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Friday, September 19, 2008

My Husband’s Submission

In reading the title of this post, you might be surprised to hear that I am a Complementarian. In short, Complementarians believe that men and women are created equal in value, but different in roles within the church and family as outlined in Scripture.[1] I firmly believe in the Biblical principle that a wife is called to submit to the authority of her husband who is her God-given head.

Nonetheless, my husband submits. Yes, of course he submits to God, to our pastors, to his employer, to his fellow brothers who hold him accountable, and to many others… but he also submits to me. This might surprise you--especially if you know my husband, as he is most certainly a leader. By submitting to me, he is not shirking his responsibility as my head. To the contrary, he is leading me biblically. I get this from Ephesians 5.

Ephesians 5:1-21

Walk in Love
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,and arise from the dead,and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

When we think of the word submit, we often think of submitting to authority. This is not what Paul is getting at when he calls us to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. We are not called to obey everyone! If we are not called to obey one another, there must be a way of submitting to one another that does not involve submitting to the authority of one another. I went to to look up the meaning of the word “submit” as used in Ephesians 5:21. The Greek word is “Hypotasso”. I found this description there:

This word was a Greek military term meaning "to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader". In non-military use, it was "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden".

When I read this, I don’t equate submission with weakness as the world often does. To the contrary, I equate submission with strength and a heart that is willing to sacrifice for another. Even from this description, I can see that submitting can manifest in a variety of ways--some of which involve leading and some of which involve obeying--all of which involve willingness, love, humility, and sacrifice.

Here is a scandalous thought: God did this for us!! Christ, my Ultimate Head, humbled Himself in love at great cost for my well-being. He willingly submitted His rights, His position, and His privileges in love to “assume the responsibility” and “carry the burden” of my need for a Savior! I cannot even wrap my head around that. Our great God assumed the responsibility for our sin and carried its burden of death by dying in our place on the cross. He left His throne in heaven and came to live as a man, submitting Himself to the authority of earthly parents and earthly government. He stooped down, on His knees, wash-rag in hand, to scrub the dirt off of the feet of His own followers (even the one he knew would betray Him)! We are talking about Lord of the Universe here! He loved us by sacrificing Himself for our joy. His death brought us back to Himself, where our truest deepest joy is found! That is the Gospel!

We get to reflect this great love! In Ephesians, Paul tells us to “be imitators of God, as beloved children” and how to “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” by “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”. Philippians 2 sheds light on what this looks like:

Philippians 2:1-11

2:1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Continuing on in Ephesians 5, Paul tells how walking in love and submitting to one another looks in marriage. As Paul explains, both the husband and the wife get the tremendous honor of imaging the gospel of Christ’s humble and sacrificial love in distinct ways, manifested in servant leadership of the husband and willing obedience of the wife:

Ephesians 5:22-33

Wives and Husbands
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 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. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 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. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

This passage makes it clear that “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” looks differently for husband and for wife in the context of marriage. As John Piper and Wayne Grudem wisely put it:

… this does not mean that husbands and wives should submit to each other in the same way. The key is to remember that the relationship between Christ and the church is the pattern for the relationship between husband and wife. Are Christ and the church mutually submitted? They aren't if submission means Christ yields to the authority of the church. But they are if submission means that Christ submitted Himself to suffering and death for the good of the church. That, however, is not how the church submits to Christ. The church submits to Christ by affirming His authority and following His lead. So mutual submission does not mean submitting to each other in the same ways. Therefore, mutual submission does not compromise Christ's headship over the church and it should not compromise the headship of a godly husband.[2]

For the wife, the concept of “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” in marriage involves submitting to her husband’s authority and headship over her. This is a picture of willing obedience out of love. We see in many other passages in Scripture that this involves being a “helper” to her husband in countless ways that constitute loving acts of sacrificial service. (I hope to write in greater detail about this in some future posts.)

For the husband, the concept of “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” in marriage does not involve submitting to his wife in the sense of authority. Rather, it involves giving himself up for her, loving her as his own body, nourishing her, and cherishing her willingly and out of love. When I said “my husband submits to me”, this is what I meant! He does this in so many ways. He takes responsibility for me and our well-being in all areas of our life. While he seeks counsel from me and delegates to me, he assumes the burden of responsibility for our lives. While we both will have to give account to the Lord for our lives, my husband will also have to give account in relation to the role of leadership that the Lord has given him over me. (We see an example of this when God called out to Adam in Genesis 3 after Eve ate of the forbidden fruit and then gave some to her husband who was there with her.) In the decisions my husband makes, he considers my needs and interests, even if this means sacrificing his dreams, desires, and comforts. One example of this is in provision. Because I am not working right now, finances are very tight for us. My husband has taken on more work at his place of employment. Soon, he will be leaving for four weeks (yes 4!) to work 12 hour days doing tough manual labor on a fishing boat in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. (Please join me in praying for him!) He is making this sacrifice because he wants to take care of me.

It is an amazing thing to realize that we are called to image God and reflect the gospel in marriage! I am ashamed to say that for a long time during our engagement and in our first years of marriage, I had such a selfish understanding of what it meant to submit to my husband. I knew God wanted me to submit to my husband’s authority, and that God wanted my husband to lead me. Because I had a flawed view of what that meant, I believed I got the “short end of the stick”. This led to bitterness in me. I did not understand that a wife’s obedience and a husband’s leadership are about love for each other and love for God. Most importantly, I did not get that the roles of husband and wife are actually a reflection of the sacred love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and God’s love for us! Biblical submission naturally flows from Biblical love because Biblical love sacrifices willingly. My forced acts of submission are worthless if they don’t come from a heart of love for God and love for my husband. While I cannot conjure up this love, I need only ask God for it! He delights to answer my prayers for more of His Spirit in my life and for more of the resulting fruit in my life--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal 5:22). Submission is made up of the fruit of the Spirit! The more we learn to walk in the Spirit, the more natural submission becomes, whether it involves the sacrificial leadership of a husband or the sacrificial obedience of a wife. As I stumble in this, God is always faithful to correct me, to receive my repentance, to restore me, and to equip me. I look forward to growing in this. I pray that our marriage would increasingly image God and the gospel. May God be glorified in our marriage as we and others experience the joy of seeing how great He is!

[1] Here is a good article with a more detailed description of Complementarianism and its contrasting view, Egalatiranism:


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