Even though the words ‘submit’ and ‘obey’ may leave a bitter taste in our mouths, we actually practice them everyday in our ordinary lives. The most common environments in which we encounter or experience submission are in the workplace, within the family and in relationship with our significant partners.
This post looks at the general principles that can be applied to those relationships. The reason why ‘submit’ and ‘obey’ sometimes gets a bad rap is because they are abused by those in power to oppress or control others. Biblical submission teaches submission that is mutual – both parties placing the needs of the other before their own to create an environment where everyone is supported and flourishing. However, is this possible in today’s society? How are we supposed to ‘submit to one another’ (Eph. 5.21) when we live in a world that doesn’t hold the same values?
1. Root your security in God. What does He really think of you?
Being secure in our identity in Christ and grounding ourselves in our faith helps us to navigate our lives with focus. Deriving our sense of worth, identity and security frees us from the lies that society has led us to believe. Reminding ourselves that we are completely accepted (Tit. 3.3-7), unconditionally loved (Isa. 54.10), totally forgiven (Rom. 8.1) and valued for who we are (1 Cor. 7.23) in God’s eyes far surpasses the validation we can get from man, because we are seen, known and infinitely treasured by the One who created us (Ps. 139.1-5,13-16). He also sees our family, friends and colleagues the same way, which encourages us to extend the same respect to them.
2. Investigate your feelings: they are guides, not directives
Are you frustrated at a co-worker for their carelessness? Is your boss not listening to you, and you were made to feel small? What is your default first move, and is that appropriate? Our ability to feel is created by God and is good, however, not all feelings are based in fact. Feelings turn sinful when we allow our thoughts to dwell on strong emotions that lead to sin and must be reconciled (Matt. 5.21-26). We can’t help the way we feel, but we can choose how we react to it.
3. Be mindful of your feedback: is it nourishing?
Investigating our feelings and their origins will also help us in how we communicate our feedback to others. Feedback that is not nourishing to another person is simply critique. Are you passing judgment on someone else’s character based on a choice they’ve made? What is the intention of your interaction with them?
4. Create a non-threatening environment
Think about a time when you’ve received feedback that made you feel awful. How did the other person approach you? Did they try to blame you for something that went wrong or make you feel like you were a harmful presence in your team? What was your response? When we feel threatened, our first instinct is to be defensive and deny the accusations against us even if they might hold some truth. This defensive mechanism shields us from words that may diminish our sense of worth, identity and security. Denial also shields us from being receptive to any constructive criticism. It sparks negative feelings towards one another (why are they attacking me?), causing further tension between both parties. If the same feedback was given in a non-threatening environment, our instinct to play defense takes more of a back seat and growth via feedback is positively reinforced. This might look like reiterating a person’s value, or emphasizing that feedback is lovingly given out of a desire for them to succeed. Facilitating a healthier environment and biblical view of submission.
5. Be able to admit that you were wrong
Admission of pride is a mark of true humility, which goes hand in hand with submission. “We are to clothe ourselves with humility as God exalts the humble.” (1 Pet. 5.5). This means accepting correction and honoring others’ opinions, not placing our own above theirs (Rom. 12.3).
Special thanks to Martin Radford for his contributions to this post.