Let’s Talk About What Submission ISN’T

May 28, 2015
I'll be the first to admit that I don't understand exactly what God's view of submission is.  I CAN tell you, though, that the Christian church has warped it into some things God never intended it to be!

To so many of us that is a dirty word.  It’s a word that many of us Christian women wrestle with, trying to determine what it means to be a submissive wife while still being a strong modern woman.  We wonder what God thinks of women if he asks us to be submissive.
I’m not going to claim I’ve got submission all figured out by ANY means.  I’m pretty clueless about what exactly God’s desire for submission is.  Our society has warped submission to mean some crazy things and I believe the heart of God’s command has been lost.  Cassie wrote a great post the other day about the obstacles to submission and I completely agree with her that we, as a society, have lost the beauty of submission.
Although I’m still working through exactly what submission IS there are plenty of things that it’s clear submission ISN’T.  Let’s confront these lies in our hearts and mind and replace them with His Truth!

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.  Ephesians 5:22-24 

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 1 Corinthians 11:3 

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Colossians 3:18 

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 1 Peter 3:1-2

Submission is Not a Woman vs Man Thing

First thing we need to clear up before we can talk about anything else is that submission is not something that relates to men and women.  Women are NOT called to be submissive to men!  This is so important and often misunderstood.  Submission is a husband and wife thing.  The ONLY man I am called to be submissive to is Nate.  The only man you’re called to be submissive to is your husband.  NOT your boyfriend.  NOT your fiance.  NOT your brother.  NOT your next door neighbor.  NOT your garbage man.  Your HUSBAND!  If another man tells you that you are to submit to his authority – even someone you’re in a relationship with – and pulls from any of these verses you should punch him in the face and move on your way.  (Parents and spiritual leaders are a different topic and there are certainly verses that discuss submission to them but the above passages should not be used in reference to fathers or male spiritual leaders either)

Submission is Not Something New

Submission is not something that is exclusive to wives.  We are all called to be submissive to one another.  Right before discussing the submission wives should have toward their husbands, Ephesians 5:18-21 says “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (emphasis mine)  As Christians we are all called to submit to one another.  I believe that, at times, that would even refer to husbands submitting to their wives as sisters in Christ.
Jesus also displayed His own submission to the Father while here on earth.  Philippians 2:5-11 says “Have this in mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,”  If submission is something Jesus displayed then it’s not something that’s bad or something we should resent doing.

Submission is Not a Command to be a Doormat

Submission does not mean that we, as women, are called to be our husbands’ doormats.  I think this is the biggest place that submission gets a bad rap.  Wives are never called to bend over backwards and do whatever their husbands demand of them.  Throughout Scripture it is clear that God is a loving God, a God who loves women and holds a special place in His heart for us.  We never have to submit to our husbands in a way that goes against our relationship with the Lord.  God > Hubands always and forever.  What about submission in other areas, areas that don’t go against God?  This is where submission gets tricky.  Scripture doesn’t give us the boundaries of where we are able to stand up for ourselves and where we need to go along with what our husbands think is best.  I firmly believe that any abuse – physical, sexual, or emotional – does not have to be submitted to.  If this is happening to you, get out and get help!  Something that doesn’t go against scripture and isn’t abuse but we still don’t necessarily agree with it…  That’s where submission feels hard.  That’s between God and married couples to figure out.  I wish I had a better answer, but I don’t.

Submission is Not Something Husbands Should Ever Demand

I love the way Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend explain this point in their book Boundaries so I’m going to share what they have to say.  (If you’ve never read this book I HIGHLY recommend it!)
Submission is always the free choice of one party to another.  Wives choose to submit to their husbands, and husbands choose to submit to their wives.  Christ’s relationship with the church is a picture of how a husband and wife should relate…  Usually husbands who quote Ephesians 5 turn their wives into slaves and condemn them for not submitting, she and her husband do not have a grace-filled Christian marriage; they have a marriage “under the law.”… Given this, the idea of slavelike submission is impossible to hold.  Christ never takes away our will or asks us to do something hurtful.  He never pushes us past our limits.  He never uses us as objects.  Christ “gave himself up” for us.  He takes care of us as he would his own body.  We have never seen a “submission problem” that did not have a controlling husband at its root.  When the wife begins to set clear boundaries, the lack of Christlikeness in a controlling husband becomes evident because the wife is no longer enabling his immature behavior.  She is confronting the truth and setting biblical limits on hurtful behavior.

Demanding submission completely disregards the whole point of submission.  We, as women, are called to be the like the church as it submits to Christ.  Christ never demands submission from the church – He lovingly desires it and allows us to choose how we will respond to His desire. 

Submission is Not the Hard Calling

All too often Ephesians 5:22-24 is quoted with complete disregard for what comes after it.  Sure, wives are called to submit but, I venture to say, husbands have the MUCH harder calling.  Ephesians 5:25-33 says “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”  Husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her!  
WHAT?!?!?!?  That’s intense!  
Christ’s love for the church resulted in His taking all her sins onto Himself and sacrificing Himself on the cross.  That’s a crazy amount of self-sacrificial love that our husbands are called to have for us.  I don’t know about you, but it’s not hard for me to submit to that kind of love.  A love that views me in such high regard and treats me as more important than himself.
Your Turn:
Have you ever been burned by the way people have warped the term submission?
Do you have anything to add to this list?

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