Last week I left my series (on how men should love their wives) with a description of what love "ain't." Poor grammar aside, this is an important point of reminder.
Today I want to touch on marriage roles, specifically the issue raised in Ephesians 5:22-24: 22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. This is a controversial passage, and I won't solve the controversy here. I expect someone reading this will be ticked off. I only ask that your critiques, welcome as they always are, be offered in a spirit of respectful correction.
This is, to say the least, among the most controversial scriptures around. In an era of feminist thought, where the term "submit" carries connotations of weakness and inferiority, many have undertaken to "re-interpret" this passage so as to remove the offense of it to modern ears. Others have attempted to hold more tightly to it, pushing it to mean male dominance over women, or that abuse is justified. Neither approach is correct.
I am not a woman. Shocker, no? As my gender is male, I cannot possibly empathize with women who read this passage and wonder if they're inferior to men. I can, though, sympathize with the plight. After all, I am commanded to submit to my government, run by politicians, few of whom I believe to be my betters. Likewise I'm to submit to my bosses, some of whom are Pointy Hair Bosses in training. So why are we to submit to these folks? And what does it mean to do so?
We are often told to submit so that we bring glory to God. Because it relfects well on Him that His children are selfless, seeking the betterment of others. Because it attracts notice, as being different, which leads to opportunities to demonstrate the truth of the Gospel before words are even used. Because it mirrors the ultimate submission of Christ to the cross so our debt could be paid.
Submission looks an awful lot like what a husband is to do for his wife. It is a selfless seeking to elevate the other, recognizing that God gave that person a role to play, and that you are there to help that person reach the goals for that role.
In this light, a wife's submission to her husband is recognizing that God put the husband in the role of "head of the household" as "Christ is head of the church." Wives are to help their husbands be this head, as husbands are to elevate the wife's needs to his central familial concern.
I'm not going to go much further into what this submission looks like. Kristen addresses this here and here better than I could (and from a more credible position.) However, I'd like to look at what this submission is not to look like.
Submission is not male superiority. All are equal, none are better than others. Likewise, submission does not equate to husband-dominance in decision making. If a husband truly loves his wife, he should not only be looking out for her best interests, he should actively engage her in discussion about decisions. Our wives are our helpmates, women who are equal partners in the work to which God has called us. They are not inferiors to be pitied, humored or ignored.
Submission doesn't mean women can't get jobs, have "stereotypical male" interests, or be involved in decision making. Women can have authority, as say Deborah did in the Bible. Women can be partners in ministry, teaching as did Priscilla.
The problem is that submission is seen as a negative thing, when in reality is a virtuous thing. It is serving others out of love and respect. It is recognizing that one person has to make a decision in a stalemate, and the selfless thing to do is to submit to the others' will (albeit when doing so doesn't mean going with a sinful decision.)
My wife has a job, has many hobbies, does many of the household management tasks. We each have different gifts and interests, and we each have different "areas of responsibilities" in the home. My wife is liberated by any reasonable definition of the word. I do much of the housework (I may be the only husband in America who's heard the phrase, "it's midnight, that's clean enough. Cut it out and go to bed.") My wife votes and works outside the home. We discuss major financial decisions, although she manages the checkbook.
But she allows me to make the decisions when we have a conflict (I think it has happened maybe once in 11+ years of marriage.) That is submission. I don't boss her around, and I take in her opinion eagerly. She is smarter than I in regards to many things, and I'm not foolish enough to ignore that. She has made more decisions for our family than I have by virtue of being right more often. But ultimate responsibility was given to me by God, and she recognizes that she has no business trying to rearrange what God has ordained.
My responsibility is to make that decision with her interests at heart even over mine: agape love. Not man dominating woman. Not woman having no role of authority or leadership. Rather, two people working together, equals before God, selflessly seeking the good of the other.