There it is, the "S" word. You knew it was coming, didn't you?
If you're anything like me, the word "submission" is loaded with strong emotion. It is easily and widely misunderstood and misapplied, and for that reason it rubs many of us the wrong way.
But... there can be another reason for our offense, that little thing we call "pride." That's why I like to review those verses about submission within the Trinity. It turns down the dial on my own pride a few notches, especially the Philippians passage. In fact I'll just put that one here, in case you don't want to click over.
Philippians 2:5-11 5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:The reality is that the God we serve is not too proud to serve, to submit, to be a helper. To obey. So why in the world am I?? Keep that reality in the back of your mind as we move on to Ephesians:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Ephesians 5:21-33 "....submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband."So what is submission? A disposition to yield to the husband's authority and an inclination to follow his leadership.
Some general characteristics first.
a. Submission is freely given. Notice that it is the wife's responsibility to "see" to it in verse 33. It springs from the wife's loving obedience to Christ. It is not imposed by a domineering husband. In fact the husband is nowhere commanded to "make your wife submit."
(As an aside, just review again exactly what husbands are commanded. Not much leeway for chauvinism, is there? Some husbands love to "remind" their wives of these verses, but somehow forget to apply them to themselves first.)
Likewise, we cannot demand or enforce our husbands to obey their command to love us as Christ loved the Church. Anyone ever tried that? How's that working out for ya'? ; )
b. Submission is honoring to God.
Titus 2:3-5 "Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled."What is it, exactly, about a woman who is not submissive that leads to the word of God being reviled? Doesn't that seem a little harsh? What is it about my submission that somehow brings honor to God?
Our God deals in little things, or at least sometimes they seem small to us. Attitudes of the heart, issues of the individual family in the privacy of their own home. These things matter to God.
When I submit, it shows that:
1. Obedience to God is more important than having my own way. If I am willing to embrace this doctrine, it teaches me and proclaims to those watching that I would rather obey God than follow my own impulses and desires. This is a discipline.
2. True freedom is found only in Christ. Not in following every impulse I have, the moment I have it. More on this later.
3. I reverence the Lord as sovereign and powerful. I am the creature, He is Creator. I trust that He desires the best for me and is powerful to enact His plan, as we talked about in Part One. Submission would never make sense without this reality. Therefore we preach the glory of God by practicing submission. Why on earth would I submit to my husband if God cannot be trusted? I can't think of any good reason.
4. God's word directs my life. I orient my life around the Bible and acknowledge it's authority.
If I am too proud to submit, it implies that I reject these truths. That is how the word of God gets reviled.
What is submission not?
a. Submission is not a pattern for the general relationship between men and women. Men are not the heads of women; husbands are the heads of their own wives. Women do not submit to men in general; they submit to their own husband. A woman may affirm and nurture the leadership of worthy men other than her husband, but this does not give them headship over her.
I have one head. I submit to one man.
b. Submission is not based on the husband's superior intellect, morality, Bible knowledge, education, or better relationship with God, or any corresponding inferiority or weakness in the wife.
1 Corinthians 11:3 "...the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God."
The head of Christ is God. Is God the Father in any way superior to Christ? Review the verses from Part Two if you need. For example: John 10:30 "I and the Father are one." This is not a merit-based system. It's a role, an assignment, not a system of reward and punishment. Any one individual husband may or may not have any or all of the above commendations, but that matters not a hill of beans when it comes to submission. We do this because God says to, not because our husbands "deserve" it. If I submit because I'm a mindless idiot or spineless doormat, what glory does that bring to God? Very little.
c. Submission to your husband is not a replacement for your first love.
God created my heart; I can allow Him to satisfy it. No man can. Only an omnipotent God can "meet my needs." It would be unfair to expect my husband to do what only God can do. I must be careful with my expectations; husbands make lousy idols.
While I'm here, a note of clarification on the phrase "as to the Lord" in the Ephesians passage. This does not mean, as I once assumed, "treat your husband like he's God." Absolutely not! This is more along the lines of
1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.By which I mean, we do not submit to our husbands as if they were God. We do it because we are submitting to God when we do anything out of loving obedience to God. We obey God by obeying his command to submit to our husbands. We submit because we love God, trust God, believe God when He says this is the way He made marriage and this is how He wants it to function. We trust the divine plan. We do not submit because our husbands "deserve" it. We submit because God does.
