Wives’ submission to husbands is the most recognizable submitting relationship in the scriptures (1 Pet. 3:1,5, Eph. 5:21, Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5), but it is not the only one. We are to be subject to our spiritual leaders (Heb. 13:17; 1 Cor. 16:16; 1 Pet. 5:5) and to governmental authorities (1 Pet. 2:13; Rom. 13:1-5; Tit. 3:1). Servants are to be subject to masters (Titus 2:9; 1 Pet. 2:18) we all to be subject to God (Jas. 4:7) and we are even to “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Eph. 5:21)
In all these relationships, harmony and respect for the leadership (authority) is the primary meaning of submission. Submission is not based on complete agreement—for how can two thinking people ever agree on everything if both are still thinking—and when has God ever wanted, expected or encouraged mindless service?
Furthers, submission does not mean that one is not trying to influence leaders towards good and godly decisions. Nor is submission going along with ungodliness and error, for then one is no longer in submission to God, which is also clearly instructed, and it the primary relationship that each of us should honor.
So if it is not these things—which is often how worldly minded people mischaracterize it in order to argue against it and which petty authoritarians who get a little bit of power wish it be!—what is it?
Submission is honoring, in action and attitude, the leadership roles by which God has chosen to order human relationships; obeying when possible, and using the indirect means of influence such as moral persuasion and considerate appeals instead of rebelliousness, complaint and stubbornness when necessary to bring changes.