A local woman was with me at church one Sunday. Right in the middle of the service, as she listened to Mez preach, she turned round to me and said, “What?!” Mez was preaching on submission, and she was absolutely mortified by what he was saying. “There’s no way, no way I’m submitting to ma man. I’m not dain what he tells me!”
There you have, in a nutshell, one of the biggest struggles facing many of the women we come across in housing schemes. The concept of submission is foreign to them. But it’s not just a scheme problem. One of my friends recently reminded me that it’s her duty not to submit so that she can teach her husband that he’s wrong.
Submission and Strong-Willed Women
Now, I am a strong-willed, articulate, capable, and intelligent woman who has survived on her own for over a decade. And yet I absolutely believe in the biblical principle of submission. I submit to the God-given authority over me, even when I don’t like what they say or do. I do so because I’m called to, and I truly believe it’s the key to real unity in the home and the church. Yet, in our culture, God’s truth has been twisted into the lie that submission equals weakness, or that to submit suggests a lack of equality between men and women, or that if we submit we will be over-ruled, downtrodden, and/or abused.
Unfortunately, there are a few planks out there who, as with all God’s good things, abuse what He has given us. That’s an unavoidable fact. But to do away with the biblical principle of submission on the basis that people have abused it is a grave mistake. Admittedly, it does take strength and humility to submit, particularly if you’re feisty to start with.
What Submission is Not
Listen to Christ, who humbled Himself and submitted to His Father’s will, even to the point of His own death: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). Ponder the glories of Philippians 2, where we’re told that Jesus, being in very nature God, did not count equality with God as something to be grasped, but rather emptied Himself, took the form of a servant, and was born in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:5–11).
Jesus did all of this in submission to His Father’s will. Submission was not beneath Him, and yet we think it’s beneath us. Why? There are many reasons. But I think the prevailing one is simple: biblical submission is not being taught or modelled in many of our churches. Let’s consider a few things that biblical submission is not.
- Submission is not subjection, as if one will overpowers the other. Women aren’t to be enslaved by submission or dominated by the authority over us. Godly men lead like Christ, who gave up His life for His bride (Eph. 5:25). In other words, Christian headship should not be oppressive, tyrannical, or cruel. Ladies, you are to be led like Christ, who went to the cross willingly.
- Submission is not weakness or never having to work or make decisions. We don’t leave our brains at the door when we submit. Take a wee look at Proverbs 31, where we meet an intelligent, capable, industrious, and impressive woman. We retain worth and value in our submission.
- Submission is not all women to all men. A woman must submit—first and foremost—to the Lord. She’s to submit as a church member to the church’s leadership. If married, a woman is to submit to her husband (Eph. 5:22–24). But nowhere does the Bible suggest that all men have authority over all women.
- Submission is not passive obedience. We should not follow men who encourage us in sinful practices. I don’t believe we are asked to blindly follow without engaging our brains. Think of Rahab, for example, who hid the spies, and by breaking the law of her own elders was in fact submitting to the will of God. Consider the Israelite midwives who didn’t kill all the male babies. We aren’t to discard God’s perfect will in our submission.
- Submission is not silent. We can have influence for good. We can be heard and influence those in authority when it’s done well and with respect. Think of Abigail, who challenged David in 1 Samuel 25. She made her voice count. It’s not rebellious to disagree if it is done well and respectfully.
- Submission is not for women only. Men are also called to submit, whether that be to governing authorities or the elders of a local church. In fact, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21) is foundational to our discipleship. Church members submit to church leadership, employees submit to bosses, kids submit to parents, and the list goes on. As I said earlier, even Christ submitted to His Father’s will.
Submission and Trust
For many of us, our lack of submission comes down to a lack of trust. Do we trust the God-given headship in our homes and churches? Or are we Proverbs 7:11 women “. . . unruly and defiant?” Are we simply giving in to our prideful and rebellious nature? Is our home a constant struggle for leadership, a power-struggle pit, and full of arguments? In Proverbs 25:4 we read that it is “better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.”
Why do so many of us struggle to submit? It’s a massive question with a very personal response. It’s a question we need to answer honestly before God. If we don’t deal with the root of our struggle to submit, it will continue to affect all our relationships—including our relationship with the Lord.
On the schemes, many women have justifiable reasons, judging by the past experience of the men in their lives, for not wanting to submit. To be honest, it would be very easy to excuse their behaviour. Many have been horrendously abused and dominated by men. On top of this, biblical submission is so counter-cultural that it just goes against the matriarchal grain present in our communities.
This is why we desperately need mature and godly women to model Christ-like submission in the home and the church. We also need godly men to model biblical leadership in a Christ-like manner in order to paint the beautiful, God-ordained picture of life under His rule. Godly submission is a powerful tool when wielded as God intended.