Our guest authors are Richard and Philly Simpkin, long-time members of St Helen's.
We’re not proposing to have all the answers about biblical submission, but our prayer is that this blog might help those of us who are married with our thinking, given that those around us are increasingly confused about the roles that men and women play in marriage. The danger with this confusion is that Christians are pressurised into modelling our marriages on the world’s redefinitions of the roles of husbands and wives and not on Christ’s.
Colossians 3:18 (where we'll be this Sunday) says “Wives submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord”. This is a command from the Lord, not an optional extra to our marriage which we can turn off and on. This means that wives need to submit to our own husbands regardless of what our secular culture may say or what our education has taught us. If the Lord is a wise creator, then his wisdom is far greater and kinder than the wisdom of the world, and for our benefit and safety it’s a good and wise thing to live out the Maker’s instructions.
Notice first where our submission comes from: we are told to submit “as is fitting in the Lord”. As Christian women, we have put to death the old self and have put on our new selves. So submission is an attitude of the heart which gives up our rights and our wants, and which trusts and respects the authority and leadership of Christ over our lives. Wives are then asked to model their submission to Christ by submitting to the husbands that God has given to lead them. This isn’t questioning the equality of wives: Jesus submitted to his Father, and he is no less God. Similarly, wives are no less equal to husbands in status. We are joint rulers over creation, filling the earth and subduing it, but as joint rulers over God’s creation, God has graciously given us different roles to play. These roles are also clearly described in 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:22-33. The role of submission is hard, but it is something that wives are called to do as is fitting in the Lord. Although Jesus sweated tears of blood as he contemplated what his obedience would look like, he still joyfully submitted to the will of his Father and went to the cross. Willingly he sacrificed himself because of his obedience to and love for the Father.
Do I have to submit in everything?
Wives are to submit as is fitting with our new status in Christ, not just when we feel like it or when we feel like our husbands are leading us particularly well. We’re to have that Christ-like attitude all the time. It’s not conditional on our husband’s behaviour or on our emotions or feelings. That’s not to say we won’t disagree or be able to talk things through—we don’t have to become doormats, simply saying “yes dear” to everything. Instead, after discussion, listening and prayer, we should accept and demonstrate the trust we have in the leadership God has given our husbands.
As a result of the fall, wives are often tempted to usurp our husband’s leadership and take over, because of fear and anxiety that we won’t get what we want. Fear and anxiety are very powerful emotions, which can drive us to fight for independence and autonomy. The question to ask is, "Are we willing to trust that God is ultimately in control, and that he will enable us to trust our husbands to lead us, or do we feel like we’re in a competition in which we need to prove ourselves and win?". We may be much cleverer and more spiritually mature than our husbands. At the same time, our husbands will inevitably make wrong or poor decisions, but Jesus calls us to submit to our husbands, so that's what we must do—"as to the Lord." This last little (but hugely important) phrase also helps with the question “what if I'm asked to do something which is contrary to Scripture?” The answer is that we're called to submit ultimately to the Lord, so we’re not expected to submit to anything which would cause us to be disobedient to him.
What if I’m struggling to submit?
If you’re in a relationship, but not married yet, you do not need to submit to your boyfriend! Submission is something that wives are instructed to do under their husband’s leadership—the instruction is not for all women to submit to all men. However, if you feel that you can’t submit to the man you are in a relationship with, and that the issue is unresolvable, it would probably be best not to marry him. However, if you’re a wife struggling to submit to your husband’s headship, then pray. These attitudes don’t come naturally to us, but if we’re in Christ then we have his Holy Spirit in our hearts to change us. We’re not on our own, so we need to pray that God would give us an attitude of submission—that we would want to live out these truths in a practical way in our marriages. We need to pray that we’d be able to hold our tongues; pray that we’d find ways to encourage our husband to lead and to respond in love when he does; pray that we would be able to cast our fears and anxieties on to Jesus; pray that our submission to Jesus would increase so that we can love and trust our husbands more and find true and lasting joy in living for Jesus. We also need to pray for our husbands, who have been given the daunting task of sacrificing their lives to lead us wives in a way that helps us to set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:2).