Submission is Half the Battle
Some of the most controversial bits of Christian Scripture – especially to the unsaved world – are those which tell wives to submit to their husbands as unto the Lord. Well I have good news for you ladies offended by submission: Your husband is given a much more difficult task which includes putting you first. A form of submission.
Ephesians 5:22 says “Wives, submit to your own husbands as unto the Lord. Likewise Colossians 3:18 says “Wives submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” It is at this point most people stop reading, get indignant, and their minds jump to all the pat arguments about how Christianity is about upholding “the patriarchy” or male dominance or whatever. It’s a shame because in doing so – in arguing this command ad nausea, most people ignore, gloss over or forget the phrasing that always follows:
If your first instinct is to think “no big deal” you are clearly forgetting about that crazy little thing called ‘love,’ and what the Bible always means when it uses that word in connection with God’s feelings for us. That word is huge and it encompasses a form of submission as well as so much more. What does Christ-like love mean? How did He demonstrate it while on Earth?
- Serving your wife – literally abasing yourself to her needs (Luke 22:27)
- Putting her wants, desires and comfort ahead of your own (Romans 12:10)
- Doing whatever it takes to provide for her and any children you have (1 Timothy 5:8)
Still with me? Submit is a tiny little word that is very overblown in context. Scripture makes it clear that the husband is to react to his wife coming home as if the master of the house is returning. What do good servants do? Tidying things up, meeting the master at the door, asking what she needs, how he can help her, washing/massaging her tired feet and, while she was gone, having earned the money to provide for her needs and those of their children.
He serves her before serving himself, and she submits to him.
It is a tidy, perfect little circle of harmony and yes, men have the harder command to uphold.
So What is Submission?
Submission does not mean your husband gets to stomp around like an 800lb gorilla demanding all things all the time. Neither does submission mean he gets to laze about and expect his wife and children to serve him (clearly). All submission is, is essentially veto power in those most contentious and intractable disagreements you may have. It is trusting his overall leadership direction for your family until death do you part. Submission is respecting him enough to not belittle or berate him and his choices in front of others or to your family. That’s it. If you don’t trust a man’s plan for his life, you shouldn’t marry him. If you think he’s constantly making stupid and/or selfish choices you couldn’t live with, you shouldn’t marry him.
As a husband and wife walk down life’s path, when they reach a fork in the road, love means he seeks her opinion and advice as to which path to take. He values her opinions (else he shouldn’t have married her). If he disagrees, love would have him probe deeper for her opinion as to why she thinks the other path is better. Submission means that ultimately the decision, (and consequences), are his to make without her raging at him and trying to make him regret or pay for the choice.
When the world hears “submit” they instantly imagine an overweight man in a dirty wife-beater tee shirt sitting on the couch, beer in one hand barking commands at his wife to go make him a sandwich or there will be hell to pay. That is definitely a problem, but it is not what the Bible means or intends by the command to submit. Husbands are called to love their wives.
So what is Love?
For husbands, love is not what this present world thinks of it as – not by a long shot. It has nothing to do with an emotion or “lovey dovey” feeling. Love is a verb and a promise to action. Look at the scriptural definition:
- Love is patient
- Love is kind
- Love does not envy or boast
- Love is not arrogant
- Love is not rude
- Love is not self-seeking
- Love is not easily angered
- Love keeps no record of wrongdoing
Sounds like a perfect man, right, ladies? How difficult would it be to follow someone who actually did all of that all the time? Someone like Christ, perhaps?
But you didn’t marry Christ. Your husband is not perfect. He doesn’t do all of those things all the time, or even most of the time.
Husbands and Wives: It is Not Your Call
Here’s the kicker for this whole discussion on submission: Nowhere in scripture does it say “wives submit to your husbands if he is doing X,Y, and Z right in your opinion.” You are to submit regardless of how your husband treats you or regardless of how you judge his living up to Christ’s standard. Submission does not mean following his every order like a slave, nor does it obligate you to do things that clearly contradict God’s word. You submit to him as you would perfectly submit to Christ.
On the flip side, husbands are to love their wives, being patient, kind, not envious or arrogant or rude, or selfish, or easily angered or bringing up the past as a weapon, putting her first as a slave does for his master. Nowhere in scripture does it say “Husbands love your wife if she is not being mean, or nasty, or stubborn.” Like the command to women to submit regardless of whether they think he is worthy, husbands must love and serve their wives regardless of whether they think she is worthy.
Wives, submitting to a flawed sinner like your spouse is not easy. I totally get it. Remember and recognize, however, that loving a flawed sinner such as yourself is not easy either. The command for wives to submit is 50% of a perfectly balanced and harmonious equation. Society hyperventilating over it while ignoring the other half of the equation is the same sinful, selfish pride harkening all the way back to the Garden of Eden.
“If you love me, keep my commandments.” Christ commands wives to submit. Christ commands husbands to love as He did. Both husbands and wives are going to fail with some frequency. The commands are not negated by those failures, you do your part anyway. Remember who you serve; to whom you are really submitting, and to whom you are really showing love.