Seeing Submission & Obedience as Sweet, not Bitter
Scot McKnight wants us to abandon strong authority/submission language:
“Those who have a proper relationship to the Bible never need to speak of the Bible as their authority nor do they speak of their submission to the Bible. They are so in tune with God, so in love with him, that the word ‘authority’ is swallowed up in loving God. Even more, the word ‘submission’ is engulfed in the disposition of listening to God speak through the Bible and in the practice of doing what God calls us to do.” (Blue Parakeet, p. 93)
But here are eight reasons to optimistically embrace strong word-categories of authority, submission, commandments, and obedience as sweet, not bitter:
1. The apostle Paul uses these word-categories for marriage, church, employment, and parenting:
“Wives, submit to your own husbands… The church submits to Christ… Children, obey your parents in the Lord… Obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” (Ephesians 5-6)
2. Paul uses these word-categories for relating to rulers and authorities:
“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.” (Titus 3:1)
3. Paul encourages preacher-elders to exhort and rebuke with all authority:
“Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” (Titus 2:15)
4. Hebrews uses the word-categories for relating to leaders:
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:7)
5. Jesus himself embraced them.
“Jesus himself emphasizes in the Gospel of John that he was sent to do the Father’s will, that he received a command as to what he should do (John 12:49-50), and that he always obeyed his Father. Naturally, he delighted in obeying the Father (John 15:10-11), but such obedience was also demanded (John 14:31).” (Thomas R. Schreiner, source)
6. Jesus does not dichotomize love and the language of obedience.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments… Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:15, 21)
7. Jesus was humble in embracing obedience:
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8)
8. His commands are not burdensome.
“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:2-3)
And that is the real issue. The world sees the obedience of commands and submission to authority as fundamentally burdensome. If God is not good, then it is hard to see authority and submission and obedience as anything but demeaning, exploitative, unloving, miserable, non-genuine, and un-relational.
But if God is good, then we have every reason to embrace him as our authority and submit to all the authorities he has put in our lives. To obey them with sincerity and joy. We can reclaim and redeem the strong word-categories of authority, submission, commandments, and obedience. We’re not slaves to cynicism. We are servants of Christ who loves us.