The Tension of Mutual Submission

As many of you know we are presently in a series of messages from 1 Peter.  The last number of weeks we’ve looked at the topic of submission. Not exactly a popular topic.  In the present cultural climate that we live in the notion of submitting in marriage is not an easy one for most of us to accept.

The message on February 3rd looked at 1 Peter 3:1-7, which teaches about submission in a husband and wife relationship.  Because of the nature of the topic, and the abuse of this passage over the centuries, I thought it would be helpful to flesh out some of the theological principles a bit more in order to help us understand this passage better.

Before I begin, I want to also state that an appeal will also come from Ephesians 5:21-33. A passage that in many ways parallels the one in 1 Peter.

Both the 1 Peter and Ephesians passages teach mutual submission.  That is to say, that both the wife and the husband are responsible to submit to the other. The Ephesian passage introduces it in 5:21 when Paul writes – “submit to one another…”.  He then proceeds to tell each (the woman, then the man) HOW to submit to the other.

The same in 1 Peter, when he begins each of the sections with “In the same way”.  The key is that submission for a woman is different than submission for a man.  In the woman’s case it is expressed through her submission to his authority and for the man, it is expressed in honouring his wife.  By the way, authority in these passages are not predominately an expression of “power” over the other, but as “head” in the way that God structured creation (man was first, then the woman….and prior to the Fall, both were equal in every respect except in who was created first…that order is maintained in the later texts of 1 Peter and Ephesians). So, just as Jesus is the head of the church and the “firstborn over all creation”, his authority is a model of what authority should look like in a marriage covenant.

Also, both Peter and Ephesians are based on two other important things. Firstly, they are a “reversal” of the pronouncements made in Genesis 3.  After the Fall, God pronounces upon the woman “her desire to control her husband” in 3:16, so the passages in 1 Peter and Ephesians are a direct counter to what the effects of the Fall are on women.

For the man, he blamed the woman (Adam blaming Eve in 3:12), and then was punished by given the responsibility of toiling under difficult circumstances (3:17-19), which puts him at odds with the woman who did not respect his position over her in the first place and became the instrument of the Fall (It was Adam who God told not to eat and He was to “govern” the garden as God directed).

Hence, the need for men to be respected and the need for women to be loved is a result of the Fall. It is why the passages in 1 Peter and Ephesians teach mutual submission but direct each to do so in a way that suits their gender.

Secondly, both 1 Peter and Paul in Ephesians respectively are dealing with cultural issues as well. Especially with respect to the men. In a Greek/Roman culture which honoured the gods/emperor/magistrates/politicians/military etc…it was counter-intuitive to demand that a man give honour to a woman.  They were treated in many ways as chattel or property – which was at the discretion of the owner how they were to be used – so, to honour them was to elevate them to equal status in a predominantly male world – something totally unheard of in the Greco-Roman world. But, this elevation of status should not be seen by the woman as an opportunity to grab power, so again, the command to submit to his authority.

Lastly, in terms of submission…the greater burden is placed on the man.  This is the tragedy of poor exegesis over the centuries that has put women in a submission role without taking the sacrificial nature of the male role towards them.  We are to be sacrificial towards our wives as Christ sacrificed himself for the church. It is interesting that in Ephesians, Paul uses this directive and comparison for the husbands, not the wives. BUT, the wives are never to abuse a husbands willingness to sacrifice for her as a means to “get her way or push her agenda” – hence, the submission to his authority.

Here is another thought as I’m working through this…God has every intention that marriage is to operate under these principles. But we should be very careful in trying to impose this on anyone who is not a believer. Without a willingness to submit to Christ (as Christ submitted Himself to the Father), the ability to submit without the enabling of the Holy Spirit will be nominal as it relates to these passages.

Here is the raw truth of these passages…it is a delicate balancing act for both, but intended by God to curb the natural abuses that one could hold over the other.  Abuses that history has recounted in innumerable ways because of the way these passages have been distorted. The very thing that God intended to protect us from, has invariably been used as a club by one side or the other.

Anyway, I hope this brief exposition of these passages gives you some more to consider as it pertains to the topic of submission.