by Doy Moyer
Submission has taken a bad rap in today’s world. It is seen as terrible and abusive, and, sadly, that portrayal has often been justified by how people treat one another. The lack of kindness in today’s world is disturbing. People have misused submission through selfish applications that do not glorify God or love fellow human beings. Some pull the “submit” card in order to manipulate and take power over others. But this is not the biblical way. The world has one concept of it, but Scripture shows us something else entirely. Consider these principles:
Submission is first mutual. There is no “you have to submit to me but I don’t have to submit to you” attitude allowed. Christians are told to submit to one another in the fear of Christ (Ephesians 5:21). God’s people do not Lord it over one another whether it be in the church or in marriage (Matthew 20:25-28; I Peter 5:3). Seeking power over others is the worldly, demonic wisdom, not the wisdom from above (see James 3:13-18).
Humble and Selfless
Submission requires humility and selflessness. While the word is not used in this passage, I believe the best definition of submission is found in Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests but rather to the interests of others.” This is also the definitive passage for showing us the mind of Christ in His self-emptying, loving act of going to the cross (Philippians 2:5-8). Christ submitted Himself to us by giving Himself up for us even when we were his enemies and in no position to demand anything (cf. Romans 5:6-11). We may think Jesus was forced to do this but think again. See John 10:17-18.
Submission is voluntary. We choose to submit to one another just as we choose to love one another. Forced submission is about one-sided power. Voluntary submission is about love and trust. Christians are not to coerce each other (see "Mutual" above) but are to respect the free will God has given us and trust each other to do what is right. This also brings us to a very important point concerning marriage:
Husbands are not to demand that their wives submit. Re-read that if you must. No godly husband would seek to “make” his wife do anything as if she is a child who can’t act in good faith or just someone who is there to do whatever he wants when he wants it. Biblical submission does not in any way allow selfishness or tyrannical dictatorship. The godly man is not a “put her under his thumb” kind of man, threatening and manipulating. That is abusive and sinful. Every passage dealing with the wife’s submission to her husband reinforces the voluntary nature of it (Ephesians 5:22-33). She submits because she is glorifying Christ and following His example first.
This is in a context wherein the husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. Now go back and reread "Humble and Selfless" above to think again about the mind of Christ, who did nothing from selfish ambition but treated others as more important than Himself. If the husband empties himself as Christ did, then he is giving himself up for her and treating her as more important than himself. Again, husbands, she is to be treated as more important than yourself! If you would not dream of hurting yourself or desiring abuse, then God forbid you would think about treating your wife that way! Instead, you will seek to cherish and love her just as Christ does. When a godly man does love his wife as Christ loved the church, will she refuse to submit to him when she knows he is acting out of deep love and selfless sacrifice, giving up himself, to put her first?
Submission is beautiful when it is done lovingly and in honor to God. This means that we are seeking to honor, respect, and love one another as we seek to love the Lord first. We treat one another as we would be treated (Matthew 7:12). We show deference to one another, listen to one another, trust one another, seek the best for each other, live in harmony with one another, and show that we cherish each other as God’s image-bearers. We are kind to one another, forgiving, tenderhearted, and merciful (Ephesians 4:32). Every passage showing us how we are to behave as we bear the fruit of the Spirit should be magnified in our marriages. We are, after all, fellow heirs of the grace of life (I Peter 3:7).
Relationships built on these principles will not see submission as an albatross to be endured but rather as a blessing through which all of us may lovingly, voluntarily, and zealously care for one another’s best interests.
“For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love” (Galatians 5:13).