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Mutual Submission

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:21-25 NIV)

I write this post on Father's Day. Marriage and parenthood are foundational in life, and interwoven in a tapestry of love. I am convinced the greatest gift a dad can give to his children is modeling a strong, healthy marriage. When we love our wives well, we set an example for our sons and our daughters for what their someday-marriage might look like.

God's vision for marriage, and indeed for all our loving relationships, is mutual submission. Sadly, Ephesians 5:22, "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord," might be the most misinterpreted verse of Scripture in the Bible, having been ripped out of context from the larger passage and the greater truth. The call for wives to submit to husbands is only half of the vision of the text for mutual submission to one another out of reverence for Christ. The call for husbands to "love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her" is a call to perhaps even greater submission, since Jesus sacrificed His life for the Church He loves.

I am convinced the existence and dominance of patriarchy across cultures and history are living testimony to the brokenness of our fallen sin nature, and men dominating (and abusing) women does not represent God's intention nor will in creating us male and female for each other and placing us in love relationships in families.

I believe we all need a heart transformation that shifts the focus of our minds and hearts from what our spouse is giving or not giving to us to a focus on what we are giving or not giving to them. As we follow Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify our lives and fill our hearts with Jesus' holy love, we are set free to love our spouse (and children and friends and even strangers) unconditionally like Jesus loves us. And in loving well with God's love flowing in our hearts, we find that we are loved well in return, and deeply satisfied.

Marriage is complex and culture has affected our understanding and expectations of it. I'm pretty sure my grandfather never changed a diaper in raising seven children. He worked outside the home and took care of the car and lawn and repairs around the house. Grandma took care of the cooking and cleaning and child rearing.

I, on the other hand, could pin a cloth diaper (yes, I'm that old) with the best of moms as we were raising our twins. Before front-loading washing machines, I did pretty much all the laundry at our house because it was impossible for my short-legged, short-armed wife to reach the bottom of the drum to get the clothes out of the washer when they were finished.

Today, to make it economically, most couples both have full-time jobs and juggle the responsibilities of childcare and home maintenance back and forth between them. And many single moms and dads find themselves trying to fulfill both roles. In this culture, mutual submission is even more beautiful and needed as husbands and wives seek to raise families and maintain healthy relationships with each other.

Later in the passage in Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul quotes Genesis 2:24, reflecting God's original intention for marriage:

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

Unity of heart and soul, becoming interdependent with one another and with God, moves our marriage relationship deeper and deeper into the life-giving, satisfying purpose for which the gift was given. God desires a deep, vital unity between our hearts and Him, and between our hearts and each other. And that is a rich blessing of a Godly marriage. All of this is challenging, of course, because we are fallen humans with all kinds of shortcomings, failures, selfishness and sin to overcome to live the way God intends. But with the love of Christ filling us and the Holy Spirit directing us, we can live in mutual submission and love in marriage and in our other relationships.

So I have to ask myself, "How is it going in giving myself to my wife and loving her well?" And I have to admit, some days it doesn't go so well. Lord, in your grace help me do better...


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