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What Submission is Not

What Submission is not: The Doormat, The Boss, and The Manipulator

A Wives Only Wednesday post

 

In my Wives Only Wednesday post last week, Wives: Strong and Submissive, I explained how strength goes hand in hand with biblical submission. True biblical submission has nothing to do with weakness or subjugation, as it is so often wrongly characterized. In fact, submission actually requires strength.

Submission Misconstrued

Unfortunately, there is a pretty strong cultural push back against God’s design for marriage, and I find it is mainly due to a lack of understanding of what God’s heart really is on this subject.

What does it mean for you to respect and support your husband’s Christlike “headship” with the gift of your submission? It means that your submission to your husband should be a direct corollary of your submission to Christ. Paul describes in Ephesians 5 how God designed marriage to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church, represented by the Bride-like characteristics in the chart below.

Weak & Unsubmissive

I don’t usually like describing something in the negative, but today I want to introduce you to the three wives represented by the other quadrants: labeled above as the Doormat, the Boss and the Grouch.

The Doormat

This is probably the wife I hear described most often when people protest the notion of submission. “I’m not going to be a doormat for anyone!” The good news is you aren’t supposed to be!

This wife makes the mistake of equating submission with weakness. She is often filled with self-doubt and insecurity. She thinks her opinions don’t matter and that her needs are unimportant, even as the resentment over her presumed “less than” status builds. She thinks she has no voice.

The Doormat can be withdrawn from the relationship with her husband, mistaking passivity for humility. She feels uncertain of her identity in Christ, as co-heir with her husband of the full inheritance that is hers by virtue of her faith in Jesus.

[There are also plenty of “dictator” husbands who treat their wives in this way.  It’s important to realize that Paul never instructs husbands to make their wives submit, but rather to love their wives in a Christlike manner.]

The Boss

This is the wife who feels she must lay submission aside in order to show herself strong and to prove herself capable.

This wife tends to be disrespectful to her husband, her words and tone letting him know of her frequent disapproval. She will put him down to friends and family and broadcast his mistakes in order to “keep him in his place.” She thinks that in order to avoid subjugation she must push for her own way. Her self-interest is front and center of most decisions, and she is easily offended.

The Boss frequently contends for power, thinking that to do otherwise shows her to be weak.

The Manipulator

This wife is neither submissive nor strong, sharing some of the characteristics of both the Boss and the Doormat.

The Manipulator comes across as uncaring toward her husband, from her expressions of disrespect to her self-protective withdrawal from him. She is fearful, distrustful and resentful of any expression of leadership on his part.

She lacks the emotional strength and the integrity to deal with her husband forthrightly. She plays games to get her way. She may try to hide her emotions, but they will eventually bubble up into an outburst of some kind.


To make the point clear, I’ve described the behaviors of these wives in pretty strong terms. Chances are, none of these describes you exactly, but beware of the characteristics they portray. Be vigilant against the mindset that equates submission with weakness. And be vigilant against the world’s prevailing sentiment against submission in any form.

Pursue strength and submission with equal vigor. Glean from your relationship with Jesus the kinds of attitudes and attributes that should attend biblical submission. If you are watchful, you will see lots of parallels between your spiritual walk and your marriage. They are everywhere.

Grace Abounds

To a greater or lesser degree, you are going to fail to be the wife you want to be.

There is good news for those who mess up in their quest to walk out a biblical marriage. It’s called grace!  God is for you and for your marriage. His desire is to see you and your marriage thrive. Pray for the wisdom to love and serve your husband well. Pray for your husband to walk in his full identity as leader and lover. Know that God’s love and approval of you don’t change, even when you slip into weak or unsubmissive actions or attitudes.

God’s grace and love abound, and nothing you do or fail to do can change that. 


A note to any husbands reading this post. The post is intended for your wife. While you can encourage your wife to be strong, it is not your responsibility to make her submit. Work on your end of the marriage partnership, to love and serve your wife as Christ loves the church, giving himself up for her.  Loving your wife well will draw out both her submission and her strength.

