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How can we think positively about submission?

Zac is a great preacher. He is young and a little goofy. He is nerdy in a fun way, for example he used a mathematical formula on why ants cooperate to talk about unity in the church last Sunday. As part of that sermon he also courageously took on the topic of submission while preaching on James 4:7, 10: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

It has been really hard to talk about submission lately. It has become the Christian ‘S’ word.

In all of the discussion of submission between the genders, I feel we have lost sight of the primary call of submission: to God.

It reminds me of a quote from CS Lewis in Mere Christianity: “Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. . . look to Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

That is the sort of faith statement that I am excited about.

That is the sort of call that I would respond to wholeheartedly.

That statement represents true repentance, meaning a new way of looking, a transformation of vision leading to a whole new way of living.

I have always been a wholehearted person, and I want to wholeheartedly submit myself to God.

However, I am nervous about submitting to others. I have been too hurt by the misuse of power to submit easily.

I know that God does not misuse his power with me. In fact, Jesus demonstrates a wilful surrendering of his power for us (Philippians 2:5–11):

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Not that this is easy. We have a snapshot of the cost of submission as we see him wrestle with submission in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

Which bring us back to Zac’s sermon. He repeated a quote on submission from our old Pastor, Richard Quadrio:

“Submission is not putting yourself below others, it is putting others above you.”

This is helpful when we look at verses like Ephesians 5:21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

It is not about putting ourselves below each other, it is about putting each other above ourselves.

I find that a really useful image: lifting others up. That is a good use of whatever role or individual power we have. Let’s help others around us to flourish by advocating for them.

However, to be authentic, it must also involve giving primacy to God’s purposes, since it is so easy for us to allow our own ego to dominate, even when we are apparently looking out for the needs of others.

In this way, submission to God may sometimes involve calling people out for their misuse of power, as we advocate on behalf of those who are powerless.

I wrestle with these issues all the time. When do I speak up? When do I hold my tongue? Whom do I submit to and how?

I think if I am focused on lifting others up, there is less chance that my motivations will be wrong, and more chance that I will use my power appropriately.

In this way submission may feel like a privilege rather than a burden.


Kara Martin is the author of Workship: How to use your work to worship God, and Workship Volume 2: How to flourish at work. She is also Project Leader with Seed, and lecturer with Mary Andrews College. She was formerly Associate Dean of the Marketplace Institute at Ridley College in Melbourne. Kara has worked in media and communications, human resources, business analysis and policy development roles, in a variety of organisations, and as a consultant. She was Director of the School of Christian Studies for three years and has lectured with the Brisbane School of Theology, Macquarie Christian Studies Institute and Wesley Institute. Kara has a particular passion for integrating our Christian faith and work, as well as helping churches connect with the workers in their congregations.

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