Character Traits: Submissiveness

Character Traits of the Spiritual Life:


Richard Hollerman

A further virtue in our life is that of submissiveness.  The term “subject” or “submit” comes from the Greek hupotasso, meaning “to rank under.”  It comes from hupo, “under,” and tasso, “to arrange.”[i][i]  The word denotes that “one subjects or subordinates himself or herself to someone or something else.”[ii][ii]

The Greeks and Romans did not consider this attitude to be virtuous or desirable, for they valued leadership, authority, and superiority.  You will recall that the disciples also had trouble with this.  At Capernaum, the disciples “had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest,” and Jesus said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:34-35; cf. Luke 9:46-48).

Even in the upper room before Christ’s crucifixion, the disciples were obsessed with this attitude.  “There arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.”  Jesus responded, “The one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.”  The Lord embodied true service, for He said, “I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:24-27).  Christ calls us to be in the place of submission to rightful authority and not crave the highest position.

Jesus displayed a submissive attitude as a twelve-year-old boy.  Luke says that Jesus “went down with them [His parents] and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them” (2:51).  Since “God is the head of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:3), we can see that Christ would be submissive to the Father. Paul tells us that when Christ came to this earth, he took the role of a servant or slave, and “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).  This is the model for us. If Christ could be submissive, we can be submissive to proper authority.  Jesus was not inferior to His Father, and we are not inferior to human authorities.

We are to be submissive to civil authorities.  “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1-2; cf. Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-14).  We are to be submissive to and obedient to our “masters,” those who are our supervisors in an employment context (cf. Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25; 1 Timothy 6:1-2; Titus 2:9-10; 1 Peter 2:18-20).  We are to be submissive to overseers or shepherds in Christ’s body (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:17).  Young men are to be submissive to their elders (1 Peter 5:5).  Wives are to be submissive to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:4-5; 1 Peter 3:1-6; cf. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35), and women to male teachers (1 Timothy 2:11-12).  Children are to be submissive to and even obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3; Colossians 3:20).

In each of these relationships, we are to “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).  Obviously, this is not a matter of superiority and inferiority, but it is a matter of proper submission or subjection to our authorities.  We live in a nation where personal freedom is valued and people object to a subservient attitude.  Jesus, however, shows that submission is a virtue to be sought.


[i][i] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary.

[ii][ii] Richards, Expository Dictionary.

Comments are closed.