The Truth About Submission

Leadership in Disguise

No single word has bred more animosity between the sexes than the word submission. Unfortunately, this is most likely due to the fact that both sexes are misinterpreting exactly what that word means, and this is understandable. Sin does that to people.

Most women who misunderstand this word do so because the feminist movement has confused the term submission with oppression. This is because most men who abuse this word are operating under the impression that the term submission means, "She has to do whatever I say." Neither of these assumptions on behalf of men or women come remotely close to what God has in mind.

The verb submit can be defined as follows:

  1. to yield oneself to the power or authority of another: to submit to a conqueror.
  2. to allow oneself to be subjected to some kind of treatment: as in chemotherapy
  3. to present for the approval, consideration, or decision of another or others: to submit a plan; to submit an application.
  4. to state or urge with deference; suggest or propose: I submit that full proof should be required.

Notice that in all these definitions, the submission is initiated by the one who is ultimately doing the submitting: "To yield oneself," or "To allow oneself". Thus, submission is a personal choice. No one can force someone to submit. When force is involved, we are no longer talking about submission, but rather oppression:
op·press –verb (used with object)
1. to burden with cruel or unjust impositions or restraints; subject to a burdensome or harsh exercise of authority or power.
2. to lie heavily upon (the mind, a person, etc.): Care and sorrow oppressed them.
3. to weigh down, as sleep or weariness does.
4. Archaic. to put down; subdue or suppress.
5. Archaic. to press upon or against; crush. To oppress is usually to subject (a people) to burdens, to undue exercise of authority, and the like; its chief application, therefore, is to a social or political situation: a tyrant oppressing his subjects. 1. maltreat, persecute. —Antonyms 2. uphold, encourage.
In the case of submission, the person who is doing the submitting is in charge. In the case of oppression however, it is the person in authority who is taking charge, not the other way around. The Bible calls women to submit. It does not, however, call men to oppress:
Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands . . . Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife (1 Peter 3:1, 7)

Nowhere does the Bible ever say, "Husbands, love your wives and make sure they submit." God gives the submission command directly to the wife. He does not make it the husband's responsibility to see that she submits, rather, it is the wife's responsibility to obey God in the matter. A man who is constantly telling his wife "You need to submit!" is not exhibiting leadership. This type of man is far more concerned with his wife's sin instead of his own. Instead, the man should be focused on his own command from God, which is to honor his wife. And rest assured, God will not honor the man who does not honor his wife:

Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7, emphasis mine)
Wow! The Bible actually suggests that if a man dishonors his wife, God will not honor his prayers. This verse also re-emphasizes the original intention for the creation design from Genesis 1:28, which is that both men and women are heirs of God's grace. Therefore, we can easily throw out any notions that the Christian faith is oppressive to women because of the command to submit. God cares very much that both sexes are honoring one another.

Knowing that the command to submit comes directly from God and not from another sinful man should be enough to obey. Yet sometimes it is hard to understand why God commands us to submit to our husbands, and not the other way around. Again, when we struggle with this notion, it is because we are assuming that leadership comes only with headship. This is not true. Leadership has less to do with a role or title and more to do with initiative.

Submission, as demonstrated before, is an act of the will. It is something that you initiate. Whenever we initiate something, we are taking leadership over that situation. We are not waiting for someone to give us direction, rather, we are taking it upon ourselves to make a decision and act upon it. When we willfully choose to submit to the men in our lives, these men are not in control -- we are.

No man has the power to control you. This is why God pleads with women in the Bible to submit. The man has enough responsibility of his own as the appointed spiritual leader, and will be held to a higher standard of accountability for it. We are commanded to submit, not because God is some cosmic killjoy, but because we were designed to be the helpers. A refusal to submit is not helping the men in your life. In fact, it is going to make their job harder:

Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)
This passage speaks the truth about leadership. It is not a position of glory to be coveted, but rather, a position with responsibilities of huge proportions. There are serious consequences for leading poorly and irresponsibly, and if not properly supported, a man can fail at this task. He did not ask to be the leader, just as we did not ask to be the helper. Do you see what a burden men carry every day? Do you see the tremendous power and influence you have in this situation? You have the power to either make a man's day, or to completely ruin it.

The Bible gives women so much more power than we give ourselves credit for. How will you use your God given power of submission today?


Kurt Michaelson said…
As much as this is helpful understanding for women, it is needed so much for to be understood correctly by men. Thank you for helping the men to understand this.
Jennifer said…
Thanks for your comment Kurt! Because both men and women are equally lost and depraved, we are both equally in need of doing damage control and learning to walk the way God originally intended for us to do so. God bless you!
Betsy Markman said…
This is excellent, and very timely for my life (though I'm just now reading it long after it was written). It's just recently begun to dawn on me the freedom that is available in submission. I'll be referring back to this article more than once.
himmiefan said…
Actually, husbands are told to submit to their wives. Ephesians 5:21 says for everyone to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ. The rest just details how this submission to one another looks like. Our sin-filled culture has taken these powerful verses about loving one another and perverted them into a boss/subordinate, "the husband has the final say" relationship.
Jennifer said…
You're right, himmiefan. There is some similar discussion in the comment section of this post. This is exactly why both men and women are misunderstanding what leadership is. When we misunderstand that leadership is actually a form of servanthood, and not an license to be a control freak, then submission feels a lot more safe and even enjoyable! Thanks for stopping by!
Stacey said…
Excellent post. I have never heard submission broken down so well. I am married and it took me sometime to realize that being submissive was not being controlling. I think our culture has submission so mixed up.

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