What Does Submission Mean? A look at our role in marriage.

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a post, and then you all can link up your own marriage posts, or comment on what I’ve said! Today I want to ask a question that drives many of us around the bend: What does submission mean?

I have to admit that I still shudder sometimes when pastors preach on submission, because it has so often become the source of angst in so many marriages. What does submission mean? Does it mean that women are lesser? That we have to let our husband make all the decisions? That my needs don’t matter? In many sermons, it has almost sounded like that.

To many of us “submission” has a negative connontation.

Husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25), and that doesn’t seem to sound negative. But submission, to many women, is a net negative. Part of that is bad teaching we’ve received on it. Part of it is us chafing at it. But part of it may even go further than that, and that’s what I want to explore today.

I’ve talked about what submission does not mean–it doesn’t mean, for instance, that we put up with abuse. But in that post, we had some great comments about submission, and one woman wrote that she felt really confused by the whole thing. She had a friend who warmed up her husband’s car every morning before work. Should she be doing that if she’s going to submit?

And that’s where I think we come to the crux of the problem.

I think what many of us would like is a list of things that we should do that comprise submission, so that we can say, “look! I submit!”. But God doesn’t work that way.

The Old Testament was filled with rules that the Israelites had to follow–everything from what they ate to what fabrics they could use in their clothing. Everything was proscribed. And so it was theoretically possible that if you did all of these things, you could feel righteous.

And many people gravitate towards rules. They don’t like living in that no-man’s land where it’s not actually clear what you’re supposed to do. We’d rather have a list.

Jesus, however, doesn’t operate like that. Do you remember when He’s having the conversation with the lawyer about the greatest commandment?

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Now, if I were listening to that, I don’t know if I would have been happy with that answer. The Law had specific things you do to get right with God, but how do you “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind”? That’s not easily quantifiable!

And that, I think, is the essential struggle of the Christian life. It’s not about rules; it’s about the heart. It’s about a steady growth of submission and love towards God, which then affects how we act towards others. It’s about steadily being transformed to look like Jesus.

Take this passage from Romans 8:

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.

That’s the dichotomy:

We’re either controlled by the flesh or by the Spirit. And the flesh is the one with rules; the Spirit is the one with grace.

That’s why I can’t tell you what submission means, because it’s not a list of what to do. It doesn’t mean simply letting him make all the decisions. Lots of women do this, and then they reserve the right to say–or think–“I told you so” afterwards. It doesn’t mean that we don’t ever think about what we need, either, because that’s not healthy, and the Spirit does not ask you to do things which are psychologically or emotionally damaging. He wants you to be a full vessel, not an exhausted or trod upon one.

But He also wants us to love fully, and to think of others fully, and to care about what God is doing in others’ lives, rather than on focusing on what we want. And so to me, submission to our husbands as to the Lord is part of doing that. It’s falling into submission to what God wants to do. It’s learning to love our husbands completely. And it’s not a 10-step list. It’s a matter of the heart.

To tell you the honest truth, I have a great marriage, and I very rarely think about the word submission. What I do think about is, “am I working towards Keith’s best? Am I really caring for him in this situation, or am I pushing my own agenda? Am I showing him love? Am I seeking God in this?” And he tends to think the same way about me (for that I am eternally grateful).

But it comes down to understanding that God is not as interested in my happiness as He is in my holiness and obedience.

And the more I submit to Him, the more I will find happiness in all areas of my life.

I don’t think that’s a satisfactory answer to many of you, but I’m not sure God meant to give us one. The Bible is not full of easy answers; to almost every question, the Bible’s answer is “dig into the well of the Spirit more. Surrender more to God. Give more to God. Struggle in prayer more.” And I think that’s WHY there aren’t easy answers. God isn’t interested in easy answers as much as He is interested in drawing us to Himself. If we had easy answers we wouldn’t need Him.

So what is submission to your husband, to me?

Honestly, I think it’s submission to God.

That’s what it all comes down to. As we submit to God and ask Him to make us more like Him, to make us less self-focused, to use as an instrument in our families’ lives, to use us to bless others, we will find ourselves submitting to our husbands more, too. If you aren’t submitting to your husband, then you likely aren’t also submitting to God.

There is no 10-point plan! This will always require wrestling with God, and surrendering more to God. But maybe, after all, that’s the whole point.

Christian Marriage Advice

Now, what marriage advice do you have for us today? Link up your own marriage post below by putting the URL of the individual post into the linky! Or leave a comment and answer the question, “what does submission mean”?