Relationships and submission: The two-sided model for love

Let me begin by saying that I am no expert on relationships. I am in a relationship and everyday it is an adventure. My girlfriend will probably tell you that I succeed and I fail, that I do a good job at truly loving her and other times I’m just short of being the biggest jerk she’s ever met.

But what I’ve discovered in my relationship is something that I hope to apply to the other relationships in my life. To my friends, my family and my significant other, I’ve found that I need to constantly be giving up control and power. Constantly, I need to submit.

Submission is a word I think a lot of people fear. The ideology behind submission has been used to hurt people, to conform them into someone else’s more correct or powerful way of living. Some think submission means the giving up of one’s individuality. For some reason, a lot of people (including myself sometimes) view submission as weakness.

However, I understand the Bible to say something contrary to these common thoughts. I not only understand the Bible as calling all people to submit, but that true strength comes in submission.

For instance, look at Ephesians 5:21-25. The passage begins by saying, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Paul is giving a simple command: lay down your wants and needs for those around you, serve one another, love another and do all this out of respect and remembrance of Christ. Essentially, this is Paul restating Christ when He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

As Rob Bell says in his book Sex God, “Die to yourselves so that others can live; [just] like Jesus.” Laying down your life doesn’t always mean nailing your physical body to a cross; it can mean nailing your self- desires to a cross as well.

The passage in Ephesians continues: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the savior.” So wives are to submit to their husbands. However, they are to do no different than what everyone else is commanded to do! For all people are to submit to one another in reverence of Christ.

But what then does this mean for the males? Look at what Paul says in the latter part of verse 23. The husband is to be to the woman as Christ is to the church. In other words, husbands are supposed to “love [their] wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”

Interesting. The husband’s headship doesn’t come from the fact that he is male. His headship comes from his giving himself up as Christ did. And how did Christ give Himself up? In the surrender of His will, His desire for Himself, and in His death.

So the wife is supposed to submit to the husband; the husband, in turn, is supposed to lay down his life for his wife, but they’re both to submit to everyone in reverence of Christ. What you have, then, is everyone submitting to everyone else.

When I’ve had this conversation before, I’ve found that men struggle with it most. Inevitably the question comes up: “But if everyone is submitting to everyone else, what happens when someone in the relationship has to make the tough decisions? Who’s in charge then?”

When I think about the relationship I have with my best friend, I never have to ask myself who’s in charge. When we hang out together, there’s no pregame chat of deciding who is going to make the decisions today. Over time, we’ve built up trust for one another. We have a mutual friendship. We never have to ask who’s in charge.

I think the same goes for romantic relationships. The deeper that the two grow toward one another, the more trust there will be in each other. The more a couple practices what Bell calls “mutual submission,” the more they’ll lose track of who’s in charge.

So you see, it’s not about the woman just being submissive and the male just being a strong Christian leader who makes all decisions. It’s about the strong Christian woman being submissive to the male and the strong Christian male being submissive to the woman. It’s about sharing in the leadership role together, and not for the sake of feminism or equality, but for the sake of Christ.

Because true strength isn’t found in the power of a decision; true strength is found in submission.

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