Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What I Really Think About Submission

Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of His body. [Ephesians 5:22-29]
The Humanity of Submission

To be totally honest, the word submission makes me cringe. It can carry an antiquated feeling, recalling to mind the days when women were viewed as property belonging to their husbands. It reminds me of marriage vows in which the woman pledges to obey her husband. For an independent, headstrong woman like myself, I initially think, "Gross. No thank you." I'm no one's property and no one better think they're going to tell me what to do.

But that's submission tainted by humanity. It's looking at it through a lens of human history, personal experience, poor examples, and sin. When we think of submission, we hold it up against the examples we've witnessed in our own lives, the lives of people we know, and the lives we've learned about through history. All of those examples have one thing in common: they're broken.

Our view of submission is skewed because we're looking to imperfect representations and using them to make a decision. We base what we're going to do off of what we've seen other people do in the past. We look at men who have messed up, who have been poor leaders and even poorer husbands and we think, "We're supposed to submit to them?"

However, I recently did a Bible study that helped to reshape my perspective on submission, even though that wasn't the focus. It caused me to look at the concept of submission from a different angle. Instead of looking at the broken, human version of submission, it called me to look at a holy version of submission.

The Holiness of Submission

I think the biggest disservice we can do to submission, to marriage, is to make humanity our primary example. We need to stop looking to a failed and broken example and look to a perfect one. Therein we will find all the motivation and example we will ever need.

In the verses of Ephesians 5 listed above, we see that the church is the example in how it submits to Christ. But I want to take it a step further and look at the example of submission set by  Christ. Jesus modeled submission throughout His entire life and ministry, but I want to focus on perhaps the most striking and visible instance of submission, Jesus' final moments before His arrest.

The events of this period of time are recorded in Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, and Luke 22:39-46. Jesus has gone to the garden of Gethsemane and taken Peter, James, and John with Him to pray. 
Then He said to them, "My soul is swallowed up in sorrow—to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake." Then He went a little farther, fell to the ground, and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, "Abba, Father! All things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will." [Mark 14:34-36]
Jesus prays this prayer more than once and even has a physical response to His distress. Luke 22:44 says, "Being in anguish, He prayed more fervently, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground." The Bible makes it perfectly clear that Jesus really didn't want to go through what He was about to experience. But after praying, He knew God's will, and He went without a fight (see Mark 14:43-53).

I think this passage, and Jesus' example, can teach us a lot about the holy, good, and right aspects of submission, the truth  about submission. Some of those things include:

1. Submission doesn't = silence. Jesus shows us that just because someone submits doesn't mean they can't voice thoughts and opinions. Submission doesn't mean you have to be quiet and just do what you're told. You still have a voice--an important  voice--in any situation.

2. Submission isn't for the weak. Jesus' sweat became blood; it was an intense situation. God called Him to do something that was excruciating. We won't always be called to such high-stress situations, but submission isn't for the faint of heart. It's for strong people who are able to tackle challenges and difficult times. Submission requires strength.

3. Submission isn't just for women. Hello, Jesus was a man. Yet he was willing to humble Himself, to come under the authority of God the Father, and to submit to God's will. Submission isn't just about gender. Yes, Ephesians 5:22 assigns submission to women in a marriage role, but it also assigns it to the church, which is made up of women and  men. Men are called to also submit to Christ, to the will of God, and to commands found in Scripture. Submission is for all of us.

4. And submission isn't just for married women. This fits under the previous point, but I wanted to make sure it stood alone. Submission isn't just a practice for the married among us (Jesus was single). To surrender our desires to God, to seek His will for our lives, that is something we all must practice. We often talk about submission within the structure of marriage, but by doing that, we minimize it. We talk about it like it's just for the ladies with husbands. But it's not. We can't keep leaving out those who are single, submission is also for them.

Holy Submission in Real Life

So the big question is, how do we bring the concepts of holy submission into real life and marriage? When we're looking at submitting to the God of the universe who undoubtedly will call us to things that are difficult and will include suffering, how do we shrink that down into a relationship between humans?

I think the biggest thing to remember is that submission is an opportunity to model Christ in our lives. Submission gives us an opportunity to live like Jesus, to give of ourselves and our desires, and to look to the greater good (the good of the Church body, the good of the community we're in, the good of our marriage). It guides us to look to the call of God in all aspects of our lives and relationships.

Earlier in Ephesians 5, verses 15-21 tell us this:
Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music from your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.
What a great reminder that submission should accompany all the things we do together as Christians. It is a way we can die to ourselves and look to the life that God wants us to live. It is not a negative aspect of relationships, nor is it a lesser role. It's not a call to simply be meek and quiet. But it is a call to something immensely challenging in that it does require us to give up our selfishness.

So what do I really think about submission? I think it's a word and concept that we as Christians need to reclaim. We need to end the stigma that submission is a bad thing, or a calling just for married women. I think we all, regardless of gender, need to make it a priority to model Christ-likeness through giving of ourselves. We need to actively surrender things--desires, rights, privileges, wants--to God for the sake of His call and His body. We need to look beyond ourselves to those around us whom we can love and serve while modeling the traits of Christ.

I think we need to throw out the old concepts surrounding submission and we need to embrace submission as demonstrated by Jesus. I think this can only take us to good places, places we need to be as the hands and feet of Christ.

Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it. [1 Corinthians 12:27]

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