Submit. Submitting. Submission.
It has been tough to sit down and write on this topic and not have some part anger, with a shot of sadness, and top it off with a dash of discouragement. I’m not talking about the subject itself but the way we enforce, teach, practice, and pass it on to the next generation.
Those three words at the top often leave a bad taste in our mouths. Submission has often been perceived as a straightjacket for women; a one-size-fits-all solution for the battle of the sexes within the walls of Christian institutions. We’ve divorced submission from our relationship with God, forgetting to define this relational hierarchy by His character rather than ours. Then we transferred this broken picture onto our conception of God Himself, warping our understanding of who He is and the submission to which He has called us.
We’ve drawn conclusions that in order to “submit” we must…
- always be quiet in the company of men.
- always follow, never lead (including giving directions, carrying of heavy items, our professions we choose, etc.).
- always do as told without question.
We haven’t just developed these measurable ideas of submission for ourselves, but have passed them on through discipleship. I fear many women have been taught that they are doormats, useful only to support the flourishing of men, rather than inherently and functionally valuable in their unique, God-given personhood as co-image bearers. Our teaching of submission is often heavy handed in law rather than rich in grace, emphasizing the "do's" and "don'ts" instead of teaching women who God says they are in His designed hierarchy. We miss the joy of submission and are suffocated, taking what should be a beautiful thing and making it ugly.
Submission in the Word.
Scripture teaches that both men and women are to submit to authority: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1). And wives are called to submit to their husbands:
"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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." (Ephesians 5:22-27)
Submitting from the heart.
Submission deals first with the heart that then overflows into actions, but we too often attribute submission to an action to take or not take. We judge and speculate about a person’s ability to submit solely by how he/she behaves and whether we deem those responses as fitting for a submissive person. We look to mankind for our examples of how to be submissive. The danger is that we (unlike God) can’t truly see the heart. For all we know, a person who behaves in a submissive way could be raging with resentment and bitterness inwardly. Or maybe it's a wife who touts her submission publicly to give a godly appearance but then defies her husband behind closed doors.
Our motivation to submit shouldn’t come from our selfish gain of appearing as the “Biblical Woman,” but should overflow from a deep affection for the Lord that causes us to want to be obedient, first submitting to Him, then to our authorities and husbands. Far too often as a single woman I have been told by single men (who are not elders in my church or my boss) that I should submit to their headship because they are a man. I am called in the same way as a man or married woman to submit to the Lord. I also am called to submit to authority. But I (like all women) am not called to submit to every man who demands submission. The Lord calling women to submit to their husbands in Ephesian 5 doesn't translate to all women submitting to all men everywhere. A man's leadership isn't marked by how many women and men are submitting to him, but by how he is leading through submission to the Lord. Submission is never a trump card to be used for someone to exercise power over another person.
Submitting with strength.
We must view submission to our earthly authorities in light of submission to our God before we can begin applying it in marriage and relationships. Submission isn’t quenching a person, it’s being beautifully obedient to the Lord’s commands. Our motivation to submit isn’t solely based out of respect but something far deeper, a right fear of the Lord, a reverence. When we struggle to understand or obey God's commands for submission, we need to look to Christ and the grace and life that was purposed then produced by his submission to God.
Submission isn’t just for the weak. And it certainly isn't easy for the proud. It takes strength and humility to submit. It took strength and humility to submit to my parents when I was sure I knew better than they did when I was 19. It took strength and humility to submit to authority in the marketplace when I didn’t agree with their decisions or direction of the company. It takes strength daily to submit to the Lord. We see this strength, character and obedience in Jesus, who submitted perfectly to His Father, bearing the cross in perfect faith and love to accomplish God's redemptive plan. And thank God he did. Likewise, when we rightly understand and pursue godly submission we can rest assured the outcome with be the life-giving work of God in our hearts, relationships and churches.
Amanda Edmondson is on staff at Sojourn Community Church is Louisville, Ky where she serves as the Co-Leader of Women's Ministry and the Executive Assistant to Daniel Montgomery. You can follow her at @amandaedmondson