“Every discipline has its corresponding freedom…The purpose of the disciplines is freedom. Our aim is the freedom, not the discipline. The moment we make the discipline our central focus, we turn it into law and lose the corresponding freedom.” (p. 110)
This quote from Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline, is a principle that must be remembered by the reader throughout their review of these teachings. All of the Spiritual Disciplines are tools for bringing about the objective of improving our relationship with God. These results in improvements of our relationships with others as well. So if the practice of any of these disciplines results in that objective not being achieved, then the discipline should be stopped. If one beings to fast in such a manner as to do harm to their health, they should stop, as God does not desire to cause you harm. If the practice of regular prayer starts to become meaningless and simply repetitive, then it should be stopped until the spiritual significance is felt. If the practice of meditation is becoming more about rest and separation from others, then it needs to be stopped. The same can be said for solitude. If Bible study becomes a competition for who has the most knowledge, then it should be stopped. All of this stopping is but temporary, and only for the sake of those situations. Once overcome, they then continue as they should, not as law, but as tools to achieve the objective.
I say these things as our next Outward Discipline in on the Discipline of Submission. In our post-modern world, so driven by the deeply held belief in human autonomy as the ultimate value, the concept of submission is blown dramatically out of proportion. For many, it is a difficult subject to grasp, as we are filled with the visions of the chattel slavery of the south in the United States early in its nationhood. We are challenged in the belief in absolute freedom that has been engrained in us from an early age in Post-Modern culture. So as we discuss the discipline of submission, remember what the aim of these disciplines is. We discipline ourselves to obtain freedom that comes from being in a right relationship with God, and through that, a right relationship with others.
What is the Discipline of Submission?
To submit as a Christian Discipline is to place the needs of others above your own. Submission is about getting rid of the spirit corrupting desire to always get your way. We have all been told at some point in our life, “Life isn’t fair.” Or perhaps, “You can’t always get what you want.” These are real, solid, truth. You will not always get what you want. When we desire to only get what we want, or to have things go the way we desire for them to go, then when it doesn’t, we tear ourselves apart internally. We get angry at others for them not doing what we desired. We get upset about the situation because it did not turn out as we hoped. We feel worthless and hopeless when we experience a series of events that all resulted in our wants not being met. To live like this is to live in a perpetual state of slavery to that which is inevitable.
However, the discipline of submission is what allows us to be free from this horrible, emotion wrecking, spirit crushing enslavement to the post-modern worldview of “me, me, me.” When we instead place the needs of others before our own, we are no longer interested in our own desires of how we want things done. When we place ourselves in a position of being submissive, giving way to others’ ideas and plans, there is freedom in that. It allows us to come to realize that not everything in life is a “big deal.” We live in a world where college students are making safe spaces so they don’t have to hear opposing views. They actually believe that hearing a differing opinion should cause them harm! That is insane! They are enslaving themselves to their own ideas! How can you survive for long living like that? Everyday you’ll be confronted by people who do not think like you do and end up being hurt. You’ll be traumatized every day you live! There is no life in that!
Now do not think that this means that we do not ever get our way. This is about creating an internal reality, remember? Its about not allowing these things to be the idols of your life. You discipline yourself through submission to others not by sacrificing your own well-being in the process. You do so by knowing that if things do not go your way, or you are not the one in the position to make the decision, or you are not the one who benefits from the decision, that it will be ok. You set yourself to being content knowing that if things do not go your way, you will support others in what they desired. In the end, it is about submitting yourself to something greater than your own needs.
Now how does this look when we bring it into the social context? When you have a group of people, each one not concerned with getting it their way, but instead, each one has submitted themselves to the needs of the others, what is the outcome? You all came together for some shared purpose, now you all desire only to achieve that purpose by whatever means works the best in achieving that. Each person can have their view heard, their ideas considered, and implemented. Each person submits themselves to the greater mission, and submits themselves to the well-being of the other. This is the context we need to be thinking within when we apply the discipline of submission.
