The S Word

Here’s a personal confession:

I have a problem submitting to authority!

I know, I know. You’re shocked! 

Of course this is not news to anyone who has been around me for any length of time.

Is it nature or nurture? Or both? I have no idea. I just know it’s tough for me.

Where in your world are you required to submit to authority? If you are employed, and you are not your own boss, how do you feel when your supervisor asks you to do something? It probably depends on both your relationship with your supervisor and the task being asked of you.

Let’s start with a definition of submission: To submit is to willingly and willfully be subject to the will of another.

With this foundation, hopefully I can provide a new framework for an old concept.

The Apostle Paul wrote some instructions to a gathering of people in the city of Ephesus almost 2,000 years ago. In the centuries since, this instruction has been used to manipulate people and even given Paul a reputation as a misogamist. When understood from a different angle, however, we can see that Paul was actually a progressive!

Paul writes, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” This is the single sentence pulled out of context over and over by (mostly) men to manipulate people. But when put in context, this instruction is part of a larger guidance.

Just prior to this instruction, Paul writes, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The full instruction is for everyone, in this particular gathering, to submit to everyone! Therefore, obedience to Jesus looks like willfully and willingly being subject to the will of one another.

So imagine this…

What would it look like if everyone was striving to be subject to the will of everyone, rather than everyone striving to push everyone’s will on everyone? What kind of community would that be? The hope and goal is that everyone in the gathering is simultaneously aligning their wills with the will of God; which can (inadequately) be summed up in one word: reconciliation.

Meanwhile, back at the house…

As Paul is applying the full instruction to various roles, he instructs husbands to love their wives. Specifically, husbands are to love their wives just as Jesus has loved us. And how did Jesus display this love?

He died.

So wives just have to submit. Husbands have to die… to themselves. And here it is again: death to self.

Then Paul drops the bomb that really kills the opportunity to continue in this effort to just get our wives to do what we want.

He writes, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”

How you, as a husband, treat and love your wife says more about how you feel about yourself than it does about her. Ouch. Let that sink in for a moment.

Here’s the thing…Paul is writing to a culture in which there is no doubt the husband is the head of the household. No one questioned it. Everyone thought and behaved in a way that fell inline with the expectations of the male of the house. This was normal. And if you did not, then you were cast out!

But the new framework presented by Paul moves Jesus into that position for every household of those in the gathering. If the husband is part of the church (and the church is a gathering of people, not an institution), then he is in submission to Jesus. The husband is now expected to willingly and willfully subject himself to the will of Jesus. There’s a new head of the house!

So maybe Paul is not the misogamist the church has made him out to be after all. Perhaps he was progressive beyond his years—challenging the mindset of how a family should view one another and treat one another—in a way that was countercultural, challenging the established mindset of an entire society.

Death to self, after all, will always be countercultural to any society. This, however, is the kind of authority to whom I have less trouble submitting.

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