The dreaded s-word. Submission. Every Christian woman cringes at the sound. We picture our husbands lording some kind of supernaturally endowed power over us, or we think that men use this concept as an excuse to get out of doing what they don’t want to do, or, worse yet, we fear that they use it as a reason to get what they want. Why do we feel this way about the idea of submission? It’s partly because of the bad teaching out there on the subject. People like Debi Pearl, author of Created to be His Help Meet, have turned what could be a beautiful picture of Christ into an abusive relationship that any woman would run as far from as possible. She essentially tells women that we are dumb and that we deserve mistreatment from the all-powerful men in our lives. Please hear me when I say that this is not what God has called us to as women.
The definition of submit is simply to yield to the authority of another person. We do this all the time in our daily lives. As children we yield to teachers and parents, as adults we yield to the laws of the land, to police officers and judges and bosses and all sorts of other authorities in our lives. So, I don’t think the real issue that women have with the idea of submitting to our husbands is the actual submission itself. We are already doing this in plenty of other areas. I think the real roadblock in the whole submission thing is accepting that our husbands are authorities in our families.
Yet, the Bible says this is true. Ephesians 5 makes it clear: The husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. Debate it, argue about it, get mad if you feel like it, but it’s there. It’s plain. Yet, the same verses also tell us that we are to submit to one another.
So, maybe what we should do, as women, is stop worrying so much if we are being asked to give more than our husbands are in our marriages, and just start doing what we were instructed to do. There is no question that we are directed to submit to our husbands. The Bible doesn’t say, “Submit to your husband if he is mutually submitting to you and is doing everything with the right attitude.” No, we have no escape clause. We are called to yield to our husbands. And, like most things in Christianity, it isn’t an easy thing to do.
We see submission, and we read weakness. We, who were raised to be strong women, who were taught that we don’t need a man. We, who got educations so we wouldn’t have to rely on a male for anything. We don’t want to be perceived as weak. And we sure don’t want to actually be weak. It would be humiliating.
Yet, we see a man in scripture, a man who was born to a virgin in a little manger on a quiet, non-descript evening. We see this man live a perfect life, infused with both human weakness and the power of God. And one evening, which probably seemed about as non-descript as the night He was born, we see this fully God and fully human Jesus, kneeling in a garden, praying to His Father. We hear Him struggling with the task before Him, a job marked out for Him by His Father, death on a cross. But, the death is not what Jesus is dreading in this moment. He kneels there alone, pores seeping actual drops of blood in his fear and distress, distraught that He is being asked to become sin. To turn Himself into everything evil, everything that He and His Father detest. Everything that makes Him sick to His stomach. This is what He will take on.
To save us.
Unless He chooses not to submit to His Father. Unless He decides, after an entire night of praying and agonizing about it, that He will not choose to yield to God’s authority.
By the time dawn approaches, He has made His decision. He will submit to His Father. And, we see Him endure the physical pain of a torturous trial, a cruel death, and we see only a surface glimpse of what it must have been like to take on all of the sins that were ever or will ever be committed. All of this, He did because He chose to submit to His Father.
I ask you, when we see Jesus take on this task, when we see Him being brought before His accusers, beaten, lied about, murdered, do we see weakness? Or do we see a God-man who could’ve easily changed our eternal fate just by deciding not to do His Father’s will? He could’ve taken himself right off of that cross, just as the people taunted Him that He should. It took enormous amounts of strength to do what Jesus did.
And it takes incredible strength for us to submit to our husbands.
Submission isn’t weakness, my sisters. It is unbelievable strength. It is choosing to yield when we don’t have to.
I am not saying we should allow our husbands to lead us into sin. Nor am I saying that submitting means taking abuse. But, I am saying that there are lots of things, both large and small, in our lives that we could defer to our husbands on, or we could at least ask their opinion and seriously consider what they have to say about it. Anyone can weakly beat down her husband and weakly disparage him at every turn and weakly make him as miserable as possible. But, it takes a strong woman, a woman infused with the power of Christ, to choose to create a different atmosphere in her home. One of love, consideration, listening, and sacrifice.
Maybe the real problem we have is not in submitting to our husbands, but submitting to God.
If we are truly yielding to God, we will become better submitters in all areas of our lives, especially in our marriages . If you are still holding onto the idea that only fanatics consider submission to be an important part of the Christian faith, maybe you should look into becoming a fanatic.
After all, Jesus was one.
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39
Wow. I have never thought of Debi Pearl’s books as insinuating we are dumb or as indicating in any respect that the relationship between man and wife is something abusive. I have thought quite the contrary when I have read her things. I have also never dreaded the word submission or thought of it in any of the negative ways you suggested. I do not wish to be lumped up the “Every Christian woman cringes at the word”… I like the word, I like what it calls for me to do and be… I am not afraid of my husband having authority over me and I do not see submission as “weakness” (which is not the same as being the weaker vessel). Not all women see it in a negative light.
Becky, I’m very glad that you don’t have any negative feelings toward the idea of submission! Maybe I should’ve said “many” or “most” women. Thank you for this comment.
I know I’m not a woman, but rather one that has been called to be the “head” of his wife. I know that women would have an easier time of submitting if we husbands would truly learn to love as Christ loved. Very good thoughts today Melissa. I love reading your blogs.
Thank you so much, Brad!
Reblogged this on Directed Path Ministries Blog and commented:
Folks, this is a great look at Wives being Submissive from a very smart, intelligent, and strong woman of God. I believe you will enjoy her writings today.
I pray that God makes the man that my wife is submissive to – the man that loves her like Jesus loved the Church. I know that submission is hard for the wife, but the calling on the husband is equally daunting. Thanks Melissa, insightful as always.
I agree, Chris! Both wives and husbands are called to hard things in marriage. Thanks so much for reading and for your comment!
I agree..the real issue is our submission to the Lord. If we are submitting to Him, we can by faith submit to our husbands. I heard a pastor address this topic in a very memorable sermon almost 20 years ago; he mentioned that submission is a term meaning to rank oneself under. It’s a choosing (just as you mentioned). I can choose to obey…not because my husband earned it or even because I feel safe and protected and loved by my husband (in truth, I don’t), but because this is the kind of woman I want to be.
Melissa, I’ve been agonizing since this morning about how to respond to this. I must confess to not having been able to come up with a path I was comfortable with without writing a comment that was longer than your post. If I might submit for your consideration a conversation in progress between myself and a woman named Jill found HERE
I am a convinced and incurable complimentarian who is also convinced that women are still routinely undervalued even among those with otherwise first rate theology. You may be surprised at what you find there.
(Just to nitpick as an annoying armchair theologian. 😀 I know you don’t mean that Jesus actually literally became the substance of sin? You mean that He would be seen and treated by the Father as such I’m sure.)