Everyday, we each make decisions about who or what we will submit to, even if that decision is made by default, yielding or deferring. There is no such thing as living a life free of submitting to someone; even the most rebellious of men submit to someone. It’s not a matter of if we will submit as much as who we choose to submit to.
So first of all, let’s lay some groundwork. What does it mean to submit? To submit means to accept or yield oneself to a superior force or to the authority, opinion, (judgment or approval) or will (desire or insistence) of another person.
Whether it is among humans or animals, it seems that there is a vacuum until a pecking order is established. Scripture gives many examples of what legitimate, God-sanctioned authority looks like; husbands submitting to God, wives submitting to husbands, children to parents, church members submitting to Pastors and Elders, citizens to governing authorities, etc. God-sanctioned authority is given the right (by God) to exercise authority and influence (domination) over those they are responsible for. While domination can seem like a strong word, in its pure form, it is simply someone in authority exercising their right to lead.
So what is unsanctioned domination? Unsanctioned domination occurs whenever someone seeks to exercise authority over another without official permission from God to do so. As a result, their commands are not valid or binding in God’s eyes because no right to rule has been granted.
Domination that is unsanctioned by God falls into two categories. The first category of unsanctioned domination would be anytime someone who does not officially hold a legitimate position of authority seeks to exercise power, superiority, mastery or controlling influence over another. How do we know if someone holds a legitimate position of authority over us? As mentioned earlier, legitimate chains of authority are laid out in scripture.
Examples of unsanctioned domination would be
- the outspoken, demanding church-goer posturing authority over his Pastor or the Elders of the church
- a rebellious child calling the shots in the home, demanding that his wishes be granted.
- one sibling posturing authority over another (unless authority has been delegated by the parents for a limited time period)
- a parent posturing authority over a married adult daughter
- a church member posturing authority over a department of the church that they have no legitimate position of authority over, seeking to displace sanctioned authority
- the wife whose actions reveal that she believes she has equal or greater authority to rule in the home than her husband
This last example is a struggle for most women at one time or another. It sure has been for me. I remember one time my husband saying to me, “it’s hard to lead someone who’s out running in front of you.” I believe that most of the time when we as women try to control something that is not ours to control that the root is fear. Fear of what will happen if we don’t control the situation. Often for my husband and myself, it was because we saw things differently Biblically. Out of fear of God’s judgment if we got it wrong, I would grab the reigns and run with them. I was too afraid to even consider the possibility that I was wrong and he was right. 1 Peter 3:5-6 encourages us as women to resist the temptation to give way to fear when we are tempted to usurp our husbands’ authority: “They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.” Even when Abraham’s sin resulted in Sara being put in potentially dangerous situations, the Lord himself not only gave her covering and protection but He set her up as an example for us as women to follow. The scripture “We must obey God rather than men” must be looked at in the light of the whole of scripture, taking into account the command that we as wives are to submit to our husbands as we do to the Lord. (Eph. 5:22-24) This is one of those situations where we as wives are truly dependent on the Holy Spirit to show us how to navigate individual situations.
The second category of unsanctioned domination would be anytime someone who does officially hold a legitimate position of authority oversteps the bounds of that authority. In these types of cases, resistance, not submission is called for. While scripture gives a number of examples of times when resistance, not obedience, is called for, it is wise to make sure that we are on solid ground when we resist authority, because obedience to authority = covering, and covering = protection. So when we step out from under the covering that comes with obedience, we want to make sure we are stepping out under the covering of God Himself, because we will need it.
Another thing to note about resistance to authority is that respect and honor is still called for. We see this in the life of Daniel when, the morning after the King had him thrown into the lion’s den for refusing to stop praying to God, Daniel says, “O King, live forever!” (6:21) If we are to stay under God’s covering in resistance, we need to also resist prideful, self-righteous, condescending attitudes toward authority.
So, let’s take a look at some Biblical examples of what it would look like for legitimate authority to exercise unsanctioned domination that would call for resistance:
First, when innocent lives are at stake. An example of this is found in Esther chapter 4 when Queen Esther illegally approached the King in order to beseech him for the lives of her people. A second example is found in Exodus chapter 1 when the midwives disobey the king in order to save the lives of newborn Israelite babies.
