Submission might be the worst word in the English language, followed closely by obedience. No matter how many times I read Ephesians 5:21–33, I still bristle at the apostle Paul's admonition for wives to submit to their husbands. Theologically, I've tried for years to understand what this means. Paul admits that submission is a profound mystery and that it refers to Christ and the church. For the most part, I've simply followed Paul's logic up to this point. I've chalked submission up to being too heady a concept to understand.
But Paul doesn't let us off the hook. Mystery or not, he says, ". . . each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband" (verse 33). Thanks, Paul. You're the best.
I can swallow the spiritual implications of submission to Christ. He's perfect, after all, and seems like a pretty safe bet as far as submission goes. Jesus wouldn't misuse his power. So submitting to Jesus doesn't feel scary; it just feels difficult, like when my pride gets in the way and I don't want to listen to God's whispers to me.
But my husband? He's human. I'm not always sure his motives are pure. How can I submit to him when he's fallible? And why would I let him be the head when I have my own?
And yet, Paul insists on banging the drum: "Wives, submit to your husbands in everything" (verse 24).
Everything? Really? What is this supposed to mean on a day-to-day basis? Does this mean I defer to my husband, Dan, on every decision? Does it mean I play small so he can be big? Does it mean that I have no say in our marriage? I've been fed a lifetime of, you can have anything you want, you can do anything you want, you can be anything you want. Is Paul telling me to surrender all of this for Dan? I'll submit to Jesus, but some days (most days?) I'm a lot slower to want to surrender to Dan.
In this issue, we've enlisted the help of some of our trusted authors and friends to help clear the fog. Kelli Trujillo, married nearly 15 years, examines two pervading views about submission—complementarian and egalitarian. She interviews Trillia Newbill and Jenny Rae Armstrong, two Christian women who are known for their distinctly different views on submission. In the end, Kelli ends up with a hybrid perspective.
Dr. Juli Slattery puts a surprising spin on submission and helps us see that in submitting, we hold more power than we may realize. And Margot Starbuck, always wise and witty, teaches on what it means to "Be a Yes-Woman" to God.
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For Further StudyDownloadable resources to go deeper
- Reflections for Leaders: A 14-Day Devotional JourneyeBook Format Available! Fourteen days of Bible studies on Christian leadership principles for women.