Submit. Does that word have any negative emotions or thoughts for you? The definition of submit is to “choose to yield to another rather than demanding one’s own way.” Choosing to yield our own way can be difficult even under the best of circumstances.
One of the most difficult examples of submission in the Bible is the story of Hagar (Genesis 16). Hagar was Sarah’s maidservant. After many, many frustrating years of infertility Sarah decided to give Hagar to Abraham to have a child. As Sarah explained her idea to Abraham she reasoned, “Perhaps I can build a family through her.” The problems began when Hagar became pregnant. Hagar, the maidservant, found herself in the position where Sarah, had never been - bearing Abraham’s child. After she became pregnant, Hagar “began to despise her mistress,” and Sarah “mistreated Hagar.” What a pleasant household that must have been!
Sarah’s mistreatment of Hagar was so extreme that Hagar ran away. Think about that for a minute. Hagar, pregnant and alone, ran away. Where did she think she was going? How did she think she and her baby would survive? She must have thought anywhere would be better than living in Abraham and Sarah’s house. Hagar ended up in the desert. Pregnant, alone, hungry, desperate, and probably thinking she was going to die, when the angel of the Lord came to her. He asked her two questions, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” Hagar told the angel that she was running away from Sarai. That is all we are told that Hagar said but I wonder if maybe Hagar gave the angels some more details about how Sarai mistreated her. You won’t believe what that woman did to me. You can’t imagine how I was mistreated. That is why I ran away.
The angel then told Hagar to do something that surprises me and may have shocked Hagar. “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” How could she do that? How could she return to the place where she was mistreated? Only because of a miraculous intervention could Hagar return and submit. After the angel told Hagar that she was going to have a son and, by the way, he would be a “wild donkey of a man,” Hagar said, “You are the God who sees me, I have now seen the One who sees me.” Hagar was willing to submit to Sarah, because she had seen the One who sees her. Her encounter with God and his care for her changed everything for Hagar. Hagar submitted because she felt loved by God.
Christians are told to submit to authorities (Romans 13:5) and to elders (Hebrews 13:17). Paul told the Christians in Ephesus to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21), and wives are told to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22). We are also told by James, the brother of Jesus, “Submit yourselves, then, to God.”
Submitting, yielding our own way, to people and authorities can be difficult especially when we are not treated well or we don’t respect them. Submitting to anyone, including God is not always easy. When we choose to yield our way to God’s way we can be assured that God does not mistreat us. He loves us immensely, he cares for us, and he wants the best for us. One reason, I think, that God told Hagar to return to Abraham and Sarah’s home was because it was the best, safest, place for her. Putting our lives under God’s rule, submitting to him, is the best place for us to live.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:7-10)
Northside Church of Christ
San Antonio, TX