In the many years I spent in a full-time career (human resources and corporate training), I noticed a few things. First, that the small business owner or the department head was responsible for the outcome of the activities. At the end of the day, someone had to be held accountable and be responsible for the results.
I had some great bosses, men and women alike, and some terrible ones. Maybe you can relate? The great ones all had something in common – they respected me and treated me as a valued team member, and helped me feel excited about the work we were doing. My opinions were valued, contributions praised, and my paycheck affirmed my efforts. Gobs of books have been written on how to be an awesome leader – maybe you’ve read a few the subject or been a leader yourself – you probably know what I’m referring to, regardless.
And if you’ve ever had a terrible employer, you know what it is like to dread going into work every day. Even if you enjoy the work itself, the boss can make the conditions difficult or awful, sometimes worthy of quitting. I had a boss one time who threw world-class temper tantrums, hurling objects many feet. He was an enormous man, and his whole face turned red, eyes bugging, when angered. He was fired because the entire management team walked out, telling the CEO either “he goes, or we go.”
So when thinking about “heads” of departments, families, or even the church, we understand what good leadership is. We naturally respond positively to it.
Hang with me for a moment, we’re going somewhere. And I’ll apologize now for the length of this post.
“Head” refers to accountability and responsibility.
We can spend tons of time discussing the contexts in which the books of the Bible were written, and we should. It is great to pursue deep intellectual understanding of the Word, the times in which it was written, and then consider how those truths are relevant today. I don’t disagree with the historical discussions and the concept of contextual application. It’s Biblical – God Himself tells us to love Him with all our heart and soul and MIND and strength, so absolutely, we need to wrestle through these things.
What I don’t see many people talking about, however, is the relationship with Jesus Christ, with God Himself, that is possible for us all. It grieves me to spend so much time honoring that other guy and his mini-”victories” by paying so much attention to the imperfections and even heinous crimes of those of us who claim Him as Savior. I want to see more encouraging stories of victory over these things, and how His great love heals and restores a messed up bunch of sinners (all of us who call Him Lord are still as imperfect as they come) and our churches being viewed as the hospitals for us, rather than shrines of perceived perfection. Yes, the church is messed up. It always has been. It’s full of sinners, how can it not be? Read the letters to the churches in the New Testament – the church was messed up then, too! But let’s celebrate what’s amazing that God IS doing, through His people in spite of ourselves. I’m not suggesting to turn a blind eye to hurts or hurtful people, but rather to learn to do conflict well, Matthew 18 style, as it actually works.
And no matter how logical I sound, how articulate I am, nothing I say could possibly explain the potentially ludicrous notion of having an actual relationship, a friendship, or being an adopted daughter (or son) of this One True Deity that exists. It’s not logical, but it is real. Yes, I have a real, living, vibrant relationship with the Creator of the Universe. So call the people with the white coats… (and I mean no offense here to those who have endured mental illness or have loved ones suffering – I’ve had post-partum depression four times, and I understand).
Or hear me out…
Because I know Him. And He talks to me.
And it’s my choice to do my best to submit to His authority, which, by the way, like a stellar leader, is not lorded over me or shoved down my throat, but winsomely attractive and relatively easy to follow as long as I stay in communion with Him.
For the record, I do believe in hierarchy – because it exists in the Trinity (Jesus Himself asked God to take the cup from Him the night before He was crucified, but then said, “yet not my will, but Thine be done”) and because God held Adam accountable while dishing consequences for both him and Eve in the garden. I also believe God’s truth shows up in His creation.
But that sorta matters only if you believe the Bible, even when you can’t explain all of it.
And perhaps more importantly, I believe in my relationship with someone I actually know – Jesus Christ.
And what He tells me never contradicts the Bible.
I see many people spend a ton of energy trying to make the Bible fit into what they want it to say. I see gobs of discussions online that try to present scripture and historical information in such a way that encourage wives to not submit to husbands, and instead set up thought patterns under the guise of religion that create all sorts of elements of competition with their husbands.
Their words most often fail to recognize Jesus as a real person, as the one true God, Someone who deeply loves, but also must be feared. And I’m going to humbly offer something up that is going to make a number of people angry, and I’m really sorry, so as gently and as kindly as I could ever say this, aren’t these dialogues mainly about not submitting to God?
Isn’t it in our humanly nature to not want to submit to anything? Including God?
So as a professional person (and perhaps you can relate to this ) I had trouble with the concept of submission – but not because my husband was going to be horrible to me, but rather because I was prideful and an unsubmissive person. And truth be told, I probably still am to a certain degree.
But what I’ve learned over the course of over two decades of marriage and raising 3 children, once again, is that God is right. There’s something amazing about the context of family that grows us deeply. Please know I mean no offense if you have not been blessed with kids – there are other ways to grow. I’m just relating it to the context I’m currently familiar with. I’d honestly love to learn from you and hear how God has grown you without children.
