What does submission look like for you?
Since we’re pulling out the touchy subjects in our discussions this week, I thought I’d ask something that I need wise counsel on. What does submission look like in your marriage, in concrete ways?
I had a terrible example in my parents, who clashed a lot through most of my childhood. My in-laws are worse – MIL is the definition of a doormat, and FIL is unquestionably an abuser. His actions have left lasting consequences for his wife and both his sons.
So these are the experiences my husband and I brought to the table. We’ve got an unbelieving husband who desperately wants to lead but also is scared to cross his father’s line. And a Christian wife who learned that submission is wrong. We’re also both Type A people who were initially attracted to each other because of how mentally strong we both are.
But I’m Christian and am called to something else in marriage. I believe that my submission will bless both of us. I’m just still trying to figure out what that looks like, since I’ve had no examples.
Not only do I seek to submit to DW, I also seek to be such a DH that it is easier for her to submit to me willingly and feely – not out of force or compulsion. So, I try not to be bossy or controlling. Rather I listen to her ideas and suggestions and then try to implement them.
When I have strong convictions about something or considerable assurance that a particular way forward is what God is calling us to do, I don’t play the trump card and say that I’m the head of the home or that God told me to do this! Instead, I get her to talk and share what she is thinking and see if I can find areas in which what she brings up correspond to what I think we should do and then express agreement in those areas. Then in the areas of disparity or disagreement, I ask exploratory questions, discuss things, and then offer what I think should be done as another option. When she is open to direction, I explain what, through prayer and discernment, I sense that God is calling us to do.
For me, submission is mutual submission. It is yielding first to Christ and then to each other. I believe my role is more of one of responsibility than it is of authority.
I’ll have to think about this more before I give a fuller answer.
Like someone mentioned, my husband and I are also a team. I run the household, he runs the business. We discuss both, and neither is exempt from suggestions from the other. My hubby ran his business plan for next year, past me the other day. I said whatever he decided was great with me. It didn’t really matter to me. But he felt I didn’t care enough. So, that’s a nice suggestion for me to learn on how to care more about his stuff.
Its easy for me to take over, if I let myself. Its easy for him to let me make the decisions. Its something we work on together. But, its also very nice for us to each have our own jurisdiction in which to operate.
I don’t think its for a husband to tell his wife, that she needs to submit. Rather, I think as he leads to the best of his knowledge, his wife will lead. If a marriage is at that point, where the husband feels he needs to keep reminding his wife to submit, there is something that he needs to look at, in his heart.
I grew up with a controlling father and a door mat mother. DH had a controlling father, who felt he did everything just right, and a super controlling sister. So, those are our dynamics to work with.
I find if I back off, its easier, or maybe more pressing!, for DH to step and take the lead.
@sd595 I have seen Ephesians 5:21 be taken very far out of context, giving the wife equal authority over the husband. I do not agree with this interpretation. However, after careful study and consideration, nor do I agree with the interpretation that presumes it was talking about only men vs men etc.
First, from a purely literary standpoint, Paul was not writing to subsets of people in that portion of his letter. He was writing to an entire church that scholars think may have extended beyond Ephesus. Paul gives very specific instructions in the next section to identifiable subsets of the church (wives, husbands, servants, etc). There is no such specificity of audience in the section that ends with 5:21. That seems an odd writing style if he meant 5:21 to be geared toward subsets of society. Why not identify his target audience in those verses if he weren’t writing to the church as a whole? He clearly had no qualms about doing so elsewhere. He tended to be quite clear in his writing when he needed to be.
Remember that he was writing to new believers who needed things to be clearly identified. We don’t need to read things into his works. He’s pretty blatant. Putting the subset theory into 5:21 runs counter to how the rest of Paul’s works are written.
Second, 5:21 is generally regarded, even by many well educated patriarchal pastors including my own, to be an overarching verse that transitions to the next section. We are all to submit to one another, and next comes a list of how each group of people needs to submit to each other. It does not negate the hierarchy that follows. Submission to each other simply looks different for each group of people. There is no confusion or lack of sense here.
