An Economy of Submission

Recently in the prison bible study I was teaching about the "two wisdoms" text in the book of James. After reading the description of the wisdom from below we turned to read the description of heavenly wisdom:
James 3.17-18
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive...
We didn't get to the end of verse 18. We got stuck right there.


If you ever want to experience a tough teaching or preaching challenge try preaching the word "submissive" to a group of male maximum security inmates.

But this word doesn't just stick inside a prison. Few of us have any interest in being submissive. I don't.

So here's what I said to the guys in the study.

When we think of submission we shouldn't think of it being one-directional and asymmetrical, where one group or person asks another group or person to submit. In those instances you end up creating a power differential, with one group dominating and lording over another group. That's not what James has in mind.

What James has in mind is what I'll call an economy of submission.

An economy of submission is the mutual, reciprocal, flowing exchange of submission. More, it's an economy of gifts freely given and received. This is the notion of mutual submission, servant-heartedness, and koinonia. The vision here isn't one group trying to get another group to submit. That's an exercise of power. Rather, the vision is of participating in loving community with each responsive to the needs of the other.

An economy of submission. An economy of gifts.

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6 thoughts on “An Economy of Submission”

  1. I would push back somewhat.  I agree that this is a call to mutual submission, but worry that the language of economics might lead some to believe that we need only be submissive when the other is mutually submissive.  But who will be first?  I will when he does.  I won't until she does.  I am not talking about being undiscerning, but there is an aspect of risky vulnerability in submission.  Just a small concern.

  2. Richard, don't remember how I found your blog but have kept up with it for sometime.  I also work with KAIROS Prison Ministry here in Lubbock and submitting to anything in prison just doesn't happen. I agree that being submissive isn't about lowering yourself to another but of working together. Being willing to be a servant at times to achieve a common good. I feel the real definition of submitting is our submitting ourselves to God's plan instead of our agenda.

  3. No, I think that's a good point. I'd actually toyed around with going with a "community of submission" rather than an "economy of submission." That might have been a better frame.

  4. I've not done the KAIROS ministry here yet, though my co-teacher, Herb, is actively involved. It's a great ministry.

  5. Palestine and Israel would do well to work with this idea of mutuality rather than the unilateral submission that folks seem to expect from BN and the Knesset.

  6. Like marriage. Wives submit to your husbands. Husbands submit to your wives. If you have a loving, understanding spouse, then submission makes sense. I think this would be challenging to apply to your relationship with God if you have never experienced it in any other relationship, like so many of the guys you are ministering to. Curious, why prison ministry?

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