I want to present the ideal Biblical perspective of this often taboo concept of “Submission-” that’s my goal. Why? Because people are confused by this topic. I work with people who love the Lord and are seeking pre-marital counseling who, when this issue arises, become terrified and try desperately to skirt around the issue.
I know about extenuating and abusive circumstances, because I work with men and women everyday who are in unhealthy relationships. I know about past (or current) theologies that not only undermine women, specifically, but tend to promote a perspective that men are more important in a marriage and that women need to relinquish their power, leadership skills, and opinion; there are many Christians who become offended at the idea of women preaching, teaching, leading, etc… and I believe this to be ignorant and incorrect theology. I know about broken, hurting husbands and wives who deny the need for counseling and accountability, and assert power over their spouses in an effort to feel valued and in control. I am also fully aware of the misuse of Scripture, and that man and women often justify their actions based on words and scenarios that are taken out of context and twisted to meet an expectation that is abusive or passive.
I am not condoning or supporting any of these “what if” scenarios in the information and writing that follows; my goal is simply to challenge the fear that tries to sneak in and cause division in an area that should not only be normal, but also wonderful!
The issues of “submission” and “spiritual leadership” were challenging for my wife and I as we were entering marriage, but we knew that they were important to talk about and get some clarity on. We had a lot of misperceptions and uncertainty about what this would actually look like in the context of marriage.
What is it?
One of the first moments of clarity that I can remember having, regarding these issues, was meeting with the pastor that was going to officiate our ceremony. Pastor David and his wife were (and are) amazing role models of what it means to live out a healthy, Christ-centered marriage. We talked about many things leading up to our wedding day, but the discussion about submission really impacted me. They said, very simply: “Submission is just a combination of two words, “sub” (meaning under) and “mission” (an important assignment or calling). Ephesians 5:21 states that we should “submit to each other out of reverence to Christ.” So, together- it is your responsibility, above all else, to mutually “come under the same mission” by putting God first in your lives individually.” It was like a lightbulb went on. The next 10 verses of Ephesians 5 go on to talk about sacrificial love, and leadership.
As a husband, I believe that I have been elected to lead my wife in ways that cause her to feel safe, cherished, honored, loved, and healthy. If I do not put Jesus first in my life, fail to keep myself holistically healthy, neglect to trust, respect, and affirm her, give up on fighting to live from my true identity in Christ, and choose selfishness- I will fail to lead her and meet her needs, cause her lose trust, and will ultimately end up withholding love from her.
If she fails to put Jesus first in her life, chooses not to trust, respect, or affirm me, neglects her holistic health, gives up on fighting to live from her true identity in Christ, and chooses selfishness- she will fail to meet my needs, and will ultimately end up withholding love from me. Both of these scenarios cause division and separation that is destructive in a marriage. Continue asking these two important questions everyday for the rest of your married life: What is my responsibility in my role as a husband/wife? How am I contributing to the health or unhealth of our marriage?
The Greek word for “submission” is “hypotassō” which is used as a military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”. Since marriage is not the military, we look to the latter definition of “a voluntary attitude.” This means that there are choices that need to be made in our relationships. As I mentioned at the beginning, there is an ideal blueprint presented in Scripture. If we do not care to live our lives or conduct our relationships based on Scripture, then this entire blog is meaningless. But if we do, we can see a guideline, or principle that, when carried out with mutual intentionality and love- can be the recipe for the best marriage the world has ever seen.
What Does it Look Like?
One (female) Christian blogger I ran across recently had this to say on the subject (which I love):
“1. A husband cannot force his wife to submit to him or respect him.
2. God does not command husbands to enforce their wives’ submission and respect.
3. A wife cannot force her husband to love her as Christ loves the church or in the specific ways she desires him to love her.
4. God does not command wives to enforce their husbands’ selfless love.
5. A wife cannot force her husband to lead in marriage. She can step down out of the way and wait for him to lead and give him encouragement.
6. Each husband and each wife decide willingly and voluntarily whether they will obey God and meet his/her spouse’s needs or not – independently of what their spouse does or does not do.
I can only control my own obedience to God’s Word, not my spouse’s. Christ-like love, submission, Godly leadership, respect – the ingredients of a healthy, godly marriage spring from each person’s heart voluntarily out of our reverence and obedience to Christ.”
Like I have said many times before: Love is a choice. God has never forced us to love Him- He has always given us a choice. The same is true for our marriages. Men- choose selfless love. Women- choose selfless love. Take ownership over your marriage and the direction that you want it to go. I believe that there needs to be a “captain of the ship” and that without a sacrificial, loving captain, the ship will be steered in the wrong direction, and it’s crew will be compromised and put in danger. As I mentioned in the first sentence, I believe that God designed marriage in such a way that the husband (ideally) would take on the burden and sacrificial responsibility of “captain” and that the wife would choose (ideally) to serve, advise, honor, and trust the captain.
If I were ever to ask my wife to blatantly defy God’s word and choose sin- my expectation is that she must choose to obey God over me. If we have a discussion, or difference of interpretation about something- my wife shares her perspective and feelings about the issue, and we find a compromise, “readjust the sails,” and change direction. Just because we disagree about something does not mean that she is wrong and I am right, or that I am wrong and that she is right.. it simply means that we are viewing the situation from different angles, experiences, personality traits, and levels of discernment. I believe that both spouse’s opinions and expression of their perspective are valuable and important.
Submission to my leadership doesn’t mean that my wife agrees with everything I say and neglects her ideas and beliefs about an issue… she is my most important confidant and advisor- and I cherish her thoughts, feelings, and advice as we cooperate with one another and demonstrate mutual respect and love. The same blogger I mentioned before makes this statement:
“ A wife’s respect, admiration and willing cooperation with her husband’s leadership POWERFULLY motivates her husband to love her with the love of Christ, to desire to hear God’s voice more clearly and to begin to lay down his life for her with a servant’s heart.”
All of what I have written is from my perspective, as a husband, and I can tell you that the statement above is bursting with truth- it inspires and motivates me!
There are hours of discussion that could be had regarding this subject, but here is what it boils down to: God created marriage and desires for people to feel loved and valued through that commitment. Both men and women are responsible for submitting to God, and making Him and their relationship with Him their first priority. When wives choose to submit to their husbands, they are choosing to be obedient to the Christ in their husband. When a husband chooses to love and sacrifice for his wife, he is making a choice to sacrifice himself on her behalf… to willingly serve his wife (and family) and die to selfishness. I have seen men and women attempt to “control” and “wear the pants” in their marriage apart from mutual respect, empowerment and Scriptural guidance- this never works, and it will continue to be the downfall of marriages across the world if we do not choose to do it God’s way. The benefits of understanding spiritual authority and submission in the context of marriage are endless!
*I love to have discussion about this topic and invite you to ask any questions or to make comments that are thoughtful, and communicated in a respectful way if we vary in our perceptions of this issue. If your comments come across as attacking or rude- I may choose not to respond to avoid unnecessary conflict.