Why “Be in Subjection”?
AMONG the many commands found repeated in God’s Word, the Bible, is, “Be in subjection.” At Romans 13:1 we read: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities,” that is, to governments. Younger men are counseled to “be in subjection to the older men.” (1 Pet. 5:5) Then, again, the apostle Paul admonishes: “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands.”—Eph. 5:22.
To be in subjection goes against the grain of many imperfect humans, so much so, in fact, that all manner of social movements are formed to rebel, often violently, against being in subjection. For example, the New York Times, not so long ago, on one day alone, reported the following examples of violent rebellion against authority: “Two bombs exploded in Central London early today.” ‘Nine persons were hurt in the five provincial cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Coventry, Bristol and Southampton.’ On the same page appeared the headline: “21 Persons Injured as Bomb Explodes in Crowded Bus.” It was also reported that Iran was bracing itself for a day of mourning in memory of “demonstrators slain in clashes with security forces.” All such were, in fact, rebelling against being in subjection to the powers that be.
Why does the Bible command, “Be in subjection”? Who are to be in subjection, and to whom? Why does being in subjection go so much against the grain?
Being in subjection goes so much against the grain because of the course of rebellion on which our first parents, Adam and Eve, started out. They bequeathed to their offspring a tendency to rebel, a spirit of selfish lawlessness that has never been more prevalent than now, even as Jesus foretold. (Matt. 24:12) However, without a doubt, part of the blame rests on those who have misused their authority.
Nevertheless, the counsel to “be in subjection” is based on sound principles. It simply has to be that some govern or take the lead and others must be in subjection. How so? Because no man can exist solely by himself. Each one needs what the other can provide in the way of material things and services in exchange for what he himself can provide in one way or another. All of this requires organization. For organization to function there has to be not only a meeting of the minds but also a recognized authority. A nation, state or province, a city or a village, are all political organizations that require some to govern and others to be governed or to be in subjection. The principle holds true in almost every other sphere of human activity, be it secular or religious, public or domestic.
However, let it be noted that even those in authority need to be in subjection at times. For example, one cannot violate traffic laws with impunity. When a person goes to a hospital for surgery he finds himself in subjection to doctors, nurses and others of the hospital staff. A businessman may have many employees in subjection to him, but when he goes to his Christian congregation, he may well be in subjection to the elders presiding over him and his fellow worshipers.
SUBJECTION TO GOVERNMENTS
In present human society, governments are necessary for people to live in a civilized way and to have a measure of security, not to say anything of the many services that a government can furnish, on either a local or a national scale. Hence, it follows that there must be willingness, or at least a yielding, on the part of the governed for such governments to accomplish their purpose. That is why God’s Word commands Christians to “be in subjection . . . for there is no authority except by God.” So Christians are to obey the laws of the land, being conscientious in the paying of taxes, in heeding traffic regulations and in carrying out other obligations. All of this is in the interest of peace and order.—Rom. 13:1-7.
However, the Bible shows elsewhere that such subjection to political governments is not absolute. It is qualified by other Scriptural injunctions, such as, “Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” And again: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” Yes, the command to “be in subjection” to the political governments of this system of things is not absolute, but is relative; it applies so long as it does not go contrary to any direct command of God.—Matt. 22:21; Acts 5:29.
IN THE CHRISTIAN CONGREGATION
The Christian congregation is also an organization, with one head over it, namely, Jesus Christ. All its members are to be in subjection to him. For that matter, he himself is also in subjection. To whom? To his heavenly Father, Jehovah God. Yes, the Christian “congregation is in subjection to the Christ.” (Eph. 5:24) In fact, “the head of every man is the Christ.”—1 Cor. 11:3.
How does Jesus Christ, an invisible, divine being in the heavens, exercise his headship over a visible human congregation here on earth? One way is through the inspired Scriptures. The congregation can only be considered to be Christian if it is obedient to the commands of Jesus himself and those given under inspiration by his apostles and other disciples.—Matt. 18:18; 28:19, 20.
Furthermore, Jesus exercises his headship over the Christian congregation by means of the “helper,” “the spirit of the truth,” God’s holy spirit, or active force. (John 16:7, 13) Then, too, he makes use of angels in carrying out his headship of his congregation. (Matt. 18:10; 24:31; Rev. 14:6) Jesus Christ also exercises his headship over the Christian congregation here on earth by means of a body of faithful anointed Christians, concerning whom Jesus said: “Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to you, He will appoint him over all his belongings.”—Matt. 24:45-47.
For Jesus Christ to get the work accomplished that he commanded his followers to do, namely, to make disciples of people of all the nations, they must work in peace and harmony. They must “all speak in agreement.” So all must be in subjection to the instrument that he is pleased to use. As we read: “God is a God, not of disorder, but of peace.” So in the Christian congregation “all things [should] take place decently and by arrangement.”—1 Cor. 1:10; 14:33, 40.
More than that, in the Christian congregation the various members are counseled to be in subjection to one another. “Be in subjection to one another in fear of Christ.” (Eph. 5:21) In particular are those of younger years to be in subjection to the older men or elders: “In like manner, you younger men, be in subjection to the older men. But all of you gird yourselves with lowliness of mind toward one another, because God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.”—1 Pet. 5:5.
