The Submission Series
Here is the 10 post series on my perspectives about submission.
The S Word (and I’m Not Talking Sex)
I have been having a discussion with God.
For weeks He’s been talking to me about submission. Now I’m cool with that, but I really hate the fussin’ that ensues when you bring up the topic with other folks. It has lots of hot buttons and more than a few land mines. I’m a peacemaker at heart and I really don’t enjoy get folks riled up.
That said, I think I’m not going to get away with letting the topic go (God is so persistent), so I’m just going to put on my big girl panties and share a few thoughts about submission over this next week. Let me start by saying that submission has a bad rep and for the most part has been misrepresented. So if you would, please set down any immediate thoughts and reactions and hear me out.
Jesus is our example and the Holy Spirit is growing us up to be like Him. Jesus understood and lived a life of submission. You see it in how He submitted to His parents, you see it as He walked through His ministry years doing a fine dance between the Roman government and the legalistic religious leaders. You see it in His teachings. You see it in His death, where He submitted to the wishes of His Father, even though it meant humiliation, incredible pain and death.
You also see it in the Holy Spirit inspired writings of the New Testament.
All this to say, I see submission as a Kingdom dynamic. We need to understand submission and learn how to walk in it rightly. This is not something we want to excuse our way out of, explain away or dismiss as something we don’t have to do.
More tomorrow …
The Choice is Yours
Submission is a choice.
You recognize an authority. They ask you to do (or not do) something. Now … you have a choice. Do you do as they ask (submit to their authority) or do you do something else?
Submit: to give over or yield to the power or authority of another
When I go shopping, I park my car between the painted parking lines. If I have 10 or less items I use the express checkout. If I have more I checkout through a regular lane. When I get my groceries in the car, I put my cart in the cart thingie (oh, what do you call it? corral?). The point is, I recognize that the people who own the grocery store have rules for interacting with their store. I can respect their authority and submit to what they want or I can park across several lines and hog several parking spots, push 22 items through the express lane and then leave my cart loose in the parking lot where it can damage someone’s car. (Even with this example you can see the benefit and blessing that comes with respect/submission to an authority.)
When someone “demands” that you “submit” to them and “makes” you to do something, that is not submission. That is coercion, force, often abuse. Submission, by definition, is something you choose to do. You give over. You yield.
Submission is a thinking choice. You do not have to blindly follow the wishes of any and every person who tells you to do something.
I have a friend who has a favorite saying, “let’s not be stupid about this.” I think that applies here. Just because someone asks something of you, it does not automatically make them an authority in your life (more about who has authority later). Yes, we want to be gracious and caring to those around us, but it’s a good plan to identify who really has authority, and under what conditions. Practice saying “yes” and “no” in a gracious manner. Apply appropriately.
More tomorrow …
Submission is NOT about checking your brain at the door.
When you choose to submit to an authority, you’re not saying they are necessarily smarter or better. You’re just agreeing with God that it’s His choice that they be in charge, that He will gift them to do what they are called to do and that you’re going to go along with that. This is not license to check out intellectually. Aside from the fact that you still have to think through what you are doing, you are still responsible for your choices and actions (if an authority asks you to do something wrong, you have to be engaged enough to be aware of that (more on this later)).
Submission is NOT about being a robot, a non-person.
You don’t stop being a person when you submit to someone. You just take all the good that you are and work with the direction of that authority. Your perspectives, your thoughts and your experience are great gifts that you use in all that you do, regardless of who is in charge.
Submission does NOT mean that you have no voice.
Submission means that you are willing to follow. It does not mean that you can’t question, ask for something you need or suggest an idea. You just do those things in a respectful, kind way.
(A reminder ~ Jesus is our example. He was intellectually engaged, certainly not a robot or a non-person, and He had a voice (He talked intimately with the Father and when faced with the cross, even asked if it was possible to change plans.). Submission doesn’t make you less of a person, it just makes you a wise and God-honoring person.)
More tomorrow …
But What If … ? (Part 1)
OK, so we know that submission is a choice to respect the authorities that God places in our lives. Submission does not diminish us as a person. We have to be thinking gals, living full lives, loving on those around us.