It ultimately comes down to having the spirit within you for granting mutual consideration, courtesy to your fellow man, and respect for one another. You become free to value the other person as a person, as another human being, and not just some object to use to get your heart’s desire. The Post-Modern world has coined a new idea that is the next evolution in thinking from “self-esteem.” They call it, “self-actualization.” This is a true form of psychological and emotional balance that is important to achieve. But the ways the world describe as ways to achieve “self-fulfillment” and “self-actualization” by achieving what you want, and they say that getting what you want is the only way to achieve that. The Christian path to fulfillment and actualization come from self-denial. That is, denying one’s self for the sake of others. Our happiness is not dependent on getting what we want (which inevitably will not always happen). It now becomes purely sourced in God, who then brings us to “spirit-actualization,” and “spirit-fulfillment,” that is the true state of happiness He gives to us through His grace, and the joy that He puts in our hearts.
The Bible on Submission
So what is it exactly that we are submitting to in the Christian Disciplines? Well, let’s turn to Jesus shall we?
“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34).
Self-denial is not self-hatred or the loss of our individuality or our identity. Instead, Self-denial allows us to achieve our full individuality and our whole identity. “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 10:39). In other words, the man who spends his life trying to “find himself,” will think he has, and then will lose it, and will repeat that ad nausium. However, if we seek after Jesus, we will come to lose our old self, and find ourselves in Him. Self-denial is what allows us to give way to others, the interests of others are above our own. This does not mean our own needs are negated, but instead, our own needs come to be fulfilled through fulfilling the needs of others. “He [Jesus] humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:8).
Jesus rejected the norms of the ancient world that are reflected in our modern world regarding titles of positions and rank within society. Instead, “Is anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35). This becomes the “cross-life” which Foster discusses at length, that is living out the example of Jesus. “I have given you an example, that you should also do as I have done to you.” (John 13:15). There are further examples within the Bible, including in the Old Testament, making reference to the need to be submissive and the nature of the discipline.
So How do I Live This Out?
Foster lays out what I view as the legitimate structure of how our submissiveness is to be setup. As we consider the discipline in light of the introduction to this article, remember that the objective is what is to be achieved. If there is a violation of that objective that comes about through the application of this discipline, then it is not to be done. The why is explained as you go through these acts of submission found on pages 122-123.
The first act of submission is of course, to God. The active and proper practice of the disciplines is one form of how we submit ourselves to God. We wake up every morning and say a prayer to the Lord to show our submission to His will, seeking His blessing, meditating on His word, fasting to bring our mind and body under His control, separating ourselves apart from others to allow Him to work in us. First and foremost, above all else, we are submissive to God.
The next act of submission is to scripture. We subject ourselves to God Himself, and then to His word. His word allows us to know what He requires of us. It teaches us how to live according to His requirements. It gives us the means to obedience and how to place ourselves in a right relationship with Him. It even provides us with the why!
Then there is the act of submission to our family. The needs of our family come before our own individual needs. Setting up the needs of our spouse before our own, the needs of our children before our own. Doing this places our hearts and minds in the right context as to what should be driving our efforts in this world. As we raise our family in accordance with God’s will and word, we are giving of ourselves to them. Setting the needs of the family above our own personal needs is a serious lesson this modern age needs to learn. The failure to be submissive to the ideal of family is what has resulted in so many single mothers and young men growing up without their fathers and daughters being raised not knowing what a good and right man is like.
Then we go outward a bit more to our friends and neighbors. When they are in need of help, we put that need above our own needs. We seek to assist them with the big and the little. Babysitting, helping with the housekeeping, doing the lawn work, and the more serious matters as well. Bringing the whole family into submission into the needs of others families is a great practice and a mighty backbone building practice to perform that can bring not only your own family close together, but other families close together as well.
The next is outward to the Biblical community. This comes to meeting our obligations (setting others before ourselves) to the believing community. We place the needs of the congregation above our own, volunteering for ministry roles, supporting the outreach and ministry efforts of the full-time staff, or even the call to full-time ministry yourself!
The final two acts of submission involve aiding the ill, wounded, and injured. Also caring for the widow and the orphan in our communities. This is where we submit ourselves to the needs of those outside of the believing community and begin to set the example of Christ for others. This expands to getting involved in local political activities, volunteering at local shelters for example, or helping to care for the parks and other public spaces. A person who is truly submissive in their hearts will think about others when it comes to the amount of food they buy, how much energy they us in their home, and so much more.