Read my corresponding posts for husbands

 

What Headship is Not

What Headship is not:  Nice Guy, Dictator, and Manipulator

A Men Only Monday post

 

As I explained last week, the biblical model for marriage Paul gives us in Ephesians 5 is that, as a husband, you have the role of head, “as Christ is head of the church.” Being head is not a role you earn. Regardless of whether you embrace it or not, it is your God-given responsibility. I don’t know why, but that’s how God set it up.

Remember, the clear implication of Ephesians 5 passage on headship is that being “head” means being like Jesus.  It does not mean being boss. Jesus’ kind of headship means displaying Christlike strength and goodness. Your headship as a husband is founded in being both a good leader and a generous lover.

I don’t normally like writing posts about what you should NOT do. But when either strength or goodness are missing from the way you walk out headship, it can do damage to your marriage.  This can be clearly seen in the top search terms that bring wives to my blog.  The first is something like “my husband refuses to lead.” The second, following closely behind in the number of hits, is “my husband acts like a dictator” or similar terms.

I shared a chart last week to illustrate what Christlike headship should look like. Below, I’ve updated the chart to label the three ways in which your headship can fall short.

weak and bad chart

The Nice Guy

There are many wives longing for their husbands to stand up and take their leadership role seriously. Like I said, wives come here for that reason more than any other.

I’m not making excuses, but the widespread pushback against biblical headship, even within the church, has many men reluctant to lead their marriages. Some of these genuinely kind men are afraid of being labeled misogynists or worse. Some have bought into the lie that there should be no distinction in the roles of men and women in marriage. Some have wives who contend for authority, even wives who claim to want their husbands to step up and lead! These men who are hesitant to take their leadership role seriously are what I call “Nice Guys.” They are good but weak.

Society and the church have given rise to the Nice Guy syndrome. These men are pleasers who tend to avoid conflict. These are the men who leave most or all the decisions to their wives, either because they are totally disengaged or because their wives argue and put them down for every idea and hold past decisions over them indefinitely. Nice Guys often just give up, rather than rocking the boat by trying to lead.

Whatever the reason for their refusal to lead, these men often don’t realize that their weakness makes them unattractive to their wives over time. Worse, their resulting disengagement leaves their wives feeling unloved and alone. It’s not a formula for a passionate, intimate or lasting marriage. Many Nice Guys also end up feeling unfullfilled, because I believe there is a God-given desire in most men to prove themselves strong and capable of leading their wives and families.

It’s Nice Guy husbands that pose the biggest threat to biblical marriage today because their error is much more subtle and socially acceptable than the next group.

The Dictator

In days gone by, maybe 50 years ago, this was the number one problem with husbands in marriage. This kind of brutish, self-serving husband led to feminism and the desire for egalitarian marriage. Dictators are the reason the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction, giving rise to so many Nice Guys.

Unloving husbands who use their authority to control or coerce their wives are very bad news. These are the men who are abusive and flaunt scriptures at their wives about being submissive, all the while ignoring the scriptural mandate for them to love their wives unconditionally and sacrificially.

Selfish, controlling husbands give biblical headship a bad rap.

The Manipulator

The husband who is both weak and unloving is double trouble.

This husband is self-centered but lacks the guts to act on it openly. He doesn’t care about what his wife needs or wants from him. He is only concerned for himself.  He will manipulate and deceive in order to get his way but is not willing to confront issues head on.

The manipulator refuses to take responsibility for his actions and shifts blame onto his wife. He plays games to get his way. He is often controlled by fear, and his buried frustrations may bubble up to the surface as angry outbursts.

The manipulator doesn’t refuse to lead because he is incapable, he refuses to lead because he doesn’t care.

