This past week my wife asked me, “Why is it that everyone talks about what Biblical manhood should look like, but hardly comparatively, anyone talks about Biblical womanhood?”
Good question. Maybe because we mess it up more.
Seriously though, it is a good question and I agree with her. I believe it is a conversation that needs to be had. However, even though I’m able to reference scripture and discuss this topic with women; I do not believe men are the best or should be the first to initiate this conversation. The discussion will carry more weight with women taking the lead. As much as women need to be talking about this, men need to listen.
What I will do is discuss one aspect of biblical womanhood that men have twisted – submission. Intentionally or not, the misuse of submission has and continues to be used to control and hurt women.
For far too long men have held firmly to the idea that a wife must submit to her husband. So much so that submission has been counted as her duty and consequently has moved her into the role of servant rather than partner. Ephesians 5:22 instructs wives to submit to their husbands as they do to the Lord; but that does not make her a slave to her husband. While the bible does direct a wife to submit to her husband, submission does NOT mean subservience. Often men seem to miss or simply disregard, that just one verse prior, Ephesians 5:21 tells us to submit to one another. This verse tells us that husbands are also called to submit to their wives! Somehow we have assigned the discipline of submission solely to the wife. And, as if that’s not a big enough issue, we’ve assigned submission the same definition as subservience. But there’s a difference between what God desires for submission and how we have defined it.
Dictionary.com defines each as:
Submit – to give over or yield to the power or authority of another (voluntary)
Subservience – slavish: abjectly (with great shame, desperately) submissive; characteristic of a slave or servant (not voluntary)
One of the greatest roadblocks to correctly viewing and living out biblical submission is the existence of slavery and the church’s historical involvement. Rather than get into a discussion about the huge differences between ancient Israelite slavery and all other slavery; I will point out that our current understanding of submission is built within the context of slavery. The slave’s submission to the master had to be absolute and had dire consequences if not. In addition, it was forced submission and not required of both sides. With that backdrop, it’s easy to see how the role of submission within a marriage has become an unhealthy one.
A wife’s submission to her husband does not mean slavish subservience. While service is an aspect of submission, it is not servitude. It does not call for blind and muffled obedience to the whims of a husband. Husbands and wives are intended to complement each other; they are intended to be the other half of their one. Submission does not suggest that your wife is weak, but instead reveals her understanding of her role in Christ. It requires great courage and strength to voluntarily yield to the authority and power of Jesus Christ. The proper response by a husband to his wife’s choice to submit should be honor and love. Her submission is ultimately not your concern, yours is. In fact, it requires very little, if any, of your interference or input. Your responsibility is to focus on your role as her husband, which coincidentally begins with submission.
As head of your home, your first responsibility is submission to God. James 4:7, tells us to “submit [ourselves], then, to God.” If a man is to honor his wife, he must first honor God and that begins with submission. In practical terms, submission is the surrendering of control of your life to the leading of the Holy Spirit. For each of us, surrendering ourselves to the Holy Spirit allows for God to add and remove from our lives as He sees fit. Submission to God will cause an inward change that reveals outward fruit. In other words, what God changes and does in your heart will be visible to those around you.
A man leads his home by first submitting to God and then honoring and loving his wife. The less we concern ourselves with our wives’ submission, the better we are able to submit to Jesus. It is then we are best equipped to submit to and serve her.
The most notable portion of scripture concerning the roles of husband and wife is Ephesians 5:21-33. The passage begins with verse 21 telling us to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Our submission to our spouse is initiated and spurred by our awe and reverence for Jesus. If we’re to honor our marriages and our role as a man of God, we must reframe how we understand submission. Our best example of submission is Jesus coming to earth, doing the will of the Father and giving Himself to the cross. He did so willing, for the benefit of others and to reflect the glory of the Father. Our submission, as men, should be a willingness to set our self aside for the glory of Jesus and the benefit of our wife and family.
Submission is not a duty, it is an act of honoring God.
Little endnote: Your girlfriend is NOT required to submit to you. Just “dating” a woman with no commitment to pursue anything further does not afford you the right or privilege of her submission. Submission comes with commitment.