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Most, if not all, concepts in Scripture are "balanced" by an equally-important complementary concept. In this present study, we are focusing on only one side of the issue: the response of the person who has been placed under another's authority. Scripture also has much to say to those who exercise authority over others - though that a specific group of "complementary" verses is not part of the present study.
It is my recommendation that, as you examine the following outlines, you check the contexts of the passages - at least those that involve commands. In several of the passages, the "complementary" command (given to the one who has authority over others) will be found only a few verses away. You are also welcome (and encouraged) to give "balance" to your perspective, by exploring other passages in Scripture that focus primarily on the obligations of authorities.
Remember that both the people who are in positions of authority, as well as those who are in submission, have tendencies to do things in ways contrary to the Bible. All of us have sinned: And this is the problem, not the authority structures, themselves.
Perhaps the two types of submission/obedience which receive the most intense opposition - sometimes seething hostility - are the situations which involve slaves submitting to their masters, and wives submitting to their husbands. It is the natural tendency of each - the one in authority as well as the one in submission - to introduce sin into the relationship. At the present time, it seems that most people focus on the sin and abuse of those in authority, and ignore - or even encourage - the sin and rebellion of those in submission. But the sin of the one does not justify the sin of the other. One person's sin is not "corrected" by another person adding more sin to the situation. Both must repent.
When each person is attempting to fulfill his role as an expression of love for the other (the obligation we all have), even slavery can become a pleasant situation! The problem is not the slavery, but the sin that controls both master and slave. Masters need to express love just as much as the slaves do. Most people today are familiar only with the modern concept of "slavery," which associates the concept with "oppression." Yet the word, as used in the Bible, had a much broader range of meaning - even including situations in which a person would desire (as an expression of love) to be another's slave! (Example: Deuteronomy 15:16-17) The range of meaning is wide enough that the N.T. teachings pertaining to slavery are applicable to many of the modern types of relationships that involve one person working for another - even to employer / employee relationships!
There are things that all of us can learn - not only about how we should fulfill our own role, but also how we can make the other person's role easier for him to fulfill. We should remember that the way we fulfill our own obligations toward others will often have a strong influence on the way they fulfill their own obligations toward us. And even when it doesn't help - when the situation remains bad - at least it will not be our fault. Remember that the day is coming in which each of us will give account to the final Judge who is over all - and it will be for our own actions and responses, not for another's.
If you have an instinctive opposition or repulsion to the concept of "submission" or "obedience," perhaps you should spend some time thinking about this: Jesus himself willingly learned submission and obedience. (See the outlines, below.) He willingly became a slave (Philippians 2:7). He lowered himself (as an act of obedience), even to the point that he was willing to die like a criminal. And he did this so that we - the unsubmissive rebels - might be saved and have eternal life.
He calls us to be his disciples: to submit to him and to learn from his example.
Questions and comments are included in the outlines, but it is up to you to allow the Word of God (not the comments I might make) to lead you to your conclusions. Examine the passages themselves (and their context); use the Bible! (The verses in the outlines are paraphrased or summarized, rather than being exact quotes from a specific translation of the Bible. At times, information will be included from the surrounding context, for better clarity.)
Dennis Hinks © 1990, 1999
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Obedience/Submission Title Page