Grace Abounds

I have described the Nice Guy, Dictator, and Manipulator in pretty strong terms. There are, of course, many less severe ways to screw up headship.  I know because I’ve done them all from time to time.

There is good news for us who mess up in our quest for biblical headship. It’s called grace!  God is for you and for your marriage. His desire is to see you and your marriage thrive. Pray for the skill to lead well and for a revelation of Jesus’s love and strength. Pray for your understanding of the love of Jesus to grow deeper, so you can love your wife in the same way. Note the prayer Paul prayed for the church in Ephesians 3, leading up to the chapter on marriage.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,

 Ephesians 3:17-18

This is a prayer God is eager to answer! 

Be diligent. Vigorously pursue the kind of headship Jesus displays to us, his bride. When you slip into actions or words that are weak or unloving, admit your blunder and ask your wife to forgive you. She will admire you for it.

My point in stating what headship isn’t, is to get you to be watchful over your role as husband and to strive diligently to be both strong and good. Your wife deserves that from you, and God is calling you to it. Christ lives in you; you just need to learn to let him out!

 


A cautionary note to wives reading this post: it is not your job to browbeat, manipulate or judge your husband if he happens to fall into one of the non-Christlike quadrants, even occasionally. It is not your job to correct or coerce him. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. Don’t even think of forwarding this to your husband, and do not even think of using my labels for name-calling! Your job is to concentrate on your role in your marriage.

Wives: Strong and Submissive

Submission and strength go hand in hand.

A Wives Only Wednesday Post

 

On Monday I wrote a post for husbands on the way the Bible describes their role in marriage.   In “Strong and Good” I explained how the model for biblical headship is Jesus. Today, I’m addressing wives on their role.

I’ll give you the same two cautions I gave husbands in their post. When it comes to Paul’s instructions on marriage in Ephesians 5:

  1. You should only read the instructions that pertain to your role.
  2. The only valid model for interpreting these instructions is Christ, our Bridegroom, and the church, His bride.

The S Word

Most of you have probably at least heard that there is something about wives and submission in the Bible. Some of you may even know the verses by heart.

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Ephesians 5:22-24 (NIV)

Some may choose to ignore these verses or pass them off as out of date for our modern world.  But my belief is that if it’s in the Bible, especially if it’s in the New Testament, it’s probably something God cares about and something we should try to understand and apply.

Seeking Understanding

Most of those who have a problem with biblical submission have wrong ideas of what it actually is. What is needed is a clear understanding of the Bible’s perspective. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of explanation in the scriptures about submission, so people seek out understanding from a lot of different sources. For example:

  • Feminism – says women don’t need men in the first place and calling a wife to submission is like calling her to a life of slavery.
  • The culture at large – says 50/50 is the best way to run a marriage. Equality is the goal. Submission is unfair.
  • Wrong paradigms – use models like captain/first mate, pilot/co-pilot, CEO/VP, etc.

None of these perspectives provide useful insight into God’s design for marriage.

What we should focus on instead is the only clear model of marriage found in the Bible: Christ and the church. Specifically, submission is best understood through the lens of your relationship to Jesus. No, I’m absolutely not saying that husbands are gods or equal to Christ. I’m simply saying that the Bible clearly intends that you should glean lessons for your marriage from the way in which you submit to Christ.

Submission and Strength

Many mistakenly think that, as a wife, you cannot be both strong and submissive. But submission and strength are both essential to your role as a wife; they are not mutually exclusive.

Here is how I frame it up:

Strong & Submissive Bridelike

 

The upper right quadrant, the one labeled “Bride-like,” is what I think the Bible calls you to as a wife: to be both strong and submissive.

Forget the notion that submission means you are to be a slave or a doormat or a so-called “Stepford wife.” No, the bride-like imperative means you are to be empowered by your husband, secure and confident in his love, with a sure sense of God-given identity and purpose. This is how we relate to Jesus. This is how you should relate to your husband.

