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In a Bible study focused on being a Christian woman in a post-modern world, she put her hand up. She was the only single woman in the class. Her cheeks were blazing red and her words were riddled with exasperation.
“So we’re supposed to submit to men. I get that. But we’re also supposed to do the right thing. So what happens when, well…” she sucked in her breath, “men are wrong?”
There was hardly a pause before the 50 or so married women in the room burst out laughing –and not because we thought it was a silly question. Men can be wrong.
Her question echoed the concern that I’ve heard some of my dear, god-fearing single friends (and plenty of married women!) describe.
Men are human, too. They’re sinners as well. Yet as women, we’re told to submit. In marriage, you are knit together with a man for life. The both of your hopes, plans, dreams, daily schedule, bed, etc., -all shared. With your (fallible) husband as the head, the leader.
Doesn’t that sound terrifying? What sane woman would want that?
Yet here so many of us are, married to a sinner. And a great many single woman are praying for and seeking to marry… a sinner.
God said it first: “it’s not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18.) He also created marriage, made it a binding relationship between a sinful man and a sinful woman, and called it sacred. So marriage, though seemingly a huge, difficulty-guaranteed relationship, is good.
God Made Submission
How can submission be good? In this day and age the connotation of submission is the acceptance of oppression. To submit to a man, according to the horror stories you’ll hear, means giving up your self-worth and your identity to be a man’s tool.
But our Lord was submissive. Christ chose to submit, in right relationship, to the will of God, the Father. The Holy Spirit, likewise, was sent by Christ, submitting to Christ.
As the Trinity demonstrates, submission is about God’s created order and using free will to God’s glory. Jesus had the right to tell God He wouldn’t die on the cross that day. But He, trusting the Lord, set aside His immediate gratification, fears, and feelings to be lovingly obedient, believing in the work of the one He submitted to.
Submission in Marriage
Submitting to your husband is part of that created order. It has nothing to do with power or superiority. God made man the head of the family. He gave men and women free will, and we, in submitting to God, can choose to surrender to His will for God’s glory.
When you get married, your task as a new creation in Christ is the same: glorify God. But you start glorifying God as a part of team. And your place on that team is far from inferior, but it should be orderly.
Two heads and no bodies go nowhere. Two bodies and no heads go lots of places, but have no idea where they are. The body and the head are equal, and their goal is the same. Their tasks are different. That’s marriage.
God made it that way. We get a glimpse of why during the fall, and the rest of Scripture reiterates the notion: men tend towards shifting responsibility. Women tend toward taking over. “You will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16 NLT.) The order God created balances out the trappings of our sinful tendencies.
Who We Are To Submit To
You’ll notice reading the big “submission verses” like 1 Peter 3:1 or Colossians 3:18, that women are told to submit to their own husbands. People in general are told to submit to persons in authority, to leaders, and to (most importantly) Jesus.
Righteous submission occurs out of love, trust, humility, and a sincere desire to see Christ’s way rule. That means that when you submit, it should be in right relationship, for right purposes. Submitting to just any or every guy has nothing to do with God’s order.
You are to submit to your own husband. When your husband is wrong, then as the body’s nervous system sends signals to the head saying “hot!” or “sharp!” so should you, speaking the truth in love, let your husband know what’s up.
The Lord’s commands are never contradictory. He does not tell us to submit to our own husbands, even if it means sinning. Turning your brain off, following a guy into sin, and suffering through abusive or wrong relationships is still sinning and is not a part of righteous submission. God provides a way out of sin, never putting us into impossible situations in which our every option is sinful (1 Corinthians 10:13.)
Submit to Christ, and there will be a loving, righteous way for you to submit to your husband without sinning. It might involve speaking up, but it won’t require you to speak without love.
The Priority of Submission
Single and married women alike: you have one master, and that is Christ. You have one mission above all else, and that is to glorify Him. For the married woman, submission to Christ calls for submission to your husband. That’s the order.
A wonderful lady shared her marriage mantra with me before my wedding: First Christ. Then you. Then me.
Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 7:34-35 that the priority is always Christ first. And for married folks, there is a secondary priority that we must be careful doesn’t distract from the first.
In his words, “An unmarried woman is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”