Submit is a Four Letter Word

The tension in the room is palpable when people are told to submit.

Women, submit to your husbands.
Husbands, submit to your wives.
Children, submit to your parents.
Employees, submit to your bosses.
Employers, submit to your employees? (Yeah, that’s a REALLY weird one, huh?)
Everyone, submit to one another.

Things can get ugly real fast when a man jokingly tells his wife to make him a sandwich. Or when a parent has to use their child’s middle name, with a firm grip on their arm, and the inevitable, “You had better start listening!” We have all had a negative experience where the call to submit felt like a dirty four letter word.

The Bible has a very clear stance on submission. Submit immediately. Not later when it’s easy, or comfortable, or convenient. Do it. Now. The difference between God’s command and a human authority’s command to submit is enormous. It is, however, still a four letter word. A much cleaner, life transforming, spirit cleansing, beautiful word. 


Paul wrote a letter to a church he planted in Ephesus; a Roman controlled city in modern day Turkey. The letter, titled Ephesians in the orthodox canon, was sent as an encouragement to be unified with one another, in one faith, for the one Lord, Jesus Christ. The theme of unity runs throughout the letter as Paul addresses a falling out between Jewish and Gentile believers. Some Jewish Christians believed that the Gentiles needed to adopt all Jewish customs in order to be saved (e.g. circumcision, food traditions, sabbath rituals). Paul, however, moved to eliminate any hostility between these new believers. He says the way to break the cycle of racism or impractical religious demands or irreverent behavior and attitudes is to adopt the lifestyle of submission.

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

ὑποτάσσω – Submit

The Greek word “huppotasso” means to submit, be subordinate, or obey. It is normally a military term, however under a non-military context, huppotasso has an extraordinary definition: “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.” (Thayers Dictionary)

The contrast between the world’s and the Christian’s understanding of submission is stark. Under God’s terms, no longer is submission an attack or demand. Your rights are abandoned for a cause greater than yourself. All entitlement melts away like a wax candle in the bonfire of God’s love and our reverence for Christ.

To voluntarily give in to the needs, wants, desires of those around us involves a drastic change of the heart. We see within the marriage vows a promise to serve the other until their final breath. Upon coming to faith in Christ, we too vow to be at the behest of one another. Spouse, child, parent, teacher, employee, boss, government, and every other status and position in relation to our lives become our “master” (in a sense) because of reverence for Christ (read also: fear of God).

To Revere = To Submit also To Revere = To Submit

The problem with submission begins and ends with me. I can never blame my choice to lovingly submit on you. Neither can you place the blame on another for their lack of obedience. Certainly others sin by not falling in line out of reverence for Jesus, but this is not your concern. Our concern is with our own submission, or lack there of.

John Calvin says of the topic, “But as nothing is more irksome to the mind of man than this mutual subjection, he directs us to the fear of Christ, who alone can subdue our fierceness, that we may not refuse the yoke, and can humble our pride, that we may not be ashamed of serving our neighbors”

To be under the reign of another is contrary to human nature. Humans desire power over one another. Right now on Amazon there are 120,000 books on leadership. In comparison, there are only 13,000 books on submission; and most of them have scantily clad men as the cover photo. Rick Warren writes, “If you want to be a leader, you will have a problem: no one wants to follow. But if you want to be a servant, you’re in luck: everyone likes to be served.”


True voluntary submission and obedience to one another begins with love for Jesus. This is because he is the ultimate and perfect example of living in submission. He told his disciples, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” (John 5:19) His love for God dictated everything he did. Jesus loved serving so much that his final act before his death was to wash his disciples feet (Here’s a link on the extravagant implications of foot washing in the Middle East).

It follows that if we (A) love, fear, and revere Jesus we will (B) submit, obey, and voluntarily subordinate ourselves to one another.

Similarly, if not (A) then we will not accomplish (B) to the ends God desires for us or his church as a whole.

Two Distinct Four Letter Words

As Robert Frost wrote in The Road Less Traveled, “Two roads diverged in a wood,” I imagine submission is also a road forking into woods. For some to submit might mean to lose their identity, and so they viciously fight their entire life to be an individual. The definition of submission is a harsh and unfathomable four letter word to them. They take up arms the moment “self” is assailed by it.

For those who walk in the reverence of Jesus and the fear of God (though it is a difficult lifelong lesson) the word submit means recovering their true identity and helping others redeem their own. To submit is no longer a bitter and severe four letter word, but one that emits beauty. To submit becomes synonymous with love. And this love is intrinsically knotted with Christ, who gave himself for the church. He submitted, even to death, so that we might experience the freedom and joy that comes from mutually submitting to one another.

Philippians 2:1 – 11

2 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men.8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This blog was written to fulfill the Student Learning Requirement portion of BIB2102 Prison Epistles.

Please comment on these four questions.

1. What did you like about the student’s presentation?

2. How could the student improve in the way he participated?

3. What other words of encouragement do you have for the student?

4. Name of person commenting and his/her relation to the student:

One Comment Add yours

  1. Justin Paul Lawrence says:

    Please comment on these four questions.

    1. What did you like about the student’s presentation?

    This presentation is well done. Justin does a good job of handling a tricky subject with acumen and grace. This could have been harsh or tone-deaf, but it hit the right balance.

    2. How could the student improve in the way he participated?

    The block bible quote at the end was not as effective as ending with your final comments would have been.

    3. What other words of encouragement do you have for the student?

    Keep going. I like how you consistently point to Christ in this post.

    4. Name of person commenting and his/her relation to the student:

    Justin Paul Lawrence. Also named Justin. Not blood related.

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