How do you think my neighbors would react if I told them that Jen “submits” to me? I suspect they would have a total freakout session. They would accuse me of being a misogynistic, sexist, abusive husband. They would probably assume that I embrace some sort of patriarchal lifestyle, in which I rule the household with a steel hand. They would probably assume that I insist on her doing the “women’s work”, like cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the kids.
Many Christians would have a similar response. They would say that I am oppressing Jen, not letting her live up to her God-given potential. They may assume that I think I am superior to Jen, and that I make all decisions unilaterally. If I happened to mention that I believe the pastorate is reserved only for men, I would be condemned for depriving the church of female leadership.
These days, “submission” is a bad word. Submission is equated with value and worth. If Jen submits to me, she must be less valuable than me. I’m better than her. I the one who rules over the household, and my word is the law! Or something like that.
But that logic doesn’t hold up from a secular perspective or from a biblical perspective.
Submission is all around us, and we don’t think a thing about it. When Tom Brady submits to Bill Belichick, does that mean that Brady is somehow less valuable than Belichick? Of course not! Even the most casual fan can see that Brady is just as, if not more important to the Patriots. The Patriots function effectively precisely because Brady submits to his coach. When a player doesn’t submit to his coach, everything gets out of order and things fall to pieces.
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When Jonny Ives (head designer at Apple) submitted to Steve Jobs, the results were incredible. Was Jonny any less valuable than Steve? Of course not? Steve was the boss and Jonny was the employee, but one could argue that Jonny was just as valuable as Steve. If you need proof, notice how computers are increasingly looking like the MacBook Air and tablets are looking like the iPad. When things were ordered properly at Apple, the results were breathtaking.
When Paul talks about a wife submitting to her husband, he is not talking at all about value or superiority. He’s talking about ordering interpersonal relationships in a good, effective, God-pleasing manner. Look at how he unfolds his argument in Ephesians 5.
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He begins in verse 21 with the statement: “…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” He then goes on to explain exactly how this submission will play out in various relationships.
- Verse 25 – “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (The implication here is that when a husband sacrifices for his wife, he is choosing her desires over his, which is a form of submission.)
- Verse 22 – “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”
- 6:1 – “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
- 6:5 – “Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling…”
We serve a God of order, not disorder. Sin brings disorder and chaos and confusion into the world and into our relationships. The Lord wants all of our relationships to be in order, so that we might enjoy them to the fullest! Biblical, godly submission is a beautiful thing, because it brings God’s good order into relationships.
When a wife submits to the loving, godly, Christ-like leadership of her husband, God is pleased with the peace and order he sees. When a child submits to the loving, gentle commands of his parents, God is pleased because the family is functioning in the way he intended. When a servant (or employee), submits to his superior, God is pleased by the way he sees the employee respecting his superior.
Can submission be abused? Of course. Husbands can be dictators, parents can be taskmasters, and superiors can be total jerks. But that doesn’t mean that submission itself is a bad thing. Submission isn’t about value or worth. It’s about ordering our lives and relationships in the way God intended. When we do that, our relationships are filled with joy, grace, and peace.
Submission isn’t a bad word.