My family members claim that I came out of the womb with my hands on my hips. I am a leader; passionate, ridiculously verbal and, on my not so good days, bossy and opinionated. For personality types like me, submission in marriage is neither a natural nor easy command to understand or accept. It takes a conscious effort which consists of processing, wrestling and surrender- the evidence in my life continues to be a slow evolution. As God works to mature me in Him, I learn more and more with each passing year just what Christ-like yielding looks like for me. That being said, in my almost 15 years of marriage, I have learned five important things biblical submission is not.
#1 Submission is not suppressing my God given personality.
I was created in God’s image with distinct personality traits that, when reigned in and controlled by the Holy Spirit, contribute uniquely to the building of the kingdom of God. But because all of life is marred by sin, things get real ugly relationally when my strong personality goes unchecked. It is vitally important that I remain tethered to Christ, constantly submitting my will and relying on His strength to obey His commands- one of which is submitting to my husband in marriage. But in doing so, God never intended me to become someone I’m not, someone different than who I was created to be. In fact, even passive, quiet, type B personalities can be far from submissive by using manipulation or passive aggressive behavior to undermine their husband’s leadership. True Biblical submission is not about personality, it’s about humility.
#2 Submission is not a position of powerlessness.
Contrary to common worldly beliefs regarding submission, we need only look to our ultimate example in our Lord Jesus. Paul says in Philippians 2:5-8 “Have this 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, by 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.” Jesus, who is our example in all things, came not to be served but to serve. He willingly laid down his own deserved glory and power to submit himself to the will of the Father. That is the very opposite of powerlessness. It required incredible strength and control.
In my own life, submission to God, to authorities and to my husband require a spirit of constant reflection, caution and restraint. Like Jesus, I must draw near to my Father daily so I am able to hear His still small voice of guidance and receive His strength to surrender my own will. Biblical submission is a voluntary relinquishment of power. In God’s economy, that is far from weakness, it is true strength.
#3 Submission is not abdicating responsibility.
While some of us struggle with issues of trust and surrender, others have no problem releasing control. Conversely, it comes as a relief! So much so that there can be a pendulum swing in which we are tempted to completely “check out” and abdicate our responsibilities as an active participant in the marriage. But as an equal partner in a God ordained union, our opinions, beliefs and desires are just as important as our husbands. While he is ultimately responsible as the head, I believe it is our responsibility and privilege to contribute to decision making in the relationship.
Many times in marriage we must acknowledge and speak the hard stuff when we’d prefer to keep the peace by remaining silent. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 to “speak the truth in love so that we will become more like Christ“! Ultimately, love is acting in the best interest of our beloved. In the relationship with the person we are supposed to love the most in this world, it would never be in his best interest if we turned a blind eye to unwise choices, unhealthy behavior, sin, and certainly not abuse. In marriage God uses us as a part of our spouse’s sanctification process because, “as iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another” Proverbs 27:17.
#4 Submission is not an opportunity to master the art of manipulation.
In the bumbling, fragile hands of sinful humans, our best efforts to obey such lofty, holy commandments so often morph into destructive actions. Serving becomes penance. Discernment becomes judgement. Rule keeping becomes legalism. Submission becomes manipulation. This one is hard because it’s so easy to rationalize, excuse and talk ourselves out of acknowledging our intentions for what they really are. It’s especially hard when we are dealing with someone who is clearly unreasonable and downright wrong! (Or so we think.)
What we proudly claim to be submission can easily be distorted into the art of secretly and unfairly influencing another person to get what we want. Instead of sharing openly and honestly and then trusting God with the results, we might use tears, pouting, half-truths, persuasive arguments or even subtle threats of repercussions to manipulate our husbands so that we get our way. It is deceitful and it is anything but submissive. Only a brave, teachable heart open to the Lord’s loving correction will repent from the sin of manipulation and ask God for the strength to surrender control.
#5 Submission is not about my husband.
Ultimately, submission has nothing to do with my husband at all. Instead, it has everything to do with my hidden life in Christ. My marriage is a primary workshop in which I am made more like my Savior. Likewise, God’s command in the same passage that my husband both submit to me (“submit therefore to one another“) AND to love me “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” is a critical means of his sanctification, an integral part of working out his salvation. Fundamentally, submission is a radical opportunity to demonstrate trust in the sovereignty and goodness of God. It confirms to the core of my being that God is FOR ME. When I choose to surrender control, I am affirming my belief that He will work all things for my good and allowing Him to transform me more and more into the image of His Son, walking in the footsteps of my Savior.
The mystery of the gospel is that it flips everything on it’s head. 1 Corinthians 1:18 tells us “it is foolishness to those who are perishing.” The paradoxes of “the least shall be the greatest” and “the first shall be last” are tremendously difficult realities for us believers to wrap our minds around, much less the lost who are blinded to the kingdom of God. The world will never, ever understand it. While there are incredibly poignant expositions on the meaning of biblical submission in marriage which are well worth examining, at the end of the day, it is a mysterious means of my sanctification. And I can rejoice in anything that makes me more like my Savior!
Held by Him,