Some Considerations on Submission
One has to sit for a moment and truly consider the idea of submission. Who was the one who had the most to lose in submission? Who was the one that gave up the most (from our eyes) in order to submit himself? God did. Who are we to say that we should not submit ourselves as well? Jesus’ example is made quite clear through out the new Testament yet people struggle today with this concept. After all of the knowledge that has been gained regarding the Bible, the context of it, true interpretation of its meaning in light of the context of the authors, their culture, and their language and knowledge of the world. All of this has allowed us to draw so much more form the Bible than before. Yet, we still do not grasp submission?
If God says to love Him, and also to love our neighbors, how much more so does He tell men to love their wives? (Col. 3:19). Why does Paul make it such a significant point after telling women to submit to their Husbands? Because to love God is to obey God. “If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15). So, what is he telling men to do for their wives? To act as though only women are told to submit means you don’t understand the context. Jesus’ teachings called out all the cultural norms of the times that subjected women to the will of their husbands and others. They knew this. But Paul states that women must submit to their husbands willfully, not be subject to his wicked whims. Paul says for men to love their wives and to not be harsh with them, as was the cultural right of men at the time. So clearly Paul is restricting the men just as much (if not, more so) as the women.
The command is for husbands to love their wives within the context of men loving God, which is to obey Him. How true it is that for a man to love a woman and make her his wife, he must be willing to submit to her, be only with her, restrict his behavior to bring honor to her, do right by her, listen to her counsel to make her be appreciated, support and care for her, all of these things are incredible restrictions upon what a man is naturally driven to do, and culturally. Every man knows it to be true that God’s commands are tremendously more restrictive on men (especially given the context of the times these words were written) than the words Paul speaks to women. It is difficult for our modern world to grasp that, because in this modern world women have freedom that the women back then did not.
The significance is that we are to be subordinate to each other. In viewing ourselves as subordinate to one another, we are all brought to the level God desires for us to be in, that is, a state of continual giving of one’s self for the betterment of others. Why do you think the service industry does so well in the United States? Because it is driven by those who work in service being required to submit themselves to the needs of their customers. The salesman and service technician that sets that as their daily submission is the one who is the most successful and the most referred.
Limits of Submission
All efforts of the disciplines is freedom. Freedom comes from the life that the disciplines bring through their proper practice in faith and pursuit of the kingdom of God, seeking to grow in one’s relationship with God. But each discipline has its limits. That limit for all of them, and most significantly with this one, is when acting out the discipline becomes destructive. They are to give life when practiced as they should be. But when they become destructive, then they are not to be practiced. In submission, this is a principle that must be clearly understood.
In submission to the government, if the government is not doing what is required of it by God, then it is not to be submitted to. If that were the case, then it would be as submitting oneself to Satan. That is clearly not the case. The context of Christian submission is within the framework of the whole of Christian teachings, that is, the whole of the context of the Bible. Disciplines themselves are secondary to the Theological truths and moral prescriptions of the Bible. Most significantly is the Biblical prescription to preserve and protect life, living in obedience to God. The disciplines are a secondary tool, they are a means to aid in successfully obeying God. If the means become destructive, then they are to cease as required by the underlying principles they are based upon.
The moment we begin to question when submission is to be practiced we step out of the discipline into the ethical. When placed in any situation, we are all required to obey God. Preservation of life is God’s desire. God desires for all of humanity to live and to live fully in His intent and design for each individual person. He desires for us to love Him and to love our neighbor. There are many teachings but each one is taught in light of the context of all of the other teachings. They do not contradict, however, they do overlap at times, and on many occasions appear to over rule one another. The key is the context of the situation. This does not mean that the situation dictates morality. This states that what has priority is determined in the situation. As this relates to submission, we are required to submit ourselves to the needs of others, to be obedient to government, and so forth. Once one of the human elements we are to be submissive to betrays the commands of God, our need to be obedient is removed, as first and foremost, we are to be obedient to God.