Also, all the individual members of each congregation are to be in subjection to the appointed Christian elders, even as we read: “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account; that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.” Thus there are two reasons for the Christian to be in subjection. One is for the sake of efficiency, for the sake of peace or harmony, for the sake of getting done the greatest amount of work possible and in the best way. The other is that failure to be in subjection would prove burdensome to those taking the lead, which, in turn, would result in harm to those not in subjection.—Heb. 13:17.
IN SECULAR OCCUPATIONS
Another area wherein the principle of being in subjection applies is in the matter of the employer-employee relationship. When a man accepts some form of employment, he is obligated to recognize his accountability to his employer, in other words, to be in subjection to him—so long, of course, as he is not asked to do something that goes against his conscience or scruples. (Acts 5:29) Being in subjection to one’s employer means giving him the respect due his position and giving him an honest day’s work, and not stealing anything from him. As the apostle Paul counseled, an employee is to work at his job “whole-souled as to Jehovah, and not to men.” (Col. 3:23) Such is at the same time the right and the wise thing to do. If a person cannot do so, he should change his place of employment.
IN THE FAMILY CIRCLE
Since the family is a miniature organization, it follows that the principle of headship and subjection applies to its members. God’s Word places the responsibility on the parents to see to it that their children are reared properly and are well cared for in every way. That is why children are commanded: “You children, be obedient to your parents in everything, for this is well-pleasing in the Lord.” (Col. 3:20) That children should be in subjection to their parents is as reasonable and logical as it is Scriptural. They are inexperienced and unable to provide for themselves. Additionally, wise King Solomon once observed: “Foolishness is tied up with the heart of a boy; the rod of discipline is what will remove it far from him.”—Prov. 22:15.
The principle of headship and submission applies between the parents themselves, to husband and wife. Who exercises the headship, the husband or the wife? According to the One who made man and woman in the first place, it is the husband who is to exercise the headship. The apostle Paul reminds all that “man was not created for the sake of the woman, but woman for the sake of the man.” (1 Cor. 11:9) God’s Word also tells us: “As the congregation is in subjection to the Christ, so let wives also be to their husbands in everything.” (Eph. 5:24) No doubt some modern women will take issue with this command, but let us just reason on this matter for a moment.
It is indeed worthy of note that the apostle Paul, who wrote those words, immediately follows his counsel to wives with counsel to husbands about loving their wives just as Jesus loved the congregation to the extent of laying down his life for it. Further on, Paul says that men, husbands, are to love their wives as their own bodies, feeding and cherishing them even as they do their own bodies. Surely, where a husband shows that kind of love to his wife, she will find it quite pleasurable to be in subjection to him.—Eph. 5:25-33.
This arrangement is both wise and just. By the very nature of things the male is normally better fitted to take the lead, the initiative. If he takes the right kind of lead, it is quite likely that his wife will find pleasure in following, in yielding. It is indeed of interest to note what one of New York city’s leading psychiatrists had to say on this very subject. In her book, she gives many case histories illustrating how women might realize fulfillment in the most intimate aspects of their marriage. And that is by doing what? By simply acceding in their minds and hearts to the headship of their husbands.
It will help a wife to consider another aspect of the husband-wife relationship, as counseled by the Bible. Because of her vicissitudes or cyclic emotional nature her husband is required to show patience, kindness, consideration. This is demonstrated when he, time and again, waits for her to get ready or finds himself needing to adjust his wishes or preferences to his wife’s wishes, whims or limitations. For very good reason the apostle Peter counseled: “You husbands must live with your wives with the proper understanding that they are the weaker sex. Treat them with respect, because they also will receive, together with you, God’s gift of life. Do this so that nothing will interfere with your prayers.”—1 Pet. 3:7, Good News Bible.
Nor is it amiss to note that nothing makes most wives happier than to have their husbands want to do things for them. That likely is the way a husband won his wife in the first place—by being nice to her, wanting to please her by doing things for her. And so it is throughout married life. What brings a wife happiness is for her husband to be eager to do things for her, be they such little courtesies as helping her with her coat, remembering wedding anniversaries, or buying her flowers, perfume or some other item. But how can she get him to want to do such things? Not by bossing him, not by competing with him, but by recognizing his headship, by giving him the “deep respect” that the Bible says is due him.—Eph. 5:33.
Truly, from the foregoing we can see why the Bible counsels Christians to “be in subjection” to governments, to those having oversight in the Christian congregation, to employers, to parents, to husbands. To be in subjection costs something, but it is worth it. It may cost sacrificing one’s pride, one’s preferences. It also means cultivating modesty and humility. Often it will take endurance, willingness to wait upon Jehovah God to straighten out matters, as in the case of civil injustices, rather than resorting to violence. Being in subjection is not only the right and wise thing to do but also the loving and, therefore, the most rewarding thing to do.
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SUBJECTION TO GOVERNMENTS MEANS
Rendering relative obedience
Heeding traffic regulations
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SUBJECTION TO THE CHRISTIAN CONGREGATION MEANS
Obeying Christ’s commands
Cooperating with appointed elders
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SUBJECTION TO AN EMPLOYER MEANS
Respectfully giving an honest day’s work
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SUBJECTION IN THE FAMILY CIRCLE MEANS
Husband showing loving consideration
Wife submitting to his headship
Children obeying parents