This article is part of the Questions and Answers series.
Q: What is submission and do we all have to do it?
A: It’s a word loaded with a powder keg of emotions. We live in a culture more accustomed to questioning authority than submitting to it. Those in leadership are often viewed with mistrust rather than respect. Many have felt the sting of poor leadership in their homes, churches, and government. For some, this word submission is associated with weakness and inability rather than strength and dignity.
However, the Bible provides us with simple and clear commands regarding submission. Wives should submit to their husbands as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22). Civilians should submit to their governing authorities (Rom. 13:1). God’s people should submit to their leaders in the church (Heb. 13:17). Jesus serves as the perfect example of submission, praying on the eve of his crucifixion, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Submission is part of the Christian life. None of us is free from authority.
Q: Is it sinful to submit to sinful commands?
A: First, we must acknowledge that we should never submit to authorities by following their leadership into sinful actions. When King Darius ordered that no one could petition any god except himself, Daniel was right to disobey the lesser command from Darius and continue his regular habit of prayer (Dan. 6). If a husband were to command a wife to stop reading the Bible or meeting with God’s people, she would be right to go against his leadership in order to follow the clear teaching of Scripture (Col. 3:16; Heb. 10:25).
In the book of Acts we are told the story of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira. Ananias sold a piece of property to give to the disciples but kept back for himself some of the proceeds, with the knowledge of his wife. When Peter confronted Ananias with his sinful actions, immediately Ananias fell down and died. A few hours later when Peter asked Sapphira about the piece of property, she continued in the lie and suffered the same consequence as her husband (Acts 5:1–11).
Submission is part of the Christian life. None of us is free from authority.
A husband’s headship doesn’t mean his wife will escape judgment for her complicity in their sinful actions. When a husband, church, or government asks a Christian to sin, the believer always has the responsibility to obey God.
Q: Is it sinful to influence or persuade God-given authorities?
A: An authority over us may choose a less wise course of action that is not necessarily a sinful one. Perhaps a wife truly believes that a certain schooling choice is the best option for their children or would like to attend a more biblically based church, but her husband disagrees. Perhaps a church makes what some in the congregation feel is an unwise decision on using funds. Perhaps a government makes laws that seem to promote injustice, while not necessarily causing an individual to sin. While a believer may be called to submit in these areas, it is also appropriate to respectfully engage and present one’s case before his or her authority.
This article is adapted from Growing Together: Taking Mentoring beyond Small Talk and Prayer Requests by Melissa B. Kruger.
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