When we think of submission, we tend to think of the strong dominating the weak. We picture wrestling holds and being beaten into submission. We think of kings ruling over subjects, and husbands lording it over wives. This is the sort of submission the world understands, but it is not the submission that Jesus modeled.
Biblical submission stems from love, not power. It is not forced on us from above; it is something we offer to another. It’s choosing to surrender because we want to, not because we have to. We yield to the other because we love and respect them. Indeed, submission is the essence of love. It is saying, “Because I love you, I choose to put you first.”
In a marriage, who submits to whom? Many churchgoers would say that wives submit, but the biblical answer is both. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). Husbands put wives first, wives put husbands first, and that’s the recipe for a happy marriage. At least that’s the theory. In reality, what sometimes happens is that only one of the partners submits, and the result is an imbalanced relationship. Whenever you have a meek wife submitting to a domineering husband or a gentle man yielding to a strong-willed woman, you have a marriage that’s out of whack. It will take considerable effort from the long-suffering partner to keep the marriage going.
This is why Paul speaks to both husbands and wives. Like a director dispensing lines in a play, he wants both actors to understand their roles. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved his church, and wives are to respect and submit to their husbands, as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22, 25, 33). As long as the husband concerns himself with his part, and the wife concerns herself with hers, all will be well. But as soon as the husband starts reminding the wife of her lines—“Woman, submit!”—there will be trouble.
And trouble there is, when only half of Paul’s message is preached. Often wives are told to submit but seldom do husbands get the same message. Which is surprising because in Ephesians, the emphasis is the other way around. Paul spends more time talking to husbands than to wives. Wives get three verses (Eph. 5:22–24); husbands get nine (Eph. 5:25-33).
If Paul believed a husband should rule his wife, he would have used words like master and servant. Instead, he spoke of mutual submission and preferring one another. He spoke of that divine mystery we know as the one-flesh team:
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. (Ephesians 5:31)
Children obey their parents, but when a marriage is formed, everything changes. The daughter no longer submits to her father, for she has become joined to her husband. Her husband is now her head. Similarly, the husband is no longer beholden to his parents, but he submits to his wife. They have become a one-flesh team ready to take on the world.
Just as wives need to be liberated from patriarchal bondage, husbands need to be liberated from the unholy burden that they alone are responsible for all that happens in the home. You and your spouse are a one-flesh team created to lead together.
Source: Paul Ellis (2020), The Silent Queen: Why the Church Needs Women to Find their Voice
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