As Paul neared the end of his letter to the Ephesian Church he began to admonish them, giving advice as to how they should live, with God and with each other. He wrote:
“Be imitators of God as dear children.”
“Walk as children of light . . . Finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.”
“Do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
“Do not be drunk with wine . . . But be filled with the Spirit”
And then he writes, “submitting to one another in the fear of God.” He would go on to teach about the relationships of wives and husbands; children and parents; slaves and masters. Each has a different dynamic, a different role and a different expectation but no matter what the relationship, no matter which role we fit in we are all given a common rule to follow, “submit to one another.”
Submission is a very important but often avoided topic. The Greek word that is used here, both when speaking of wives to husbands and all of us, one to another is hypotasso. According to Strong’s Concordance, this word was a common Greek military term meaning “to arrange in a military fashion under the command of a leader.” In non-military use, which is how it is being used in Ephesians, it’s meaning is “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.” The reason I believe that we have largely avoided teaching about submission is that we have often seen it abused. Submission is not about someone taking authority but rather about those in authority creating trusting, loving, servant-like relationships. Submission is not about power it is about trust.
The night of Jesus’ arrest He gathered His disciples together to celebrate Passover. John tells us that as they all ate Jesus got up and began to wash their feet. He wrapped a towel around His waist and went from disciple to disciple, washing each foot and then drying with the towel. When he got to Peter we begin to see what I believe is a battle between man’s view of submission and God’s. Peter says, “You shall never wash my feet!” Peter responds out of loyalty, out of respect and out of what he believed was submission. His argument was that Jesus was too great to wash his feet, it was the same argument that John the Baptist used when he said, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” The concept here is that the greatest should not serve but be served. It is a very logical concept. But Jesus blew all logic out of the water when He said “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve”. When Jesus was finished washing the feet of all His disciples He said to them, “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” These same men had already argued among themselves as to which one of them was the greatest, Jesus taught them the futility of the argument. Here the Creator of all things bent down and did not demand that dirt be washed from His feet, but washed it from the feet of His creation. He proved that having authority does not free you from servant hood, it increases the desire to see those around you grow and mature into all they were created to be.
We have all fallen for the trap of demanding submission. Most of us have been given some form of authority and we are tempted to wear it like stripes on our sleeves rather than towels around our waists. Authority produces responsibility not privilege. Submission that is demanded is brought about by fear and those that are afraid are always looking for an opportunity to escape. Submission that is chosen because of trust and love is a place of safety, a place of refuge and a place of joy. “Submitting yourselves one to another” is about relationships. It is about creating safety, creating community and creating “one accord.” We see that before Jesus’ death, even before He washed the disciples feet, they were not a unified group. They argued for position, there was posturing and pride. After Jesus had died and resurrected, after He had ascended we find this same group of men, surrounded by over 100 others, “with one accord, in one place.” It was no longer necessary to be the greatest, it was vital that they be together. It was no longer important who sat on which side of Jesus in glory, it was urgent that they be surrounded by one another. Before He washed their feet I believe that there would have been politicking to see who would preach the first sermon after the Promise of the Father, but on the day that the Spirit descended there was trust, there was unity and there was submission, to the Spirit of God and then, also to the Spirit of God that dwelled in Peter.
That night that Jesus washed His disciples feet was miraculous. That night, that one act, prepared the way for how the Body of Christ was to function. Jesus did not just build their trust in Him, He required that they choose to trust each other. From that day on, I am sure there were uprisings of pride, there were incidents of mistrust and probably even abuse, but what we see is 11 men that set aside their ambition and chose each other, chose Jesus and chose the calling of unity. If you struggle with authority today I urge you to put down your power and pick up a towel. Choose to walk in humility and watch as those around you begin to follow you, but they are only called to follow as you follow Christ. If you struggle with submission today I have a nearly identical request, put down your guard and pick up a towel. I have been in positions of submission that I did not feel were fair, the fastest way to change that feeling is to become a servant, stop trying to find ways out from under and choose to be submitted fully as to God Himself. The topic of authority and submission is important in the church, it needs to be revisited and I believe it needs to be changed. If there is anything that we are lacking today it is towel bearers, if you want to see your church, your home, your relationships or even your community change, pick up a towel, you will be amazed at how quickly the arguments cease and the servant hood begins.