As members of God's family, God calls us to "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:21). But what does that mean in everyday life?
We're commanded to submit to one another because we can't do life well on our own. I may think I can take care of myself. After all, I own my home, pay my bills, and make independent decisions every workday. But left unchecked, I can spin into negative thought patterns and sinful habits.
Had I been pursuing a lifestyle of submission some years ago, I could have saved myself the heartache of dating a man I knew wasn't right for me. Although one friend and one family member gently yet firmly told me their concerns, I chose stubbornly to ignore them. Eventually, God used this man's move across the country to spare me from an unwise situation. Still, I regret that my hardheaded refusal to submit to loved ones' wisdom cost me several months of pain and prevented me from receiving God's best during that season.
Ironically, giving up my staunch independence wouldn't have squelched my freedom; submission ultimately would have set me free. A wise friend once remarked that while an astronaut could cut her oxygen line and fly "free" into space, she wouldn't enjoy such freedom for long. The tether of healthy, mutual submission brings life.
Learning to depend on others leads to seeking out honest input from them. Recently, as I was addressing the envelope for a letter I'd written a friend following a difficult conversation with her, I felt a nudge to temper such significant correspondence with some accountability. With trepidation, I showed the letter to a friend of more than a decade. She loves God, loves me, and possesses unique wisdom for handling such difficult confrontations. She gently pointed out parts of the letter better left in my journal than sent through the postal system.
Allowing her to glimpse raw places in my soul and asking her to speak truth into those areas made me feel uncomfortable and exposed. But after that evening's stretching conversation, when my friend offered me back the letter along with a hug, we both sensed we'd entered a deeper level of trust in our friendship. By submitting to her, I bestowed on my friend the authority to bring light into my decisions and relationships.
Although we may practice submission to one another, we'll never be the same as each other or agree on everything—nor should we. The richness of living in submitted fellowship flows from our differences. The psalmist exclaims, "How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!" (Psalm 133:1). Harmony is the blending of different notes and pitches, not the sounding of a single uniform note.
Like instruments harmonizing in an orchestra, we each have a valuable part assigned by our trusted Conductor. No role is inferior or superior. But each makes sense only in community. "Without the instruments' submission to one another and their collective submission to the conductor," my friend, who's a member of the St. Louis Philharmonic, once told me, "the chaos of 50 solo parts, beautiful as each may be, doesn't make a cohesive song." Only through submission can we begin to live out the harmony we were made to create.