There is an issue which remains that is screaming for a voice in this discussion. I am sure it is also in the back of the minds of many who read this. What about the word ‘submission?’ This is a very valid question that can only be answered with Jesus Christ as the model of all human relationships patterned on the Trinity. If we hang onto the traditional understanding of this word as submitting to another who has authority over you, then the whole shape of this discussion will have to changed to support this view, even how we see the Trinity itself will have to change. We could never let that happen because we will have God created in the image of human imaginations. We could never ask God to imitate us. So what we have is a slowly building wave that holds men and women, face-to-face with each other and with Christ, the Father and the Spirit. As this wave builds momentum, then there should be sound and reasonable answers to the question of submission that maintains the Trinity as the model for all relationships and smashes all other hierarchical views like a tsunami.
The Greek word for submission is hupotasso which is often rendered ‘to obey’ or ‘be obedient’. We have to be very careful as to how to apply this word to maintain the context of the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Spirit as well as Christ’s relationship to the church. Jesus Christ is the model of the context in which this word is applied. With Jesus Christ as the central reference we are asked to imitate God (Eph. 5:1-2). We can certainly say Jesus Christ is the model of servant-ship of which all Christians are asked to follow. At the same time, we are reminded in several of Paul’s letters that there are no differences between male and female. Therefore we need an understanding of how this word, hupotasso, is to be interpreted.
Ephesians 5:21-24 can give us clues as to the right context for submission.
‘Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do 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 Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.’
Jesus Christ was the greatest servant of all. Not by allowing humanity to be in authority over Him but by handing Himself over and laying His life down in service to us. In doing so Jesus Christ becomes the Saviour for the church and the Source for its continuing and ongoing life. In the same way the husband is the source for the wife for her continuing and ongoing care. There is the sense of a two-way activity going on here. Christ steps into our human situation and comes as the greatest servant of all to rectify our beings so as to bring us into fellowship in Him with the Father and the Spirit.
“And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.”
Jesus here show us the way to serve and it is not like the kings of the Gentiles. Jesus says to serve is the greatest thing in the Kingdom of God. For the woman to submit her husband is not a submission to his “lordship”. It is a request to hand oneself over to the love of the husband just as the church hands itself over to the love of Christ. We as the church assent to the love and assurance given to us in Jesus Christ. For the wife to hand herself over in service to her husband is ‘in imitation of God’ (Eph. 5:1). The wife, the woman, is asked to imitate the man, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has radically given to us His sacrificial love. We respond to this radical love by assenting ourselves to this. There is a reason for wives to hand themselves over in service to their husband.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for herto make her holy, cleansingher by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
Jesus Christ is the model for the greatest servant of all by giving Himself up for the church making her as divine as Him (holy), cleansing, making her ‘like God,’ divine and with no case to answer. Not only is the wife asked to be Christ-like but the husband is also asked to be Christ-like but not as a Gentile king, lording it over her. Both husband and wife serve each other making them equal ‘lords’ in the marriage relationship.
In Ephesians there us a definite structure that precedes the submission text. We have God’s work in Christ creating us to be His workmanship to do good works. Men and women are brought together as the dwelling place for His Spirit who enables us to live the way of Jesus Christ. They are to live together in harmony and grow together towards maturity in Christ as His body. Paul has used the body metaphor in other letters to illustrate the importance of every member in the body. Then in chapter 5 Paul command us to be imitators of God where living this way is distinct in its appearance. Then he asks us to understand exactly what it is that God wants from us. Upon this basis, relationships are ordered in a circular way rather than a hierarchical way. This is laid right across the whole Christian community.
The only way both the husband and wife can treat each other with dignity is to exercise it with the deepest of integrity where power is exercised with the other as the power of Christ was exercised with us. The hallmarks for such a relationship is to assist each other and recognise the potential of the other. They work closely alongside the other but also allow space for the other to grow towards wholeness. We see this in the shocking reality of the incarnation of the Creator, Jesus Christ, the one who creates and sustains all things, becomes the creature and joins Himself to creation. He comes to share the power of the love, life and relationship with us and in us. He makes Himself like the creature for the benefit of the creature. We approach our partners with the same attitude.