- “Officer, I was only doing 5 kms over the speed limit and besides there’s no kids even at school this time of day, you’re not being fair!” Says the motorist to the police officer that just wrote him a ticket.
- “I won’t wear these ones, I want Nikes.” Says the child to the parent that only has $100 left for groceries for the 4 of them.
- “We’re not going to listen to you, we’ll choose the plays.” Says the players to the coach.
- “You’re preaching it the wrong way, you should do it this way.” Says the congregation to the Pastor.
* * *
Wherever you turn in the world, there’s always a design for keeping the law – rules to maintain order, or acceptable codes of conduct. We don’t get to break the laws of the world because we don’t like them, think we know better, find them inconvenient, believe they’re unfair, or think they don’t apply because we are the exception.
Nobody lives in a void so long as we’re on earth. Unless you’re Chuck Noland from Cast Away, you belong to some type of social construct that requires order. For any sect of society to move forward in a cohesive group, there’s a hierarchy of power that’s been designated, by someone. There are positions for leaders and followers in every group.
The laws, whether for our natural world or the spiritual world, are in place for a reason and when they’re not followed, they hold consequences.
The construct of marriage is no exception.
The Failure of Mutual Submission
Marriage is the most foundational structure of organization that we have; it also has a hierarchy of power to enable smooth function, unity and forward growth to its members. (Eph 5:22-33; 1 Tim 2:12-15; 1 Peter 3:1) If we remove this authority structure and apply mutual submission, shared power, to any social structure … especially marriage … it devolves instead of moving forward.
God knew we’d need an example of this. So, at the very beginning of the marriage narrative, He gave us a baseline of how NOT to structure the one flesh relationship – He showed us the failure of mutual submission in Genesis 3:6: So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.
“… she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.” BOOM. Failure. Now we live in the consequence of it: death.
Why would anyone want to follow a marriage paradigm that was the catalyst for humanity’s spiritual death? Adam was right there with her and had the responsibility and authority to assume the power, but he didn’t. Instead, he shared it mutually, by deferring to her.
Adam submitted to Eve by following her lead instead of doing what he knew was right.
Mutual Submission: Peer to Peer
I cannot find a verse instructing a husband to submit – to his wife, or instructing a husband to learn about submission – from his wife. Submitting to one another is for all of us when we’re under the hierarchy as a group.
For instance, law enforcement hierarchy: the police are the role with the authority and the law applies equally to everyone else. No one has more power within the civilian group, the law applies equally, all civilians submit to it. Those are the roles that are being played. Not the equality of any particular person.
Or, the education system. Schools have changed a lot since the 1800s (see here and here), but what hasn’t changed is the hierarchal structure of the classroom: The teacher is still the position of authority in the classroom. Mutual submission is for the group of students that are under his/her authority.
Or, a church. The Pastor is the head of the church. He’s the one that prepares the sermon for Sunday and delivers it from the pulpit. The congregation doesn’t instruct the Pastor by exchanging out the structure of power to equalize the subordinate role of the congregation with the authority role of the Pastor; mutual submission is for the congregation.
Mutual Submission: Usurps Power
When you remove the governing structures of authority and submission, the result is never order and unity – it’s chaos and division. The police are never in submission to the motorist. The guards are never in submission to the inmates. The coach is the authority, the athletes submit. The surgeon is never in submission to the nurse, the head chef always leads the sous chef … the patient never tells the EMS how to drive the ambulance or what roads to take.
Regardless of who is in the role – the role itself has the power of authority. Can you imagine your child deciding that they don’t go to school anymore? And you must submit because you believe in mutual submission of the family structure.
… our world just doesn’t function that way. Someone sits in the position of power with the authority to make final decision – the same person carries all the responsibility.
Power by Proxy
Before I was married, I used to work for Corrections Canada. When my boss was away, I ran the office for him – he proxied his authority to me before he left. I sent memos and letters, sent and received inmate files, made phone calls; all on his behalf. When he returned to the office, I stepped out of the position of authority, back into my designated role under his authority. The name for this action of aligning yourself under an authority is called, hupotasso. From Vine’s Dictionary, hupo means “under,” tasso means “to arrange.” – primarily a military term that denotes a position of subordination; our English word: to submit.
Authority isn’t divisible – it’s delegated …
When Darrell arrives at work, he’s just moved into a different hierarchical paradigm: he’s no longer the one with all the authority as he is in marriage and family. He’s now in submission to the owner of the company. However, his boss has transferred authority to him so when he steps into the plant, the men are in submission to him. Not because he’s Darrell, but because of the position he fills by ownership’s authority: Plant Manager.
When my husband leaves for work in the morning, I step into that position for him. In fact, refusing that proxy of authority is not optional for me – as his wife, I become the guard of the house (oikouros) in his absence. As an unfortunate side note, the English translations have diminished the capacity of the oikouros by redefining the position to mean ‘what the wife does’ instead of ‘who she is.’ Primarily, I become Darrell’s eyes and ears while he’s away. I am a guard – I do the domestics.
In his absence and with his full authority – he proxies me his power. It’s not my decision to just take it because I want it; I receive it as a responsibility. Nor do we share it, I’m acting on his behalf. When he returns to the sphere of our marriage, the authority also returns to him.
Any hierarchy of authority has nothing to do with equality or fairness, and everything to do with positional structure of roles.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and he is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. (Eph 5:22-24)
Christ died for the church – He never submitted to her
Jesus submitted to God by doing His will by coming to earth to establish His headship by defeating death. Founding His church on earth was the act of leadership … not submission. Appointing the apostles as the foundational layer of His church was His first act of leadership; it was done with the full power of God’s authority.
The only time Jesus practiced submission on earth was in acknowledging the hierarchy of power within the family: The authority of His parents. (Luke 2:51)
Jesus is the head, the apostles are the body
Our clear example of how marriage functions isn’t how we broke it in Genesis – it’s the demonstration of Christ’s submission to God, and the relational dynamic between Jesus and His apostles.
If I want a clear example of how a wife should submit to her own husband, I need to follow the example of the body, the apostles who were the first members of ‘The Church,’ submitted to Jesus.
Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. (Eph 5:24)
The apostles never shared authority of headship with Jesus, He led them. In fact, Jesus corrected two of them for thinking they could sit at His level. Not because He thought He was better and they were lesser, but because He knew they would not be able to handle what He was going to do; He told them no to protect them.
Mutuality in relationship will never happen while we’re on this earth – as long as we are in human form, our fleshly nature will always get in the way. The equality that mutual submission seeks will only be found in heaven … when all sin has been removed. It’s not safe here on earth, in Satan’s world, that’s why God has given us structures to follow.
- Stop thinking that your submission depends on your husband’s ability to daily emulate Christ’s execution. Jesus didn’t die every day for his apostles, he died once for every believer’s redemption.
- Start studying true submission by following the pattern established by the founders: The Apostles. Understand how they responded to Jesus and interacted with Him. How they trusted and obeyed Him.