Islam means “submission.” Obviously, the idea is that Muslims submit to Allah. Allah does not submit to anyone.
This is not the teaching of Christianity.
In Christianity, Jesus Christ submits Himself to God the Father.
The Scripture says, “God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3) and “I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me” (John 8:28). After the judgement “the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him” (1 Cor 15:28).
When the Scripture teaches, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves,” (Phil 2:3) it tells us the reason why. That reason is that Christ considered the needs of others before His own desires:
…do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:4-8).
So, submitting does not make anyone less than anybody. If one submits to his parents, it does not make his parents more human than himself. It merely pays homage to who it is due by virtue of their position. The Son did this with the Father, not because He was less than the Father in divinity, but because God contains the perfection of every virtue including humility and the desire to submit. We cannot speak ill of submission without denigrating the dignity of Jesus Christ our God.
So, when I see these constant apologies from theologians for the fact that the Scripture repeatedly displays and advocates the submission of women, I cannot help but feel they are trying to be people-pleasers. People want to hear that the Bible is not out of step with how the world views woman’s issues. So itching ears want to hear teaching that takes some of the hard edge out of what the Scripture says about the issue. However, if the Scripture is sharper than a two-edge sword and it cuts to the joints and marrow (Heb 4:12), do we even want to do this?
John Piper recently wrote “Six Things Submission Is Not.” Unless you are a misogynist that thinks it is okay to abuse women, I don’t suggest reading it because it does not tell anyone anything they don’t already know.
Piper condescendingly reminds women and their men that submission does not mean a list of things:
- Submission is “not agreeing on everything.” However, let me add it is sometimes doing something one does not agree with if it does not violate the conscience.
- Submission is not “leaving you brain at the altar.” However, it does mean being willing to let the husband’s will be done and not one’s own, even if you don’t desire it. Our example of this is Christ at Gethsemane. He asked if the cup of God’s wrath can be passed from Him, but He said submissively, “But may your will be done.”
- “Submission does not mean you do not try to influence your husband.” True, but the Scripture says you do not try to win him over with words, by being combative, or using varying forms of intimidation. Rather women are to influence their husbands by their chaste and gentle behavior (1 Peter 3:1). Just use your common sense, why do you submit yourself to Christ? Isn’t the example of His life and what He did for you so compelling that it changed your heart?
- “Submission is not putting the will of the husband before the will of Christ.” This should go without saying and must not be perceived as an escape hatch in which everything can possibly offend the conscience in which to preclude Godly submission. The Scripture says wives must submit to their husbands “in everything” (Eph 5:24). So, unless the Scripture is specific that something should violate conscience, a woman should exercise caution in not submitting. Our conscience is not bound by rules the Scripture never talks about.
- Submission does not mean letting the husband be a spiritual surrogate. Again, this is obvious. All Christians are called to carry their own cross and follow Christ. I suppose some women can be caught up so much in submitting for social reasons that they don’t know why their submitting. However, this isn’t 1840. Such a reminder just seems to cloudy the waters.
- “Submission does not mean living…in fear.” Of course, husbands should not beat up their wives or intimidate them. Husbands are called to be like Christ to their wives. However, such language is really only applicable to sociopathic husbands.
Now, why spend all this time countering what John Piper says? Let me first tell you reasons that I don’t have. I don’t have an ax to grind with Piper. I listen to his sermons just about every weekday, though to be honest, his showmanship in preaching sometimes detracts from the substance of what he says. Further, I don’t necessarily disagree with what Piper wrote.
But, that brings me to why I wrote this. I am against the emphasis put on all the caveats. We need more articles about what the Scripture literally admonishes women to do: be keepers of the home, love their husbands, to submit in everything, and to cover their heads in worship. These are things that women are failing to do that the Scripture literally tells them to do! We need more articles about what the Scripture actually says and women are obviously ignoring, not what the Scripture does not say and society reminds men about every day.
In fact, the emphasis on caveats can lead to religious falsehoods. I have heard it a million times that “submission does not mean being a doormat.” It gets repeated so much until it becomes a religious truth. But, the fact of the matter is, it is not. Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27). If God Himself serves us, then how can there be a limit to how we serve one another? A husband serves in his sacrifice and love for his wife. The wife serves in her submission and love for her husband.
Sometimes, as the husband, I am the doormat. There are all sorts of things I don’t want to do that I do. All sorts of insults I do not return with insult. All sorts of sacrifices I do not want to sacrifice. I am not here to complain about it. I think sometimes, we ought to be doormats.
So, what men and women do not need is another article reminding them that women are supposedly not “doormats.” Rather, we need to be reminded to adopt the humility of Christ, to empty ourselves for one another, and not to put any limits on this within reason. And, when I say within reason, I am talking about major things like cursing each other our at the top of your lungs, adultery, and physical abuse–you know, things that the neighbors will call the police over. Everything else should be worked out in a more subdued manner.
The slippery slope is when teachings like Piper’s become perverted into submission being nominal. A woman should be told to pursue her career even if her husband wants her at home. Disagreeing with a woman is “emotional abuse.” Talking back to a husband is okay if he sufficiently pushed her buttons or she has to “stand her ground” over “something important,” whatever that may be.
Biblical submission does not allow for these things. When we are married, we no longer have our own goals and desires. We have shared ones. When there are disagreements they must be discussed respectfully and ultimately, the wife must submit to the direction of her husband.
The biggest impediment to a Godly marriage is when we press our “rights.” We always want what we supposedly deserve.
This is insanity. We deserve damnation for our sin. We should not want what we deserve.
Christ, our example par excellence, submitted Himself to the point of death though He did not want to be crucified. When we empty ourselves like Christ, who though being in the form of God emptied Himself and took the form of a bondservant, we give everything to our spouses. In doing so, we consider the needs of others greater than ourselves. If we adopt this mindset, we will find that much of what Piper said in his list becomes absolutely immaterial.