“In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:6
“You are not a proper model of submission to other women. We want you to stop teaching and mentoring women in the church until further notice.”
This was 1994, not the Dark Ages. I was in total shock. The senior pastor of my church had called me into his office to deliver this iron-clad directive. He said other offensive things in that conversation including one of my all-time favorites that I was not a normal woman.
“What do you mean? I have offered every Bible study book to church leadership for approval before starting any group. I have only counseled with individual ladies here on church property and with permission. How have I been unsubmissive?”
“One of the problems is I hear more about what women learn in your study groups than what is preached on Sunday mornings,” he continued.
“Problem? If the truth is from God’s Word, what does it matter where or when learning takes place?” I responded back.
He crossed his arms and said the discussion was over. I stumbled out of the room in tears from the attack. I returned to my Christian school classroom downstairs where for some unknown reason, I was still allowed to teach, to be a role model. Go figure.
What Does Submission Really Mean?
In most dictionaries, definitions of submission include:
- an act of referring, submitting to the authority or control of another person, organization
- the condition of being humble or compliant or obedient
- yielding to a third party for judgment or decision
The original Old French and Latin languages translate submission as a lowering, sinking, yielding action. Yuck, sounds terrible. Certainly this type of behavior flies in the face of strong, willful, self-reliant Western culture aspirations.
During my husband’s seminary time, only a couple years prior to my pastoral beat down, one of the wise mentoring faculty wives spoke at a women’s retreat. She taught another view of this controversial term. She wrote submission on the chalkboard and then divided the word into two distinct parts: sub and mission.
She commented that as Christian women, married or single, we need to commit, come under (sub) the teachings of the Word of God, (mission). In this word work, to submit is to see the mission of the Christian faith and pledge to join, yield, come under the authority of Christ. My head along with others in the room nodded in agreement to this definition.
What about Husband Submission?
One of the popular submission scriptures for married women is Ephesians 5:22-24 (NIV):
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do 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.
Sounds clear, that wives are to come under their husbands in everything and recognize him as the head. There can only be one head on a body, so what is left for the wife? That imagery is hard to embrace in present day gender equality Western culture.
The faculty wife taught further that these verses must be considered in the light of the preceding verse Ephesians 5:21 (NIV):
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Her point was that husband and wife, even children, should agree to come under the mission of the family in mutual respect for the part each plays. The following Ephesians 5 verses give details for the different roles each member plays, all important to reflect the love of God and Gospel message to the people inside and the world outside the home.
Submit In Freedom
How does submission remotely resemble the freedom Christ promises? For some personalities, humility and compliance come rather naturally and without much struggle. Not for me. I was raised in the 1970s era of Women’s Rights and had a father who challenged me to excel and be a strong leader.
Finding my identity in Christ in my early 20s, learning His heart for me and marveling at my wonder-filled destiny has freed me from concern that I would be lost in submission. The pastor at the beginning of this writing (and other male bosses who practiced the same control-women leadership style) hurt me, but did not crush me.
My gentle husband does not always understand me or think I am handling things correctly (any married couple always agree??), but he does not believe that he should dominate me. His continued acceptance for my imperfect self along with prayers and proddings for me to learn from mistakes helps me. God uses him in my life along with the Word, the Holy Spirit, and other Christians to grow into a better version of myself.
Years of walking with a loving Heavenly Father gives me courage to submit. I aspire to be like spunky Sarah of Genesis married to faithful-sometimes-faithless Abraham. 1 Peter 3:5-6 (NIV) says:
For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
I will submit to Christ and come under our marriage mission with my husband (likely following lively discussion). I will yield my selfishness to the mission to love God and love others. I can submit with a cheerful, thankful attitude knowing these submissions actually benefit my life, not take from it.
I am not afraid. There is no better place to be, in submission to the One who knows me and wants the best for me.
♡ Gail Goolsby is a life coach and serves as a Titus Woman for Proverbs 31 Woman.
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