The S-word Chapter 3 of The God-Wild Marriage

2 07 2012

I am using The Inkling to introduce you to each chapter of my new book, the God-Wild Marriage.

Chapter 3: the S-word

God-Wild Marriage

Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.

John Piper

My Katie is in all things so obliging and pleasing to me that I would not exchange my poverty for all the riches of Croesus.

Letter to Stifel from Martin Luther

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Colossians 3:18

… submitting to one another in the fear of God. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.

Ephesians 5:21-24

Several years ago, Liz and I had the privilege of watching the celebrated Israeli actor, Topol, perform live as Tevye in his stage masterpiece, Fiddler on the Roof, at the Pikes Peak Center in Colorado Springs. It was, to say the least, a stunning performance by one of the most talented actors of our generation.

The movie version of the play first hit the cinemas in 1971 and was an instant blockbuster. The movie won three Oscars. Topol was nominated as “Best Actor.” Since that time Topol has played the role of Tevye over 2500 times in stage performances around the world. He has said in numerous interviews that “of all the stage performances” he’s ever done, the role of Tevye is the one he was born to do. No one can play the part of Tevye quite like Topol. Of all the memorable dialogue, one of my favorite exchanges is between Topol and Mendel, the rabbi’s son:

Tevye: As Abraham said, “I am a stranger in a strange land…”

Mendel: Moses said that.

Tevye: Ah. Well, as King David said, “I am slow of speech, and slow of tongue.”

Mendel: That was also Moses.

Tevye: For a man who was slow of tongue, he talked a lot.

What makes Fiddler on the Roof so meaningful? I believe it’s the role of Tevye. Tevye and his inner struggle to understand the changing culture in Russia at the turn of the century. Tevye, as father, provider, family sage, and village leader, is the role that makes the play work. The production team would agree—the original title of the play was not going to be Fiddler on the Roof, but Tevye.

But what would happen to the production if Topol wasn’t allowed to play Tevye, and instead had to play Mendel? What if, from time to time, Topol was asked to play Yente, the matchmaker? How ridiculous! What would be the result if each actor or actress could just decide to change characters and roles whenever they desired? Even in the middle of the production? The result would be chaos!

And chaos is the correct word to describe most marriages today! Most couples don’t have a clue what role they are to play in a marriage relationship. The American culture has increasingly become androgynous. Men are told to act more feminine, and women are told be more masculine. The culture has told us for the past forty years that men need to “get in touch” with their feminine side and listen more, and that women need to “wear the pants” in the home and be more assertive. There are aspects of the stereotypical man and woman in Western culture which have needed to change, and for those, we applaud. But the result has been, in many ways, role confusion, resulting in marriages in disarray.

This week, I talked to a friend of mine who told me about the dissolution of his marriage—one that I would have once thought to be strong and vibrant. The conversation led into the particular counselor he and his wife had chosen during their time of difficulty. I knew the counselor. I knew from experience that this “Christian” counselor often pushed men hard about changing, but rarely—if ever—challenged the domain of the woman. With no biblical understanding of roles and the need for both genders to be transformed, he has brought great confusion into many marriages.

But God is not confused. In Ephesians 5, He is clearly spelling out that He has created divine roles and a divine order for the marriage. And these roles, if obeyed, can result in a marriage according to God’s order that results in a wildly loving and exciting relationship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in writing about these roles, describes it as the “rule of life.”

God establishes a rule of life by which you can live together in wedlock: ‘Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands love your wives.’ (Col 3:18,19) With your marriage you are founding a home. That needs a rule of life, and this rule of life is so important that God establishes it himself, because without it everything would be out of joint. You may order your home as you like, except in one thing: the wife is to be subject to her husband and the husband to love his wife.1

Paul begins the introduction into our roles as husband and wife with one of the most dreaded words in the English language—the S-word, submission. “…submitting to one another in the fear of God. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

Let’s be honest. Submission has a bad reputation! I’ve been in a lot of Christian book and gift shops and never seen a plaque with the words, “Submit to one another,” or “Submit to your own husband.” I’ve never, ever seen it. I doubt I ever will. The perception of submission created in our world is of an “Archie Bunker husband” constantly railroading, manipulating, and making derogatory remarks to the “Edith” wife of his life—treating her as a doormat and bimbo, who hasn’t a clue how to think on her own. Words like “doormat,” “slave,” and “clueless” come readily to mind. Our culture has bombarded us with a worldview that defines submission as inferior.

But the misunderstanding flows both ways. Women, not willing to surrender to Christ and their husbands’ leadership, and also men unwilling to understand that submission cascades down through love and respect. I once had a man in my office who began our discussion about his poor marriage with the words, “If she would just submit like the Bible says, we wouldn’t have all these problems. I’m the leader and she needs to fall into line!” This is not the kind of attitude that we’re talking about.

A more 21st century word that I would prefer to use is the word “support.” Wives are called by God to support their husbands. Support him in his job, support him in his vision, support him in finances. Support him raising the children. Support captures the meaning and spirit of Paul’s meaning.

We Are all Equal

The problem has been a postmodern, post-Christian culture that has increasingly defined roles in the home as either superior or inferior. (And not all for bad reasons. I’m not negating the fact that there are certainly men who abuse their role and women who have been deeply hurt by such chauvinism.) Yet our passage is not speaking of equality—the equality of the man and woman is a given. We are all created by God’s design for a purpose as children of God that are equal in the eyes of God. Paul has given clarity to our egalitarian status before God clear in his letter to the Galatians:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)

The Bible is crystal clear that we are all created equal in God’s eyes. Our gender is a gift from God, given sovereignly by God, and has no bearing on our worth before Him. When we place our faith in Christ as our savior and Lord, we are all, male or female, baptized into Christ with the same spiritual status. Regardless of our sex, we, as fellow followers of Jesus, are all one in Christ.

But, due to sin and the works of the devil, our culture and the church have redefined submission in ways never intended by God. John Piper notes, “It is a great sadness that in our society—even in the church—the different and complementary roles of biblical headship for the husband and biblical submission for the wife are despised or simply passed over.”2 Thus, let’s look at what submission is not before we gaze into the beauty of what it was meant to be.

Submission is not:

  • Having no opinion of your own
  • Having no say in making decisions and always agreeing with your husband
  • Having to walk in fear of disagreeing with your husband
  • Acquiescing to sinful choices knowingly made by the husband
  • Allowing abusive behavior (whether physical, spiritual, or verbal)

So what does submission mean? “Submission” in the Greek is hupotasso, and means “to place underneath, to be subject, to obey.”3 Dr. George Knight III, dean and professor of New Testament at Knox Theological Seminary explains, “the meaning of hupotasso, used consistently in the charge to wives, is the same as its meaning in [Ephesians 5:21], that is submission in the sense of voluntarily yielding in love.”4 I love this definition of submission, “voluntarily yielding in love.” It is as much an attitude as an action, and it involves both parties. It’s extremely important to note that verse 21 precedes verse 22: submitting to one another in the fear of God. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. The man has a responsibility to yield in love to the wife just as the woman yields to her husband. It is interesting that the mutual submission of the man and woman is dependent on a mutual submission “as to the Lord.” In other words, we can’t submit to one another without first submitting to Jesus.

Read more in The God-Wild Marriage by Dr. Steve Holt

1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 28

2 John Piper, This Momentary Marriage, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 2009, p. 99.

3  Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, 5293.

4 Dr. George Knight III, Chapter 8 “Husbands and Wives as Analogues of Christ and the Church,” p. 168 in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by Wayne Grudem and John Piper, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois 1991.