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Christian Submission

This lesson had its roots in a sermon by Bruce White. Mr. White (a minister for whom I have great respect) infuriated me with a sermon that, in my opinion, pandered to the "Church of What's Happening Now" - our long running desire to show the world that the church is up to date and with it. In this case, "with it" meant flowing along with feminist theology. But all that is not eternal is eternally out of date.

It did, however, challenge me to examine the concept of Christian Submission. It forced me to clarify my own thinking on the subject. This lesson is a result of that challenge, and to the extent that it reflects God's will I am obliged to Bruce for the inspiration. The errors, of course, remain my own.

Submission in General

Bruce's sermon was well received by the congregation, for in it he acknowledged that we, as American Christians, just don't like the word "submission." This is the root of the problem, so let us begin by examining Christian Submission in general. We will then apply our learning to the marriage relationship.

All Christians are in submission

First, and foremost, we are all in submission to Jesus Christ. If submission in general is objectionable, so is Christianity. I suspect, therefore, that the objection is not to submission but to submission to another human being - in particular, wives submitting to husbands. Husbands are sinners, and in (to be statistical about it) 50% of marriages are the dim witted partner. But consider:

· Even Christ Himself was in submission - to his parents as a child and to his heavenly Father.

· As Christians, we are commanded to submit ourselves to each other.

With that example, and that command, how can we object to submission?

The Nature of the Submission Relationship

Submission has a meaning in the world, and a meaning in the church - and they are different. We will focus on submission relationships in the church, but occasionally will compare them to the world as well.

Submission relationships are common throughout the church:

· We are commanded to be in submission to those in authority over us.

· Students are in submission to teachers

· All members are in submission to elders (including the preacher).

· Penitents are in submission to those who render church discipline

· Disputants are in submission to those who perform mediation

· Children are in submission to parents

If we are to correctly understand the nature of this relationship, we must see what these relationships have in common.

Authority. In the church, all authority belongs to Christ. In the world, authority often grows out of the barrel of a cannon. Therefore, authority in the church is sanctioned by God, while authority in the world may not be. If you accept that authority, then, you must accept with it the responsibility. If you pretend to the authority and do not accept the responsibility, it is sin.

Let me give you an example. I'm a teacher. On occasion I have had to intervene in the lives of my students to prevent them from hurting each other. Suppose I did this by walking into your house at 3:00 AM in the morning and standing between you and your spouse. Do I have the authority to do this? Of course. Do I therefore have the authority to walk into your house any time I want? Of course not. Authority comes with, and only with, responsibility.

Responsibility. It is all too common in the working world to find that you have all the responsibility and none of the authority. But in the church, responsibility and authority match exactly, for they flow from precisely the same source - the commands of Christ. If you have the responsibility, you automatically have the authority. Any mismatch between the two is sin. If you have the responsibility, and deny the authority, you deny your Lord's authority. If you have the authority and fail the responsibility, you are a poor steward of what God has given you.

Task. But what about the person in submission? What is their task? In the world their task is often greater than it should be. But in the church their task is quite simple: whatever it takes to accomplish the task of the one in authority, they are to assist in that - so as to bring joy.

(Heb 13:17 NIV) Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

If you are to obey those in authority to the point of making their task a joy, how much more should you do in marriage?

Note, too, that authority and submission do not match. Usually, (like our example above) submission has a much greater theoretical range than authority. That's perfectly normal; submission is much harder to abuse.

Voluntary Nature. The world believes in the draft board. Christians are all volunteers. So all submission relationships in the church are voluntary. I am Lord and Master of my house - and I have my wife's permission to say so.

Reason for Existence. The reason for submission relationships in the world varies; it could be power, or greed, or any number of things. But in the church there is only one reason why these relationships exist: sin. You think not?

· "In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek…" - why? Because when we are in Christ the Father sees us as sinless - and therefore there is no need for such a relationship.

· Even in the Garden of Eden it was so. Eve's equality with Adam is often proclaimed at weddings - but note that her submission to him comes after the Fall.

· But it is not always the person in submission whose sin causes the relationship. Indeed, Paul tells us that one reason for marriage is so that the husband will not commit fornication or adultery.