But what if …
I don’t like what the authority asks of me?
Come with me to Gethsemane. This is like the extreme example, but we can learn from it. God the Father asked Jesus to “go to the cross.” We say that all the time, but do we really understand what that means? Honestly I don’t (I haven’t had the courage to watch The Passion of the Christ yet), but I know I wouldn’t like to be betrayed, abandoned, stripped down in front of folks, beaten, whipped, jeered at, put through extreme pain and physical distress for hours and then finally death. Jesus wasn’t too crazy about the idea either. He said to the Father, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39b NIV
So it’s perfectly fine to ask (in a respectful way, see Jesus’ example above) for something different. If your pastor wants to paint the church nursery room a puke green, you can (and probably should) gently suggest a couple of other options.
OK, so you asked, he said no and you’re facing the nursery with a can of puke green paint and a roller. What do you do?
Jesus was able to face a very painful act of submission because He could see beyond the sacrifice to the joy. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2 NIV
You’re thinking what has joy got to do with puke green paint? Not much on the surface, but is the paint really the issue? I mean really. It’s just paint. Let’s look at the bigger picture. You are agreeing with God by submitting to an authority and that opens the door for Him to enter the picture and move on the lives of all involved. That is a recipe for miracles.
Obedience to God is a sign of loving Him (John 14:15). He wants us to submit to authorities (1 Peter 2:13-17). There’s a blessing attached to obedience (Luke 11:28). Your sweet attitude might impress and bless the Home Depot paint guy (He needs Jesus too). You might have greater favor with that authority (they may listen to you when it really counts). Your walk with the Lord may be sweeter. Have a little faith. Show God a little love and submit. Look for the blessing! Look for the joy!
But He said, Blessed (happy and to be envied) rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey and practice it! Luke 11: 28 Amplified
More tomorrow …
But What If … ? (Part 2)
I’ve had a handful of comments to this series from gals who find it easy to submit to their husband’s authority in the home. They are decent guys with reasonable judgement and a tender heart toward their wives.
But what if …
I don’t respect or trust the authority?
OK, here’s another perspective. Submission is more about you than it is about the authority. It’s the same with generosity, love, and all kinds of integrity issues. The Holy Spirit is shaping you to be like Jesus and He wants us to be submitted to authorities.
Look at Jesus and the early church. They were under the rule of a very scary government, yet Jesus and the writers of the New Testament still said submit to Rome and trust God to take care of you (sometimes that went OK and sometimes that meant really, really tough circumstances ~ as Paul well knew from his prison cell).
The bigger picture is that God wants to bring His kingdom to earth through us. We are to be like Jesus and wow the world with our love, our generosity, our submission, our service, etc. The New Testament believers astonished folks because they actually did this! The consequences were sometimes harsh and sometimes miraculous, but through it all God was refining His people and moving through their obedience.
So, your authority asks you to do something and you mistrust their motivation or you think they are a total dweeb. Ask yourself, so what? God wants me to act respectfully toward them and do as they ask (as long as it is not sin, I know I keep promising this, but I really will get to it). Let God change you and work through you. The short term consequences may be rough, but the long term benefits will astound you as God honors your obedience to His way of life.
More tomorrow …
But What If … ? (Part 3)
OK, here goes.
But what if …
the authority asks me to do something wrong, hurtful, sinful?
Just say no. It’s that simple. You don’t have to be mean about it (in fact it’s always a good idea to be respectful), but just say no.
In Acts 5:17-41 we have the story where the apostles were imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. Here’s a small portion.
The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” Acts 4:27-32 NIV
They said no. The Sanhedrin didn’t ask them to pay a tax. They didn’t ask them to pick up their socks. They didn’t ask them to have a report done by Friday. The Sanhedrin asked them to stop preaching the Gospel, something God told them to do.
If your boss asks you to fudge the books a bit, say no (don’t steal). If your husband asks you for a threesome, say no (stay sexually pure). If a church leader asks you to lie, say no (speak the truth). You are responsible for what you say and do.
I have heard teachings that say you should submit even if your authority tells you to do wrong. This is usually followed with 1 Peter 3:5-6 where Sarah is commended for obeying Abraham. My personal take is that this is a general statement about her demeanor, not a commendation for the specific times she lied.
