When it comes to the topic of women and submission in marriage, few things bring up more angst and uncertainty. Just what exactly does submission mean?
When I think of the word “submission”, a few things come to mind. I think of when I have an assignment, a project proposal or a new software version due and I need to make a submission. In sport you can think of wrestling or MMA where an opponent can be defeated by a submission hold. You may even think of a smaller objective in a game or novel.
Since its the start of spring and love is in the air (good luck getting that song out of your head while reading this), there’s no better time to talk about relationships. And in the realm of relationship, submission is one of those words that stirs a lot of emotion.
Now before you assume because a man is writing this that I’m going to present a sexist case belittling women, my intention is that nothing would be further from the truth. What I would like to do, however, is present a realistic and open look at the issue. I implore you to give this a proper and an open read.
At its highest level, I would say submission is about one of men’s greatest needs being for respect, but there’s more to it than that. So let’s dive in.
Why It’s A Difficult Topic
I would like to open by examining why exactly the topic of submission is met with such hostility and even anger. I would have to say without a doubt that this would be due to the unfortunate prevalence of abuse in relationships, whether emotionally or physically. There are men who, because they are “the head of this house” and because “you just need to submit to my leadership”, they feel entitled to beat their wives senseless or to completely dominate or cut off her opinions.
I would say that women who have been through such circumstances may have an excellent case against the concept of submission. A lot of women have opened their hearts and lives and attitudes to trust and reverence their husband in a noble sense, but have been met with completely the wrong behaviour on account of men who should know better.
The other big area why submission is a difficult topic is because of the awareness and work towards equal rights. Where women have historically been unable to vote, to work, or to be respected in their career, much work has been done in ensuring women are empowered and free. As such, submission doesn’t seem to make much sense to modern relationships and seems to be regressing what has been seen to be great progress (and it has been great progress).
You can already see the diversity of the issues affecting this topic, and perhaps already even a surface analysis of those issues is enough to get the blood pumping. But let’s take a closer look at what this idea actually means.
Where It Comes From
The notion of women submitting to their husbands in marriage is present in numerous sources, but perhaps the most notable is the Christian Bible. It is brought up two main times in a New Testament setting, both in Ephesians and 1 Peter, specifically telling women that they should submit to and respect their husbands. Another passage states that we should be in submission to each other in addition to this idea.
Perhaps Scripture is seen as being outdated in its notion of gender roles within marriage. All sorts of comments could be made about complimentarian vs. egalitarian views of ministry and relationship, but what is clear is that Scripture is suggesting that men and women operate best under different roles in their relationship. I know that statement alone is enough to be offensive in a modern setting, but perhaps its worth considering the full picture of what is being suggested.
An interesting thought that has been put forward is that in a dance, you can’t have two leaders. It is very difficult to sustain long term movement together if two people are constantly trying to take leading steps – it usually means you step all over each other and don’t move cohesively.
This does not mean that both people can’t lead in different areas or at different times. Reality is that the man and the woman in the relationship may be better at different things in different relationships. She may be better with money, and he might be better at earning it. Or vice versa. He might be better at cleaning the house, and she might be better at cooking. In this context, I don’t think the idea of submission is violated. But in some cases, two equally strong points of view may be put forward, and in these cases, someone has to make the final call.
But perhaps where a lot of relationships suffer is when there is a spirit which criticizes, undermines, or doubts the involvement of the man in the relationship. Where his opinions and views and decisions are belittled or looked over, and he is not allowed to be the man that a lot of women want to follow. He needs your permission to make the right decisions.
And I will say as well that there’s something innate in a man that calls him towards leadership. Men are wired for it. They have perspectives and attitudes that are so valuable towards a relationship, and many men thrive when they are given the title “man of the house”. That’s means it’s his to protect, to look after, and to provide his guidance where he can.
The Role of Men
I think submission is more fully understood in also considering the expectations of men in their relationship. It would be very easy to just consider what is being said to women and for men to neglect to acknowledge exactly what is being asked of them in return. And it’s this:
Husbands, love your wives like Christ loves the church.
So that begs the question, how does Christ love the church?
Well, for starters, He doesn’t dominate it. You don’t see Jesus coming into lives and kicking down doors. One who was considered so powerful and professes to have created all things comes bearing the vulnerable statement, “Choose me”. He is the perfect gentleman. He won’t force His way in, and will only move on certain things with your permission to do so. He’ll initiate, but it’s left to her to decide if she wants to continue down that path.
He cherishes her. He loves her. He can’t stop thinking about her. Everything He does isn’t just in His interest, it is also in hers.
He is committed to her even when she’s in a mood. Even when she makes the wrong decisions. Even if she is being completely unappreciative and bitter. He is still there to provide support. He doesn’t start demanding His rights.
He laid aside divinity to make her beautiful. He committed his course to investing in her and bringing the best out of her.
Uh, hello, He died for her. Are we getting the picture yet?
I think every man, before he starts demanding respect and submission, should give his full attention to being a man like that. Be a man that a woman is proud to follow. Be the man who provides safety to the woman in his life. Who gives her every reason to trust him. Who doesn’t belittle her opinions, but fully invites her participation and her own leadership and maximizing who she is and what she’s called to do.
I think most women would feel that they could follow a man like that anywhere. I love Matthew Henry’s commentary on Genesis to this end:
The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.
The Challenge To Women
Doctor Emerson Eggerichs wrote an interesting thought given this challenge to men. He said that many women would expect, or at least desire, men to love them like this unconditionally. That in all seasons, he would be a support and an understanding pillar – a man who loves her to no end.
But he said it was interesting that we don’t expect the same from women. And one of his main cases in his book Love and Respect is that in the same way men are expected to love their wives unconditionally, he puts forward that wives should endeavour to respect their husbands unconditionally.
You know, a lot of times us men can make the wrong decisions. We can make dumb decisions with the best of intentions, and can make even worse ones when our intentions aren’t the best. We aren’t always sure what’s going on, but many of us endeavour to do our best given our lot in life.
And if you chose him to be that man in your life who you call your husband, the father of your children, or maybe even a man you are considering heading down that direction with, or maybe you haven’t even decided on who you’d explore that idea with yet, a lifestyle of unconditional respect is a great way to bring out the full potential in a relationship.
Men thrive when given the opportunity to do so. He is capable. He is strong. He carries a lot for you and his family. And even when he isn’t, submission in my mind is deciding to respect him anyway.
And what a picture that is. A man who unconditionally loves his wife, giving her his best regardless of what she does, met with a woman who unconditionally respects her man, deferring to him where relevant and bringing out his best, regardless of what he does.
That, my friends, is what submission should be. Or at least what I believe. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the boxes below. This is a massive topic with lots of moving parts, and whether you agree or disagree completely, it would be great to hear from you so we can all learn together.
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