Submission in an organization is hierarchical. It’s about who has the power. Biblical submission in relationships—especially marriage—is relational. It’s about loving well. The difference is powerful and it is life-giving!
In Ephesians 5:21, the Apostle Paul urges: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In the first half of the chapter, Paul is dealing with living as children of the light and walking in the way of love. In verse 21, Paul begins to get practical and applies walking in the way of love to relationships.
He begins with marriage, and continues in chapter six to describe what mutual submission looks like in parent-child relationships and even master-slave relationships. As we unpack the meaning of mutual submission and apply it to our families, it is crucial to get what God is telling us through Paul.
Biblical submission is about loving well.
Only an unhealthy, selfish husband throws Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, submit to your own husbands as you do to the Lord,” at his wife and demands submission. Biblical submission in marriage is not about a husband’s power, it’s about each spouse’s love for one another.
When I read the entire section prayerfully I discover that the submission called for by the husband is even greater than the submission called for by the wife! Verse 25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” And how did Jesus give Himself up for the church? He laid down His life on the cross. Jesus emptied Himself for His bride, the church!
Shirley and I defer to each other in our marriage all the time. We rearrange our schedules to fit what’s going on with the other. We take the time to grocery shop together and to accompany each other to a doctor appointment whenever we can. Like many couples, the most difficult decision we make in a week is where to go when we eat out! We each want the other to have the meal they want, so we each want the other to name the place!
When we are doing it right, we submit to one another out of simple love. We each want the other to be happy and fulfilled, and that is more important than our own wants and needs. When we get it right, it is not an out-submitting-you-contest, but a simple heart orientation to love the other well. It is only when we allow our fallen, selfish human nature to creep in that we insist on our own way or exert power to get the other one to do what we want.
Biblical submission is not hierarchical—it’s relational!
I do not see myself as Shirley’s master. I am her partner and her leader—in the areas of life where God has blessed me with talents and strength. And as my partner, Shirley leads me in areas where God has blessed her with talents and strength. I have a mind for math, so I am the financial head (leader) at our house. I don’t make financial decisions alone, we make them together. I simply take the lead. Shirley is much more gifted in hospitality than I am. I’m sure my allowing her to lead in hospitality sometimes feels like she has to drag me along—even if it’s not usually kicking and screaming. One thing’s for sure: hospitality done Shirley’s way is much more hospitable than hospitality done my way!
Family, friendships, relationships and marriage are all messy because we are human and we don’t always get it right. When we allow the love of Jesus Christ to take the lead in our lives, we submit well to one another and serve one another and love one another well. When we allow our own desires to take the lead in our lives we insist on our own way and try to force the other one to submit to our will. That’s when we hurt one another and need to be forgiven.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Biblical submission is about loving well. And when we follow God’s lead and empty ourselves out of love for our beloved, marriage and family and friendships work the way God intended them, and our own need to be loved is fully fulfilled!
Now, I wonder where we’ll go for lunch after Church today?