I have to point to the New Testament story of Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10). Her husband sold some land and asked her to lie about the selling price of the land. Didn’t go too well for either of them. He died the moment he lied. A bit later she died when she lied.
Telling a lie is bad. It’s a sin. God says don’t lie. If anyone tells you to lie. Just say no. If anyone asks you to do wrong. Just say no. Submitting is a choice you make and it needs to be a thinking choice.Do not follow people blindly. Keep your brain in gear.
More tomorrow …
Some Hard Questions (Part 1)
Who has authority?
Christ is, of course, our ultimate authority (Ephesians 5:23).
There are government and societal authorities (1 Peter 2:13-14).
We have authorities in the different groups of believers, our church gatherings (Hebrews 13:17).
I’d like to point out that some of these authorities have limits. They govern a specific area of your life, not all of your life. They may have authority under some circumstances, but not others. The government doesn’t get to tell you what to believe (though some may try). The church doesn’t get to tell you what your hobbies should be or how much to pay your babysitter.
Take the time to look at the different authorities and examine the scope of their authority. If your ladies group leader tells you to quit your job, she’s acting outside her scope of authority. She may (in love) point out how your job is too stressful and help you find other options, but she can’t tell you to quit.
Realize also that some of these authorities can be exchanged by your choice. You can move to another country/government. You can move from one church to another (hopefully this is a God directed change). You could change jobs or move to a new house with different neighborhood association rules. Most of us have the freedom to decide which authorities we wish to submit to. We can look for people who have integrity and align ourselves with them. We can look for situations that will bless us and our family.
What about authority in the home?
I’m going to share my “journey of thought.” I’ve studied everything from patriarchal teachings to egalitarianism and, honestly, I think most people truly just want to obey the Word and honor God with their choices. I’m in the same boat. I just want to hear God and do what He says. I’m not going to fault anyone for where they are in their journey of trying to learn and live truth.
That said, this is where I am.
I think that the husband is an authority over the wife, and parents are authorities over the kids until they become adults. Most people can agree over the kid part, but the husband/wife relationship is still up for major discussion.
I try to look at scripture in context.
One of the more common scriptures that people point to is this:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21 NIV
Some folks take this as an overriding rule ~ we’re all supposed to submit to each other, wives are supposed to submit to their husbands and husbands are supposed to submit to their wives too. I have a couple of problems with this. I think, in context, the above scripture is talking about an overall attitude between believers (it’s very general, this section is all about living a godly life), but my biggest problem is that in the next few verses it talks about wives submitting to husbands, children obeying parents and slaves obeying masters (try not to get distracted by the slavery issue, it was a social construct of their day). If we change the dynamic between husbands and wives because of verse 21, we also have to change children obeying parents and employees not listening to their bosses (or whatever social construct you want to look at). I can’t in good consciousness break up the set. I can’t explain away husband/wife and hold to parent/child and boss/employee.
Analogies are soooo helpful.
Then you have to deal with the Christ/church and husband/wife analogy.
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Ephesians 5:22-24 NIV
That’s a pretty plain analogy and the topic of the analogy is … (wait for it) … submission to authority. Not a lot of wiggle room there.
I’ve heard the argument that the word “head” doesn’t mean head/leader/authority, but rather “source.” I’ve done the research and I disagree, but even if “source” is the correct definition you’re still submitting to that “source.” The analogy is about submission and it doesn’t really matter what label you slap on your husband’s forehead.
I also look at the overall tenor of Scripture.
There are a handful of places in different books of the Bible where wives are told to submit to their husbands (not just one what-is-he-talking-about verse that we might question) and husbands are told to love their wives several times. There’s a theme going on here, I’m thinkin’.
All in all, I’m of the position that the husband is an authority in his wife’s life. (I do not see anything that says all men are an authority for all women.)
Why does he get to be the authority? (It’s not fair.)
Nope, not fair at all, but I don’t think fair is a part of the equation. I have a few ideas about the why, but no guarantee that I’m right. In the end it’s rather a moot point anyway. God (in His wisdom that is far higher than my wisdom) chooses the authorities from president to boss to husband to [whatever role or position] (Romans 13:1). It’s just my job to keep my thinking cap on and submit to authorities where they have legitimate authority in my life.