For example, Paul emphasizes that husbands must love their wives, to cleanse their wives as Christ did with the church. That is the image that is conveyed – servant leadership. That concept is very much one of submission.
In the most literal sense, Christ got on his knees before his subordinates and washed their feet. Imagine the humility… the submission… not just to his Father, but to his disciples. He changed cultural norms of a Rabbi, and submitted himself to the needs of his followers. Not to their desires, but to their needs. The next day, he took that to the most extreme level imaginable.
Submission comes in many forms. 5:21 is submission in a broad sense. The verses that follow more clearly define God’s expectations for submission of both women and men in various cases. For the husband, submission looks like servant leadership. The definition of servant leadership literally matches what Christ did for the church in his ministry.
It’s looking at your wife, understanding her, and giving her what she needs to grow. It might involve a great deal of change on the husband’s part, so that he may learn to be the leader not that he *thinks* she needs, but what she actually does need.
And believe me, I do not envy you husbands. As my pastor is wont to say at weddings, husbands have the toughest job. I am a servant leader in my career, and I’ve taught principles of servant leadership at leadership trainings (which is why I am currently on a quest to learn to be submissive in the home). Servant leadership is not easy. It very much is changing what you might have planned to meet the needs of someone else because you are responsible for their growth. It would be easier to just boss someone around. But that isn’t how you encourage growth. If being that servant leader isn’t a powerful form of submission, then I don’t know what is.
Sd595’s narrow interpretation is not mainstream theology about submission men to men and women to women, kids, etc . I as the man, lead in the house, SUBMIT myself to my wife but submitting my needs to my wife in order to love and serve her. She submits to me by letting me lead…BUT that comes at a price to me, if I lead poorly, God has a higher standard for me to lead and uphold. Servant leadership is the example we see in Ephesians and SUBMITTING to one another is what we’re called to do…and we BOTH can and should call out sin in each other as Scripture also instructs us to “spur each other to good works” and “gently restore one another” when sin is present. I’ve seen too many people sadly interpret this as the man is the boss and the woman should just be silent and not call out poor, sinful behavior. This has led to great abuses in the church and family.
I love to hear “but I’m a Christian and am called.” Amen to that. Years ago, I was in a bible study class where someone actually said (not about this issue): “I know that is what the bible says, but I’m just not going to do that”. If you follow Jesus and call Him Lord, then you should make every effort to do what He instructs. I think we can clearly see this in the way He rebukes churches in Revelation and so to me one serious mark of maturity and commitment is a Jesus follower who says not my will, but yours Lord.
I don’t want to get into too many details about my marriage specifically because my wife is a private person and I want to honor that, but at the same time I want the truth of His ways to bless others so I will say that His ways have been an incredible blessing to us and our family. I was not a good leader for many years and honestly my wife could have been so much more blessed had I known how to lead. I’ve been at this biblical marriage thing for probably 10 years now and doing it His way and honoring Him in the way things are done has been incredible. My wife and I have grown so much stronger with each other as a result, there is hardly ever any strife, and if there is, it is often miscommunication and resolved quickly. God has blessed me and He deserves all the praise! I like to think that when a wife is in a boat with her husband and he is directing it, you know they are both going the same direction. That even has its risks because it is on the husband to make sure they are going the right direction, but it is still the way God says to do it.
So…submission to me is a wife who follows and respects her husband. It is a wife who does not think herself above her husband (which isn’t to say she has to think herself below her husband, but she does need to accept that her position is lower than her husband and operate with that truth). She prays for him, she looks for the good in him, she speaks well of him when she has the opportunity, she respectfully gives her opinion so her husband has the best information with which to make decisions, and she does his will. As the bible says she does good to him all the days of his life. She is a crown upon his head, she represents him well, and doing these things she will certainly be a ruby to him.
