There could be many things that polarize men and women. But I can’t think of one that grows the rift between us quite like the subject of submission. Worldly women definitely show more resentment talking about it, but the attitude shown by Christians betrays a measure of distaste too. Many things might have led to this. The distinguishable reason I find is the fear of giving up independence. It is common place in our society today to think of submission as some form of slavery.
It’s not women alone who struggle with it. Man’s rebellious nature means children and men too will show contempt for authority just as much as women do. So Paul addressed it to everyone in Ephesians 5:21.
If I am to guide any hearts back to upholding submission in a willful sense then I should probably dissociate it with the perception that it just might make of a woman some cook or housekeeper to some man. Or some sex mate every time the man should feel like it because it’s her duty anyway. Or that she has to be the one whose career takes the hit every time a compromise is needed to save the family.
The Bible is clear that the authority of the man shall never be usurped, attempts to subvert it notwithstanding. But older women will hardly instruct the younger ones to uphold sobriety and love their husbands and children (Titus 2:4), but instead to pursue wealth and influence. Expectedly they won’t teach what they haven’t practised. Unfortunately, developing women has turned into enamoring them. The whole ‘women empowerment’ talk seems really justified. But if in effect it compromises the place of men I think we are overally dis-empowering women.
If any empowerment efforts don’t open up women more to men, causing them to feel a conscious vulnerability to them (men), and instead pulls them farther down the spectrum where they can do just fine without them (men) then we’ll have ultimately regressed worse.
Commonly the Church will throw a ‘God requires it’ whenever asked to give reason for submission. But that doesn’t peel away the distorted image masked on it; a religious construct meant to suppress women and not really the God given beauty meant to be enjoyed. It leaves Christian women feeling distraught, as though it were not for them but rather against. And worse maybe that God designed it so.
They’ll walk away from conferences excited and hopeful to apply the ‘submission tips’ they’ve been shown only to soon give up. Simply because their hearts were never fully convinced submission is good. Actions go as far as worth, and worth goes only as far as a conviction of goodness. No one takes up arms against what they believe to be good. So if a campaign away from submission is what we are seeing, it definitely implies it has failed the ‘good’ test to women.
Where hope can be found
God uses marriage to illustrate His relationship with the church. He expresses the frustration of an adulteress’ husband to our unfaithfulness, calls us the bride of Christ and likens our rapture to a wedding. Being made in His likeness, no man can ever be whole unless they are in Him. In a like manner, no reason offered for submission can perfectly satisfy unless drawn from the model marriage; that between God and the Church.
The Husband God
Here are some qualities about God that keep us peaceful with Him. He is transcendent, powerful and perfectly loves. He owns all things and yet withholds no good thing from us. He doesn’t just know our needs before we even tell Him, but goes as far as allowing those needs so He may fulfill them and take delight in satisfying our desires. He describes Himself by our needs; calling Himself Shalom because we need peace and Jireh because we need provision.
Could any human uncertainty fail to melt away before One who sees the end from the beginning and works everything for our good? Will any heart find it impossibly hard to be like Him when His fullness He gives graciously and unearned? Who would refrain from a will described as good and perfect both to God and us? And finally, who wouldn’t trust a heart that has never once purposed evil and a hand that has never failed?
Seeing God in that light, we’ll definitely respond in love. Submitting to His will for our fulfillment and freedom from sin doesn’t need us breaking a sweat. Earthly marriages can’t function perfectly unless applying the modeled attributes of the heavenly marriage. The height of freedom is to receive an undeserved pardon, and Christ gave us that by taking upon Himself our guilt, sin and shame. We abandon ourselves to Him because we completely trust in His proven love.
Submission is the only way I know of through which any woman in marriage could experience the greatest sense of liberation. Every time she submits, she’s relieved of her every burden and her husband takes it up. He’s charged with owning her every fault. The very freedom salvation avails unto a receiving sinner, submission avails unto the wife of a godly man.
Despite God having expressly made known His grace to everyone, not everybody shall be saved. Men can and have rejected Him. No one can receive His mercies unless he/she be willing. Similarly, wives can and millions upon millions of them have chosen not to submit to their husbands. Yet the humble heart that submits is the willing hand stretched out to receive the riches of marriage and from such none can be withheld.
How about the woman married to the drunk and abusive husband? Or to the man who lazies around and provides nothing? Or worse even to a man blatantly committing adultery? Would she still be required to submit? I hear this excuse time and again, “some men are just not deserving of their wives submitting to them!!!” I honestly think that’s a big lie.
Of course the model of Christ demands that a husband first loves just as Christ first loved us. And Paul in his excellent epistle to the Ephesians doesn’t stop at asking women to submit (Ephesians 5:22-24) but goes on to tell men to love their wives as their own bodies (25-29). You could even argue that it would be more appropriate if he began with that address to men. But would the absence of a husband that is an embodiment of Christ’s attributes be an excuse to not submitting? Certainly no.
I remember once telling my girlfriend that I’ll marry her first for God, then for ourselves. God will always be the ultimate reason for everything required of a Christian. Quite important that we note that. Even without the husband loving as he ought to, the wife should still submit and this in honor of the God of her marriage. By merit the unloving husband doesn’t deserve, but that God may be glorified through the woman’s submission, the undeserving man is qualified as deserving of it.
In the same way, when a wife does not show even the slightest attempt at being virtuous it still wouldn’t excuse a husband from loving and caring for her. Love and submission are both interdependent and independent of each other. Each perfectly serves its purpose when both are lavishly expressed but neither necessarily demands that the other first be availed before availing of itself.
John Piper famously says that we are most satisfied when Christ is most glorified, and I find this relational effect true to marriages as well. Submission may seem more like to the benefit of the man. But it actually is a lot more to the woman’s fulfillment. However much love she receives from her husband, without submitting a woman would never know peace and happiness. Neither would a husband who doesn’t love his wife, however immeasurable the amount of submission his wife may show him. God has designed, not for marriage alone, but for every relationship, that always the one who selflessly gives be the first to experience fulfillment before the one receiving does. (It is more blessed to give than to receive). Ultimately both are edified, and this is a wonderful mystery.