It's easy to tell a woman to submit, or to tell a husband to love his wife as Christ loves the church, but it can be excruciating to live out. It's easy to throw these Bible verses around like the rock in David's sling hoping to knock down that Goliath of 'My Way.'
In a marriage, there's a lot of submission and a lot of loving that's supposed to be going on. But who wants to serve, who wants to sacrifice, who wants to lay down their life for another? Who wants to humble themselves for the good of another human?
The answer: Jesus Christ.
I remember when submission was first presented to me as something I must do in order to be obedient and godly. I kicked against it. Because it wasn’t taught to me through the gospel, all I could see was subjugation. I had all kinds of arguments to throw against it; you just couldn't talk to me about submission.
How can you talk to a person about submission when they don't have a good grasp of the Godhead and are hazy minded about who God is?
Who God Is
We can't fully comprehend the beauty of headship and submission until we have a sober understanding of who God is: the true God, the Triune God . . . Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It is never wise to start with what is required of man. We must start with who God is, proceed to what he has done and only then can we coherently speak to what is required of us. It is at these junctures where we find out just how important it is for us all to understand the doctrine of the trinity.
What brought me to faithful submission to my husband was not a “how to be a better wife” book. It was an understanding of the person and cross work of Christ. It was the gospel being pressed into every corner of my being.
Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” If I am to be conformed to the image of Christ I need to know what his characteristics are so that through abiding in him and walking in the Spirit I can approximate the image of Christ in this life. If I am to live in relationship to others, I need to know how Christ lives within the trinity and among men.
One of the things Christ says about himself is, “take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). Paul writes in Philippians 2:5–8,
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Who is Christ? He is God the Son.
What is he like? Gentle, humble in heart, equal with God, in human form.
What did he do? He did not grasp for his equality but instead humbled himself to become obedient to the point of death on a cross.
Who was he obedient to? God the Father with whom he had, and has, equality.
How does this instruct me as I seek to live my life like Christ?
Kathy Keller says in The Meaning of Marriage, “Both women and men get to 'play the Jesus role' in marriage — Jesus in his sacrificial authority, Jesus in his sacrificial submission.”
As a wife I see my role in relationship to Christ in the words of the Apostle Paul: “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3).
As a woman I already have a Jesus role — the sacrificial gifting of my submission to my husband. Should I try to “grasp” for his “Jesus role?” Should I try to swap my Jesus role for his? To what end? If Jesus being equal with God did not grasp for his equality but instead submitted himself to the plan and will of the Father, should I as my husband's equal “grasp” for mine? How can that possibly transform me into the image of Christ?
To understand any of our roles we first have to understand the Godhead. Only then will any of this stuff make sense. Only then will it be shown that these roles are not cultural or social constructs but part of the warp and weft of objective reality.