To submit — Dictionary.com gives this definition: to give over or yield to the power or authority of another.

Sounds scary, doesn’t it? To voluntarily give someone else power or authority over yourself is something that no human being wants to do, nor do we do well. Yet, this is what God calls every single believer to: submission.

A true believer is called to submit to God. We who desire to follow Jesus are to give over to His power and authority. Most of us can accept this. After all, shouldn’t the Creator of the Universe, the One who made us and knows us inside out, the One who gave His life for us, be trusted to know what’s best for us? Working this out daily may be tougher than accepting it, but still, for the sincere, submission to Jesus is not something we actively fight against, knowingly.

But, the Christian woman has another calling to submit – to the male authority in her life. This is a much, much, harder to accept and accomplish. Especially in this world of feminism and “equality, we rebel against this actively, and almost, angrily.

Why should a man be over me? we argue. What makes him any better than me? I can do just as much and more than he can! We justify ourselves: well, if he would lead better, I could submit better. If he would just do his job, I would do mine.

Feminism has deceived even the Christian woman into thinking submission is an outdated, old-fashioned model of marriage, and that it leads to at best, discrimination and loss of identity, and at worst, abuse. None of this is true. Submission is the model God put into place for the best. It allows for the best way for a woman to shine, use her gifts to the fullest and be protected, spiritually, physically, financially, mentally, or socially.

So why do we argue and resist God’s best plan so much? I believe it’s because we have been lied to about true submission. Some of those lies include: that submission means he’s better than me and somehow I have less value than him, that submission means I don’t get a say, I’m not allowed to have opinion, and that submission means I have to do whatever he says, even to the point of abuse.

All of these lies come from a wrong understanding of submission and a wrong understanding of leadership. Submission does not equal slavery. Submission, real submission, means less responsibility, and more freedom. Leadership doesn’t equal dictatorship, but rather, it means less self-interest, more responsibility and service to others. As someone who has been in an abusive marriage, I’ve struggled with these concepts. Sin has corrupted marriage, like everything else, and both my husband and I had wrong ideas of marriage, leadership and submission, which caused our marriage to derail.

In looking at marriage and submission, I am awed by God’s plan and provision for women. He even provides for the failures of the human race, by declaring that He is “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5, NIV). It is incredible to me, that in my time of need, as I was without a husband, and my children without their father, that God Himself fulfilled that role.

The truth of the matter is that submission, real submission, means that because I have worth, because I am valuable, I need to be protected. Peter calls wives “the weaker vessel”, but I don’t think he meant “weaker” as in less able, I think he meant weaker, as porcelin is weaker and more fragile than common stoneware. We wouldn’t dare handle porcelin teacups without due care, but stoneware often ends up chipped and worn because we are less careful with it – it can handle the rougher treatment. In my submission to my husband (or father’s) leadership, I am recognizing, and he does as well if he is leading properly, my true value as something that needs protection, and doesn’t need the rough handling of the world.

Another definition of “to submit” is “to present for the approval, consideration, or decision of another” or “to state with deference; suggest or propose”. Part of submission is giving of suggestions and opinions. So that by default means that submission cannot mean I don’t have a say in my marriage. It means the opposite: that I am required to give my opinion and suggestions to my husband. How can I submit if he has nothing to approve? Submission without giving something to submit isn’t submission, that’s non-participation. You might as well not be married then. A real leader would welcome the input of those under his care, and those under his care must, if they expect him to do his job well, let him know what they need.

But, submission doesn’t mean I get final say. It does mean I allow someone else to have final say over my life. However, there is a difference between submitting in marriage and submitting to God. God is perfect, my husband is not. My husband can and probably will make mistakes, so I do need to (and am required to) use my mind and weigh against scripture what my husband decides. I must not submit to things that are against God. As Peter and John said to the Sanhedrin, in Acts 4:19 “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him?” I am required first to obey God. But in things not directly against scripture, I am to submit to my husband. It is not absolute obedience, but it is deference to his judgement.

In a marriage of God’s design, the wife who submits to her husband is freed from the responsibility of decision-making for the family, and protected from the world’s demands, free to pursue her heart’s desire and develop her gifts and talents – which development will only benefit the family, especially her husband (look at Proverbs 31: he had no lack of gain because of her!). The husband is freed from worry about a lack of respect and won’t have to constantly fight on two fronts: the world and his wife.

The key to submission is trust. If the husband properly takes his role, loving his wife as Christ loved the church, then nothing he does will be without consideration of the best interests of his wife (and family). He will not make a decision without thinking of her. A wife can then safely submit to her husband, because she trusts that all his decisions will be with care of her, and it is easy for her to submit. If the wife properly takes her role, honoring her husband as leader, as the Church honors Christ and helps with His mission, then nothing she does will be without consideration of how she can best help her husband (and family). She will not decide anything without thinking of the effect on him. A husband can then safely lead and protect, and rest in, his wife’s care, because he trusts that she will be behind him 100%, never hurting him, and he won’t be watching his back while he is trying to forge ahead. It is then easy for him to lead on, and develop his gifts and talents to further the family.

When both have the best interests of the other, mutual submission happens. And ultimately, that’s what marriage is all about.

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