This goes hand in hand with leadership from the husband. Decision are not easy so I understand your husband’s apprehension in crossing a line. This is a good thing, thought and prayer should be put into decisions. Some lines shouldn’t be crossed and some decisions are hard. Ultimately when I make a decision I am very mindful that this decision affects more than myself and it usually carries a weight. Sometimes my decision will benefit my flesh (simple example, but where do we want to go for dinner?), but sometimes my decision will be to take my wife where she wants to go for dinner (treating her flesh as my flesh). He endures for her, He protects her, He encourages and teaches holiness in her, He lifts her, He enjoys her, He loves her. He is always looking for a way to restore if she goes out of bounds with him, just as our Father in heaven looks to restore. He is not touchy or easily hurt. He has a big picture of the path he wants to see his family on and that picture is aligned with what scripture says is right.
I honestly think that one of the toughest things in marriage is simply the competition between husband and wife over everything, the constant battle and puffed and hurt prides wage war against what God has created for good. His model solves all of that by making a way for blessing and growth and honors Him and what He has done with Jesus and His bride, the church. How great is that?
A Bible teacher once gave us this visual…. “submission is willingly coming up under to support the whole”. And she gave the picture of one going under a table and lifting it up with her shoulders/back.
Every believer is called to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:21) then it says, “Wives, [submit yourselves] to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.”
I would ask one, ” What does your relationship to the Lord look like?” Is there submission there? If we aren’t sure what it looks like, we actually need to study Jesus, He’s our example in His submission to the Father. We each should be as Christ.
In our marriage, and this has been stated by other sisters here, when submission, leading and marriage is done right, what people see from the oustside is a unified couple working together. There’s oneness…. just as Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Strife will be absent and there will be peace and joy. A husband is loving and respecting his wife and she is him.
But let’s face it, every single marriage is made up of two sinners, whether one, both, or none are covered and saved by the blood of Jesus. This is what will cause tension, turmoil, conflict, etc, etc. We have a war constantly waging within us where our flesh sets itself up against the Spirit. (Gal. 5) None of us are yet perfected and are in the process of being sanctified, made holy. Praise God for His grace!
We are a team. My husband would be a fool to not take into account my God given giftings, and he’s not. He asks and desires to hear my thoughts, feelings and opinions on an array of topics and decisions. This is part of true intimacy. In major life decisions, he absolutely believes that the Lord will unify us if it’s His will. Submission does not mean not having a voice, not having input, not having your own mind, will, or emotions. A strong, loving man can and will give his wife the freedom to express those and he will take them into account, not only take them into account but will hold you near (fig. or lit.) through them.
Practically speaking, I have to make a choice to not step in and make decisions when he is waivering. I can’t constantly “oppose” him and his ways…. so when he’s not doing the dishes the way I like, at least he’s willingly doing them to help me out. It’s okay for me to let him do things his way, even if I feel there’s a better way. When I say I don’t care where we eat, and he makes a choice, we go with it. We have parameters that we have established, that he gives me full reign in, where he isn’t “micromanaging”, for example, with homeschooling.
I also went through a real test and had to learn to be okay with things falling apart and destruction in our life, trusting the Lord is in control, even when my husband was not fully walking according to the Word. That’s hard, it can break a person and a marriage. And in that, we have to be properly focused on Christ and His promises for any hope of survival. And even when one is, there are still questions and mysteries of “why?”. He also has had to own the fact and carry the burden that our marriage, and I, ended up where we did because he “led” us here. When a wife chooses to submit, a husband leads, even if he is going nowhere or even backwards. They don’t always take us forward in the right direction. But it comes down to, am *I* being lovingly obedient to the Lord?
I will stop with this, submitting and respecting go hand in hand, Eph 5:33 tells us “The wife must respect her husband.” The Amplified Bible helps us understand “respect” better, “Let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband [that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates, and esteems him; and that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly.]
You’ve all given me so much to pray upon and process. It will take me some time. I thank you for your well designed answers.
One_woman_man, thank you for your comments on mutual submission. I’ve been on boards where men and women choose to overlook that passage, I think in part because it’s difficult to understand for many.
