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Friday, July 28, 2006

Marriage 101 - Mutual Submission

Now we’re back together, both husband and wife, and ready to discuss some of the mutual aspects. Notice that a husband is never commanded to make sure his wife submits to him, and a wife is never commanded to make sure her husband loves her. Those were specific commands to specific people, and not to be confused with commands to both.

One of the most popular objections to “Wives, submit to your husbands”, as it is found in Eph. 5, is the verse prior to this command. Here we find Paul saying,
“Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph 5:21).

There you have it! Wives may need to submit to their husbands, but husbands must also submit to their wives, right? There is a problem with that notion. If both of the members of a family are in submission to each other, how are any decisions made? Some have suggested that the submission be “one at a time”. In some cases, the husband submits, and in others, the wife. But this would run counter to the passage, which doesn’t offer the “one at a time” approach. Further (and this is obscured by the chapter break), the next statement is “Children obey your parents.” Thus, if carried to its logical conclusion, parents must submit to their children. Now, an argument can be made that this is precisely what has happened in our generation, but that’s not a good thing, nor is it rational in light of the text. Paul goes on to instruct father so “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Thus, the idea of “everyone submits to everyone” just isn’t feasible.

What is intended by “be subject to one another”?

The concept of “subjection” is the idea of “ranking under”. Paul puts it this way:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others (Phil 2:3-4).

“Regard one another as more important than himself.” What a concept! While we scramble about trying to meet our needs, the call of Scripture is “regard one another as more important than himself.”

So how would this work itself out in a marriage, given that wives and husbands have been assigned differing roles? In this environment of regarding others as more important than self, the two partners in this marriage would be most interested in looking out for the interests of the other. When a husband fulfills his role as head of household, he does so with his “self” disconnected. Instead, his direction is “What would be best for her?” And a wife, recognizing that she is called to submit to her husband, and recognizing that her husband is responsible, would be seeking to support him in his efforts to provide the best.

Now, do not be mistaken here. The question “What would be best for her?” does not always mean, “What would she like best?” Sometimes “best for her” entails difficulty and trial. He will be forced to make some hard choices, and she will not always be happy about them. But the goal must always be “What would be best for her?”

In this mindset, there is one serious lack from which very few marriages currently suffer – the “I”. This concept of mutual submission, of always seeking the best for the other, is entirely outward focused. There is no sense of “looking out for Number One”. This is a “faith fall”, releasing myself to the sincere belief that “since God put this together, God will support me – therefore, I can throw myself wholeheartedly into seeking the best for my spouse.” This mindset balks at “you deserve a break today” and learns instead to be satisfied in whatever circumstance befalls (Phil. 4:11-13).

This, in fact, is the primary point. Those who study such things have concluded that there are certain factors that are the primary problems in most marriages. At the top of these lists are things like money, communication, and sex. I am suggesting that these are all secondary. Instead, the single most common problem in any troubled marriage is “I”. Think about it. Isn’t the primary problem that “I” have expectations of what I should be getting out of this marriage, and my spouse is not meeting those expectations. If I remove the “I” factor in my marriage, I remove my conflict. How many times have you heard someone complain, “He just won’t let me love him” or “I want to treat her well, but she won’t let me”?

Now look back at those things commanded by God for wives and for husbands. In any instance does it say what to expect from a marriage? No! It says what each should do, but it doesn’t say what each should expect. That’s because the focus is outward, not inward. The thought process is “I will trust God for my well-being and …” either “submit to my husband” or “love my wife” regardless of the response. That is “mutual submission.”

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