Maybe you’re not thinking ‘how?’ but – ‘why?!’ Why teach submission to children and youth? It’s a difficult enough topic to teach adults. Do we really need to trouble younger minds with it?
In the first of three articles I will address just that question. In Part 2, Deb Earnshaw will consider how to teach submission to children, and then in Part 3 Adrian Foxcroft will unpack how to teach it to youth.
PART 1 – Why teach Submission …?
So, why teach children and youth submission? One answer is: because it is there in the Bible. However, there are other things we hold back from teaching until they can be appropriately understood. What makes submission different? First, let me make a crucial clarification:
An important distinction
There’s an important distinction between ‘teaching children to submit’ and ‘teaching the Biblical concept of submission to children’.
‘Teaching children to submit’ conjures pictures of church leaders or parents enforcing their authority over children. This is the opposite of all the Bible’s teaching on submission! The Bible never calls those in authority to demand submission. It calls those under authority to voluntarily choose to submit.
So instead of ‘teaching children to submit’, we ‘teach the Biblical concept of submission to children’. Our role is to teach the scriptures. It is up to individuals to respond.
So here are 10 reasons to teach the Biblical concept of submission to children and youth.
1. Submission helps unlock why Jesus came
Jesus is often introduced to children as the Son of God who always obeyed his Father: ‘not my will but yours’ he said. Understanding submission is thus vital to understanding who Jesus is and why he came.
2. Submission explains how to respond to the gospel
Faith is surrendering to God empty-handed. Hence submission to God is an ongoing feature of the Christian life (Heb 12:9, Jam 4:7). We cannot teach how to respond to the Gospel without a basic understanding of submission.
3. The Bible directs its teaching to children on this topic
As far as I can tell, the New Testament directly addresses children in two places: Ephesians 6:1-4 and Colossians 3:20.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
Both address the same topic: submit to your parents through obedience. When the New Testament teaches children directly, submission to parents is the main teaching God wants to get across.
4. Submission is first learned in the home
Children learn to submit to their heavenly Father through the concrete relationship with their earthly parents. This is the groundwork for a life of submission to others: To all Christians (Ephesians 5:21), to authorities (1 Peter 2) and so on.
5. Children learn brick-by-brick
Picture a child’s faith like a building: the bricks used on the ground floor – what a 5 year old learns about God – should be strong enough to hold up the rest. New information should add colour and details to the picture of God, rather than changing the picture altogether.
Hence, to teach kids, the truth may need to be broken down, but never ought to be watered down.
With submission, the basics should be taught and modeled such that when the child later encounters passages about submitting within the church or marriage, they nestle in with what they already know about God so they say, ‘Yes… I see how this is an outworking of everything else I’ve learnt’, rather than, ‘where did that come from!?’
6. Submission is a counter-cultural hot spot
Our children and young people are growing up in a post-Christian culture with a worldview increasingly divergent from Biblical Christianity, perhaps particularly regarding this concept of submission. We need to help young people, especially teenagers, understand the Bible’s teaching so they can respond well to this pressure from the world.
7.Submission helps us fight temptation
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness it was a question of submission: the devil implores Jesus to bow down to him. Jesus’ resolution to submit to God above all else is a powerful model for teenagers wrestling with sins such as porn, or lying.
8. Submission is Peter’s mission strategy
In 1 Peter, submission is a key plank in his mission strategy to win over a hostile world (e.g. 2:12-13). This sort of life, says Peter, is a powerful apologetic for the Gospel and one of the central ways to win a hearing for the Gospel.
9. Submission is fundamental to the Christian life
Submission plays out in the trinity (1 Cor 15:28), in our relationship to God (Heb 12:9, Jas 4:7, Eph 5:24), with other Christians (Eph 5:21), to governing authorities (Rom 13:1-5, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13), to ministers (1 Cor 16:16), to older men (1 Peter 5:5), to parents (Luke 2:51, 1 Tim 3:4), and in marriage (Eph 5:22, Col 3:18, Tit 2:5, 1 Peter 3:1-5). When you consider the breadth of relationships in which we are called to submit, you realize it’s a fundamental aspect of the Christian life.
10. Submission can be distorted
Sadly, the Biblical concept of submission can be harmfully distorted: the one in authority can lord it over those under their care or those called to submit can retreat to a servile attitude which never speaks up. Submission can be distorted both inside the church and by those outside the church, as they ridicule us as dangerous or outdated. However rather than avoiding teaching submission to children and youth, the true antidote is teaching it more clearly and praying more fervently that by his spirit God will enable us live out his pattern for relationships.
So, with God’s help, let’s teach and model the Biblical concept of submission such that our children and young people learn to relate to Christ and others according to God’s design. They deserve the opportunity to learn it and we have the privilege to teach them.
 Also Ephesians 5:24.