Authority and Submission, by Watchman Nee


Some have considered the Lord’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, where His sweat fell as blood, as a sign of His weakness in the flesh and His fear of the cup (Luke 22:44). But this is not true. The prayer in Gethsemane is the same in principle as what is recorded in 1 Samuel 15:22. The Lord’s prayer in Gethsemane is the highest expression of submission to God’s authority. Our Lord’s submission to God’s authority far exceeds His sacrifice on the cross. He earnestly sought to know God’s will. He did not say, “I will take the cross” or “I must drink the cup.” He only heeded and obeyed. He said, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matt. 26:39b). Here His own preference is not seen, because following this, He said, “Yet not as I will, but as You will” (v. 39c). God’s will is absolute, but the cup (i.e., the cross) is not. If it had not been God’s will for Him to be crucified, the Lord Jesus very well could have disregarded the cross. Before the Lord was clear concerning God’s will, the “cup” and “God’s will” were two different things. But after He was clear, the “cup” became the “cup” that the Father had given to Him, and it and God’s will became one thing. A will is the representative of an authority. Hence, when submission comes from knowing God’s will, that submission is a submission to authority. If there is no prayer and no willingness to know God’s will, how can there be submission to authority?

Again the Lord said, “The cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11). Here the Lord was upholding the authority of God. The Lord was not upholding His own cross. At the same time, when He understood that drinking the cup (i.e., being crucified for our redemption) was the will of God, He immediately said, “Arise, let us be going” (Matt. 26:46). He promptly obeyed. Since the cross means the accomplishment of God’s will, the Lord’s death is the highest expression of submission to authority. Although the cross is the center of the whole universe, it is not higher than the will of God. The Lord upholds the authority of God (the will) more than He upholds His own cross (the sacrifice).

Our service to God is not a matter of voluntary sacrifice or of denial of our self. It is a matter of accomplishing God’s will. It is not a matter of picking up the cross. Rather, it is the submission to God’s will. This is the basic principle. If the principle of rebellion is present, even a sacrifice is an enjoyment and a glory to Satan. Saul could offer up sheep and oxen, but God would not recognize that as a sacrifice because the principle of Satan was present. To overturn God’s authority is to overturn God. Hence, the Bible says that rebellion is like the sin of divination, and insubordination is like idolatry and teraphim (1 Sam. 15:23).

We who are involved in the Lord’s work are the servants of God. As such, the first thing we touch is the matter of authority. Touching authority is as real as the matter of touching salvation. For us this is a deeper lesson. We must be touched and smitten at least once by authority. Only then can we work the work of God. In our relationship with God, nothing is more important than touching authority. Once we touch it, we will see it wherever we turn. Only then can we be restricted by God, and only then can we begin to be used by God.


In Matthew 26 and 27 the Lord was summoned for two kinds of judgment: from religion before the high priest (26:57-66) and from the civil government before Pilate (27:11-14). When interrogated by Pilate, the Lord could choose not to answer, because He was not bound by earthly rule. But when the high priest adjured Him by the name of the living God, the Lord had to answer. This is a question of submission to authority. Again in Acts 23 when Paul was judged, after he realized that Ananias was the high priest of God, he readily submitted. We who are workers of the Lord must come face-to-face with this matter of authority. Otherwise, our work will not be in the principle of God’s will, which is the principle of submission to authority. Instead, we will be in the principle of Satan’s rebellion, which is the principle of working without God’s will. This matter indeed requires a great revelation.

In Matthew 7:21-23 the Lord rebuked those who prophesied, cast out demons, and performed many wonderful works in His name. What was wrong with this work in the Lord’s name? It was wrong because man was the source in all these works. Out of themselves men were working in the name of the Lord. This was the activity of the flesh. For this reason the Lord considered it to be lawlessness. Their work could not be considered as work. Following this word, the Lord said that only those who do the Father’s will can enter the kingdom of the heavens. This shows that all works should originate from submission to God’s will. God has to be the source. All works are assigned by God. No work should be sought out by man. Only when a man understands God’s will in His assignment can there be the experience of the reality of the authority of the kingdom of the heavens.


In the universe there are two great things: believing unto salvation and submitting to authority. In other words, to trust and obey. The Bible shows us that the definition of sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). In Romans 2:12 the phrase “without the law” is the same as “lawless.” To be lawless is to disregard the authority of God, and to disregard the authority of God is sin. To transgress is a matter of conduct, but to be lawless is a matter of attitude and heart. The present age is one of lawlessness; the world is full of sins of lawlessness. Even the lawless one is about to be manifested. At the same time, authority will have less and less place in the world. In the end all authority will be overthrown. What remains will be a reign of lawlessness.

Hence, there are two principles in the universe—God’s authority and Satan’s rebellion. We cannot serve God on the one hand, while taking the way of rebellion with a spirit of rebellion on the other hand. Although a rebellious person can preach, Satan will laugh, because the principle of Satan is there in the preaching. Service is ever attendant to authority. Do we want to submit to God’s authority or not? We who serve God must gain this basic understanding at some time. It is like touching electricity. Once one touches it, he will never be careless with it. In the same way, once a man meets God’s authority and is smitten by it, his eyes will be enlightened. He will be able to discern not only himself, but others as well. He will know who is and who is not lawless.

May God be merciful to us that we would be delivered from the way of rebellion. We can lead God’s children in the proper path only when we know God’s authority and have learned the lesson of submission.

(Authority and Submission, Chapter 1, by Watchman Nee)