Blog Archive

Friday, February 11, 2011

Question of the Week:
Obedience or Submission?

by Anne Lang Bundy

A biblical look at "Submission to Authority" was planned as one post but is being stretched into three:

February 4: Submit to Bad Government?
February 11: Obedience or Submission?
February 18: Balance in Marital Submission?

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"Duty does not have to be dull.
Love can make it beautiful and fill it with life."
~ Thomas Merton

Photo from "The Notebook"
© 2004 New Line Cinema
image source:

The question planned for this week was How is submission in marriage different than submission to government? Before answering that, it might be helpful to correct an oversight in last week's answer, and distinguish subtle differences between obedience and submission.

The dictionary says that to obey is "to carry out or comply with command, authority, or instruction." To submit is "to surrender or yield oneself to the will or authority of another."

Obedience is more about action. Submission is more about attitude. It is possible to obey the letter of the law without submitting to the spirit of the law.

While God's grace is abundant in the Old Testament, emphasis is that obedience results in blessing, while disobedience leads to consequences. The New Testament in Jesus teaches that more important than strict compliance with the letter of God's law is the higher standard of submission to the spirit of His law, which is love.

The key New Testament passage about submission to governing authorities is Romans 13. The spirit of submission is described in the same chapter as follows:

Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
~ Romans 13:7-10 (NIV)

Last week's post made this statement:
There are three areas of authority mentioned in Scripture—government, church, and family. The same principle generally applies to all three—obey authorities unless they command what God forbids or they forbid what God commands.

The principle of love acts not according to mere duty, but according to what is in the best interest of both authority (neighbor) and myself, in light of eternity and God's truth. It is possible to be both disobedient in action and submissive in spirit.

Where marriage is concerned, the Bible teaches that balance comes not only in understanding the distinction between obedience and submission, but in understanding how both husband and wife submit to each other.

More on that next week.

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This post originally appeared at Bullets & Butterflies. To see ongoing dialogue in comments posted there click here.

What questions do you have about Christianity or the Bible? You're invited to leave them in the comments below (anonymous questions welcome), or email buildingHisbody [plus] @

© 2011 Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

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