I am convinced that many of us women have a submission problem. A giant submission problem. But it isn’t mainly that we won’t submit to our husbands — it’s that we won’t stop submitting to the world. The biggest problem with women and submission is too much of it in the wrong places. We willingly submit to the world’s rules.
In Colossians 3:18, Paul tells Christian wives to “submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” Along with passages like Ephesians 5:22–24 and 1 Peter 3:1–6, this verse tends toward the infamous. But there is another perhaps less-known passage on “submission,” also from Colossians.
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations — “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” . . . — according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom . . . but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20–23)
Women are awash in the teaching and dogma of the world. And the great tragedy is that they are voluntarily placing themselves under its authority. Some don’t even know they’re doing it.
Drowning in a Flood of Rules
Does any of this sound familiar? We compel ourselves to wear certain styles, even painful shoes, to keep up with what the stores have told us is fashionable. We clean our homes in a particular way with only particular products. We follow every rule and suggestion given to us by the ubiquitous “they” on how to parent our children and keep them safe from every wisp of risk. We stress and strain our muscles, three times a week minimum, because we believe it’s the “right” thing to do and maybe, just maybe, we’ll keep death at bay (or at least have a flat stomach until it comes for us). We’re religious about the kind of candle that can burn in our houses, and the smell of essential oils floats through the air whenever we’re around because we’re convinced they’re the “right” remedy to use.
“The biggest problem with women and submission is too much of it in the wrong places.”
Rules, rules, rules. Eat this; don’t eat that. “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch.” These are not God’s rules, but they are rules nevertheless. Who could ever keep up with the always-changing and ever-increasing rules the world (and our own self-made religion) throws at us?
Am I saying it’s wrong to follow a certain diet? Or work out? Or clean a particular way? Or use certain health remedies? No. Absolutely not. But it is wrong to believe that doing any of those things is “right.” It’s wrong to do them because you trust the world (or yourself) more than Christ.
Christ has given us plenty of work to do until he comes again. The last thing we need is to start working on the to-do list the world has assigned to us. We’re to “seek the things that are above” (Colossians 3:1). That means we’re to “put on . . . compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12), to bear with one another, forgive each other, and above all, to love (Colossians 3:13–14).
Cheap Promises, Shabby Cloak
Man-made rules make us promises. They give us a command and say, “If you follow this, you will be happy.” But none can deliver. None keep their promises. Even when they do deliver on the front-end — when the diet does make us slim and improve our digestion, or the correctly buckled carseat does decrease our risks, or the health remedies and vaccines do keep us free from illness — they can’t give us lasting happiness. They can’t give us peace in place of our deepest fears. Man-made rules cannot cure us of our most serious disease.
At other times, we may use rules as a cloak of comfort. We would rather have one thousand rules to govern every practical piece of our lives than live in the freedom that Christ offers. We’d rather have “Fifteen Rules on Correct Laundry Practices” and “Ten Rules on How to Load the Dishwasher” and “101 Rules on the Food That Must Not Be Eaten.” The rules give us a sense of worth, a sense of having done things right, and the feeling of control.
But what if we evaluated on a different scale entirely? What if we acknowledged that scrapping for worth from rule-keeping is anti-gospel? What if we started asking ourselves, “Did I fold the clothes with humility? Did I wash the dishes with love? Did I make the supper with patience? Did I go to work with meekness? Did I buckle the child in faith?”
Submit to the Lord of Liberty
In other words, we should ask ourselves if we’re living as Christians. Rather than believing that supper is a success because we avoided all the ingredients on the list of foods that must not be eaten, we could view supper as glorifying to God because we served it “in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Colossians 1:10), which is to say, with love.
“Neither food nor clothing can commend us to God, but Christ can.”
Christians must be able to connect all that we do and don’t do to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) — whether we eat or drink or fold clothes or buy groceries. The point is not that we would stop thinking about good ways to do these things, but that all our thinking would be done as free people who are seeking to glorify God. This is how we know the gospel of Christ is bearing fruit in us, when we acknowledge that neither food or clothing, cleaning or folding can commend us to God (1 Corinthians 8:8), but Christ can — and he does.
We must start asking ourselves who we’re submitting to. The next time you feel under compulsion to do something a certain way, as it relates to “things that all perish” (Colossians 2:22), ask yourself, why? Out of fear or faith? On whose authority? Let’s resolve to do all things under the authority and freedom of Christ and refuse to submit again to the yoke of slavery.
We are Christian women, which means we are marked by our submission and our freedom, both in what we say yes to and what we refuse.