The word “submission” has the power to curl a woman’s toes!
Why is the word “submission” so threatening for women? Let’s go back to Genesis for a moment, chapter 3, verse 16, to be exact:
Then he said to the woman, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” (NLT)
In a perfect world, before sin, Adam deeply loved Eve. With complete trust in that love, she came under and yielded to his leadership. But sin spoiled God’s design for marriage. The man who was to lovingly care for and nurture his wife would now seek to rule her, and the wife would desire to take control from her husband. Understanding our flesh and the natural desire we have to take authority from our husbands is the first key to understanding submission. We now know our struggle is no longer imagined, but real! Submission is impossible in our flesh!
We also suffer from the mistake of limiting our understanding of submission to marriage only. It is important that we take a deeper look at the word and open up the fullness of its definition. The Greek word for “submission” is “hupotasso”, a Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In its non-military use it was a “voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”. (New Testament Greek Lexicon)
What we need to embrace about this definition is that submission is an “attitude” of the heart, an attitude that is cooperative and yielded to placing oneself under another. This attitude is beautifully pictured for us as we look at the example of Christ in Philippians 2:1-8:
Is there any such thing as Christians cheering each other up? Do you love me enough to want to help me? Does it mean anything to you that we are brothers in the Lord, sharing the same Spirit? Are your hearts tender and sympathetic at all? Then make me truly happy by loving each other and agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, working together with one heart and mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing. Your attitude should be the kind that was shown us by Jesus Christ, who, though he was God, did not demand and cling to his rights as God, but laid aside his mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men. And he humbled himself even further, going so far as actually to die a criminal’s death on a cross. (The Living Bible)
We are to willingly place ourselves under Christ, under our churches, under one another, under our husbands, under our employers, and under our government with the same attitude that was shown to us by Jesus Christ, an attitude of humility. This Christ-like attitude is a kingdom attitude, designed for us to enjoy healthy relationships with one another and to glorify God in the unbelieving world we live in.
What does this attitude of humility look like? A humble attitude is first unselfish, meek, patient and mature, quiet in spirit and self-controlled. The humble heart welcomes authority with a confidant trust in God and His established order. Abraham’s wife Sarah is commended for this very trust in 2 Peter 3:5-6. The prideful attitude is easy to spot; it is selfish, haughty, impatient and controlling. The prideful heart rebels against authority and wants its own way no matter the cost.
Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding of submission is explained well by Dr. Wayne Grudem.
Submission to authority can be totally consistent with equality in importance, dignity, and honor. Jesus was subject to both His parents and to God the Father but was not lower than either of them. Thus the command to wives to be subject to their husbands should never be taken to imply inferior personhood or spirituality, or lesser importance.
We need to understand that submission is a kingdom principle based on Christ’s model of servanthood. Remember the dispute between the disciples in Mark 9:33-35?
Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”
Jesus settled it — if anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all. Broadening our scope and understanding of submission will help us to walk it out in every relationship.