Don’t confuse submission with silence. You are to have a voice, a strong, clear voice in your marriage. But your strength does not conflict at all with the call for you to honor your husband with your respect, to follow and support him in humility, or to be selfless in giving your husband your love and devotion.

The fact is that true biblical submission requires real strength.

  • It requires you to have the mental strength to do battle with the lies you hear all around you about worldly marriage paradigms that say you must to look out for yourself and stand up for your rights. It can be a real challenge to keep your mind in agreement with the way God wants you to live your marriage.
  • It requires the emotional strength to face your doubts and fears and to trust in your husband’s love. It requires that you work on your self and on becoming the wife God wants you to be rather than trying to change your husband.
  • And it requires the strength of will to let go of your need to control, to follow God’s design for your marriage and to follow your husband’s lead, to partner with him and to lovingly support him, even when he missteps.

Yes, you can and should be both strong and submissive in your marriage. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise. Your submission actually makes you powerful. True submission is a gift you give to your husband. The choice is wholly yours, because submission that is demanded or coerced isn’t biblical submission at all.

In your marriage, do you struggle with submission or with being strong? Share your story, leave a comment.

Be sure to come back next week when I explain “What Submission is Not.”


You might want to check out what some other wives have to say about what submission means to them:

You can also read my post “Respect, Submission and Trust” or Part 6 of What I Believe About Marriage, “Love, Respect, and Submission

Husbands: Strong and Good

Strength and goodness are both essential parts of a husband’s biblical leadership.

A Men Only Monday Post

Strong and Good

In the early days of my former blog, I wrote extensively about biblical instructions for husbands and wives. In the process of moving posts here to my new home, I came across a few I thought worth updating and re-posting for my newer readers. This week and next I’ll be updating and reposting four related posts on the important topic of biblical roles.

As many of you know, the clearest biblical instructions for husbands and wives are found in Ephesians 5:21-33. Today we are looking at instructions for you as a husband, so I’ll  quote the relevant verses from the Amplified Bible.

{21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).  22 Wives, be subject (be submissive and adapt yourselves) to your own husbands as [a service] to the Lord.  23 For the husband is head of the wife as Christ is the Head of the church, Himself the Savior of [His] body.}*

 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her,

26 So that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, 27 That He might present the church to Himself in glorious splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such things [that she might be holy and faultless]. 28 Even so, husbands should love their wives as [being in a sense] their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself. 29 For no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and carefully protects and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, 30 Because we are members (parts) of His body.

*{ } bracketed verses added for context. This is not specifically part of the husband’s instructions.

What is Real Headship?

In teaching husbands about these verses, I always emphasize two important points:

  1. You should only read the instructions that pertain to you.
  2. Your only reference model should be Christ and the church.

I’m not going to spend any time in this post revisiting the arguments over the Greek lexicon or whether kephale actually means head. I’ve read and researched this extensively and can only interpret Ephesians 5 to mean the husband is intended by God to have a kind of authority in marriage.  The reason I don’t want to trifle over the exact translation (authority, leadership, headship) because whatever term you choose, the context makes it clear that Jesus should be your only definition of headship.

Charting Biblical Headship

What does Jesus’s headship look like? In looking at how Jesus uses his authority, I choose the key attributes of strength and goodness in framing a husband’s role.

It’s important to understand that these two attributes are not mutually exclusive. In fact, you must realize that BOTH are necessary if you are to walk out your headship in a biblical, Christlike manner. To illustrate, I created the chart at the top of this post.  It clearly depicts that there is only one quadrant that fits the biblical description of your God-given authority: both strength and goodness.

A Strong Husband

The strength axis is a measure of your degree of leadership and engagement in your marriage (and family). Rather than being measured by how many decisions you make or rules you set forth,  as it is popularly explained, it’s measured by your degree of emotional and physical presence. Yes, decisiveness is necessary and often helpful, but it’s not the primary measure of godly leadership.