Bible teachers would not be needed - if sin did not exist. This does not mean that the teacher is less a sinner than the taught. But the prevention and remediation of sin is one of the great themes of teaching the Gospel.

People in the submission relationship

The theory may sound abstract; let us bring it down to a more personal level.

Beneficiary. The primary beneficiary of a submission relationship - in the church, not in the world - is the person in submission.

· Students are in submission to their teachers - but who benefits the most?

· Children are in submission to their parents - and who benefits?

· Penitents get far more benefit than those who discipline them.

· Elders are worthy of honor for their hard work - in shepherding the flock.

· The greatest example is in Christ - by submission to Him, through grace, we obtain salvation and eternal life. Who is the primary beneficiary? And this is the relationship which is modeled in marriage.

Nature of Leadership. Pomp and ceremony may attend the world's leaders, but the church knows only one model of leadership: servant leadership. We see it most clearly in Christ washing the feet of his disciples. Paul gives us another example, this one of people whose reputation is unknown to us:

(1 Cor 16:15-16 NIV) You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, {16} to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it.

Motivation. The world's motivations may vary, but in the church there is only one motivation for a submission relationship: love. If you are placed in authority over someone in the church, you are commanded to love them.

Consider it well in the world. Who was the best "boss" you ever had? Do you esteem him or her that way because of efficiency, or mental brilliance - or because he or she cared for you?

Judgment. It is a grave matter to misuse the authority that Christ gives you. Many of us condemned Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky - and not just for the adultery, but the misuse of power. It is as James tells us:

(James 3:1 NIV) Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

God's promises to those in submission

It is a principle of Scripture that those who place themselves in submission to those authorities God has ordained - and especially when they suffer for it - are blessed by God.

· We are told this explicitly of civil authorities.

· We are told this of women, being blessed in childbearing.

· Want a great example? Look at Hagar.

Submission for the sake of the Kingdom

Sometimes God commands that we place ourselves in submission not because of our own sin but for the sake of the kingdom - and the salvation of others from sin. Sin is the root cause; the spread of the kingdom is the immediate cause.

· Women were to be silent in church, lest the church be brought into disgrace in a time when women did not speak in public.

· Slaves were to accept unjust punishment in the same spirit that Christ showed - so that the Kingdom might be seen by unbelievers.

· Wives, likewise, were to be in submission to non-believing husbands so that by their gentle spirits the husband might be won to Christ.

That last is important, of course. But in what follows we will be discussing a marriage between Christians - as such, it is an ideal. It happens when both partners are Christians and both are working hard to build their marriage into what God wants it to be. But should we not know where the target is before we start shooting?

Submission in Marriage

Marriage is given to us as the picture of the relationship between Christ and His Church. Why was I so mad at Bruce? Because he teaches that submission doesn't mean submission; it means merely "respect." If that is so, then may I ask:

· Is the Church to be in submission to Christ, or merely respect Him?

· If it's really "respect" - how were the translators so fooled? (Though I have no doubt that the new "gender accurate" version of the NIV will remedy this).

Submission means submission. So let's look at the specifics as we did at the general case.

Nature of the relationship

As stated, the authority defines the responsibility and vice-versa. So then, what is the authority and responsibility of the husband?

· To love his wife as Christ loved the church.

· To make her holy, as Christ did the church. In other words, he is responsible for her spiritual maturity.

· Not to be harsh with her.

· But rather to be considerate of her and respectful to her - so that nothing will hinder your prayers!

Husband, you are to be the spiritual leader of the household - and if the spiritual leadership is right, all else will fall into place. "The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing."

But what of the wife? How is she supposed to behave? Remember that authority and submission do not match. If we are to be obedient and submissive to those in civil authority over us, to the point that their tasks become a joy, how much more should women be obedient to their husbands! Indeed, I would submit: wife, your task is to make your husband's authority over you a joy to him. And how are you to do this?

· First, you are to submit to him as to the Lord. The same level of obedience is required. (Are you afraid? Perfect love casts out fear - gentlemen.)

· You are to do so in purity, reverence and a gentle and quiet spirit. Remember, he is your spiritual leader.

