This week Rachel Held Evans , well-known blogger and author of “Evolving in Monkey Town” and “A Year of Biblical Womanhood”, is hosting a synchroblog on the topic of Biblical submission.
It is focussing specifically on those frequently-cited passages of Scripture that instruct wives to submit to their husbands, slaves to submit to their masters, children to submit to their parents, and Christians to submit to one another.
Rachel invited us to share our own perspectives on our blogs, and then link back to hers. As someone who cares passionately about the gender debate in church, I felt this was an important topic to tackle.
So having considered some of the scriptures on the subject, here’s my thoughts:
When you hear the word ‘submit’ what do you hear?
Passivity? Weakness? Something being lesser than?
We live in a world which doesn’t want to submit to anyone or anything. A culture of entitlement, where it’s all about what we have the ‘right’ to, and where you get ahead by putting others down. And all of us are part of this.
It’s no surprise then that often the command in scripture for wives to ‘submit’ themselves to their husbands is seized upon by traditionalists and complimentarians.
But none of this correct. And, like those who misinterpret scripture without context or knowledge of culture, it ignores the true meaning of the world – and is, in fact the opposite meaning.
Here is the principal dictionary definition of ‘submit’:
“To yield or surrender (oneself) to the will or authority of another.”
Not quite passive is it?
This is actually a positive choice. It’s a decision of the will. It’s an act of great courage and sign of strength, not weakness. According to this definition, the person surrendering is one who has control, who is independent – but chooses of their own free will to surrender to the will or authority of another.
So when scripture says, “Wives submit to your husbands”, what does it mean? I’m sure traditionalists and complimentarians would use this as an opportunity to say wives should surrender themselves to the will or authority of their husbands.
I’m not married, but I’m not expecting any future wife to do this for me. Because I’m not perfect either. I don’t have it all together all the time. I make mistakes. And I’m guessing, sometimes any wife I have will be right and I’ll be wrong.
And above all, there is a scripture which trumps them all, which comes immediately before the ‘wives-husbands’ bit:
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5 v 21).
So before Paul talks to the wives he talks to everyone – husbands, wives and everyone else – telling them to submit to one another. So suddenly, it’s not just the wives (or women) submitting, it’s the husbands (and men) too.
The next verse about wives submitting to husbands, is merely a more specific version of a command already given.
So this is about mutual submission. Not just in marriage. But by all of us.
Husbands and wives surrendering themselves to the will and authority of each other….under God. This sounds much more healthy. In practice, it should mean healthy discussion, husband and wife loving and serving each other, constantly preferring the other.
But this is about more than marriage. This is about our entire lives. The scriptures talk about having this attitude towards those we work for – to work for them as if working for God Himself – and towards those we have authority over. In other words, to make yourself a servant of those who you are in charge of.
Submission is a way of life. It’s humbling yourself, as Jesus did. And we do this so we aren’t ruled by our egos. So our pride doesn’t take charge. And because it allows us to see others as God sees us. A God whose Son submitted to becoming one of us – and not just one of us, but the least of us.
All of this comes more naturally if we’re continually choosing to submit ourselves to God. If we are surrendering our will to His. If we’re giving Him authority over our lives. And this isn’t a passive act on our parts, it’s a decision. To surrender our free will and choose God’s will. To allow God to guide and direct our lives, rather than ourselves.
And as we do this, we become more like Jesus. We start to become more servant-hearted, and less interested in boosting our ego by putting down others.
Of course we trip up. We aren’t perfect. But we need to keep choosing to submit. Each day. And eventually, it becomes more natural.
What a world we could have, if all of us chose to submit to one another. (you can tweet that here)
Are you with me?
Do you agree with me or disagree with me? Why?
What’s your view on Biblical submission?
How do you think Biblical submission applies in gender roles?
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