The Dreaded S********* word: Submission fleshed out (1)
Submission has become a bit of swear-word recently; it’s a word that seems to prompt plenty of those ‘but you don’t really believe that, do you?’ moments. And yet as Jesus’ apostle Paul describes relationships within the church and in marriage, he calls us to relationships where we submit: the church is to submit to each other (Ephesians 5:21), and wives are called to submit to their husbands, whilst husbands are head to their wives, laying down their lives for their wives as Christ did for the church (5:22-32).
As you read Ephesians 5, it all seems pretty simple, and pretty beautiful too: the marriage relationship is meant to be a stunning picture of Jesus’ gorgeous relationship with his people. Christ lovingly leads his people, to the extent of dying for them, and the church submits to Him as its Head. Ultimately true submission is about Jesus and the nature of our relationship with him.
And yet submission is a concept that’s been dragged through the mud. It’s seen as abusive, sexist, and completely out of sync with the modern-age. It’s become the dreaded S********* word. ‘You don’t really believe that do you?’
I’ve been thinking a bit about all this recently, and have been encouraged by a couple of posts elsewhere that try and unpack submission in something of its Jesus-honouring beauty, saving it from malicious and twisted misinterpretations, as well as unhelpful stereotypes and shoddy alternatives. I’m aware it’s easy to articulate the theory, but we don’t often articulate the practice.
So first up Wayne Grudem (who amongst other things was General Editor of the ESV Study Bible and has a meaty Systematic Theology) speaks here about what the ‘headship-submission’ relationship looks like practically in his marriage to Margaret. It’s worth clicking through and reading in full, particularly when he goes on to describe what it looked like as Margaret recovered from a car accident, but here’s a brief taster:
But in every decision that we make that affects us together or affects our family, the responsibility to make the decision rests with me. If there is genuine male headship, I believe there is a quiet acknowledgement that the focus of the decision making process is the husband, not the wife. Even though there will often be much discussion and there should be mutual respect and consideration of each other, ultimately the responsibility to make the decision rests with the husband. And so, in our marriage the responsibility to make the decision rests with me. This is not because I am a wiser or more gifted leader. It is because I am the husband. God has given me that responsibility. It is very good. It brings peace and joy to our marriage, and both Margaret and I are thankful for it. Now, I need to add very quickly, men, this does not mean that a husband has the right to be a selfish leader… There are dangers of distortion in one direction or another. There are errors of passivity and errors of aggressiveness. I put this on a chart of husband and wife. In the middle is the biblical ideal for a husband as loving, humble headship. That’s the ideal. For a wife the ideal is joyful, intelligent submission to that headship. Intelligent, that means she is contributing her wisdom and her counsel to the decision making process.Read the rest here. What do you think?
A lecturer I heard recently on NT Letters was observing that the so called Mutual Submission might be less “submit to one another” but more “Submit, one to another” – the latter not then conflicting with what follows but setting up the examples… one to another, wives to husbands, church to Christ, children to fathers, slaves to masters… which probably resolves a tension but causes others…
Thanks for this Dave. That’s interesting – I’ve never heard that – and my Greek is too rusty to get my head round this distinction, but as you say it seems to fit quite well with what then follows. But I wonder why, given it fits, that no translator has opted for that before? Anyway, thanks for commenting – good to hear from you!