Lessons from the Church on (Mutual) Submission

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Did you know that the church is a woman? Well, she is! To excerpt from my guidebook, The Ultimate Guide to Eve, in discussing a woman's role as helper:

Jesus is referred to as “the bridegroom” many times in scripture (John 3:29; Mark 2:19-20). Marriage symbolism is also used in relation to Him on several occasions (John 14:1-3; Ephesians 5:25-27), including the analogy of the church as Christ’s “bride” (2nd Corinthians 11:2; Revelations 19:7-9). 

Most people tend to think of church as simply being a building in which people worship God. Whilst this is true, the fact remains that the church is not just simply made up of bricks and mortar, but the people that comprise His network of believers (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1st Peter 2:4-5). As such, Ephesians 5 verse 22 says:

"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Saviour of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything...."

Verse 32 of that same chapter then goes on to clarify:

"This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church."

One of the definitions of submission is to:

Accept or yield to a superior force or to the authority or will of another person

Hence, in a nutshell, this is how I always heard submission taught growing up-

Men are "superior" to women/their wives because Eve was made from Adam's rib; so, "woman came from man". As such, God made each man the "head of his household". Wives should therefore submit to their husbands (unquestioningly) because that is what men are entitled to and that's what a "good" or "godly" wife does.


That's all good and well in theory but God created both men and women to rule and have dominion. Also, what if the man is not subject to God and so is asking his wife to sin? What if the man is controlling, manipulative and/or abusive? What if the man is negligent of his responsibilities? What if the man blocks the woman from walking in her God-given purpose? 

I saw many female relatives come under fierce attack for not submitting to their husbands, even under such circumstances. Yet the men were never held to the same standard or scrutiny. I know many others, women especially, that have had similar experiences and upbringings as me and it is because of these things that at the mere mention of the word "submission":

  • Some women become extremely angry and/or defensive
  • Some women prefer to remain single
  • Some women see God as unjust, since His word seems to promote unequal (and sometimes bad) treatment
  • Some women believe that God doesn't love them individually or value women as a whole

Hence, the afore-mentioned verses in Ephesians, show us that the church has much to set the record straight on with regards to this controversial topic.


Related: 5 Miconceptions about Feminism in the Church

One of the things that I love about God is that He always models what He wants us to be to other people (like in scriptures such as "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" or " freely you have received. Freely give"). I believe He does the same with marriage. This is why Ephesians 5 describes the purpose of marriage as an earthly representation of Christ's relationship with His wife (the church).

As previously mentioned, the woman's role in this is usually the part that is focused on all the while ignoring what scripture goes on to say about men. So, yes, Ephesians 5 does indeed say that wives should submit to their husbands but, in the very next breath, it also says:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband (Ephesians 5:25-33).

This, to me, is a call for mutual submission because that's what Christ did for His wife. He loved her so much that He felt compelled to "give Himself for her" by sacrificing His life. His submission to God's will for reconciliation with mankind meant that He also had to submit to His bride by putting her first and being totally devoted to her unto death. For, as Jesus put it, leadership is essentially servanthood (Matthew 20:25-26) and that is exactly what He did- for He came not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28). That's what God calls husbands to (as heads), especially as it pertains to their wives' spiritual growth (as detailed above). Those are the type of men that we, as women, are to submit to (in return).

Once we, as His bride, accept Jesus, He continues to woo us by lavishing us with grace, love and so on. He listens to us (when we pray) and panders to our wants and needs. He remains faithful to us even in moments when we are not fully submitted to Him. The church, in turn, loves "Christ because He first loved [her]" (1st John 4:19) and tries to submit (to His commands, purpose for our life etc) as best as she can. But we all know that we don't always get it right, may question, rebel (through fear, doubt etc) or any other thing. Yet He patiently loves us through it all.

Since this is how God loves us (and no man is bigger than God), it suggests that God is not calling for women to submit to their husbands or see them as "their head" (1st Corinthians 11:3) simply because they are male. He calls us to submit to their Christlike display of love, grace, patience, sacrifice and (yes!) submission- which would be the actions of a man who truly sees Christ as their "head" and models himself on Him.

The fact that God allows us to have our moments of unsubmission (lol, new word!) without offence or manipulation shows that He gave us free will and expects us to use it to "work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling". He also allows questioning through scriptures such as "come let us reason" (Isaiah 1:18) and let's the holy spirit do His job of "leading us into all truth" (John 16:13) without any violation of our autonomy.God doesn't make us submit to Him because He wants it to come from a place of wanting to do so out of love for Him (1st John 5:3).

If that's how He loves the church, women should not be expected to follow their husbands blindly and without question; neither should they be bullied, forced or manipulated into doing so. And, if she is a little hesitant to submit in something, her husband (once again) should be like Jesus to her (show her grace and patience, be willing to "reason" with her. mediate for her in prayer etc).

Of course, wives should treat their husbands likewise since all believers are called to model Christ (John 13:35; 2nd Corinthians 3:3), which is why I say I believe in mutual submission. And really and truly, I think that if any reasonable woman was receiving the kind of love that we've been discussing she'd have no issue submitting to her husband and mirroring his behaviour (and vice versa). Unfortunately, this doesn't tend to happen because people have interpreted the scriptures, such as Ephesians 5:22-33, 1st Corinthians 11:3 and Genesis 3:16, to mean that male headship/authority is synonymous with male dominance, when it's actually servanthood (causing the afore-mentioned discord in these earthly relationships but also in their spiritual relationship with God). However, once traditional ideas about submission are shifted we, as the church, will be better able to reflect His true intention for marriage.

Another factor that will aid mutual submission is having similar passions. One of the (many) things that Adam and Eve show us about marriage is that it's about God bringing 2 people with similar mandates/purposes together to manifest it for His glory, as demonstrated via this devotional I wrote on Euodia and Syntyche and the commands that Jesus gave the church. This is because submission becomes easier when it is done to further a purpose higher than ourselves. This is why it is important to be "yoked" with a person who is fully aligned to our purpose in Christ.


Related: 7 Reasons not to Get Married

So what about you, lovely? What were your beliefs about submission prior to reading this and have they now changed? If you, like me, are someone who has been affected by toxic interpretations of submission in the past- I pray that God would heal your hurt in Jesus' name. I hope that you also now realise that God loves women and has a purpose for them. Abuse and subjugation was never on His cards for you or your female loved ones.

One of the things that set me free and was the catalyst to my healing process was doing the research necessary to come into the truth about God's purpose for women and womanhood. If you would like to join me on this journey, please feel free to click the button below.