Demonstrate your leadership strength through your engagement with and involvement in the day to day life of your home and family. Be vigilantly aware of what’s going on and how what’s going on affects your wife (and family). Be a proactive leader by stepping in and taking action when things start to go off track before crisis sets in. Be a rock of stability for your wife.

Remember, you are not the captain of the ship to your first mate wife or the pilot to your copilot wife. You are to be as Jesus is to his bride. It’s the only biblical model. Therefore, Christlike leadership also looks like:

  • reliable provision 
  • consistent protection
  • clear direction
  • unwavering trustworthiness

A Good Husband

Goodness in a husband, to me, relates most directly to how he loves, nurtures and selflessly serves his wife.

The tricky part of goodness is that “goodness” looks different for different women. Do you know what words and actions best say “I love you” to your wife? Do you do them on a consistent (daily) basis?

For many wives, love needs to be expressed in the form of feeling emotionally connected and knowing that her needs are important . She wants to feel fully known and understood by you and to be valued and cherished for who she is. It requires a significant degree of communication through conversation with your wife, not something all men are skilled at or comfortable with. Then it requires that you act in a manner consistent with your understanding of who she is and what she needs.

Goodness means expressing your leadership with the heart of a servant. Self-serving leadership is what gives biblical marriage a bad rap, and it will cause your wife to resist your leadership and withhold her submission. Selfless leadership is what Jesus models for us. Learn from His example.

What do you think of the way I’ve charted biblical headship? Did I miss anything significant in the chart above? Share your thoughts in a comment.

Be sure to stop back by for next week’s Men only Monday post: What Headship is Not

7 Birthday Presents for A Nation

God created marriage to be a stabilizing foundation of the church and of society. How can we get on board with God’s marriage agenda?

For my readers outside the US, chances are that what I’m about to say regarding trends in the US have bearing on your own country. In fact, I’d love to hear how the state of marriage compares in your own country.

It is not popular to stand up for marriage in the US these days, especially if you take a more traditional and sacramental view of the institution. In fact, those who do so often face severe chastisement and abuse by those who disagree. There seems to no longer be space in our society for courteous public discourse about the important topic of marriage.

Good News and Bad News

Is marriage in the US really in trouble? I believe so.

Despite the focus of the headlines on legal battles in recent years, you might be surprised to hear me say that gay marriage is not the biggest threat to Christian marriages.  Of course, I am a strong supporter defining marriage as being between one man and one woman, and I see the strong push by gay rights advocates as eroding belief in God’s plan for marriage. However, statistically speaking, a great many more people are impacted by other negative factors not related to gay marriage. By focusing almost exclusively on what we are against, I think we lose the opportunity to emphasize the beauty of what we are for, and we risk missing some other, more significant trends.

For instance, Young people are delaying marriage or doing away with it altogether. According to the The National Marriage Project’s (TNMP) 2013 Knot Yet report, the average age of marriage is higher than it has ever been (27 for women and 29 for men). In 2011, there were more unmarried females than married females for the first time in US history. Along with that, cohabitation has soared from about 1.6 million people in 1980 to 7.6 million in 2011, which represents a growth of 350% when population growth is factored in.  A significant percentage of young people no longer believe in marriage, and we must ask ourselves why.

Another alarming trend is fatherlessness.  In their State of our Unions 2012 report,  TNMP reported that the rate of out-of-wedlock births was approaching 50% for low-to-moderately educated women, almost twice what it was in 1982.  Overall, children born to single parents has increased more than 7-fold since 1960.  In 2011, one in four children in the US was living in a single-parent household.

Another alarming trend is the increase in so-called “gray divorce.” According to Pew Research, divorce for those aged 50 and over is up by an alarming 109% compared to 1990, while divorce in general is on a downward trend. The economic empowerment of women is certainly an enabling factor. However, the root of the problem is that so many couples prioritize children and careers and other interests over their marriages – for years. Thus, once the children are gone and retirement approaches, they find themselves more like roommates than lovers, and they head for the exits.

