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The Doormat can be withdrawn from the relationship with her husband, mistaking passivity for humility.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

 

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

35 Years and The Best is Yet to Come

Whether your marriage is doing great or struggling greatly, your best years are still ahead of you.

The best is yet to comeRegardless of the current state of your marriage, there is always more. More passion. More intimacy. More pleasure. More freedom. More trust. More of everything you are longing for in your relationship.

How do I know this? Because I know that marriage is supposed to model our relationship with Jesus, and that’s how it is with him. There is always more. In fact, I’ve found in my spiritual walk, the more I know, the closer I get to Him, the more I realize how much more there is to know and experience in God. There is no limit. It’s the same for your marriage.

35 Years and counting

Jenni and I celebrated 35 years of marriage this week, and we both still marvel at how it just keeps getting better. Of course, it doesn’t happen by default. We are intentional about our marriage and about loving each other well. The biggest part of keeping your marriage on The Path of Intimacy is being watchful – keeping yourself and your marriage off of autopilot.

Five years ago I was writing for YourTango in the now defunct Traditional Love section. I wrote a piece called “Why After 30 Years of Marriage The Best Is Yet to Come.” In it I said:

Are less sex, more fights, poorer communication and drifting apart really the inevitable? With a nod to the movie Date Night, is it really just a matter of time before couples settle for becoming just “excellent roommates?”

I say no!

Whether you have been together six months or six decades, it is possible to see your future as one filled with excitement, passion and great potential.

In the article, I go on to share five keys to keeping the best times in front of you. You can read them here.

It’s been five years since I wrote that article. It’s still true today, at the 35-year mark. And it will be true on our 40th and 50th anniversary because we plan on keeping it that way.

What’s Better?

You may be asking, “What could possibly be better after 35 years of marriage?” Well, let me tell you:

  • Sex – yes I’ll put this one right out there. Although we are in our 50’s and there are a few physical challenges, our sexual relationship exceeds anything we had in those early years of our marriage. Don’t buy the lie of inevitable sexual decline. We have learned how to please each other, and we have learned what it means to be unselfish lovers. We see our sexual relationship for the privilege it is and relish in surrendering our bodies wholly to one another.
  • Intimacy – I define intimacy as being fully known and yet completely loved. After 35 years we know each other inside and out, and still, we are purposeful about pursuing intimacy on a continual basis. And we have learned that grace is an invitation to intimacy with each other, whereas judgment creates separation.
  • Selflessness – we know better now than ever that, because we are one, when either of us serves and blesses the other, we both win. We’ve pretty much banished score keeping from our marriage and have learned to delight in delighting each other as best we know how.
  • Taking a long view – we have been through many seasons over our 35 years. We have weathered some tough times, and we’ve had plenty of joy and bliss along the way. I feel like we understand better now than ever that life will throw some garbage at you, but it will pass. And we know that any trial is best endured together. The closer we remain, the better we can weather the storms of life.

Above all else, it is the revelation of The Bridal Paradigm that keeps us moving forward in our marriage. The understanding of our marriage is continually being shaped by our understanding that our love is a direct reflection of our love relationship with Jesus. As we continually grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord, we continue to grow in the knowledge of and love for each other. It is a truly endless journey.

PS  That’s me and Jenni in the photo above. Check out my about page if you ‘d like to read more about Our Love Story.