The second way that legitimate authority could potentially exercise unsanctioned domination that would call for resistance would be by attempting to force their subordinates to worship idols. Examples of Biblical characters who resisted this type of domination would be Daniel in the lions’ den (Daniel chapter 6), Mordecai refusing to bow down to Haman (Esther 3), and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3).
Dominating through abusive, harsh treatment is another example of unsanctioned domination. In this situation Jesus sets the example by recognizing the need for a defender. 1 Peter 2:23 tells us that when people heaped abuse on Him, He “entrusted himself to Him to judges justly”. In Acts 18:6a we see Paul demonstrating resisting abuse when it says, “But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest…” In Psalm 32:7-8 we see God’s offering to be a refuge to those who are in need of one when it says, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” If you are in a place where you are being dominated through abuse, press into God, asking Him to guide you. He reveals Himself in the word as our refuge, our protector, our comforter, our help in times of trouble. When you find it hard to believe that God is all this and more, I want to challenge you to trust God’s word more than your perceptions and feelings. Ephesians 6:16 says, “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
Another way that legitimate authority could potentially exercise unsanctioned domination that would call for resistance would be by interfering with those who would spread the gospel. In Acts 5 we see Peter and the apostles resisting the religious rulers when they state, “We must obey God rather than men!”
The fifth way that legitimate authority could exercise unsanctioned domination would be when government becomes a terror to good conduct and rewards what is evil. An article to consider on this topic is found at http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-limits-of-submission-to-man
Other examples of unsanctioned domination that would call for resistance would be when others try to put a yoke on us that is not from God, such as salvation by works (Gal. 2:3-5,5:1, Romans 10:3), pressure to observe religious rites as godliness (Gal. 4:8-10), letting others tell you how to put your faith into practice (2 Cor. 1:24), or pressuring others by adding to the law and imposing expectations on others to keep those man-made laws (Acts 15:24,27-29).
Whenever I research a topic, one thing I like to watch for are patterns. If God took the time to repeat a concept over and over, I think it’s worth taking a look at. One observation I made while doing this study is that in some (not all) cases, the Israelites were handed over to the domination of their enemy because of sin. The cycle that repeated itself over and over again was this:
- The people sinned
- God delivered them into the hand of the enemy so that they had dominion over them
- The Israelites returned to God and cried out to Him for help
- God sent them a deliverer
We see this pattern in Nehemiah 9: “But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they turned their backs on your law… So you delivered them into the hands of their enemies, who oppressed them. But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies.” If we recognize that we are living under the oppression of unsanctioned domination, this pattern is one to consider. Is there any sin in our lives that would open us up to oppression by our enemies?
So, why is it a big deal to differentiate between true spiritual authority and unsanctioned domination? If we are to live free in Christ, we need a clear understanding of domination. When do we submit? When do we resist? Romans 6:16 says, “Do you not know that when you offer yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey.” Christ redeemed us so that we could be free in Him.
If you have recognized that you have been yielding to unsanctioned domination in your life, I want to leave you with some practical steps to freedom. If some points don’t apply in your situation, simply pass over them:
- Consider the possibility of the need for repentance. Questions to ask yourself:
- Is there any way that I yielded to domination that I shouldn’t have? Have I cooperated with others who displaced legitimate authority?
- Is there any sin in my life that would put me in a position where discipline from the Lord would cause Him to “hand me over” to domination?
- Forgive the offender
- Seek refuge in God
- Seek to identify any fears that led to your yielding to the unsanctioned domination, i.e., fear of how they would respond if you didn’t cooperate, etc.
- Seek wisdom and guidance from God. When led, act. When necessary, resist.
- Be kind and clear to the offender.
- Be patient with others as they adjust to the new way you respond
- Maintain an attitude of respect for others, and double honor for those who hold legitimate positions of authority over you in the church. Resist the temptation to give in to condescending, prideful or self-righteous attitudes. Maintain attitudes of confidence in your leaders whenever possible. (Heb. 13:17)