It’s NOT about headship and submission

The discussion in evangelical circles regarding marriage typically centers around the same age-old words that most people seem to enjoy debating.  Submission VS Headship.

First of all, there’s a danger in pitting the two against each other when the Bible NEVER takes that position.  But I think an equal danger is to become so embroiled in those terms and the contentious definitions given from both sides of the argument, that we miss the REAL issue behind it all… which is something that very few people seem to be talking about.

WHY? – Why did God create marriage in the first place?  What is it’s purpose?  If we understand this then it makes our attempts at defining the things within marriage (submission and headship) much more effective.  So, let’s take short journey to Ephesians chapter 5.

Paul writes,

 21 –Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.  25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Paul begins with the basic instructions, which really aren’t so basic.  In fact, God used this passage early on in my marriage to revolutionize my approach to being a husband.  It’s very helpful to work through this passage slowly and let the Holy Spirit apply it to a humble, non-defensive, non-sexist heart.  Forget what’s “fair” or “right” or “emancipated” from our culture’s perspective and understand the substance of what Paul is saying.

But the greater point I want to make is this one… it’s found in verse 32

This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.

When the New Testament speaks of a “mystery” it’s referring to something that was previously unknown (at least partially) but NOW, because of Christ, is made clear.  From the time of Adam and Eve until Christ, marriage was just marriage – for procreation, for completion of each of the partners, for social reasons, etc.  But NOW that Christ has come, we are told a fuller meaning! 

God intends for Christian marriage – the way a Christian husband loves his wife and the way a Christian wife respects and submits to her husband’s servant-leadership – to DEMONSTRATE what Christ’s relationship with His church is like!  That’s the “why” behind the institution of Christian marriage.  To me, that puts an entirely new spin on things…

  • It’s no longer about “equality” or “fairness” – its about being an accurate representation of how the relationship between Christ and the church are supposed to be.
  • It no longer has anything to do with capability, gender, or “rights.”  It now has to do with my desire as a husband (or wife if that’s the case) to submit to God’s plan for showing off His love for the people of earth.
  • Marriage, like so many other things (rainbow, communion, sacrifices, baptism) is intended to be a living symbol – a real-life presentation to a dying and lost world of how Jesus cares for His bride, the church.

When we get this idea ground into our thinking, it makes all the difference in the world to how we approach issues such as submission and headship.  We can begin to see that God, in His tremendous grace, is allowing us to be a part of reaching those in the world whom He loves.  He’s allowing us to live out, sacrificial as it may be in some cases, a demonstration of that love.  We should be HONORED.  We should be HAPPY to play a role in that by life-ing out our roles in marriage as He’s prescribed them to be!  Why?  Because THAT is one way the world will recognize HIS LOVE FOR THEM!

The Christian calling in general, but also as it relates to marriage, is not about equality or societal ideas of fairness, or any other such worldly nonsense!  The Christian calling is about sacrifice for the sake of others!  The Christian calling is about me giving up my rights (like Christ did – check Philippians 2) and doing WHATEVER IS NEEDED to hold forth the word of life, the gospel, the love of God, the demonstration of that love in real-life terms!  THAT is what Christian marriage is supposed to be about!

Forget about the debate over headship VS submission.  Begin to think through the idea of “giving your life” so that others can HAVE life!  Marital roles, as defined in scripture, are part of that life-giving!


8 thoughts on “It’s NOT about headship and submission

  1. In Genesis, God creates woman to be man’s “ezer”. “Ezer” is used in Scripture almost exclusively in reference to God. “The Lord is my “ezer” and my sure defense.” To say woman is in any way subserviant to man would almost be like saying the Lord is subserviant to us.

  2. Thanks for the reponse pistolpete!

    In considering a passage like this we have to take into account the ‘WHOLE” of scripture – AND be careful what terms we use. I NEVER said (and never would say) that a woman is “subserviant” to a man – because that is not what the scriptures teach.

    I agree that “ezer” is mostly used of God Himself in the Old Testament, which says a HUGE amount about the worth and role of a woman. But it also says in the original language, in that very same passage (Genesis 2:18) that she is a “helper corresponding to him” (the man). THIS is never said of God. Her role has to do with being a “helper” (yes, as God is) but specifically related to the man. The comparison you are making is apples to oranges, and not being honest with the meaning of the original language. You can’t make it say what you want it to say, it says what it says. Period.

    Whether we humans (male or female) like it or not, there is a specific ROLE that woman was created to fulfill that has to do with GOD”S WILL FOR HER. The entire emphasis of my post was not clear I’m afraid, if you are taking it back to the “headship VS submission” issue. Paul clarifies for us that the role of man and woman has to do with God’s plan for reaching the world – not a “better than/less than” relationship between them as genders.

    As Christians we need to do whatever it takes to fulfill our part in that symbolic outreach to humanity.

  3. Yep. ;D

    If etymology determined interpretation, then Jesus commands us to literally despise our parents (Lk. 14:26). Obviously in context, He’s employing hyperbolic language – so a truly literal interpretaiton would take that into account, rather than woodenly-literally saying it’s now a divine imperative to seek your parents’ harm.

    Etymology is a helpful handmaid in the task of interpretation, but the Spirit often invests terms with nuances of meaning which go beyond their normal semantic usages/origins, which context actually unpacks for us.

    For instance, the insistence of the previous commenter of subtly inserting “subservience” over against “submission” into the discussion. Biblically, submission is not subservience. The one is positional, the other ontological. Jesus submits to the Father; but He is in no sense less than the Father in His Deity. His submission is volitional and positional, not “natural” (in the sense of being dictated and demanded by possessing a subordinate Nature to the Father).

    As you pointed out on my blog: WORDS HAVE CONSEQUENCE.

  4. Mike,

    It’s refreshing to hear from someone in this discussion who is using common sense and intelligence about language instead of emotional rhetoric. I think a lot of the reaction that occurs IS purely emotional because the position I am taking is “perceived” as hostile to women because of the cultural influences and history we Westerners have been raised within. But in actuality, the view I take places a VERY high value on women – equal in value to men/co-heirs with Christ. It’s the issue of “roles” that I think is confused…

    I haven’t had time yet, but I plan to check out your blog a bit more…


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