Dictionary.com gives this definition of "to submit": "to give over or yield to the power or authority of another."
Sounds scary, doesn’t it? To voluntarily give someone else power or authority over yourself is something that no human being wants to do, nor do we do well. Yet, this is what God calls every single believer to: submission.
Submission is a dirty word, today. To submit has images of punishment, of slavery, of powerlessness and without choices. But what is submission really?
Submission at its core has this concept of giving up one's own desires, wishes, self-interest, in favor of the interest and desires of another. That instead of doing what we want, we do what someone else wants, even, and especially, if it costs us something.
A true believer is called to submit to God. We who desire to follow Jesus are to give over to His power and authority. Most of us can accept this. After all, shouldn’t the Creator of the Universe, the One who made us and knows us inside out, the One who gave His life for us, be trusted to know what’s best for us? Working this out daily may be tougher than accepting it, but still, for the sincere, submission to Jesus is not something we actively fight against, knowingly. Instead, it's something we actively fight for. We daily "pick up our cross" to follow him.
Psalms 37:4 says, "Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." (NIV) Part of submission includes a desire to please.. to "take delight.. in the interests of some one else. When we submit to God, there is a promise: that He, God, will give us what we most truly want. The desires of your heart are soul-satisfying, ultimate and deep. The desires of your heart include the childhood dreams, the things we crave and are afraid to even admit we want -- and it's those that God promises to give to us, when we submit to him.
God also calls us to submit to human authority. Here, part of submission includes the notion of honor. Paul in Romans calls the Church to submit to the human authorities, as they were placed there by God, and to give what is due to them, whether honor, deference, or tangible dues. He also declares that "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such things, there is no law." If we are really submitted to God, and have His Spirit guiding us, we will automatically submit to human law, because no one rules against the products of living by the Spirit.
But, what about the call to the Christian woman: to submit to her husband. This is a much, much, harder to accept and accomplish. Especially in this world of feminism and “equality, we rebel against this actively, and almost, angrily.
Why should a man be over me? we argue. What makes him any better than me? I can do just as much and more than he can! We justify ourselves: well, if he would lead better, I could submit better. If he would just do his job, I would do mine.
Feminism has deceived even the Christian woman into thinking submission is an outdated, old-fashioned model of marriage, and that it leads to at best, discrimination and loss of identity, and at worst, abuse. None of this is true. Submission is the model God put into place for the best. It allows for the best way for a woman to shine, use her gifts to the fullest and be protected, spiritually, physically, financially, mentally, or socially.
So why do we argue and resist God’s best plan so much? I believe it’s because we have been lied to about true submission. Some of those lies include: that submission means he’s better than me and somehow I have less value than him, that submission means I don’t get a say, I’m not allowed to have opinion, and that submission means I have to do whatever he says, even to the point of abuse.
All of these lies come from a wrong understanding of submission and a wrong understanding of leadership. Submission does not equal slavery. Submission, real submission, means less responsibility, and more freedom. Leadership doesn’t equal dictatorship, but rather, it means less self-interest, more responsibility and service to others. As someone who has been in an abusive marriage, I’ve struggled with these concepts. Sin has corrupted marriage, like everything else, and both my husband and I had wrong ideas of marriage, leadership and submission, which caused our marriage to derail.
In looking at marriage and submission, I am awed by God’s plan and provision for women. He even provides for the failures of the human race, by declaring that He is “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5, NIV). It is incredible to me, that in my time of need, as I am without a husband, and my children without their father, that God Himself fulfills that role.
The truth of the matter is that submission, real submission, means that because I have worth, because I am valuable, I need to be protected. Peter calls wives “the weaker vessel”, but I don’t think he meant “weaker” as in less able, I think he meant weaker, as porcelain is weaker and more fragile than common stoneware. We wouldn’t dare handle porcelain teacups without due care, but stoneware often ends up chipped and worn because we are less careful with it – it can handle the rougher treatment. In my submission to my husband's leadership, I am recognizing, and he does as well if he is leading properly, my true value as something that needs protection, and doesn’t need the rough handling of the world. His leadership then is self-sacrifice as the go-between, between his family and the world, and my submission is the support and help and rest he needs to face that battle.
Another definition of “to submit” is “to present for the approval, consideration, or decision of another” or “to state with deference; suggest or propose”. Part of submission is giving of suggestions and opinions. So that by default means that submission cannot mean I don’t have a say in my marriage. It means the opposite: that I am required to give my opinion and suggestions to my husband. How can I submit if he has nothing to approve? Submission without giving something to submit isn’t submission, that’s non-participation. You might as well not be married then. A real leader welcomes and needs the input of those under his care, and those under his care must, if they expect him to do his job well, let him know what they need.
Leadership doesn't mean "final say" and submission doesn't mean "compromise always". True leadership and submission in marriage is not a dictatorship and "giving in". There should never be a need for one to give in to the other unwillingly. Instead, in cases of disagreement, partners in marriage work through it till they come to a mutually satisfying conclusion... and are in unity. Submission will always equal unity.
In a marriage of God’s design, the wife who submits to her husband is freed from the sole responsibility of decision-making for the family, and protected from the world’s demands, free to pursue her heart’s desire and develop her gifts and talents – which development will only benefit the family, especially her husband (look at Proverbs 31: he had no lack of gain because of her!). The husband is freed sole responsibility of decision-making for the family, from feeling threatened and dishonored, and won’t have to constantly fight on two fronts: the world and his wife. Submission creates partnership, creates a team, a "one-flesh" arrangement that maximizes the strengths and protects the weaknesses of both people, and leads to ultimate satisfaction.
The key to submission is trust. If the husband properly takes his role, loving his wife as Christ loved the church, then nothing he does will be without consideration of the best interests of his wife (and family). He will not make a decision without thinking of her. A wife can then safely submit to her husband, because she trusts that all his decisions will be with care of her, and it is easy for her to submit. If the wife properly takes her role, honoring her husband as leader, as the Church honors Christ and helps with His mission, then nothing she does will be without consideration of how she can best help her husband (and family). She will not decide anything without thinking of the effect on him. A husband can then safely lead and protect, and rest in, his wife’s care, because he trusts that she will be behind him 100%, never hurting him, and he won’t be watching his back while he is trying to forge ahead. It is then easy for him to lead on, and develop his gifts and talents to further the family. And she can safely help and support, resting in her husband's care, because she trusts that he goes before her 100%, never hurting her, and she won't be afraid to open up while moving ahead.
Submission creates a partnership that is strong, united and confident. When both have the best interests of the other, mutual submission happens. And ultimately, that’s what marriage is all about.