Submission in the Assembly

By Tom Jacob, Mumbai

Submission – the word in itself sounds so intimidating to the flesh (the sinful nature) in a saint. Our instincts cry out aloud that we are born to be free and not to live under anyone’s control.


Before our salvation, we hated to yield when anyone tried to influence us to change our decisions. We were so hard-hearted and stubborn even to bend our heads to the Holy and Almighty God!

Nevertheless, God who is rich in mercy, by the great love with which He loved us, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our trespasses. It is by grace you have been saved! (Ephesians 2:4, 5).

When we were struggling under sin’s bondage, He reached out to us with His general call, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Further, to those who positively responded to this general call, His specific call is, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Therefore, submission is required in not just the first step of our spiritual life (salvation) rather it is also a crucial component of our subsequent spiritual growth. The Lord is inviting every child of God to bend their necks to His yoke. When we do so He transforms us each day more into His likeness, thereby fulfilling His ultimate purpose in saving us (refer to Romans 8:29).

All this shows us the importance of submission. And if it is so critical in a believer’s life, how much more would submission be crucial for the proper functioning of an assembly, which is actually a body of such believing ones?


The Lord Jesus uses the analogy of the relationship between a flock of sheep and their shepherd in John chapter 10 to explain the relationship between the Head of the Church and His blood-bought children and that between the Spirit-appointed elders of an assembly and the believers.

He says, “Most assuredly, I say to you… he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” (v.1-5).

Let’s compare this passage with a verse from Psalms: “Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, Otherwise they will not come near to you.” Psalm 32:9 [NASB].

A sheep, unlike a horse or mule, does not need a bit or bridle to be brought under submission, rather, it gets familiar with the shepherd as the shepherd spends quality time with the sheep, understanding the sheep and its needs and catering to all its needs – big and small.

The shepherd and the sheep are so well-acquainted that the Lord goes on to say in verses 14-15 of John 10, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father;”

We are presented here with such intimacy that there is no secret of the sheep that the shepherd does not know. However, what needs to be noted here is that this level of intimacy between the sheep and the shepherd is only possible when the sheep willingly submits to the shepherd’s voice and lovingly responds and follows him as he goes before it.

The Under-Shepherds

It is good to remember here that the Good, Great, and Chief Shepherd has assigned His purchased possession (the Church) into the trust of under-shepherds (the elders) whom He appointed over them. He considers the elders to remain faithful to Him and His Word.

Therefore, the Lord expects that in His church we (every believer) submit to the elders whom He has appointed, as we do to the Lord. Moreover, when He expects the elders to know the flock so intimately that there is nothing that the sheep needs to hide from them, it is understood that the sheep has to be open with the elders to allow them to do so faithfully. This helps the elders intercede specifically for each other before the Throne of grace.

Furthermore, when the Lord expects the under-shepherds (elders) to lead the flock beside the still waters and green pastures, the sheep should be willing to allow the elders to lead them and not be stubborn like the horse or mule.

In addition, if the elders should feed the flock in a timely manner and with proper food (of sound doctrine from the Word), the sheep (believers) need to have an appetite for the pure Word (refer to 1 Pet. 2:1, 2). In short, submission in the assembly is very crucial for a local assembly to function well.

A word of caution:

There is always a tendency for us (due to the old sinful nature in us) to act like the horse and mule instead of sheep and continue in rebellion and stubbornness against God and His under-shepherds like Israel’s first king Saul did (1 Samuel 15:22, 23). If we persist in such an attitude without repenting, we will only incur God’s wrath and lose the blessings that He has prepared for us, as it happened in the case of Saul.

Moreover, we need to note here that when we are not willing to submit to the God-ordained elders, they are not losing anything, rather we will be at loss. Observe what the writer to the Hebrews mentions in his concluding words, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. Hebrews 3:17.


Are we like the sheep or are we like the horse or mule in sheep’s clothing, not willing to yield or submit? Notice what the Lord was grieving about regarding Israel. He shares his thoughts of grief through the Weeping Prophet,

For My people are foolish, They do not know Me; They are foolish children And have no understanding. They are skillful at doing evil, But they do not know how to do good.” Jeremiah 4:22 [NASB]

Even the stork in the heavens knows her appointed times; And the turtledove, the swift, and the swallow observe the time of their coming. But My people do not know the judgment of the LORD.” Jeremiah 8:7

Beware! Not submitting would result in our ultimate destruction only, and this can digress into the closing down of assembly testimonies as it happened with the church at Ephesus. May God grant us grace to always be like sheep, ready to yield to Him and the elders to whom He entrusted our souls.

By Tom Jacb Mumbai USA

Related topic:  Mutual Submission   



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