Remember, this is a voluntary relationship (on both parts).

Do you remember that I said that such relationships exist because of sin? One purpose of marriage is to prevent the sin of fornication; another, to prevent adultery. But kindly remember who is responsible in this: the man.

Another such prevention is this: go down to the courts of our land. Look at the juveniles going through them. Over and again you will see the products of a broken home. A marriage like this is designed to prevent the sin of the children.

Does this seem a burden, ladies? Remember that the beneficiary of this relationship is you. This comes, however, of having a husband who is a servant-leader, not an arrogant tyrant. If his motivation is love (agape), tyranny will flee from his mind.

A word of warning to the husbands: do not think you can get away with abusing this relationship. Hear the word of the Lord:

(Mal 2:13-16 NIV) Another thing you do: You flood the Lord's altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. {14} You ask, "Why?" It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. {15} Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. {16} "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel, "and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment," says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.

Submission in marriage is a dance - in which the male always leads.

Observations from the teacher

The "Proverbs 31" woman

We often hear Proverbs 31 quoted about the ideal woman. Many have held that this passage means that a woman should stay home and be kept barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. But consider:

· Read the passage again. Who's handling the family checkbook?

· Who's doing the real estate transactions?

This is not about money, or who's doing the dishes tonight - it's about spiritual leadership. Where your heart is, your treasure will be also. This is about things which are eternal, and which will come to light on the day of judgment.

Women get old

I can almost hear the objection. "John," he will say, "you don't understand. When I married her, she was a babe! Now look at her! I deserve better than that, don't I?"

· Did she get this way at her own command - or because God causes aging to happen to all? Would you condemn what God has created and called "very good?"

· Are you so taken by the cheap things of life that you cannot see the things of real value? Outer beauty is cheap. Inner beauty is precious.

· And what is inner beauty? Chrysostom lists it simply as affection, gentleness and humility - and that's a good start. Look for the inner beauty in a woman, and praise it.

Advice from an old saint

I cannot omit this passage. It was written 1500 years ago, but in circumstance very like our own day. It has not lost its relevance:

Do you want your wife to be obedient to you, as the Church is to Christ? Then be responsible for the same providential care for her, as Christ is for the Church. And even if it becomes necessary for you to give your life for her, yes, and even to endure and undergo suffering of any kind, do not refuse. Even though you undergo all this, you will never have done anything equal to what Christ has done. You are sacrificing yourself for someone to whom you are already joined, but He offered Himself up for one who turned her back on Him and hated Him. In the same way, then, as He honored her by putting at His feet one who turned her back on Him, who hated, rejected and disdained Him, as he accomplished this not with threats, or violence, or terror, or anything else like that, but through his untiring love; so also you should behave toward your wife. Even if you see her belittling you, or despising and mocking you, still you will be able to subject her to yourself, through affection, kindness and your great regard for her. There is no influence more powerful than the bond of love, especially for husband and wife. A servant can be taught submission through fear; but even he, if provoked too much, will soon seek his escape. But one's partner for life, the mother of one's children, the source of one's every joy, should never be fettered with fear and threats, but with love and patience. What kind of marriage can there be when the wife is afraid of her husband? What sort of satisfaction could a husband himself have, if he lives with his wife as if she were a slave, and not a woman by her own free will? Suffer anything for her sake, but never disgrace her, for Christ never did this with the Church.

Advice from a newer saint

It has taken me many years to come to the point in my marriage where I have even begun to understand what Christ commands of me. My wife has suffered through much. It even came to this:

One year, our class went on a retreat to Arrowhead Springs. I was to deliver the communion meditation Sunday morning. I "chose" to speak on the subject of forgiveness being required before communion could be had. As I was speaking, the Spirit moved in me and convicted me of the embarrassment I had given my wife in my constant barbs during my teaching. A teacher must be an example. I went to my knees before her, in front of the class, and asked her forgiveness for my mean-spirited ways.

God has taken that forgiveness and magnified it into beauty. Husband, if you will be obedient to your Lord Jesus Christ, and love your wife, her submission will blossom into your joy.

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