.

4. Development and productivity

There could be many more positive results of such mutual submissiveness. Instead of divisions among ourselves over petty issues and preferences, when we are united together for the ultimate aim of glorifying the Lord, we shall be more productive and successful. On the contrary, bitterness, criticism, grumbling, etc., cannot take us forward.

The limitations:

As with any other biblical truth, we should never forget the balance we are to maintain even in this aspect. Even the Lord Jesus Himself warned, “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matt. 10:16b). There may be occasions when we cannot submit to even authorities. In one such instance, the apostles were very stern in their decision, "We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29b cf. 4:19). We should never violate the explicitly revealed Word of God for the sake of association or accommodation.

Similarly, the divinely designed institutions where authority needs to be exercised, it must be respected and maintained.

Paul states, “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1Cor. 11:3). Certainly, God has set an order in creation that must be appreciated by all.

The Blessing:

Nevertheless, humbleness and submissiveness must be our general disposition as we interact with one another. This is what the Lord demands from His followers: an attitude of self-denial and self-effacement (Luke 9:23; 14:27).

Not only that, it is to the humble that God gives grace and He exalts them at the right time. At the same time, He resists the proud and puts them down at the appropriate occasion (1 Peter 5:5; James 4:6; Dan. 4:33).

Finally, mutual submissiveness is ultimately benefiting to all. After all, none of us can survive independently, nor are we perfect in all aspects; we need the wholehearted loving support of one another to progress and be fruitful.

All of us gratefully remember such humble brethren who selflessly contributed to our growth. It’s in such a situation that even God showers His choicest blessings.




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