(This is actually the first in the series, with "Clear Designs" following)
The S-Word: Dispelling the Myths of Biblical Womanhood
I remember teaching a ladies’ bible study about 20 years ago on an Air Force base in England. I was doing a study on being a Christian wife, but there was one chapter I was simply dreading—it was the chapter on submission. There were about 30 women in this particular study, which ended up being about 25 more than I expected. I had actually begun the study on the behest of a few of my friends, but word quickly spread around the chapel that we were starting it, and five women grew to thirty by the time we started.
Now, I am not silly enough to think that had anything to do with me. These women showed up because it was on marriage, and marriage is a hard thing, especially in the military. There is a very good reason that the divorce rate in the military is even higher than that in the civilian world of America—it’s hard! What became apparent to me rather quickly was that these women came because the study was on marriage, not because it was on Christian marriage. In addition, most of them were unbelievers, career women who balked at the very notion of submitting to anyone, much less their husbands!
So I began the study and soon there it was, looming on the horizon—the submission chapter—and try as I might, I wasn’t going to be able to avoid it. I thought of skipping it or skewing it a bit so that I really wasn’t addressing male/female roles, but the more I worked around it, the more I knew I had to tackle it head on. The funny thing was that the more I studied and read and prepared for that lesson, the more I realized what the core issue really was, and it wasn’t submitting to another person at all. The core issue with all of us is an inability, in and of ourselves, to submit to God. In order to truly understand and then follow God’s design for men and women, all of us have to submit to God’s Word. We have to give up what we think is best and relinquish ourselves to the fact that it is God who really knows what is best.
This is certainly impossible without Christ, without the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, so it is also most certainly impossible unless one has accepted Christ as his/her personal Savior. With all of this in mind, I endeavored on this current study of submission in regards to women, not because it feels good or even seems good, but because it is God’s design and His order. If I can submit to His authority not only in my life but over my life, then fulfilling the role He has intended for me will only be a natural outpouring of that.
Why So Negative?
One of the ladies I was counseling expressed to me that when she thinks of submitting, or even of the word “submission,” she automatically thinks of slavery. She very rightly expressed her disdain for what America did in terms of that institution and how deplorable it was that so many had to endure mistreatment in the name of “submission.” I couldn’t have agreed with her more on her views of this particular institution. However, this conversation made me think more about why so many of us equate “submission” with “slavery.” Why are we often predisposed to an aversion to submitting, and where do we start so that we can correct our misinterpretation?
According to dictionary.com, to be a “slave” is to be one who is “the property of and wholly subject to another.” From the same source, to “submit” means to “give over or entirely yield to the authority of another.” When examined closely, one can see that the definition of word “submission” is contained within the definition of “slavery,” but it doesn’t constitute the entire definition. My point is that one must submit in order to be a slave, but one doesn’t necessarily have to be a slave in order to submit. Let’s start here and then examine the answers to our questions on submission for Christian women, but also for Christians in general.
What is the root cause of our aversions to submitting? First, let’s go back to that definition of “submission”:
“To give over or entirely yield to the authority of another.” (dictionary.com)If I “give over” or “entirely yield” to what someone else says or requires, the one person I’ve left out of that equation is me. To “entirely yield” is to give up any part of myself to another person. There is absolutely nothing in me that would do that naturally; I am predisposed to an aversion to taking myself out of the equation. This is true of all of humanity. All of us have at our cores a predisposition toward self as center, and this predisposition is the root of our sin. We can see this from the beginning at the fall of Adam and Eve.
Genesis 3:1-5 describes the temptation and subsequent fall of the first humans in the Garden of Eden. When one reads the way Satan tempted them, there is a continual usage of the second person pronoun, “you.” Look closely at Genesis 3:4-5,
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good from evil.”The great temptation of Satan was luring both Eve and Adam to put themselves at the center of their existences instead of God. Before this, neither would have questioned God’s ordinances; they existed for and with God. However, Satan tempted them with the notion that they didn’t have to put God first but that they could be first. The moment that Adam and Eve gave in to this temptation, mankind’s sin nature became a reality and at the core of this reality is self. Consequently, man is now more closely defined by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:1-4,
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self,…without self-control,…swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God….We are by nature at the center of our own existences, giving us no ability within ourselves to submit to anything other than self. Even when we submit outside of God, we are still doing so from a perspective that is self; we can do nothing else. “Submission,” then, becomes contrary to self as ruler, and the notion of submitting to anyone follows disdainfully thereafter. Unfortunately, that began with our relationship with God and has continued in all other relationships, including, but not limited to, the relationship of women to men.
The answer is simply and complicatedly submitting first to God. If I can’t do that, then I can’t submit to anyone, much less my husband or any male leadership because it is God who says that I must. If I’m unwilling to submit to God, then certainly I won’t be willing to do everything He tells me to do. It is a vicious cycle, but there is really only way course that leads to success in our states of existences. Jesus said it very plainly in Luke 9:23,
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.It’s fairly plain what Jesus means in this passage with “let him deny himself,” but what does He mean by “take up his cross”?
Misconception about Jesus’ meaning in this phrase has been paramount in the Christian community, often being misconstrued as meaning any trial or difficulty in life. However, that is not what Jesus is referring to here. He is referring to something that everyone has to deal with: self-absorption. The “cross” He is speaking of is the cross of denying self. R.C. Sproul said,
“To take up the cross means to renounce selfish ambition; it is a death to a whole way of life.”Self-absorption is a “whole way of life.” It defines who we are at our cores, and in order to follow Jesus, we must pick up that cross, not allowing it to hinder our progress in following after Him. And we have to carry those crosses; they are ours, but we have to pick them up so that we can follow Jesus.
This point is made even more clearly when Jesus said we have to pick our crosses up “daily” and follow after Him. We have to do it daily because these crosses define who we are without Him. We have to deny the very foundations of our sin natures in order to pick them up and follow our Savior. Then once we’ve committed to that, we have to be willing to follow Jesus. This requires emulating Him.
The word, “follow,” in Luke 9:23 does not simply mean to walk behind, though it does mean that in a simple sense. The word, “follow,” has other deeper meanings:
1. Following Jesus’ example—Jesus lived a life completely devoid of self. He did everything with His Father’s Kingdom in mind and nothing out of selfish desire. We must deny ourselves and follow His example.Conclusion
2. Following Jesus’ Lordship—When we follow someone, generally it is because we don’t know the way; it is an act of submission to that person’s guidance, seceding leadership to the one we are following. When we deny ourselves, taking up our crosses daily to follow Jesus, we are doing so with a heart that recognizes we cannot succeed without Him. In other words, in order to follow Jesus, we must submit to Him as Lord and that He is the one in leadership.
The “s-word” doesn’t have to be a bad word. As a matter of fact, it should be at the very foundations of our lives as obedient children of God. If we can first learn to fully submit to His Lordship, then whatever He commands of us in His Word is simply an act of submission to Him. This is the first and primary step for any Christian, and this step has to be met so that we can both be at peace with God and with ourselves. We must heed the psalmist’s words in Psalm 1:1-3,
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he will prosper.