This blog post will offend some of you.
That’s okay though, because I was thinking the other day, “It’s been a while since I’ve written about anything controversial on my blog!”
While I was thinking about this, I saw an image on Facebook that generated a lot of angry responses from both men and women. It was a picture of three umbrellas. The largest one on top had “Jesus” written on it. Beneath it was a smaller umbrella that had “husband” written on it. Then the smallest one, beneath the husband-umbrella, had “Wife” written on it. The idea was something along the lines of, “As you place yourself under your husband’s covering [submit to him], you actually place yourself under the covering of Jesus Christ [because your husband is under the covering of Christ]."
The comments section was a scary place.
Some men lauded the image and insisted that this was the ONLY kind of woman they could ever be with. Some women swore to hell that they would NEVER submit to a man. Others fell somewhere in the healthy/unhealthy in-between.
So of course, being the genius that I am, I declared, “Aha! There’s my controversial blog post I’m looking for! I’m going to talk about wives submitting to husbands!”
Actually there was a little more method to my madness. Three, to be exact.
- Firstly, I recently released a mercifully short eBook titled, “The Top 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Said I Do”, and submission in marriage is one of the hot topics I regret not addressing in it.
- Two, in a recent partnership with my senior pastor, Armin Sommer, we taught through a series of messages on marriage titled, “1 + 1 = ONE”. In one of those sermons, we addressed what submission in marriage looks like practically. So, I actually had something to say on the issue.
- Lastly, in discussions with Christian millennials, I’ve found that they were a lot more open to having this discussion when I was able to relate it to the grander narrative of God’s plan for marriage. [This will make sense later when I talk about the relationship within the Trinity of God].
All of these combined, have led to this blog post you are about to read on submission in marriage (and why it ain't a 4-letter word). So, get ready to be offended, …or to gain clarity, …or to find a husband, ….or whatever.
THAT UNCOMFORTABLE PASSAGE
Our starting point is the scriptures, specifically, Ephesians 5:21-33, which is really the main Biblical text that offends. This passage is essentially God’s blueprint for how both genders are to work together in the context of marriage. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”
From this passage, along with the Genesis 1:27 & 3:16 account, we learn much about God’s intention for headship and submission in marriage, and how, though different, our differences beautifully complement one another.
Most of your Bibles probably start a whole new section with a new heading in verse 22, but verse 22 is really to be read as a continuation of verse 21. That’s important to point out because though Paul instructs wives to be submissive to their husband’s leadership in v.22, he also instructs there to be a MUTUALITY OF SUBMISSION in verse 21, hence “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
SUBMISSION AIN'T WHAT YOU THINK
Ladies, the idea of submission here isn’t one of weakness or bondage, but a voluntary yielding of strength. In fact, the word “submit” is translated from a Greek word that means, “to voluntarily submit/subject”, as in, “to voluntarily put yourself under one’s authority.” It doesn’t imply helplessness on your part, but rather, a willful choice to entrust yourself to your husband's leading in marriage.
That instruction may at first sound alarming to our modern ears, because, why in the world would any woman voluntarily “subject” herself to any man? So, allow me to point out something that should be obvious. When the Bible speaks of wives submitting, it’s important to remember that the submission referenced here is NOT to every man strolling around, but to YOUR “OWN HUSBAND.” NOT your boyfriend. NOT your boo. NOT your cuddle buddy (Really? This is a thing now??), and most certainly, not to any cute guy in your Church! No. YOUR HUSBAND! The one you (hopefully) already love and trust with all your heart, the one you want to spend the rest of your life with and dream of someday building a family with. That guy. The one you said, “I do” to.
Having narrowed it down, here’s what it looks like in the context of one man and one woman in holy matrimony. Submission to your own husband in marriage means you trust your husband to lead the family and respect his efforts when he actually steps up to do so. It’s the idea that you have his back at all times as you follow his leadership.
I'll speak frankly here, though my wife trusts and is submitted to my leadership in our marriage, the truth is, there has rarely been a major decision in our family that I've made without her input and approval (hence, mutual submission). There have been a (very) few occasions when I felt strongly that we needed to head in one direction and she felt just as strongly that we needed to go in the opposite direction. In *some* of those instances, she's chosen to trust my judgment and "subject/submit" to my leadership. I suspect it wasn't easy for her, but trusting that I was under the authority of Christ, yielded to HIS leading, she chose to follow mine.
By no means do we have the perfect marriage, the *some* I referenced in the paragraph above is hinting at a few occasions where mama wasn't playin! She wanted what she wanted and we went with her plan! Once again, mutual submission.
JESUS KNEW WE WOULDN'T GET IT....SO HE DID IT
Now that I’m certain I’ve offended many of you, allow me to make an even more compelling case from the example of Jesus as to why submission in marriage is good and right and Biblical.
