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Be Subject

Subjection is one reason that the mainline denominations are mostly in a membership free fall these days. The rejection of authority structures that took shape four decades ago has led to a condition bordering on anarchy – in our schools, our streets and often our spirits. Of course, we suffer no sadness that unauthorized sects should be diminished, but the same effects are being felt among churches of Christ and the individuals and families within them. It might take us a little longer to join the course of this world, be we usually catch up to the devil eventually. We need to be reminded of the importance of authority, subjection and biblical structure.

I. Everyone is Subject to God

    A. Reverend Is His Name

        1. Psalm 111 says about God, “He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.”

        2. as our creator, sustainer and redeemer, God is due every ounce of our reverence and subjection; we are subject to him as the ultimate authority, even when other sources of power would have us to violate his will, his is superior

        3. many people chafe under the idea that anyone or anything should have authority over them; they intend to do whatever pleases them regardless of the consequences and would even challenge God as did the Pharaoh, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice …” (Exodus 5:2)?

            a. such sin has subjected us to lives of futility, groaning in frustration and desperation until we should comprehend the potential for redemption and glory (see Romans 8:18-25)

            b. subjection to God, ultimately, is not optional, but in this life, it is a matter of free will (Romans 8:1-8, 10:1-4)

            c. faith is wed to obedience, not enslavement to a malevolent despot like the Pharaoh, but covenant with a benevolent redeemer

        4. biblical subjection is never intended to be a burden, but to be relief (First John 5:1-5)

        5. indulging the desires of the flesh is not the essence of liberation, but addiction to self-destruction and God would have us to be free from it (James 4:7-10)


    B. Christ Was Subject to His Father

        1. if we could stop seeing subjection negatively, we would find it more suitable; if we could see it as Jesus understood his subjection to God while on Earth, we would embrace the sacrifice, understanding the promise (Philippians 2:5-8)

        2. remember when Jesus was only twelve years old and he got separated from the family while on a trip to Jerusalem (Luke 2:48-52)?

            a. Jesus, as a human youth, was subject to his parents and to God, submitting to their authority

            b. even when he became a rabbi with a large and devoted following, he remained subject to God’s will, but it was his will as well

        3. our challenge is to make certain that our will is subject to God’s will and that if a conflict should arise, that we are willing to bend our desires to his commands, which are ultimately always better for us: “I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. Correct me, O LORD, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing” (Jeremiah 10:23-24).


    C. Everything is Subject to Christ

        1. while Jesus ministered on Earth, he endured the antics of people who refused to submit themselves to him; for everyone who fell at his feet or washed his feet with her hair, there were hundreds who complained that he was a threat or a malcontent

        2. two thousand years, later, it remains the few who fall at his feet, while the many complain that he asks too much from beyond the cross and the clouds, but there is no appeal to God without first submitting to him (First Peter 3:21-22)

        3. we cannot join the chorus of subjection because we have not learned that the duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandments; so many of the stresses and conflicts that plague us are a direct result of overruling the Lord and challenging him with some false god or devotion (Philippians 3:17-21)

        4. Jesus is not just some distant monarch whose authority can be flaunted because of absence; he is present and powerful (Hebrews 1:3-4, 2:5-9; see also First Corinthians 15:27-28)

            a. subjection is humbling, like being the master and washing the dirty feet of your subordinates, or hanging on a cross while your creatures try to provoke you by mockery and punishment

            b. subjection is necessary, but unnatural for a generation steeped on self-esteem and teetering on spiritual anarchy

            c. subjection is regulated, but required


II. Subjection to Others

    A. Submitting to One Another

        1. among people, especially disciples, there is a mutuality of submission that is often overlooked to the detriment of families, relationships and whole churches (Ephesians 5:18-21)

        2. but what does this mean – that we must allow others to dictate every aspect of our lives, even down to the minutest details?

        3. of course, not, but it does mean that we selflessly volunteer to submit ourselves to the improvement of others (Philippians 2:1-4)

        4. rather than be unyielding, selfish, ambitious and assertive, we are willing to concede in matters of opinion, liberty and opportunity, sometimes sacrificing and even suffering  that others might enjoy moments in the sun, knowing that our time will also come, but if not … 

        5. submitting to one another is an extension of the golden rule, doing unto others as we would want them to do for us, even if they do not


    B. Young Subject to Older

        1. our society has lost much of its formality, the kind of respect still seen in only a few places anymore, but it must not be so in the church that God’s decree is overturned (First Peter 5:5)

        2. we should show old-fashioned respect to older folks among us, speaking respectfully, treating respectfully

        3. Paul taught Timothy to “not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity”

(First Timothy 5:1-2).


