Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Mutual Submission?

Many in the church believe in and teach the mutual submission of husbands to wives. There is a very important scriptural command to the church that we are to, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” {Ephesians 5:21}. This verse for many becomes the cornerstone of their theology for the marriage relationship.  I love the concept of mutual submission, and Lori and I practice it as a big part of our marriage, but it is not all that God teaches as He has ordained husband leadership for the Christian marriage.

If we take just a brief overview of the issue of marriage submission in the scriptures we find 5-7 clear teachings on the subject which all ask the wife to specifically “submit to, be subject to, obey and respect” her husband. If mutual submission is intended for the marriage, why are wives specifically singled out 5-7 times to be submissive and men are told they are to be head of the wife as Christ is head of the church? Was this a typo?

Taking a closer look at Ephesians 5:21 one discovers that it comes just after admonitions to the church as a whole. It is an important principle that in the spirit of brotherly love we each submit to and defer to our brothers and sisters in the church, especially in areas of disagreement. But Paul goes on in the very next verses to further clarify what submission is to look like in a marriage:

Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. 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  5:21-24}

So the very next verse after the verse on mutual submission is a specific admonition to wives to submit to their husbands. Wives are to submit to their husbands “as the church submits to Christ… in everything.”

If mutual submission was intended for a marriage, then should we not by correlation assume that mutual submission is intended between Christ and His church? Is Christ to in any way submit to His church and can we read “as the church submits to Christ” any way other than Lordship? … in everything?

Go a step further and look up the other passages on the submission of the wife to the husband and you will see more clearly that to apply mutual submission to marriage makes these other passages of scripture impractical and worthless. For instance, look at Colossians 3:18-22 and tell me how one can reconcile children being obedient to parents and slaves to masters if mutual submission is the intent of the Word of God for all believers.   

Are elders to be mutually submissive to their congregations, or are the members to obey and submit to their leaders? Why is it we have little trouble understanding the need for an ultimate leader and submissiveness in the church to our elders, to parents from their children, to citizens to their government, yet we struggle so badly with submission of wives to their husbands? It cannot be a question of “equality,” or “worth,” for few of us as parents believe our children to be less important than we are, but instead love and serve them, just as we expect our church leaders to love and serve us, while being our respected leaders. 

No, it is not that the Word of God is unclear on the subject. I think it is pure fear that drives many away from teaching the important subject of submission exactly as the scriptures teach it. It is fear on the part of the preacher that his followers cannot buy into a hierarchy of leadership in marriage as the Christian wife will feel inferior, or worse yet, her husband may take advantage of her with his new found role of leader. And you know those Christian husbands out there. What wife can trust them to actually love her “as Christ loves the church and gave Himself for her?” 

What a scary thought to actually trust God at His word and allow a husband to make mistakes in leadership, all the while becoming the man that the Spirit is leading him to be. 

No, it is much easier to stay in control and to wait, patiently of course, for God to turn my husband into a great and loving leader who has earned my respect so that I can finally feel free to submit to him. I mean, shouldn’t my children wait for me to be a great parent before obeying, and my elders must become great leaders before I can follow them? Why is it that government gets leadership respect yet a husband somehow makes his wife not his equal if he is to be leader of the home?

Fear has been causing the destruction of marriage after marriage in our modern female led Christian families. We claim mutual submission when many Christian marriages are led by the wife, all under the excuse that my husband will not lead the way I think he should. Yet, as Lori and others rightly point out, so much of marriage leadership is usurped by the wife who uses her body language, tone of voice, and withdrawal of sex to control her man, all the while pining for him to take some real leadership. Many wives long for a godly marriage yet want to stay in control out of fear that God can do all things, but I cannot trust Him to turn my husband into the man of my dreams. For this I must lead and control.

There is a simple principle of the Christian life that says, "If you do things God’s ways, no matter how different they are from the world, and no matter how hard they may be to understand, or accept, you will reap God’s blessings. Man’s blessings can be good, but they are nothing in comparison to the blessings God gives when we live life His way, and according to His commands: “Wives submit to your husbands in everything and husbands love your wife as Christ loves the church.” Both commands are the responsibility of each spouse independent of the other fulfilling their role. This is how Christ wins each one of us and His church. He gives us His all on the cross, and shows us the way to God, “even while we were yet sinners” winning us over, into the family of God.

Will you husband love your wife and serve her until she submits to the Word of God and allows you to lead? Will you wife test God by fully trusting Him to keep His promise that you “can win your man without a word,” just by your godly behavior of respect, obedience and joyfully walking in the Spirit? 

May we all shine the life of Christ that is in us by being obedient to His Word, even if His promises are slow in coming, and without waiting for our spouse to first do their part. May we instead be like Christ who waited on no one to become the Servant of all so that He could create the family of God. May those who teach God's Word teach all of it, and find those special reasons why God's Word clearly teaches not only mutual submission, but the submission of the wife to her husband's imperfect leadership. 

For God the Father and Son are equals in all things, yet, the Son says, "Not My will. but thine be done." Is this not the perfect model for marriage? Within mutual submission is found one amongst equals who is willing to allow the other to lead so that they may together make a glorious family.