August 1, 2009
I was studying the book of Titus during prayer the other night, and while I was praying it struck me that I should copy part of Titus 2 onto my dry-erase board in the kitchen, so I can read and reflect on it through out the day. I was hoping it would help me to cultivate those qualities mentioned in the verse!
...and so train the young women to love their husbands
and children, to be sensible, chaste, domestic, kind,
and submissive to their husbands, that the word of God
may not be discredited. -Titus 2:4-5
This can be a hard verse for modern women. Submission is a concept much maligned and misunderstood. I think it's often viewed as an admission that the person submitting is inherently worth less than the one being submitted to; that in submitting to her husband a woman must become some type of infantile doormat. In fact, it seems that in Christian Fundamentalist circles, this is often the way it plays out. However, I think this is a very sad and misguided understanding of the biblical concept of wifely submission.
First, we need to also look at Ephesians 5:21-30:
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives, be subjected to your husbands, as to the Lord.
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
As the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her,
that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church,
because we are members of his body.
This bit of Scripture quite clearly dispels the notion that wives are to be doormats or slaves to their husbands. If anything, the duty of the husband is even greater and more difficult- he is to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, and Christ so loved us that he suffered and died for us. That's a lot for an earthly man to live up to!
Ephesians calls for wives to submit to their husbands and for husbands to love and cherish their wives. But I think that this verse can lead to a misunderstanding of the "mutual submission" that Pope John Paul II spoke about in Mulieris dignitatem, a notion that seems to be particularly popular with more liberal Christians. Wifely submission is antiquated and sexist, after all! But husbands are never called to "submit" to their wives. Did Christ submit to us? He loved us, yes. He suffered and died for us, yes. He even washed our feet! But those were all acts of love, not submission. When the apostles were wanting the kingdom on earth, He didn't submit to their will; He gently rebuked them and continued to lead them to what God willed.
So no, I don't believe we're called to "mutual submission," at least, not in the way it's generally understood. We are, however, called into an intimate partnership that's purpose is to give glory to God and to sanctify us here on earth.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on Christian marriage and what submission means!