This week at City Chapel, our sermon focused on Ephesians 5:22-23, which reads, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior."
The elder who spoke this week did a fantastic job clarifying this portion of scripture as he illustrated some of the ways that the idea of submission is misconstrued; biblical submission is not mindlessly following, it is not an open invitation to abuse of authority, it should not be pushed back against by extreme ideas of feminism... You can download or listen to the whole sermon, dated June 9th, 2013, here.
Through the sermon, a number of quotes were mentioned which depicted the depraved way the world views "submission". This encouraged me to write about what Biblical submission truly looks like, in a practical way; we know as wives that we are called to submit, but sometimes it can be confusing to figure out just how to do that.
First off, I want to point out that we are called to be submissive not just with our actions, but also with our thoughts and our intentions. Typically as women within the church, we consider 'serve' and 'submit' to go hand-in-hand, and very often they do. As we embrace our roles as Keepers of the home, and submit to that position that our husbands encourage us in, very often service is the practical way that we submit. But it's not enough to do the chores that make up part of our role - we need to submit in our hearts, as much as we submit our time and energy.
We may applaud ourselves for cleaning the much-dreaded bathroom floor, and consider that as an act of submission, since it obviously wasn't an act of indulgence, but the reality is that if we complete such tasks while grumbling, expecting recognition and cursing our family members for making such a mess in the first place, those tasks are degraded to being only an act of service (in the most surface-level interpretation of the word), and no longer resemble submission, or worship, or much of anything good. Yah, your house might be clean, but to whose glory and benefit?
We can often figure out on our own that part of submitting to our husbands is submitting our time and undertaking the role which we find ourselves in, but it's not merely about doing the chores. We are called to submit in our hearts, joyfully embracing our roles and seeking to honor our husbands through our accomplishments. No grumbling. No praise-seeking. Just doing the service, but with a servant's heart. So as we go about our duties, we need to take care to perform them not only well, but willingly, and gladly. We aren't called to begrudging submission, but true, heart-felt, and willing submission.
Another way in which we can practically submit to our husbands is in the little differences of opinions we may have in our households. You like the walls blue, he likes them burnt orange. Is this a big deal? Not really. Can people make it into a big deal? Absolutely, and we do all the time. It's almost as if because it's a small deal, people feel justified in fighting about it. "We'd never fight about the big things like religion or how to raise our children - this is just about paint colors." Or often, there's not even a fight - the wife just decides, doesn't consult the husband, or doesn't listen to his opinion when it is offered up. Because we tend to spend more time in the home, we feel like it's our right to dictate how the home will work and how it will look.
Here's a tip: let the walls be burnt orange. This isn't about letting your husband win. This is a marriage, not a competition to see whose will is the strongest; there should be no 'winning' in a marriage, because if there is, then someone is 'losing'. Instead, this is about honoring our husband's preferences, considering their desires and seeking to please them, even through submission of our own tastes, preferences or desires. It's not just house colors. It's meals, what you do on dates, what hangs on your walls, how you spend your free time. This does not mean that you never get to do what you would prefer - because the beautiful thing about a marriage which portrays Biblical submission is that the husband is called to submit to wife as well (Ephesians 5:21). Once you have both offered up your opinions, you can either choose to submit to his preference 100% off the bat, seek to find a common ground that you can both agree on, or respectfully apply to him to consent to your preference. And if he has a real issue with letting you paint the walls blue - back off it. This is where the hardest part of submission comes in: submitting to our husband's will and desires when we truly dislike where those fall.
When should we not submit to our husbands? When what they are asking of us is contrary to what God is asking of us. Period. If it is harmful to you or someone else, if it is in violation of the law, or if it in any other way sinful, we are called to submit to God first, as our higher authority, and are in that instance exempt from submitting to our husbands. But painting the walls burnt orange is not sinful.
It might be an easy enough thing to let the walls be burnt orange. But what if the subject in question isn't paint colors, but rather where you are going to live? Or whether you go back to work after the kids go to school or you stay home still? Or whether you continue in a volunteer position or give it up? These are tough things to disagree about. Part of the reason is because it directly affects your life, and how you use your time and energy, and the world tells us that since it's our life, we should get to dictate what we do with it. But I hope by now we've learned to drown out what the world is saying.
Even if we feel very strongly about something, and we want something completely opposite from our husbands, instead of going into a head-butting stalemate where it turns into a waiting game to see who folds first, we are called to submit to the will of our husband. Allow them to lead the household, as they are the ones who are responsible to be the heads. The burden of the household's well-being falls first to the head, as one who will be held accountable. We need to trust our husbands. And if you submit to your husband in something, and it turns out that you were 'right' after all, and what you had suggested would have worked out better, you still would have glorified God through your submission and obedience, so you have still done the right thing.
If your husband is asking you to do something, but you see it as sinful or harmful, yet he does not, seek the counsel of a wise, Godly third-party. And if the third-party agrees with your husband, don't be bitter, but take the cue that it is now the time for you to submit your will to your husband. And remember, it's not your husband's job to break your will, which is abusive, but rather it's our job to submit our will, to the glory of God.
And as a closing note, what is a wife supposed to do if her husband is not a Godly man? Submit. Unless he is asking her to sin, a wife is always called to submit to her husband, Christian or not. Scripture even tells us this is the best way we can witness to our spouses if they are not believers. (1 Peter 3:1-2) I fully acknowledge that there will be people who disagree with these depictions of submission, but I believe that scripture is true, God-breathed, and our highest authority as God's own word, and wives are called to submit to their husbands repeatedly throughout the course of scripture. And if we can agree that we truly are to submit, it is important that we each strive to fully comprehend the depth of that call, past the surface-level interpretation which stops short at occasionally cleaning the bathroom when we don't really want to. Husbands and wives should seek to outdo each other in who can submit the most for the benefit of the other.
Our submission to our husbands on Earth is an act of worship to our Father in Heaven. And as our husbands lovingly strive to lead us and serve us as Christ is the head of the church, our marriages will become rich with blessing as we each stop thinking of our own benefit for the sake of our spouse's.
To God be the glory, forever and ever, Amen!