    C. Slaves Subject to Masters

        1. it certainly sounds very anachronistic, but the Bible demands that slaves be subject to their masters, citing a peculiar institution that has been outlawed in most of the world (First Peter 2:18-21)

        2. employment is probably the closest modern relationship to this one, and some of the principles are applicable there as well

        3. there is authority in the workplace that must be respected for the business to be healthy and for the owner of the business to get his money’s worth from paying us

        4. some bosses are easier to work for than others, but Peter was commanding that we learn subjection even for the harsh and unpleasant – that’s where the test really is (Colossians 3:22-4:1)

            a. Paul raises an important point – almost all of us are in subjection at some times and in authority at others; we are citizens and parents or wives and mothers

            b. people who are in authority must never use that position to oppress others or treat them with harshness, taking advantage in a way that even God does not in his unparalleled omnipotence

            c. too many people let authority go to their heads and they begin lording themselves all over the place, forgetting that leadership is a place to serve, not to be served, and that all authority is limited


    D. Children Subject to Parents

        1. we also learn that children should be subject to their parents, just as they were in answer to the Ten Commandments (Ephesians 6:1-4)

        2. again, there is the reminder that parents should not use their size, weight, power or authority to oppress their offspring, but should nurture and admonish them toward adulthood (Colossians 3:20-21)

        3. the Hebrew letter even suggest that we can learn about our relationship with God by examining a healthy relationship with earthly parents who sometimes must punish us (Hebrews 12:9-11)

            a. twice, the Holy Spirit stops to identify a culture of disrespect for parents as a sign of apostasy (see Romans 1:30, Second Timothy 3:2)

            b. we respect our parents because they have our best interest at heart and only admonish us as is necessary; we trust them even when they don’t seem to make much sense


    E. Wives Subject to Husbands

        1. in the family, as well, there is a structure of leadership that today has been largely forgotten (Colossians 3:18-19)

        2. the women’s liberation movement has been so successful that modern ladies have even been set free from biblical wisdom, but that’s hardly cause for celebration; families are breaking down into conflict, division and divorce because Dad can’t or won’t lead and Mom either won’t let him or can’t get him to

        3. being in subjection does not make her inferior, but it does make her respectful of God’s timeless wisdom for the family he designed and the marriage he joined

        4. a husband who understands his role as leader will not exercise his headship in a way that demeans or diminishes his wife, but will cherish her and seek to build her up with gratitude for all that she is and does

        5. there will be times, however, when the head of the house will have to make a decision that others might not like or find proper and, unless it is simply immoral, this is when subjection is really tested; it’s not enough to be in subjection only to the things you agree with!


    F. Church Subject to Elders

        1. movements have arisen to eliminate the eldership from local churches or the believer’s life, but it remains part of God’s structure that Christians should be members of a flock, subject to the oversight of a plurality of cooperative shepherds (see Acts 20:28, Titus 1:5-9, First Corinthians 16:16)

        2. they are likewise to be good shepherds, not self-seeking despots, confining themselves to the affairs of the church and not interfering in the liberties of the individual (First Peter 5:1-4)

        3. they are not legislators, but stewards, responsible to a Chief Shepherd (Hebrews 13:7,17)

        4. when elders shepherd and the flock trusts them, peace can reign (First Thessalonians 5:12-13)


    G. Citizens Subject to Government

        1. lastly, of course, we are all required to be subject as citizens to our government and the authority invested in every agent, from the President down to the cop on the beat (First Peter 2:13-17)

        2. Paul told the saints living in first century Rome that the government did not bear the sword in vain, but that its agents were even God’s ministers in upholding order (see Romans 13:1-7)

        3. it is not possible to be a disorderly citizen and a good Christian, unless it happens that the laws of men are in direct violation of God’s will, and even in Paul’s day, that was usually an isolated situation



“But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (First Corinthians 11:3). Even the savior had to learn obedience by being subject to the very laws he made as creator. Our efforts at getting around earthly structure and crowning ourselves lord of all will only destroy our claim to subjection to God.


Questions For Review

  1. What does Psalm 111 say about God’s name? Explain.
  2. How was Christ subject to his father?
  3. What can learn from Christ’s subjection?
  4. What does it mean to submit to one another?
  5. In what should children submit to their parents? Until when?
  6. Why do some wives find it hard to submit to their husbands?
  7. What is “lording over the flock?”

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