Submission is my least favorite Biblical topic—especially when it refers to the relationship between husbands and wives. My husband likes to joke that I didn’t read the fine print in the marriage contract. I particularly struggle when I watch him parent our children. I was raised with a tough father and he was raised with no father, so we are a combination of extremes. He tends to lean more strict and I tend to be more free—which, of course, leads to clashes in parenting styles—often in front of our kids. But as I learn more about submission, the more I don’t want to undermine his authority in our family. It’s important to me that our children respect their father and they can’t do that if we are not displaying a united front. But submission doesn’t mean I have to be a good little wife and shut up…does it? Ephesians 5 offers another perspective:
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But fornication and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints. Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 5:1-6)
God is our Father…so let us (attempt to) imitate our father, whose unreachable standard exposes the unfaithfulness of our speech. Don’t waste time with silly talk—be grateful for what your Father has provided. Though I consider myself a feminist, the more I study the Bible, the more silly and whiny some feminists seem to me. Instead of being grateful for what we have as modern women—grateful for the sacrifices others have made to get us here—we play the victim. But as I have shared in other posts, we learn from the Bible that there are no victims and such a mentality is dangerous. Yet, white male authority is still demonized…particularly father figures (or priest figures, for that matter). Authority is evil, submission is weakness, and self-reference is the false god of modern day living. The trouble with this anti-authority/anti-submission approach is that it doesn’t work well in marriage—a partnership that requires both authority and submission.
“Therefore do not associate with them, for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret; but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it is said, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.’ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.” (Ephesians 5: 7-20)
It is not wise to continue associating with groups that encourage thinking that opposes the Gospel. Sadly, this passage could be interpreted (and often is) as a license to behave self-righteously, as though we are better than people from other groups. But the point is that Paul says to mind how YOU walk “as children” (disciples) of the Bible and don’t waste your time with things that are unfruitful for YOU. Take it as nutrition advice. If something is poisonous for you and it divides you from God’s teaching or undermines the Gospel in any way, call it out in your mind and stay away from it. I personally had to move away from feminist books and articles that encourage division between husbands and wives in the form of the “independent woman” who needs no man. Male authority is not the problem. When it comes to the Bible, gender is irrelevant. If you are following the law, “love your neighbor,” there is no need for a gender conversation or to argue about whose authority to submit to. You are supposed to submit to everyone. The Bible levels the playing field. Why stress yourself out or waste time reading books or Facebook posts that suggest you are beholden to no one, teaching you to leave an “unfruitful” trail of chaos in your wake? No one wants to believe that there is freedom in obedience.
“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Ephesians 5:21-33)
Unfortunately, people always seem to stop listening to this passage after the phrase, “Wives, be subject to your husbands.” That’s the only thing anyone hears. No one wants to be subject to authority. In particular, modern women (myself included) do not wish to submit to men, so we ignore the fact that the passage sublimates paternal authority to the text. Once again, gender is not the issue. The central problem is our refusal to submit to each other and our determination to play the victim, not just in marriage, but in all areas of our life.
My father was very tough on me as a child. I spent years blaming him as the root of my own problems instead of being grateful that I had a father who actually cared enough about my upbringing to yell at me or spank me if I deserved it. Now, when my husband disciplines our children and I find myself reacting, the question I should be asking is, “Is he disciplining them according to Scripture?” If he is disciplining them in a manner that we have agreed is Scriptural, then there is no reason for me to challenge him—despite my personal feelings that our kids might feel alienated from him when they grow up. The truth is, either way, our kids will clash with him. The Minnesotan in me hates the idea of impending conflict or confrontation. I think it’s in my blood to try and avoid it. But if there is freedom in obedience, I must submit to my husband and trust that my kids will benefit from his disciplinary methods, even if it means their inevitable rebellion. If I have established that his methods are not in accordance with the Bible—meaning they are not in submission to Christ’s commandment to love our children—then it is my duty to challenge my husband—but not in front of the kids. It is imperative that the kids respect their father and that they know their mother respects their father. The same is true in reverse.
A mother’s natural inclination is to try and control everything because she wants to protect her children. But a father should be free to interact with his children as he sees fit. He should not be hampered into “Mommy knows best” for everything.
It is important that a mother not undermine the father’s authority—regardless if he is present or not. Her first loyalty should be to her husband.