SeekingChange, you are so right that one’s relationship with the Lord helps us define what our submission in marriage looks like. I think that I must start with that evaluation of myself.
Sd595, I know that competition was a large issue for us, and particularly in the first 10 years. My mental breakdown happened in years 10/11, and much has changed since then. However, it is only in the last 3 years or so that I’ve realized I’ve been picking and choosing my Bible verses. Submission and respect weigh heavily on my conscience. I
You’ve all given me a good place from which to start directing my improvement efforts. With God’s grace, this journey I am on will bless our marriage.
One problem is that our culture has affected the way we read scripture and interpret God’s instructions to us. It is easier to see the meaning behind scripture relating to husbands and wives when we look at the analogy God provides us of Jesus and His church. His ways are not natural to us. We have both an example of Jesus giving Himself up for her and an example of Him greatly rebuking her in Revelation when she goes off course to His will. Both of these are love.
I disagree with the interpretation of Eph 5:21 that it is saying that men must submit to women, or that a husband must submit to his wife. Immediately following this verse, scripture goes into very clear detail that a wife should submit to her husband as they do the Lord, and the husband is given a very different set of instructions. This does not make any sense if you interpret Eph 5:21 that way, does it? Nowhere in the bible does it instruct the Father to submit to Jesus, Jesus to submit to the church, husbands to submit to their wives, men to submit to women, parents to submit to children, etc. Eph 5:21 must be understood in the proper context of His order which is defined in 1 Cor 11:
“But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.”
Given this, Eph 5:21 should be interpreted to convey men relating to men, women relating to women, children relating to children, that they should submit to one another in reverence to Jesus. Otherwise, it would seem to be a direct contradiction to the verses immediately following it and the rest of scripture that all aligns towards His order. I know others will disagree and that is ok, but I would suggest that if something doesn’t make sense, it needs to be taken in the context of all scripture to interpret its full and accurate meaning.
I hear where you are coming from DoveGrey, and I agree that there is no way that Eph 5:21 gives a wife equal authority. That would be completely illogical given the rest of scripture and especially the verses immediately following. I also agree that the tone of it is one of a general sense of submission between believers, but you have to look at the culture it was written to and for to understand that it was talking to an outside the family level and outside the family level didn’t involve women in one family interacting with men in another to this degree. To try to use it as a backdoor (not saying you do this, but many do) to say that men are instructed to submit to women (when it doesn’t say that) and throw out 1 Tim 2:12 which specifically says otherwise is clearly a false interpretation and can not work.
Jesus was not submitting to His disciples, but serving them. There is a time for a husband to serve his wife, and I joyfully serve my wife all the time, but I do not submit to her. Not because I don’t think she has great ideas, but because it is the way God has made things. How many times have we seen the so called servant leadership (which perhaps should be called submission leadership) play out to complete disaster here? There is a time for a husband to be lovingly patient with his wife’s sin, and there is a time for him to lead her out of it with correction and discipline. This is the example we have from Jesus in scripture. I know that doesn’t fit with modern ideas, but that only shows that modern ideas are wrong. It doesn’t matter what I say, what you say, what anyone says, it matters what God has said on the subject in His Word. All I am saying is that God has clearly defined a way that honors Him and mirrors Christ and His church and I firmly believe there is blessing in doing things in a way that honors Him. I want the entire body of Christ to be blessed, husbands, wives, children, every member.
A narrow interpretation is taking Eph 5:21 at what is says on its own and applying a modern bias to it, without considering the entire width of scripture. The entire width of scripture shows that it cannot possibly mean what people want it to mean unless it is taken on its own. I have proven this to be true as it is in direct violation of 1 Tim 2:12. Which is the narrow interpretation?
Where there is sin, there will be the potential for abuse. We can live His model or we can modify it to our liking. Do we know more than Him?
I trust the Word over the doctrine of man and it has not steered me wrong.
Follow what you have faith in brothers and sisters.