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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Wives Only Wednesday (WoW) post and even longer since I’ve touched on the topic of submission. Yes that.

Still reading?

I’ve been inspired to come back to this much-debated, much-maligned and much-misunderstood topic by two things. First, we’ve been covering this foundational concept in the marriage small group my wife and I are leading at our church, where we’ve had some great discussion.

Second, I’ve been reading a most excellent series on submission by Lori Byerly, aka The Generous Wife.  I’m doing a post-by-post summary of her thoughtful series over on my Facebook page along with some questions that I hope will spur some interesting dialogue. I encourage you to join the conversation there.

Challenging Some Wrong Metaphors

Today I want to challenge your thinking on submission by dispelling a few wrong-headed comparisons that people make concerning God’s design for marriage.

Boss-Employee – This is perhaps the most common misconception I’ve seen. This metaphor leads to thinking that submission is akin to being “managed” or having decisions made for you. The truth is that when the Bible says that a “husband is the head of his wife,” the Greek word there (kephale) does not have anything to do with him being the boss.

Captain-First Mate – The problem with this metaphor is that is makes the husband-wife relationship mostly about who gives and who takes the orders. It also implies the kind of blind obedience that is called for in a military operation, but that has nothing to do with marriage.

Master-Slave – Probably the most extreme interpretation, the master-slave metaphor gets invoked mostly by those attempting to make the Bible look extreme and ridiculous.

Parent-Child – This metaphor is just plain wrong in the way it subordinates and diminishes a wife’s role. It wrongly implies immaturity and inability on a wife’s part, and it lacks the proper acknowledgement of the kind of partnership marriage is meant to be. The parents’ authority over their children is not akin to a husbands authority in marriage.

Head and Body

Ephesians 5 invokes the head-body metaphor to describe the marriage relationship, so it is one we cannot easily dismiss.
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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Ephesians 5:22-24 NIV
As with any metaphor, there are limits to the analogy.

As someone in our small group pointed out, I don’t think it’s accurate to say the husband does the “thinking” and the wife does the “doing.” Again, that’s too close to the giving/following orders paradigm that just doesn’t work for me. Likewise, I don’t think it is accurate to say that, as the head, the husband is the “command and control” center of the marriage and the wife just executes the will of the husband/head. Nope, that just doesn’t ring true.

I do like what the head-body metaphor says about oneness and inseparability. A head without a body is useless (and dead); likewise a body without the head. The two are intimately and permanently joined to their mutual benefit.

I also like what the metaphor says about the head looking out for the body. For example, when the body feels pain, the head reacts by directing the body away from the pain. The head is all about the protection, nurture, development and sustenance of the body.

The Ultimate Metaphor

The truth is that the husband-wife relationship is unlike any other. God created it to be unique, and that’s why so many of our metaphors fall short.

There is one metaphor, actually more of an analogy, that I think God had in mind from the very beginning of time. It’s the one Paul spoke of in Ephesians 5. It’s is the one that strikes me as providing the greatest insight on the martial relationship. I’m talking about how the relationship between husband and wife resembles the relationship between Christ and the church.

This is the great mystery of marriage and, for me, the very key to understanding God’s design for it.

This picture more than any other sheds light on God’s design for marriage:
  • Clearly the oneness we share in marriage resembles the oneness we have with Christ. Implicit is the spiritual union that is part of the marriage covenant, as well as the knitting together of two souls.
  • Husbands are directed to lavish unrelenting love upon their wives, just as Christ does on us. Further, husbands are called to lay down their lives for their wives, emulating Christs sacrificial love.
  • Wives are encouraged to submit to their husbands in a manner that reflects their submission to Christ. (Don’t carry the metaphor too far and make husbands out to be gods of their home).
  • I like how our oneness with Jesus does not diminish who we are, but rather brings us into the fullness of who were designed to be. So too in marriage.
There are a whole bunch of other implications to the Christ-church comparisons. Offer your ideas with a comment below.


Anonymous said...

There are two metaphors that I have discovered that work well to help me understand submission.

The first is that of two team members in a marathon. Spouse A is passing the baton to spouse B. It resonates equality as a team (there is no “I” in team) as well as calling each individual runner to 100% of the task that they are moving in.

The second is that of a lock and key. Again, it is team work and the door simply cannot be opened unless both objects function in the office to which God has placed them; husband or wife.

The reason I like these metaphors is that it removes the ‘he said/she said’ and causes a shift in me. It takes my focus off of me and places it back on what is important (winning the race or opening the door) … the marriage.

Scott said...

I like some aspects of both the marathon and key/lock metaphors - thanks for sharing them.

Anonymous said...

Random guy here that somehow followed the links to this post. A guy named Athol Kay at uses the captain/first officer analogy very well. The captain ultimately makes the final decision and stands accountable first and foremost if things go wrong, while the first officer is perfectly competent and capable of commanding the ship if so needed. I believe "blind obedience" is a red herring as only a fool decides without consulting his first officer. To strong marriages!

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