I am not fond of the word “submit” – not fond at all – at least in certain circumstances. But let me back up a bit before explaining why and when I prefer a different definition.

After instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22-31, Paul finishes by saying in verse 32: “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”

The thing is, when it comes to the role of husband and the role of wife, we have a perfect example of how to live out the role of husband in a marriage. Jesus is the perfect Husband of His Bride, the Church. Christ Jesus does not ask husbands to do anything He didn’t do Himself. He said, in effect, “Dude, I acted it out for you. Just do as I did.” 

But, when it comes to the role of the Bride, meaning the Church – the ecclesia or body of Christ – we don’t not have a perfect, divine example to follow – not in the Israelites, who continually committed spiritual adultery; nor in the example of the early New Testament church. This is primarily because it is all being acted out by people – fallible, imperfect, sinful human beings – who make up the Bride and the body of Christ. If everyone sins (and we do), then the collective body is going to have problems with its role as Bride of Christ. You cannot have imperfect parts and end up with a perfect compilation.

When it comes to our posture toward Christ Jesus, our Lord, we must submit. The connotation of that word “submit” in the English language as it is used in James 4:7 “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” – or any other scripture where “submit to God” occurs – seems to be to be appropriate. Here, if we free-will loving humans read it and think, “This sounds like completely giving up what I want for God,” then we have it completely right – no ifs, ands or buts. 

However, I feel like when we read other scriptures like 1 Peter 5:5 that says “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another…for God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble;” or Ephesians 5:21 where it says, “submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God;” we don’t need to look at this as the same kind of submission as we give God. For one thing, God isn’t going to ask us to do anything that isn’t aligned with His great and perfect love for us. However, even the most loving humans, this not likely to be the case 100 percent of the time. Let’s be realistic.

The Greek word translated “submit” in all these passages can also mean “to yield to one’s admonition or advice.” When we talk about submitting – as wives to husbands or as each member of the body of Christ to another or as the younger to the elder in the body – using the words “yield yourself” gives a more precise meaning in our modern, English language. This is because it better reflects a specific, conscientiously taken action that is done for the greater good of all, even if it isn’t what I want and even when my idea is just as valid as anyone else’s idea.

This yielding, then, is much like what a good driver does when coming to a yield sign in the roadway. A good driver pauses to allow the car coming from another direction to pass along first, before moving ahead. This decision to yield protects both the one who moves ahead first and the one who waits to move forward behind the other – exactly the purpose of a yield sign.

I have seen drivers just blow through the yield, assuming I will slow down and let them in and, of course, I do because I have no desire to rear-end them. But, the other driver’s action, his/her failure to obey the instruction to yield, puts us both at risk for injury. Yielding is an agreement that drivers make in advance of ever meeting up at a yield sign. When I took my driver’s test, I agreed to follow this rule as a condition of receiving my license to drive.

It is the same with Church members yielding to one another. We agreed to it at baptism. And when we yield appropriately it protects each member of the body – both in our relationships with each other and in our collective relationship with our Husband, Jesus. Realistically speaking, as a single body, we need all the parts to be in on board with the yielding to each other if we are going yield as a whole to Christ. I think of it like this: if you have a knee cap frozen into place, even if the rest of the body wants to fall to its knees, it isn’t going to happen. 

I’ve seen many a frozen kneecap in the church. I’ve been the frozen kneecap. But a willingness to yield is something that each of us must work on individually for greater good of the Bride of Christ. 

It would be nice to have a perfect example of the Bride of Christ. Alas, we don’t. It is up to each of use to yield ourselves one to another – meaning I may yield to you today and you may yield to me tomorrow – so that we can collectively submit to our Groom, Jesus.

No great mystery here: this works just as well for us wives and husbands in our earthly marriages as it does for the Church and her perfect Husband, Jesus.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts too. You can write me at Nancy@DynamicChristianMinistries.org