SUBMISSION – The very thought of this word/action sends a icy shiver down the backs of many women, as we think of the times in which this construct has been used against us in and outside of the church. Yet, undeniably, submission is a required spiritual practice. We find mention of submission throughout Scripture, and especially in the New Testament Pauline epistles:
Ephesians 5: 22-23
1 Corinthians 14:34
Romans 13: 1-2
Obviously, after considering these Pauline texts on submission, it becomes our clarion call to say “No!” to submission when the assignment does NOT come from the Lord.
So, how are we, as women who are called to the things of God; submit properly with joy and commitment, without endangering our sovereignty and self-empowerment? How do we protect ourselves from those who would seek to dominate us instead? Who do we submit to and how are we to understand when and why we are called into submission? These are questions that have plagued women in the church, in our marriages, and in other situations and relationships, even as we seek to be obedient to the word of God.
Perhaps our first step in understanding why submission is important and the ways of navigating this cardinal spiritual practice, is to begin with a working definition:
SUB-MISSION – This is a compound word that simply means: SUB – “under or from below.” MISSION – “an assignment or a task.” The word “submission” means to get under the mission, or to position one’s self for the mission from the vantage point of below. The spiritual practice of submission is as much about the assignment, as those we are called to submit to (IF we are called to submit at all). Frankly, whether male or female, we are ALL called to missions and assignments from God. When we “get under” the holy assignment, we are really called to submit to the Lord, first and foremost.
But, what happens when we may be called to submit to someone other than the Lord? How are we to know if the call is authentically coming from the Lord, or not? In other words, how do we discern whether to submit in true obedience to God, or whether we should turn and run in the other direction?
There are several stories in Scripture that assist us with these pertinent questions. Let’s take a look at the story of Hagar found in Genesis 16: 1-11.
And Now, THE WORD from our Sponsor……………………………………………………….
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go into my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.
The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going? She said, “I am running away from my mistress, Sarai. The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.” The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for the multitude”
Those of us who come from African heritage will read this text and immediately think of our slave ancestors. We know the stories of the cruel and oppresives ways in which our ancestors were treated. Hagar, an African, is described in the text as a “slave-girl.” This is not a meaningless descriptive. Compared to Sarai, a woman, Hagar was a young girl (of childbearing age). When Sarai gave her to Abram, assumingly without her permission, Hagar became pregnant. Since Sarai had no children by Abram, Hagar’s status in the household usurped Sarai’s and she should have become the primary wife. Not so; however, because Abram’s allegiance was with Sarai.
Due to the harsh treatment she suffered at the hand of her mistress, Sarai runs away pregnant. In the desert, she experiences a theophany through her spiritual encounter with the presence of God. This pivotal moment in her life is framed by God’s angel who makes the same covenant with her that God makes with Abram. Hagar is the first woman in scripture to which God makes a mother of many nations; YET, Hagar the slave-girl is told, by God, to go back and “submit to your mistress.”
We can, as slave progeny, imagine what a heinous command this would be for Hagar – and coming from the mouth of God, no less. Hagar already knows what kind of painful treatment she will receive when she goes back to the house of Abram. Hagar understands the bitterness of Sarai and the dismissiveness of Abram. She literally hears the voice of God telling her to go back and submit. What does this mean and why does God tell her to step back into the hell hole from whence she came?
While we must acknowledge this is a text of theodicy (why does a good God allow/permit bad things to happen to good people), we learn something crucial from Hagar’s willingness to submit:
1) Like Hagar, we must attempt to discern God’s voice in our personal circumstances, especially when it is painful/difficult for us to submit.
2) We must do our best to see the submission assignment as divine. Understand that it is ALWAYS bigger than you and your circumstances. Hagar was made the mother of many nations by God. Hagar becomes the mother of the Islamic faith.
3) Understand that obedience to God will bring godly reward. God saved the lives of Hagar and Ishmael for a great and mighty cause.
4) Trust in the Lord and lean not to your own understanding – God will direct your path. Hagar receives divine guidance from God and is the first person in Scripture to give God her own personal name – El-Roi (“the God who sees me.”)
5) Know that in submitting to God, you are advancing God’s agenda for your own life – increasing faith and a growing, personal relationship with God.
6) Understand that favor is NOT fair. While submitting to the will of God may not seem fair, God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts! God will bring favor in God’s own time.
Submission, Sovereignty, and Surrender. These are three spiritual practices which are required in the lives of women who truly seek God’s blessings, God’s direction, and God’s miracles in our lives. To God be the glory! Let God’s ways be our ways, too!
Questions for our discussion and consideration
Assuming that submission is the most difficult of the spiritual practices for you (us), why do you think it is?
How can we prepare ourselves for the challenge of submission in our lives?
Why is it as important to know when NOT to submit (to others), as it is to submit?
If you could have a discussion with Apostle Paul, what would you say to him regarding his submission texts?
Favor ain’t fair. (Rev. T.D. Jakes)
True strength lies in submission which permits one to dedicate his (her) life through devotion, to something beyond himself (herself) – (Henry Miller)
Blind submission in women is considered a virtue; while submission to wrong is itself wrong, and resistance to wrong is virtue alike in woman, as in man. ( Ernestine Rose)
Our Sending Prayer
Oh Lord, we your daughters long to serve and submit to Your will and Your way. Assist us, Oh Lord, to place the garment of praise around us, to empower us to serve Your Kingdom and Your Son, Jesus the Christ. Let the light of Your Presence shine upon us and fill us with Your Holy Spirit. Make our homes, churches, and communities secure, restful, and loving spaces. We bind the intent of the evil one and give Your Name all the praise. In the matchless name of our loving Savior, Jesus, we pray. AMEN!