Some Hard Questions (Part 2)
But what about abuse?
I hear this question a lot when I talk about a husband’s authority over a wife. Sometimes it’s a legitimate question (how do we deal with this very real problem?) and sometimes it’s a way of saying that this problem means husbands shouldn’t have authority ~ that the authority/submission model is flawed.
Well, the truth is, it’s not the model that is flawed, it is the people. It doesn’t matter what structure of authority/submission you are talking about there will be people who use whatever is at hand to abuse others.
God’s plan for authority is that those in authority should not Lord it over others, but become servants (Luke 22:25-27), using their authority to protect and bless. Abuse shouldn’t even be on the table! But given our fallen world, people will sometimes hurt other people and those who have authority will sometimes use it to abuse others.
What should our response be?
As a body of believers ~ I think we need to be the hands, feet and voice of Jesus. We need to be available to each other for help. If there is abuse, we need to be in each other’s business enough to know that it’s going on and we need to be growing in Him so that we are safe people to turn to for help. Yes, that is a very tall order, but Jesus is more than capable of filling that order through us … if we will let him. (Yes, I’ve gone to meddling.)
To guys who are reading this, please be a servant leader. Model it, teach it, encourage other men to lay down their lives for their wives. Be willing to have a “come to Jesus” talk with guys who are abusing their wives. Don’t let this travesty continue. And for the record, gals, there are husbands who are being abused by their wives. We need to step up as well.
Get educated. Wikipedia ~ Domestic Violence (bring your tissues) Look for resources in your area. Know the law. Be available yourself and ask your church to take a stand. Abusive of this nature should be confronted!
As an individual ~ If you are in an abusive situation, seek help quickly from the nearest safe source. If your church leaders are demanding unreasonable things from you, step outside of your church and go to other brothers and sisters for perspective and encouragement (go make an appointment at another nearby church if you have to). If you have abusive friendships, step away. If your Aunt Susie is verbally abusing you, set up a few boundaries (yes, you will make her very unhappy and probably a few cousins will give you grief over it as well).
If your husband is abusing you, get help. There are many types of abuse and varying levels of abuse. Response could be anything from talking to a friend for advice, reading a book, getting counseling or running for the nearest domestic violence shelter. (http://www.ndvh.org hotline: 1-800-799-7233) Always speak from a place of safety.
Study, discuss, and know what you believe about relationships and how God wants you to relate to authorities. Church, take a hard stance against abuse.
Some Hard Questions (Part 3)
What if my husband won’t lead?
First off, I don’t think most folks have a good idea of what it is to lead. Culturally we tend to think that a leader has all of the vision, all of the ideas and everyone else is just a support, pieces to be moved around a chess board. In my opinion, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Yes, leaders need to have vision and direction, but, to be healthy and do a good job, they need to listen to others, learn from others and generally relate to and interact with others. An isolated leader is someone who is headed for a train wreck. You need the strengths, wisdom, vision, experience and help of those around you. Yes, you will have decisions to make as a leader, but this is not a one man show. A leader is one player on a team and all team members are important and have a part to play.
It’s the same in marriage. Personally I like the concept of “team leader.” A husband and wife are “one” in God’s eyes. They are a “team.” Both are intelligent, creative, capable people. Both male and female are needed to reflect the nature of God and giving play to both genders fully seems wise. Being a husband and leader can be a tough job, but it is made easier and saner when he doesn’t have to shoulder everything, when he’s a part of a team, when he’s not going it alone and when he has the strengths of both himself and his wife to lean on.
The husband as “total boss” is a travesty. It isolates him from his wife and all she brings to the table. It puts her in the position of being a child (which she is not), limits what she can do (and since God gave her gifts and abilities, I’m thinking that’s a bad plan) and leaves the marriage partnership without her strengths and abilities.
If your husband thinks being a leader means being a “boss man” and because of this he doesn’t want to “be a leader,” I say “good for him!” Take the time to study, discuss and examine what you both think about leadership. What will that look like in your marriage?
