As the oldest of three children, I bossed my siblings around until their wills were crumpled like the dozens of View-Master discs we jammed in and yanked out of that tricky little slot.
My subjugation of my younger siblings was often at its best (or worst) during our home video skits—which I, of course, wrote, produced, directed, and starred in. I typically cast myself as the leading lady and my sister as the male antagonist, while giving my brother mostly bit parts and cameos.
To achieve “Academy Award-quality” film production, I ordered them what to say, where to move, and how to act, providing specific instructions about my expectations for their performance. Improvisation was discouraged, and failure to comply resulted in getting kicked off the set. I reveled in my position as firstborn and ran with the reins of presumed power all the way to the closing credits, which I wrote and displayed with lavish fanfare.
No one wants to be my younger siblings in this scenario. Ask my siblings and they will confirm this. Most people who are in their right minds would not willingly subject themselves to the tyranny of a control-freak older sister who thinks she has the authority to banish you (and your toys) from the rec. room.
Who Naturally Wants to Submit?
I can think of very few examples in which anyone of us naturally wants someone else to tell us what to do all the time. We typically desire to be in charge, to call the shots. This is not unique to bossy-pants older siblings. Everyone naturally thinks and acts this way, most likely because we are human and thus, we were born self-centered to the core.
Consider your gut reaction to the word “submit,” which means, “to yield oneself to the authority or will of another.” Synonyms include "bow," "capitulate," "give in," "surrender." These are not actions we naturally enjoy or seek.
And yet, this one thing we all can’t stand is something God commands we all do.
James 4:7 gives it to us straight using a single, brisk command: “Submit therefore to God.”
So simple. So powerful. So wretchedly uncomfortable.
This mandate ignites a series of nine additional rapid-fire orders issued to God’s people.
“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
James—blunt and using comparisons to illustrate the tensions of Christian living (think: faith vs. works)—rattles off these commands instructing the flock to actively seek the Lord and destroy their pride.
“God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
As awful as that already sounds (who wants to be on the opposite team of God?), the conviction gets even heavier when you consider the original Greek language. “Is opposed” is translated from the term antitasso, which means to “battle against; to oppose one’s self.” To break it down further, the two root forms include anti—a preposition that often translates as “over against”—and tasso—a verb meaning “to put in order, arrange, appoint, set.” In this verse, the Creator of the world clearly states that He sets Himself against those who mistakenly think the world revolves around them. That is legitimate judgment.
But He Gives a Greater Grace
Thankfully, we have the first part of verse 6: “But He gives a greater grace”—otherwise, all of us would have to pack it in and face our well-deserved condemnation for wrongfully claiming lordship of our lives.
After seeing just how much God detests pride, the response for us of submitting seems like a no-brainer. What’s not as obvious until you examine the Greek is the contrast between “opposed” and “submit.”
“Submit” is translated from hypotasso, meaning “arrange under” and “to subject one’s self.” Astute readers will notice the recurrence of tasso, attached to the prefix hypo, meaning “under.” The verb is imperative—which means it is issuing a command—and uses the middle voice—meaning the subject both performs and receives the action expressed by the verb. As a Greek military term, hypotasso signified arranging troop divisions in a military fashion under the command of a leader. We are to perform our act of submission and simultaneously, we become the subject of our Leader.
At first, I was hung up on the hypo—and specifically, how we loathe being put under anyone or anything. Just think of all the negative connotations associated with common “under” clichés: under fire, under arrest, under pressure, under attack, under your skin, under the gun, under one’s thumb, under the influence. When forced to position ourselves under someone else’s control, we balk, cringe, squirm, and flail about like a toddler being thrust into her car seat against her will. And yet, just as parents constrain their children to car seats to keep them safe, our Father places us under His authority in order to position us under His care.
Coming Under His Protection
Recognizing this protective nature of submission shifted my perspective on the rest of James 4:7—“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Bible teacher Beth Moore dissects this verse in her study, James: Mercy Triumphs, explaining the real reason why the enemy bails when we resist: “He doesn’t flee from us, Beloved. He runs from God who is standing right there over us every time we submit. Take off your shoes. That’s holy ground.”
As with other aspects of the Christian walk, what is difficult and painful and costly is also freeing and beneficial and worthwhile. To get our lives in order according to God’s command, we must acknowledge the rightful lowliness of how we rank and accept the goodness of where we belong—under the mighty and gracious hand of God.
Yes, submission is hard, and yes, it seems unnatural and unpleasant and perhaps unnerving to give up our desires and hand them over to Someone else, but this is not a bossy older sibling we’re talking about—it’s the Lord. He is good; He is holy; He loves us unconditionally and grants us mercy unceasingly. He has rescued us from the ultimate endgame of our prideful ways, and continually safeguards our souls in the grip of His great grace.
Jennifer Hesse is a writer, editor, and Pinterest-failing stay-at-home mom. She loves God and His Word, and has two main passions for equipping and encouraging women: through community Bible study and a ministry for those facing infertility and infant loss. She shares lessons from life and faith at her blog.