The S-Word
by Jamie Canter on April 24th, 2012

Do you remember the first time you heard someone say a bad word?
Do you remember the shock at learning what it meant?
Do you still have a reaction when people say certain words that seem offensive, derogatory or even blasphemous?

I will never forget the day I first heard the s-word.

It was at a Chili’s after church in the Spring of 1996.  The college group was piled into booths and tables.   At least five different conversations are happening at the same time. 
At the booth behind me, I hear a voice say, “ wives have to submit because they sinned first in the garden.”
“Excuse me, “ I said, “What did you just say?”
The young man turned to me and repeated what he had said, “Wives have to submit because they sinned in the garden first.”
“What do you mean submit?” I asked, “Who do they submit to?”
“Their husbands,“ he informed me.
“What? Where did you hear that?” I replied indignantly.
“The Bible,” he said.
“What?  It does not say that in the Bible!!” I said, my voice getting a little louder.
“Yes, it does” he countered.
“Well, I do not agree with that at all! I do not believe that wives should submit to their husbands!  They should be equals!  I will never submit.” I said, louder this time.
“Well, the Bible says to,” he said.
“I don’t care.  I don’t believe you. I will not submit!!!” said I.
And with that I stormed out of the Chili’s making a dramatic and effective exit to my declaration.

Not really.  I think I paid the bill and left muttering that I would not submit.

I couldn’t believe it.  I had never read that in the Bible!  I wondered if it really was even in the Bible!  And how could I, a strong, smart, independent woman believe that God intended for me to submit to a man?  The next year I got married (not to the young man from Chili’s!) and I started to wrestle with this idea of submission.  Did the Bible really say this and what does this look like?

This began a quest for truth about the s-word.

There are very few words like the word “submit” that can create such intense emotions within the church today.  Every single day there is an article or blog entry written somewhere in America on this topic! (My statistic is based on my non-scientific research of seeing these all the time on the Internet)  From the most educated Biblical scholars to people that have never even read the whole book, everyone has an opinion on what the Bible says.
And so now, you are going to get one more, although I have at least read the whole Bible.

I believe the Bible calls for wives to submit to their husbands.  And here’s why.

First of all, wives are called to submit in 4 different books within the Bible.
  • Ephesians 5:22:  Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
  • Colossians 3:18: Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
  • Titus 2: 3-5: Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
  • 1 Peter 3:1-2:  Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct.

Many people like to point out that in the Ephesians chapter, just before wives are called to submit, Christians are called to submit other Christians.  They argue that this means that God intended for there to be mutual submission within the marriage.  The problem with this argument is that this reference to “mutual submission” exists only in Ephesians.  It does not precede or follow any of the other verses in the other books.  The other problem is that it doesn’t make sense that Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit would tell Christians to submit to each other in mutual submission and then tell wives to submit to their husbands, but not expect anyone to follow it?  Why would he write one idea, which cancels out the following statement? 

Second of all, this is not a product of a male-patriarchal society that we are to ignore in our more modern and egalitarian culture.  Why?  Because right after Paul writes for wives to submit to their husbands in Ephesians, he says why: 

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (ESV)

It is because the husband and wife relationship are to reflect the same relationship that Christ has with the church.  Christ’s relationship with the church is not temporary, nor cultural.  And to equate marriage with that relationship is significant.

Many times people will point to these verses as evidence that Paul thought less of women than men.  Yet the irony here is that Paul’s verses were revolutionary at the time!  He called for wives to submit to their husbands, but he called for husbands to love their wives, as Christ loves the church.  Wives did not hold a high place in society and their influence was in the private, home environment.  Paul’s words gave wives equal value with their husbands and it served to elevate their position, rather than subvert it.

Lastly, submission does not mean that women are not equal to men, that women are not valued by God or that all women are called to submit to all men. This is restricted to the marriage relationship. 

I believe that God is actually giving women a compliment with these verses. 
What???  Here’s why. 
God tells wives to submit to their husbands because he created them to be capable of doing it all.
You don’t tell someone to not run fast, if they are not capable of running fast.
You caution people and set up rules when there is a possibility of something happening.

So, God knew that wives could do it all.  Yet he tells us to submit to our husbands.
And I think this is the heart of the issue with so many women who object to this idea. 
We believe that our way is best and we don’t have to want to submit to someone else.
Don’t we all think that we can do certain things (okay many things) better than our husbands, especially as it relates to the home sphere?  Who remembers anniversaries and birthdays?  Who can balance working, raising kids, making dinner, having friendships and more?  Who can see that the ladder perched that way is going to fall or that there are sixteen more efficient ways to solve that problem?  We don’t think we are superior to our husbands, but in many areas relating to our home and our marriage, we certainly don’t want to submit to their ideas, their ways and even their processes.

And yet God calls wives to submit to their husbands.  Is this a punishment?  Is this because of Eve’s sin?   I don’t believe it’s a punishment.  And I don’t believe that it’s because Eve sinned first.  But I do believe that the same qualities that existed in Eve remain in us today – a desire to want our way.

I don’t think it’s hard to imagine how we benefit when we learn to submit to someone’s leadership. I want to live my life according to a Biblical model of marriage, not just because it’s in the Bible, but because I believe that God’s way is best.  And I have found this to be true in my own life.  Submitting to my husband is not a punishment, nor a problem.  It actually works and has allowed my husband to grow into the man God intended.  And it has given me a freedom to stop thinking that my job is to do everything.  As a mom, wife, grad student, daughter, friend and ministry leader, I have enough on my plate!  I have learned how to focus on what God is calling me to do because it brings peace!

Ultimately, the biggest problem with the s-word, is the word itself.  To submit to someone brings to mind power, dictatorship and even an abuse of authority.  The word has more baggage than it should.  So, I challenge you to think of this word as “to yield” or “to honor” your husband.  God has called him to be the head of the household, so give him honor by your actions.  Learn to yield to his leadership.

What does this exactly mean? How do we live this out? Examples might include:
  • Not nagging him to do something
  • Not telling him how to do something
  • Not making decisions without consulting him first, especially as they relate to large purchases or commitments of time.
  • Praying for him and his leadership
  • Finding ways to encourage and support him
  • Being careful not to put him down in front of the kids
  • Letting him be the last authority on disciplinary issue
  • Submitting to the Holy Spirit’s guidance on how to live this out in your life.

This does not mean that you cannot talk about every issue or give your opinion or both make decisions together.  But it does mean evaluating your actions to see if there are ways that you should be honoring your husband and yielding to his leadership.

I believe that a healthy marriage will be a model of mutual submission because as both parties seek to put the other first, it will resemble a partnership.  But that God does call for a hierarchy within marriage.  Not inequality, but different roles.

By the way, the boy at Chili’s told my husband (who I was not dating at the time) to stay away from me because I did not submit.  My husband was impressed that I was brave enough to tell a room of Baptists that I wouldn’t submit.
So he married me.


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