The Biblical passage that is often quoted regarding marriage is Ephesians 5: 22 – 33. There, women are told to submit to their husband’s headship, and men are told to love their wives like Jesus loves the church. We had these verses read at our wedding, but our understanding of the passage was incomplete. We didn’t focus on Ephesians 5:21 which is the introduction to the rest of the chapter:
Honor Christ by submitting to each other. (TLB)
Mary and I decided on our wedding day that our “same end” or ultimate goal would be to honor Christ. We wanted our union to bring him glory and our actions to be in obedience to his will. The question couples ask is, “How do we live in this relationship in a way that honors God?”
One way we do so is by submitting to each other. This word “submit” means to subordinate to, to arrange under. A mutual submission born out of our love for God and each other produces a willingness to cooperate.
Submission is a dirty word for a lot of Christian women. My own mom questioned the use of the concept in our wedding ceremony, and I understand now her objections. This biblical mandate was written at a time when women were not viewed equally. Opportunities for women to lead and share knowledge were sorely limited in the church and home, but that doesn’t reduce the powerful meaning of mutual submission.
Ultimately, submission is a form of Christlike humility. In leaving heaven and coming to the world in the form of a baby, Jesus submitted to his Father’s will. The night he was born offers so many lessons in humility, from Mary giving birth with animals nearby, to Joseph, humbled by the power of his wife’s body and spirit to bring life into the world.
All of this submission to the Divine will was required for us to be reconciled to God. Christmas is the time we remember this with hymns like O Holy Night:
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace…
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Marriage provides plenty of opportunity to love, not just in a romantic way, but in a humble way. Deferring to your spouse and putting their needs above our own is a way we submit to God, give Christ praise, and bring peace to marriage.
Our marriage is stronger now because we understand that submission is a mutual endeavor, not just the wife’s role. What is the challenge of mutual submission? Why do we fail to cooperate? We will answer those questions next time.
This rendition of O Holy Night includes a reenactment of the night Jesus was born: