Sailing was their hobby. They joined a club and sailed together most weekends. They were part of that great armada of small sailing boats that ply their way around Sydney Harbour. Theirs was the joy of a father and son working together as they raced against others.
But as a father and son crew they were slightly unusual. The young boy was the skipper and the dad was the crewmember. It was a risk. The boy had to take great responsibility. More responsibility than most fathers would give to their sons. But the father had confidence in his boy’s ability. He was sure that his son was up to the challenge. So, rather than teach his son how to sail by being the skipper he became the crew and let his son skipper. Other fathers were rather astonished. Many commented on what seemed a strange way to operate.
Some fathers questioned who was really in charge. To them it looked as if the boy was playing at being skipper. They wrongly assumed that the father was really making the decisions and giving the orders from his position as the crew. But in fact the boy was fully in charge of the boat and his father was his crewmember. The father genuinely handed over all authority to his son.
Others questioned how this affected their relationship as father and son. Did this kind of “role reversal” continue in life? But the father was very clear. On the boat the son was in charge as the skipper. He submitted himself to his son. He took orders from his son and did what he was told. But once ashore he was the father who ruled his household, and his son returned to being in submission to him. Neither the father nor the son had any difficulty in distinguishing between being on board or on shore. There was never any doubt who was in charge in any situation.
This sailing duo illustrates many aspects of the Bible’s teaching on submission.
We submit ourselves to a person in authority. Authority is not derived from power or ability but from God’s appointment (Romans 13:1). Of course people can abuse authority. They can become tyrants using their authority in ways that are unjust and even inhumane. But one person’s sinfulness does not alter the reality that all authority comes from God, and that we should submit ourselves to those whom God appoints.
This father and son illustrate what the Bible means by submitting ourselves to one another. In this case both father and son submitted themselves to the other in the appropriate circumstances. They were not really sailing as father and son but as skipper and crew. There cannot be two captains on a boat. The skipper must be able to call the shots knowing the crew will follow his orders. On board, the father became the crew and so submitted himself to his son. Once off the boat they reverted to the normal honour and obedience that a son should have towards his father. Even the Lord Jesus submitted himself to his earthly parents (Luke 2:52).
But even more interesting, they stimulate thought about the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. Jesus knew that his Father was “Lord of heaven and earth” (Matthew 11:25). Yet in his death and resurrection he could rightly say to his disciples “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18), for God had made him “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36) and gave him the name above every name (Phil 2:9-10). While Christ now reigns over this world he does not reign over his Father. The Father is subjecting everything under his Son—but when all is under Christ’s authority then the Son will hand his kingdom over to his Father. He too will be subject to his Father, for God will “be all in all”. (1 Corinthians 15:23-28).
The boy who skippered his father is now a man. He told me his story for he is so proud to honour his father.