A Submitted Heart
Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Hebrews 13:17 NKJV
The issue of submission causes great misunderstandings among believers. The writer of Hebrews distinctly exhorted us to do two things: (1) to obey those who rule over us; and (2) to be submissive to those who rule over us. These are different directives, and this is where many get confused. We can obey and not necessarily be submissive.
Obedience deals with our actions in response to authority. Submission deals with our attitude toward authority. God looks at our outward actions and at the hidden attitude of our hearts, as King David told his son:
“As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts.” (1 Chronicles 28:9 NKJV, emphasis added)
When we are not submissive to authorities, we are resisting God’s authority. All authority comes from Him. God wants us to freely enjoy and benefit from the banqueting table He prepares for us through those He provides for us. We can only do this when we respond to them with honor.
But where do we draw the line? The Bible teaches unconditional submission to authorities, but the Bible does not teach unconditional obedience. The only exception—the only time when we are not to obey authorities—is when they tell us to do something that directly contradicts what God has stated in His Word.
In other words, we are released from obedience only when leaders tell us to sin. However, even in those cases we are to keep a humble and submitted attitude. Whether the authority is civil, family, church, or social, God admonishes us to maintain a submissive attitude. We are also to obey in action unless authority tells us to do what Scripture clearly identifies as sinful.
Why do you think this issue matters so much to God? What protection does it bring to you? How does it benefit those in authority? I encourage you to evaluate your attitude toward authority. Do you make a practice of obeying your leaders with a willing heart? Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the grace not only to obey, but also to truly submit.
Adapted from Under Cover: The Promise of Protection Under His Authority (Thomas Nelson, 2001).