In our culture, “submission” is a four letter word. Few are praised in our modern world for subjecting themselves to those in authority over them. On the contrary, the model laid out for us is that we should always challenge and question those who are over us. After all (we think), we know better than they do. We should be in charge, not them. The classic bumper sticker captures it well: “Question Authority.”
There is perhaps no place where this is seen more vividly than the controversy over Eph 5:22, “Wives submit to your husbands as unto the Lord.” Cultural pundits are quick to label Christians as anti-woman or patriarchal on the basis of texts such as this. And even Christians find themselves embarrassed by such passages and eager to change the subject.
However, in the midst of these discussions there is a larger context that is often overlooked. Calls for submission in the Bible are not just limited to women. It is not as if they have been singled out. On the contrary, the Bible is very clear that everybody submits to somebody. We are called to submit to the government (Rom 13:1), children are called to submit to their parents (Eph 6:1), church members are called to submit to their elders (Heb 13:17), servants are called to submit to their masters (1 Pet 1:18), and on it goes.
Of course certain caveats are in order anytime one speaks of submission. Submission does not require agreement (otherwise it wouldn’t really be submission!). Submission does not require us to obey someone if they ask us to sin (in such cases we have an obligation not to submit). And submission does not mean that we are unable to work for a change in our situation (e.g., we can submit to the government while seeking to change it).
But, if the theme of submission is so prevalent throughout Scripture then the implications are as powerful for men as they are for women (if not more so). As men do we submit to our boss? As men do we submit to our church? If we are pastors do we submit to our fellow elders? Perhaps one of the reasons the concept of submission is so foreign even to the church is because we as men have not been practicing it ourselves as we ought. Submission is something that should be modeled by men.
Of course, the ultimate demonstration that submission is a good and biblical virtue is that it was exhibited by our Lord himself. Christ submitted himself to the Father (John 4:34; 5:30). And his submission to the Father was so complete that he was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).
Everybody submits to somebody.