The Power of Submission

handheld-relationship-1551596-1279x1585I’ve been learning the power of submission and submitting to the right authorities. I know it sounds a little odd. I know it sounds a little unmanly. It sounds a little well – like being a doormat. But here is what I have been learning, that the more I learn to submit in the right relationships, the more those relationships flourish. 

I know that this sounds counter-intuitive. I know that for many people authority is a bad word, because of how abusive, power-hunger, and wrong some authority structures are. I get that, and we should stand against injustice, we should not acquiesce to abusive authority that dehumanizes and demeans people.

Yet I think in our reaction against bad authority, evil authority, abusive authority we have swung to something also unhealthy: a preoccupation with control.

Because sometimes when we resist authority its for the good of someone else. Sometimes when we resist authority its because its abusive and wrong and we are seeking new and life-giving forms of leadership. Sometimes when we resist authority its because it is oppressive and wrong…And sometimes we resist authority because we are selfish and like control.

The idea of submission is not popular because we have romanticized the idea of being authoritative, self-reliant, in control, and autonomous. We don’t like giving anything over to anyone else. We don’t like letting someone else direct us. So we resist authority, we resist submission, and in the end we harm ourselves and our relationships.

The truth is that in some relationships submission isn’t right, because there is no trust there and the authority is abusive and wrong. But the flipside is also true that there are some relationships where submission is necessary for thriving, where trust is deepened with submission, where love can flow better when we give up control and this idea of being self-reliant.

I have discovered this reality that submission can be beautiful in my marriage, my deep and trusted friendships, and most importantly my relationship with God. That when I give myself over to trusting those who look out for my best interest, give up pretending to be self-reliant and secure, and allow myself to submit to those key relationships around me: my life and relationships are better.

I think we resist the idea of submission because we have seen bad authority structures, and bad examples of submission. Yet when we look to Jesus he practiced this all the time. He submitted his will to the will of the Father, he was self-sacrificing, and only moved in harmony with the Spirit and the Father. And I think that this is a beautiful example of what the power of submission can look like.

Submission is not erasing our identities, giving up on all our wants and desires, or being a doormat. Submission is literally putting someone else first. And I know that this is the only way that my marriage thrives, that my friendships thrive, that my relationship with God thrives: when it ceases to be just about me.

The truth is if we don’t learn to submit (appropriately) we will struggle in life. Because no healthy relationship is based on unilateral decisions. Those are called dictatorships, not relationships. And subtly our resistance of submission can infect and affect our deepest relationships with God, with our spouses, and with our friends.

So all I’m trying to say in this post is really one thing: submission does matter and its got a bad name. Submission, much like authority, has been abused and used to abuse others. But submission can also be beautiful like in a marriage when husbands and wives submit to one another (Eph. 5:21), like in friendships (Gal 5:13), or in our relationship to God (Psalm 40:8; James 4:7) on in any healthy relationship.

So all of this is to say one thing: I think there is a power in submission. Not a top-down power, not a “might-is-right” power, but a power that comes from self-sacrificial and submissive love that is beautiful when worked out in harmony and unison. And I’ve learned that – that type of submission – can be a really healthy and healing thing.

Power, Dominance, Submission, and Jesus-Style Love in a Marriage

929639_40861409On Sunday we explored the potentially difficult passage of Ephesians 5 where Paul writes, “Wives submit to your husbands…Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church”.

What we came away with was an understanding that no healthy relationship is based on power and dominance. We realized that we are all called to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21), and that the way Jesus related to others was through submission, humbleness, and sacrifice. The same things are too part of our marriages: submission, humbleness, and sacrifice.

We explored how Paul elevates woman, with the expectation that they are partners in marriage making a choice to be like Christ. Then Paul expects the same thing of husbands reminding them of their obligation to love like Jesus. This means buying flowers once in a while isn’t enough. This means husbands remembering the anniversary every other year isn’t enough. It is not until we have loved our wives with such a depth of self-sacrifice and giving, that all their flaws vanish because of the depth of our love that we haven’t done our job. Paul raises the bar pretty high actually.

We ended up landing on this truth that relationships based in power and dominance lead to division and difficulty. But relationships based in the type of love shown by Jesus Christ lead to life. Marriages based on self-sacrificial and submissive love last.

So we ended off asking ourselves a tough question. Are we sacrificing in our marriages, friendships, and relationships? Are we caring and putting the other person first? Is our love self-centred or sacrificial? Because I believe it’s when we love like Jesus that relationships last and give life.

We ended off by quoting Wendell Berry who I believe is worth quoting again. He writes this: “The proper question, perhaps, is not why we have so much divorce, but why we are so unforgiving. The answer, perhaps is that, though we still recognize the feeling of love, we have forgotten how to practice love when we don’t feel it”.

And I think that’s the challenge for all of us married or not. To learn to practice love when we don’t feel it. I think it’s a practice worth learning.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Marriage based on self-sacrificial love leads to life

Take Aways…

  • Our experience with marriage shapes our view on marriage
  • We have a romantic individualistic view of marriage
  • Jesus gives grace to a messy marriage life in John 4
  • Christ is his relationship with us took on a posture of submission and sacrifice not one of dominance and power
  • Striving for power and dominance in relationships wrecks relationships
  • Women in that day and age weren’t a partner but property
  • Paul elevates wives to a position of a partner with a choice to love like Jesus
  • Paul asks the same of husbands to love like Jesus
  • To be the head means source or origin
  • Marriage isn’t about perfection, but an opportunity of reflection – of loving like Jesus
  • Marriage is based on self-sacrificial and submissive love
  • “The proper question, perhaps, is not why we have so much divorce, but why we are so unforgiving. The answer, perhaps is that, though we still recognize the feeling of love, we have forgotten how to practice love when we don’t feel it” Wendell Berry

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What surprised you? What made you think? What made you laugh? What did you take away? Was this take on this passage new? Where have you seen relationships based on power and dominance struggle? When have you seen relationships based on love and submission succeed? In your relationships are you loving with self-sacrificial love? Are you learning to practice love when you don’t feel it? What next steps can you take this week to pour love into your significant relationships’?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take a moment and talk with your kids what you think marriage is based on. Share with them what matters in it. Share with them why it matters. And then share with them some important things to practice and learn before they get married like loving when you don’t fee like it, forgiving if you don’t want to, and taking the first step even if its hard.

Challenge for this Week:

Love even if you don’t feel like it