Shaunti Feldhahn wrote a book called The Good News About Marriage. In it, she debunks some common myths about divorce and marriage statistics, such as the oft-quoted 50% divorce rate. She counters that “according to the Census Bureau, 72% of those who have ever been married, are still married to their first spouse.” That is good news. However, although the divorce rate is trending downward, one underlying reason is that marriage, in general, is in an even deeper decline. And that’s not good news at all.

The science is clear: marriage is linked to all kinds of positive societal outcomes. It leads to better household economic status and stability, healthier and happier children, and a longer lifespan, just to name a few. So what can be done to re-establish marriage in our nation?

Where is the Hope?

These trends are very disturbing to me as a champion for marriage and as an American, I’m an unashamedly patriotic individual, and I happen to think America is a unique force for good in the world. However, as I observe our steady slide away from marriage, our continued attempts to redefine it, and society’s ongoing denigration of what God designed as a covenant relationship, I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for my children and their children.

Yet we are not without hope. I agree with Shaunti Feldhahn’s statement in an article for Catalyst, Everything we Think We Know About Marriage is Wrong:

What marriages need today is hope. And of all people, we in the Body of Christ should be the most ready to offer hope – not just for our spiritual life but for our marriages. And now, we can.

As believers, we have the inside track on marriage. We hold the hope.

We have a close, personal relationship with the One who created marriage before time began. We have also been given the relationship of Jesus and the church as a model for marriage, what I refer to as the Bridal Paradigm. I often say that the marriages in the church should be so compellingly beautiful and strong that people should get saved just by observing how we do marriage. Yeah, I’m a bit of an idealist.

The National Marriage Project supports a pro-marriage legislative agenda to reverse some of the deleterious trends in marriage. I don’t think government policies are the answer, though they may help stem the tide. I believe the church is the solution.

Happy Birthday from the Church

So here are the seven gifts I think the church should give to our country to help re-establish marriage as the strong central pillar of our society.

  1. Be more proactive in supporting and strengthening the vast number of “okay” marriages, and stop focusing so much on divorce/crisis intervention and divorce recovery. The goal should be for every marriage to be great, not just okay. We must stop ignoring the average marriage.
  2. Speak boldly about the sacred, holy and wondrous nature of marriage from the pulpit, not just to married folks in marriage seminars, but to everyone in the church. Often.
  3. Be willing to talk frankly about sex in a healthy and open manner. When we drive sex into the shadows, all kinds of unhealthy fruit grows in its place, such as porn use, extra-marital affairs, and sexless marriages.
  4. Begin giving young people encouraging messages about marriage, even in their teenage years. The media and society are speaking loudly and clearly to kids with false and counterfeit messages. We need to be louder and clearer.
  5. Hire more marriage pastors. Why do most churches have children’s pastors, youth pastors, teaching pastors, outreach pastors and pastors of every kind except marriage pastors? What does a marriage pastor do? See number 1 above.
  6. Start and/or promote marriage small groups using excellent curriculum and strong, well-equipped leaders. Encourage organic marriage mentoring programs, where every married couple is connected with another couple or two. See more of my thoughts in “Being Salt and Light in Your Church.
  7. Every pastoral/leadership couple should work hard to make their marriages a stellar example to their congregations, but at the same time, should be transparent about the realities of married life. It is well known how the demands of pastoring often wreak havoc on these marriages. It may require a little less focus on their congregations and a little more focus on their marriages.

You may be thinking, “That’s fine, but I’m not in leadership at my church. What can I do?” Answer: make your own marriage a  fabulous living example of marriage at its best! For more, read my post “Is Your Marriage Salty?”

What else do you think the church can give our country on behalf of marriage? Share your thoughts with a comment.

 

photo credit: delicious fruit flag treat made by my daughter
This is an updated version of a post originally written in 2014 for my Journey to Surrender blog

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