“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
~Ephesians 5:21 (NIV).
Many of us are in marriages where conditional acceptance, on some issues, reigns. Despite what either partner prefers they’d be, the heart of one or another jumps to the forefront. Before long stinging words leach out at break-neck speed, the anger and hurt propagating anger and hurt.
Now, to Ephesians 5:21. Note that there’s a full paragraph break between verse 21 and what follows. This is telling us that submission is common to both husband and wife.
It’s also saying, as plainly as possible, that we’re “subject to one another” as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) has it.
Mutual Submission – Individually Propagated
This is not a dependent submission.
It’s not based on condition that one would submit; no, it’s based on the commitment, each to the other, to submit. It’s to be individually inspired and motivated.
Independent of the other partner’s will to submit is the passionate commitment of each partner to sway toward the mate, predicated in love. The wife will do this as if obeying the Lord (Ephesians 5:22); the husband, even more so, because like Christ gave himself up for the church, he is to die to himself for her (Ephesians 5:25).
So, it’s compelling submission both ways.
Understanding the Prevalence of Sin in the Marriage Relationship
Because we have this ongoing battle going on inside each of us, and that the intrapersonal relationship is every bit a microcosm of the interpersonal relationship of marriage, we must simply expect transgressions will occur. It’s unreasonable to expect minimal conflict in marriage. Should transgressions be minimised in consequence and frequency? Yes, most certainly. Still, they’ll occur.
Unconditional submission — each to the other without condition that the other submits — is necessary to counter this fact of sin.
Unconditional submission is hence seen as God’s perfect marital rule — instituted before the Fall — with the eternal power to crush sin. When we use it, we agree to be party to its power.
From perception of ‘doormat’ to ‘real spiritual strength of Christlike love’ we have in an instant freed ourselves of the burden to compare sinfully. This is removing thought of reaction-in-light-of-comparison for thought of hiddenness-with-Christ-in-God (Colossians 3:3). More simply again, our action is not subject to what they do or don’t do; our action is dependent only on the principle of love, which has no bounds.
From Submission to Freedom
This is what we really need to know. It’s another perfect biblical irony.
As one person in a marriage boldly and sincerely submits to their partner they reap not weakness but power — for the partnership. It’s blessing that’s acquired; as if on loan so long as the sincere submission behaviour continues.
Now, if a wife can submit to the husband as the church unto Christ — recalling the church is not perfect yet — and the husband is to give himself for her, like Christ did perfectly at the cross, the most fervent power of submission is actually borne by the husband. Marriage will never reach its potential — both partners reaping lucid joy — unless the husband submits.
Men, this is a difficult pill for us to swallow. The truth, no matter how difficult it is to reconcile, is irrefutable.
Both must submit for the marriage to succeed as God originally designed it to; but the husband’s submission carries more weight.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.