I am not, by nature, a submissive person. If someone tells me to do something one way, my guttural instinct is generally to do the very opposite. I am not sure why I am this way (and I know I am not alone), but I think it may have to do with how I view myself, my identity. When someone tells you to do something, or how to do it, perhaps there is a small part of us that feels attacked, like we are being told “You’re not smart enough to figure this out, so do it my way!” or “You are of less value than me, so my will and desires are more important!”
Submission wrangles us because it is an affront to who we are, our being. It threatens our identity. How can a servant (or a slave for that matter) have any sense of dignity, of self? How can we find any value in our lives if we continually submit to others?
Or at least that is one way of looking at it.
The other perspective is the one that Jesus gives us. He says in a few of the Gospels, that the servant, the submissive one, is the one who will be great in the kingdom of God, the greatest, in fact.
So this all begs the question: how does submission lead to greatness?
I think Paul provides something of an answer in his book to the Ephesians. In chapter five he reiterates Christ’s admonition that we “[b]e subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). But Paul offers a bit more explanation as to what is happening when we submit to one another, our boss, our wife, our annoying neighbor.
We’re not actually submitting to them. When we submit to one another we are actually submitting to Jesus himself. “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.” (Ephesians 6:7-8)
When we submit it is actually an act of service to God, not to someone else. When Jesus submitted to death on the cross it was in obedience to God’s will, not the will of Pilate or the religious leaders.
Now maybe it seems to be a spurious distinction, submission is still submission, regardless to whom we submit, but it does matter. When we obey or submit, there is the promise of a reward. Our boss pays us. Our wife thanks us. Or they don’t. Our reward kind of depends on whom we serve.
Now, if when you submit, it is “as to the Lord,” it from the Lord–as Paul asserts–we will receive.
And that is the really promising thing about submission, because he pays back in greatness.