Fear of Judgement
Realize that a number of guys won’t lead because they’ve been punished for the choices they’ve made in the past. Why would they lead when they are just going to get grief for it? This means that you are going to have to talk about your respect for him, talk about what a leader is really all about and give him room to try.
It’s also important to understand that having a different opinion, as a wife, does not mean that you are judging your husband as bad, wrong or stupid. Different perspectives are a consequence of being different people. It can actually be a strength because you are bringing up more options to explore. This can happen in a climate of respect and be good for all. (Some people mistakenly believe that it’s disrespectful for a wife to speak up, to ask for something different, suggest another option or to point out a problem. This attitude leads to the wife “not having a voice.” Not good.)
Fear of Failure
The other thing that can stall out your guy is a fear of failure. Failure hurts, but unfortunately it’s a part of life. We’re not ever going to get away from it, so we might as well learn from it and give each other a bit of grace.
This is likely to be another thing that you just have to bring up in conversation. Let your husband know that you want to create a home where failure gets you a hug, a prayer, an encouragement and a sounding board, if you need one. Something I have to remind myself of now and then: If you are unreasonably hard on yourself, your husband might fear that you will be as hard on him when he fails. Offer grace to yourself as well.
After all this, he still won’t lead?
Time out for a little story: I’ve had a very hard time with a friend over the last couple of years. I’ve stewed and fretted and generally tried to “fix things” (which really meant “fix her”). Long story short, it hasn’t worked out very well. A few days ago, in a moment of generally fussiness, the Lord spoke to my heart. “It’s not your job to fix her, Lori. It’s your job to love her.” (Try reading 1 Corinthians 13 after hearing something like that!) After a moment of acknowledging my own wrong attitudes, I felt incredible relief and several light bulbs went on over my head. I couldn’t “fix things” because the fixing required the work of two (something I don’t control), but I could love her as the work of one (me, which I do control). Love also makes a swift death of “fix-itis” and puts your heart in agreement with God, which opens the door to His handiwork. I realized that I needed to examine the rest of my relationships, let God be God and just love on folks (myself too).
So love your husband, don’t try to fix him. Yes, speak truth, talk to him about what you believe and want, but then set it down and leave the rest to God. Give your husband grace. Just like you and me, he is on a journey of learning and growing. Give God the room to grow him up when and how He wants to. Our perspective and time table may not be God’s.
Invite your husband’s opinion and value his perspectives. Learn his preferences and his value system. Give place to his ideas. Where he falters in leading, making choices and making decisions, pray and make the wisest choices you know how, honoring what you know of him.
What if an authority is chronically clueless?
Honestly, I mean no disrespect. Sometimes you just run into a boss that routinely makes mistakes. Sometimes your spouse routinely makes bad investments. Sometimes a teacher will offers poor or false teaching a bit too often (none of us have perfect understanding or theology). If it’s a minor problem, it may be something to pray about, gently address or even overlook and live with in love. If it borders on abusive or disastrous, respectfully ask that authority to address the problem. If the authority refuses, get outside help. Talk to a supervisor, a church leader, or a trusted friend.
I don’t think it’s right or smart to put up with ongoing hurtful and destructive behavior. Respectfully addressing problems is a helpful and healthy response.
Conclusions ~ Would You Care to Dance
OK, enough with the submission series. I hope that I have given y’all something to think and pray about. If nothing else, I hope you will give God room to talk to you about the concept of submission and take some time to talk with your husband so that you understand each other’s beliefs (and hopefully can agree on a few things).
Just a final word picture … (and a picture too)
I like the image of a dancing couple to explain marriage (I know, I know, they’re on skates, but you see they are “ice dancing”). The husband is leading, but the couple is a wonderful team. As they practice and get better they are learning to communicate, plan, work together, and generally enjoy the dance (yes, sometimes they get their toes stepped on, but that’s a part of learning to dance together). They play on each other’s strengths and cover each other’s weaknesses. I think also it has implications in how they represent Christ to the world. They are offering a picture of grace and harmony, of humility and service.
I am a dancer. I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living … Martha Graham
Scripture taken from the Amplified Bible,
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by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®.
Copyright©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.