Why Submission Is Not a Dirty Word: Paul, Submission and the Married Life (Part IV)

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This is the fourth in a four-part conversation about what it means, practically speaking, to live a life of holy submission in marriage. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

Carolyn:  The moral of our story is not that Jesus has turned one more relationship upside down, making me the leader and Steve the follower.  John Stott calls it love’s response to love.  God has called us both to serve one another in love.  To serve our child in love.

And frankly, for me that has been the easy part.  The hard part is those other relationships Paul talks about.  There have been times in my life when supporting an employer was almost impossible, when loving a co-worker was unthinkable.  So often, my tendency is competition not cooperation, suppression not servanthood.  Meanwhile, what Paul is asking us to do is not to build ladders, but bridges – to turn to one another and serve one another in love.  We’re called to do as the old song says, “to love the one you’re with.”  To be Jesus to the people at school, in the office, at home.

Steve:  In all of this, Jesus is our example, so we have to be careful with this passage of Scripture.  At times it has been used as a weapon to bind rather than a key to set free. But anytime we try to use the Scripture to get a leg up on somebody else, we are completely missing the point of Jesus’ life.

I offer this word of patient warning to present and future husbands:  this passage does not say it is our job to tell our wives to submit.  Rather, we are plainly told our job is to love our wives the way Jesus loves the Church.  It is to be the head the way Christ is the head.  And that means to be the head servant, as Ben Witherington says.  To be the leader in serving.  The way Jesus poured out his life in service, we are to pour out ours for our wives.  It is not our job to ask, how submissive is my wife to me?  It is our job to ask ourselves, when my wife looks at me, how much of the Servant Jesus does she see?

Carolyn: And its not my job to say, “Is my husband being the man of the house the way I think he ought to be the man?” Rather, it is my responsibility as a follower of Jesus to ask, “How can I love and support him and when the world looks at us together, will we reflect the image of God?’

Steve:  This is the kind of submission – this is the kind of servanthood – that produces win-win situations for the Kingdom of God.  This is one key to the abundant life.  And ultimately it is fun – an exhilarating adventure.  It is like going to the mall and running down the up escalator.  This is how God works!  We run down the escalator, and God brings us up to abundant life.

Carolyn: We need to admit openly that these truths are much easier to write about that live.  It isn’t always fun.  It isn’t usually easy.  Steve and I both freely confess our weaknesses.  We couldn’t make our way through a civil conversation without the power of the Holy Spirit to help us.  We’ve got it good, but only because God is so good.  And that’s exactly the lesson we’ve learned from Ephesians 5:21.  We’ve learned it is not all about us.  It is all about God.

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Carolyn Moore is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. She was born and raised in Augusta, Georgia and graduated from the University of Georgia (B.A. – Religion, 1985) and Asbury Theological Seminary (Masters of Divinity, 1998). In June of 2003, she was appointed home again to the Augusta area, where she and her family were given the joy of birthing Mosaic United Methodist Church. Mosaic focuses on reaching people in the margins. In more than ten years of weekly worship, Mosaic has seen more than 130 baptisms and hundreds of professions of faith. A satellite ministry serves adults with disabilities in downtown Augusta.

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