But we are stuck in these “camps” of opposition, debating “mutuality” and “complementarianism” – when we really should be putting our energies toward the sheer wonder of the relationship and praising Him for the last great thing He did and the next wonder about to occur. And recognizing that the Truth is often not what we think it is – black or white, right or wrong, etc.
And… what I believe is something no one talks about, no one says and it is simply this: mutual submission does not occur until both husband and wife reach a certain level of maturity and have been married long enough to figure out how to do life together as servants of Jesus Christ.
And because I’ve never heard anyone else say that, I suppose it is seriously possible, maybe even likely, that I am wrong. But the passages in Ephesians deal with how we are to live, making the most of every opportunity, understanding what His perfect will is moment to moment. And we submit to each other out of reverence for Jesus Christ. AND…wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. Not worship them, but rather not be a contentious competitor to their husbands. Husband is still held accountable. But when he is a good leader, it’s easy. When he’s not, we still have our directions.
It’s what I think He’s revealed to me. And it is what I see in the successful relationships around me, where love of Christ trumps everything. Sometimes we have moments of this in our own marriage. My guess is that you do too… and like me, maybe you want it all the time? The trouble comes when either husband or wife are focused on the other’s behaviors instead of their own – regardless of how our spouse is acting, we know how we are to behave.
I believe we can get to this place where husband and wife are literally trying to out-serve each other because they are both loving God more than each other, and His Spirit rules within them.
Don’t you want a marriage like that?
We wives can make this process quicker and easier by not being competitive and forcing our opinions down our husband’s throat. Have you ever worked with that person? You know, the one who has an opinion about everything and is constantly sharing it? Do you like working with him or her? Know that we sometimes are that person with the guy we married – as he might be naturally negative with us as well, but we are equipped to do something about it, and often times, he’s just not. Here’s why. Or if he is, he won’t, because we’re in the way and he needs our help seeing past us to Who is right in front of him.
My husband and I have what we consider a Biblical marriage. I’m his equal, he is mine, and I know God well enough to know that He is going to grow both my husband and myself – if we will but follow Him. And when we don’t, He allows consequences that grow us. When we are behaving maturely, he is my brother and I am his sister – In Christ. We want what is best for “us” and the family – God’s best – instead of having our own selfish nature rule the day. That’s where mutual submission shows up – he seeks out my opinion in areas where he considers me expert, and I seek out his in the same way. That’s how the “two become one flesh.” And when we disagree, or when a decision is difficult, we pray about it and God communicates what He wants to us. And if we can’t agree, I defer to his opinion.
These things are possible. I am still in awe of what God did with this couple about pornography addiction – she confronted her husband’s sin Matthew 18 style and God freed them both. And by the way, she agrees with submitting to her husband. And now they’re trying to out-serve each other. It’s really beautiful.
And it might look a little different in your marriage. I really believe there’s a wide swath of what’s somewhat “typical” in western marriages. BUT, within that, there are individuals with individual preferences, gifts, and personalities. So what I do is supposed to be done in my marriage, but it might not work if done in yours.
Scripture is a wide swath of generalities. God tells husbands in the Bible to love (and respect their wives) and wives to respect (and to love their husbands) – and yes, I do feel these are all still relevant – but it doesn’t say specifically, “Bring your wife flowers on Thursdays,” or “Thank him for going to work,” but rather speaks in generalities.
And I believe that’s how it is supposed to work.
To tell a wife that she does not have to submit to her husband (notice I am not saying that she cannot utilize Matthew 18 and confront his sin, those are two completely different ideas) (and, yes, I know, some in the church have suggested that it is “unsubmissive” to confront – that’s just hogwash and a lie) anyway, to tell her that is suggesting that she be free to run with the average woman’s tendency to control, and sets the marriage up for difficulties because of how He created us (check the info on brain research). Would we be as comfortable telling a husband not to provide for his family? Where are the people taking issue with this Biblical concept? I find it interesting that men aren’t clamoring for being off the hook here – but I do deal with a ton of wives who are scared, frustrated, and distraught because they have to work to make ends meet, or because they have to work because their husband’s out of a job.
Or at least that’s some of what He’s revealed to me. Perhaps He’s revealed something different to you, but I do wonder, how do you confirm what you think God is telling you without believing the Word?
So rather than focus on the details of the contexts and whether or not submission is a relevant notion today, perhaps we could be encouraging others to know, deeply know God, being careful we’re not encouraging others to question the relevancy or Truth of the Bible. There’s much that’s a mystery. That’s why it’s called, “faith.”
And we must be careful, because those of us that are in positions of leadership and influence are walking on sacred ground:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly. For we all stumble in many ways. If someone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect individual, able to control the entire body as well.(3:1-2 NET).
So once again, a nice reminder that I’m not perfect, and that verse makes me super-nervous about getting this wrong. But that’s what He’s revealing to me. What do you think? Is the Bible a living document to you or a good historical read? What are your struggles with submission? Let me know what you think, or if you need references for anything I’ve suggested above.
Glad to be on the journey with you,
Love to you,