Acts 5:29 "We must obey God rather than men."We do not follow our husbands into sin. If a husband asks his Christian wife to sin with or for him, she rightly refuses. For example, even if the husband forbids it, a Christian woman should: Go to church. Teach her children about God. Not lie for her husband. Refuse to participate with him in immorality. More on this in Part Four.
d. Submission is not as scary as it sounds. We trust a sovereign God as we follow a fallen man. We do not submit because our husbands do not make any mistakes. We submit because God makes none.
e. Submission is not carte blanche for the husband to do whatever he wants. Reread the Ephesians passage above for what is required of the husband. "gave himself up for her...love their wives as their own bodies...nourish and cherish..." Unfortunately it needs to be said, submission is not a license for abuse. Not only does a wife not follow her husband into sin, she does not turn a blind eye to his sin. More on this in Part Four.
f. Submission is not the defining characteristic of the Christian woman. It is one aspect of the marital relationship. Nothing more, nothing less. I'm giving lots of space to it here because it can be so readily misunderstood. Women are not always taught how to do this properly or given a theological perspective from which to approach difficult passages, so I want to provide that. But there is more to life, and there is more to marriage.
So, what does submission look like?
a. A disposition, an inclination, not a fixed set of rules and behaviors. It looks different for every woman, in every situation.
b. Expectancy. Expect God to lead your family through your husband, and look for it. Watch for God's wisdom and leadership to come through him. When Jesus was a small child and the family needed to escape to Egypt, how did God guide them?
Matthew 2:13-14 "...behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." 14And he rose and took the child and his mother by night..."Obviously Mary is perfectly capable of hearing from God, and He is gracious in His dealings with her. She is the first person on Earth to know of the coming Messiah. In Luke 1 the angel Gabriel announces to her "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But down the road a few ways, when God has news for her family, Joseph is the first to hear about it.
It is no different for our families. Part of what submission looks like is our general expectation that our husbands will be hearing from God about things that concern the whole family. Not because we can't receive guidance from God for ourselves; hopefully we do frequently. And not because our husbands are any better at listening than we are. But God has said it will often happen this way, and we believe God.
c. Diplomacy. We honor our husbands with our speech.
Proverbs 14:1 "The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down."The things men do to destroy marriages are, generally speaking, more public and obvious than the things women do. This is a broad generalization, of course. But many marriages have fallen ostensibly because of the husband's unfaithfulness, when actually the wife has been tearing her house down with her tongue for years.
We should speak honorably to our husbands. You do like the guy, right? So act like it, and speak kindly. Golden rule and all that. Sometimes I say things to my husband, cruel things, that I would never say to a friend, or even a stranger. This should not be. And we should speak honorably about him to friends, in front of the children, and on the phone with mom. Don't share his sins and weaknesses. Would you want him to do that? Women like to gab when we get together. This is not news. But how often do you hear a girl say things about her husband which would devastate her if she heard him say the same about her?
But what about my freedom?
Haven't I been liberated?
John 8:32-36 ...you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." 33 They answered him, "We are offspring of abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'You will become free'?"
34 Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."
Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.True freedom is found in deliverance from sin through Christ.
It is not found by giving in to every impulse you have, the moment you have it. There are sensations of unbounded independence that certainly feel free. But they are not true freedom, because they deny God's truth, the ultimate reality, and will eventually lead to calamity.
Think of skydiving. Wouldn't it feel more free to fall without the "encumbrance" of a parachute? All those straps, the extra weight...it must feel confining. But obviously you will very rapidly become a slave to gravity. Or a train. Mustn't it get old, running along the same tracks everyday? Wouldn't it feel "liberating" to leave behind the tracks and make a path for oneself, out in the green pasture?
We find our greatest and truest freedom when we loose the bondage to the sinful self. If I can learn to discipline myself to not follow every desire, to not pursue every path that looks nice from my perspective, to not act on every transient emotion, or believe every cultural influence that writes a magazine article, I will ultimately experience much greater freedom. Sometimes we must endure a discipline that at first feels restrictive in order to be released from bondage we hadn't even realized we were in.
Do we trust our Creator? Does He want our ultimate freedom? Or do we know best?
Here is the flip side: True freedom is NOT found in legalism, either. Submission gets a big name in some Christian circles, and there are women who wear it like a badge of honor.
Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.Submission to God's design in faith is liberating. Submission to a man out of legalism is suffocating.
..................................................................Stay tuned for Part Four: Conflict and Sin. How does a Christian woman conduct herself in a fight? How does she respond to the sins of her husband? What protection is available for her?
Much of this material adapted from Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.