The relationship of husbands to wives, (and wives to husbands) is a pattern modeled for us in the relationship of God the Father to God the Son, Jesus Christ. You’ll notice in the Ephesians passage Paul’s continual comparison of marriage to Christ’s relationship with God the Father. Philippians 2:5-11 expounds on that when it says, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
So let’s work through this.
- There is one God, but He exists in three persons, God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
- All three persons of the Trinity are God (Deuteronomy 6:4, Galatians 1:1, John 1:1-18, and Matthew 28:19), and there exists within this Holy Trinity an eternal loving fellowship. However, each has a distinct role in the divine relationship.
- Think of it this way, the Father sends the Son and glorifies the Son (John 4:34, John 6:38, John 17:5). The Son is obedient to the Father’s will (Luke 22:42); the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son (John 16:15). Yet, each action by any member of the Trinity is God’s action, regardless of who did it.
- One God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons. I don't fully grasp the depths of it, but stick with me. (I promise, it will make sense in relation to submission in a minute!).
Consider what Christ did within the relationship of the Godhead. According to Philippians, though fully equal with God, Christ emptied himself of His glory and took on the role of a servant. He didn’t wrestle with how glorious He was nor did He become any less divine, but humbled Himself and took on the most submissive role possible - that of a servant who dies in his master’s service.
Did you catch that? Jesus’ willing acceptance of this role [of submission] was wholly voluntary, a gift to his Father. Jesus could submit to the Father's will for one reason: because He knew that the Father loved Him completely. WILLING SUBMISSION GROWS OUT OF A SECURE RELATIONSHIP GROUNDED IN LOVE!
It is this model of voluntary submission that Paul attempts to call to mind when He tells wives in verse 22 to, “..submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” Ladies, your submission to your own husbands is not a coercive duty, but in fact a God-honoring gift to him, just as the Son voluntarily submitted to the Father’s will.
See how that works? Submission happens in the context of a loving trusting covenant relationship. It’s not a forced obligation, IT IS A WILLFUL GIFT WIVES GIVE TO THEIR HUSBANDS! (Quite frankly, ladies, if a guy demands your submission as criteria before he’ll marry you, RUN!).
DUDES, MAN UP!
Now, husbands, lest you think you can sit back and play king, know that your role according to verse 25 is to love your wives as Christ loves His Church and gave Himself up for her. So, not only are you to give yourself wholly to her for her well being, spiritual maturity and general life betterment, but you’re to give yourself to her even to the extent of being willing to lay your life down for her.
I propose that most guys would easily and willingly lay their lives down for their spouse. What I’ve found is much harder is for those same spouses to actually LIVE for their wives. So fellas, let me help you redefine what authority and headship looks like in marriage with an example from Jesus’ life on the night before His death.
In John 13, Christ gathered His disciples for the last supper in the upper room. During the meal, He gets up and does something completely unexpected. He takes off his outer clothing and wraps a towel around his waist. After that, he pours water into a basin and begins washing his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
To feel the weight of this moment, you should know that this was a period where people walked long distances on dusty or muddy roads in sandals. Though it was customary to wash the feet of guests who came to your house, this particular task was reserved for the lowliest of menial servants. In fact, it was a task mostly reserved for non-Jewish slaves. Yet, Jesus, their master and leader (their HEADSHIP) voluntarily lowered Himself to the role of a servant. This was a striking demonstration of love, or better yet, a picture of SERVANT-LEADERSHIP modeled by Jesus.
It was such a revolutionary idea that the HEAD would stoop low to serve His students that Peter indignantly reacts by telling Jesus he would not allow Him to wash his feet. It’s only then that Christ explains that what He just did was to be a model for Christian humility, and servant leadership…. John 13:12-15, “Do you understand what I have done for you? . . . You call me “Teacher” and “Lord” and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
Okay, husbands, this means that when Ephesians 5:23 says, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church,…”, it is not calling you to lord a forceful authority over your wife. Rather it’s calling you to lead your wife and your family by serving them in their areas of greatest need. It’s a calling to channel all your energies to help your wife flourish spiritually and emotionally. It’s calling you to lead your wife in a humble, sacrificial and loving manner that makes her willingly want to submit to your leadership. The fact is, your wife will find it a whole lot easier to respect your role as the head when she sees you imitating Jesus.
See what happened there? Say it with me, M.U.T.U.A.L...S.U.B.M.I.S.S.I.O.N.
This blog post isn't a magic wand. It may even offend more than it helps, (which doesn't make it any less Biblically true). But it does in my mind capture what I'm convinced Christ wanted submission in marriage to look like.
So, may the love of God the Father, the grace of the Son Jesus Christ, and the sweet fellowship of the Holy Spirit, help you submit willingly and lovingly to one another out of reverence for Jesus Christ!