The staff room at the Orchard is a great place for fascinating conversations and theological debates. If it’s not Nelson it’s Jodi asking about and debating points of theology with me. Then there’s Mike lurking always ready to add his two cents worth. Talking through issues in a safe space with friendly dialogue and banter is perhaps the best way to form convictions and test your ideas.
The other day we were discussing one of the interpretive issues to do with the ‘Women in Ministry’ debate. As a side note the issue of submission was raised. Nelson asked the curly question, “If submission means “to come under the authority of”, then how do men submit to their wives cf. Ephesians 5:22?”
He did not accept my response and upon reflection nor should he have. One of the good things about Nelson is that he needs to be convinced before he believes. My answer to his question bugged me. On the drive home I remembered that one must always begin any argument or debate by clarifying the meaning of terms. “Bingo,” I thought. The Greek word translated ‘submit’ (hupo-tasso) doesn’t always mean “coming under the authority of”. Here is a definition of the Greek term, taken from online:
A Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.”
Let’s take this meaning to Ephesians chapter 5. In verse 18 we’re told to let the Holy Spirit continually fill us. If we do that then the results are listed in verses 19-22. Those filled with the Spirit will: (1) speak to one another with spiritual songs; (2) make music from the heart to the Lord; (3) give thanks for all things and (4) submit to one another (v.21). There’s our word ‘submit’.
So what does it mean to submit to one another. Obviously, we can’t come under each other’s authority, that would result in nonsense. But we can voluntarily put the needs of others ahead of our own. We can voluntarily assume a responsibility or carry a burden for someone else. Submission then is very similar to acting as a servant – voluntarily putting the needs of the other first (cf. Philippians 2:3-11).
Ephesians 5:22-6:4 goes on to define just what “submitting to one-another” looks like in the first-century home. Wives are to submit to their husbands as to Christ – give them respect. Husbands are to submit to their wives by loving them sacrificially as Christ loved the church, an idea which includes providing gentle godly leadership. Children submit to their parents by obeying them. Parents submit to their children by bringing them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Submission, it’s not a dirty word or a demeaning concept. Quite the contrary, it’s Christ-like and therefore beautiful.