And the Spirit makes it possible to submit (be under God’s arrangement) humbly to one another out of respect for Christ. Wives, it should be no different with your husbands. Submit (private, personal, uniquely one’s own”) to them as you do to the Lord, for God has given husbands a sacred duty to lead as the Anointed leads the church and serves as the head (kephale, the cornernerstone). The church is His body; He is her Savior. So wives should submit (be under God’s arrangement) to their husbands, respectfully, in all things, just as the church yields to Christ.
Husbands, you must love (agapao, actively doing what the Lord prefers) your wives so deeply, purely, and sacrificially that we can understand it only when we compare it to the love Christ has for His bride, the church… “And this is the reason a man leaves his father and his mother and is united with his wife; the two come together as one flesh.” There is a great mystery reflected in this Scripture, and I say that it has to do with the marriage of the Anointed One and the church. Nevertheless, each husband is to love and protect his own wife as if she were his very heart, and each wife is to respect her own husband. (Ephesians 5:21-33)
In Christian theology, the Trinity offers an analogy to the male/female relationship. The three persons of the Godhead are absolutely equal in essence, but they are distinct in function. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one , but they have different roles or offices. They engage in equally necessary and distinctly unique roles with and in the world. Within the Trinity, there is a constant interaction of leadership/headship and submission/obedience
Based on the title of this series it’s obvious I believe there is something unique about being male and female that makes men and women complementary in the same way that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit complement each other. I think that conclusion is unavoidable.
- Biologically (it’s how we get kids)
- Sociologically (generally present attributes)
- Relationally (generally common approaches to people)
- Spiritually (as imago dei)
A complementarian view says we are all one in Christ; we are all recipients of his gifts; we are all stewards, ambassadors and disciples. The Trinity gives us the model of how men and women experience equality and unity without denying diversity. It is impossible to replicate this type of interaction in humanity because we are not God, but the Trinitarian relationship is nonetheless a model that is meant to give us some insight into God’s design for human relationships. We, too, are equal in essence but different in function.
We engage in equally necessary and at times distinctly unique roles with and in the world. There is a constant interaction of leadership/headship and submission/obedience. We see it most directly in marriage where “the two become one,” but we can see it clearly in all human interactions. Male and female complement each other as male and female as they function in ways that match God’s intent for their flourishing and for God’s glory.*
So what do HEADSHIP and SUBMISSION mean in the biblical context? I am going to broaden this out from the subject of marriage, because we will all have times in our life where we are responsible for leadership in a particular area of life, and we will all have times where we must submit to the leadership of others. But let’s back up.
In Genesis 3, we saw one of the results of sin clearly spelled out: there would be a power struggle between men and women where there was once peace. We see there a picture of a fundamental struggle we all face:
We want power and we can’t stand submission.
We love to lead and we hate to follow.
We love to be in charge.
- When Vince was in kindergarten he used to come home and proudly proclaim the days he was ‘line leader.’ He never said anything about being ‘line follower’.
- You don’t see coaches call a timeout when the game is going bad and ask, “Who’s gonna step up and show some followership(?)” No, it’s always about who’s going to lead.
- There is no high school graduation speech where kids are encouraged to join with someone else and help that person make their dreams come true.
- When’s the last time you heard someone commemorated by saying, “Bob sure knew how to follow. He could toe the line and do what other people told him to do better than anybody.”
We love to lead and we hate to follow. It’s been that way since the Fall. We talked last week about life during the New Testament era, how those who were leading were more often than not oppressive and exploitive, and those who submitted to their authority were treated cheaply at best and brutally at worst.
We also talked about the big picture, “the forest” and not just the trees, and how the Household Codes and Church Codes were an amazing redemptive move in the first century. This week we are going to look at two trees: headship and submission.
Let’s see where the Bible talks about Christ as the ‘head’ to see what that means. First, here is what Jesus said about power:
“You know that among the nations of the world the great ones lord it over the little people and act like tyrants. But that is not the way it will be among you. Whoever would be great among you must serve and minister. Whoever wants to be great among you must be slave of all. Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to be a servant—to offer His life as a ransom for others.” (Mark 10:42-44)
So whatever we are going to hear must have something to do with becoming a servant. Paul use the term “head” to describe how Jesus serves in a headship role, so let’s look at his explanation.
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head (kephale) over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:20-23)
But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)
Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God. (Colossians 2:18-19)
What is biblical headship? Equipping, promoting, and nourishing through loving service for the good of others and the glory of God. Our 21st Century Western ears hear the discussion of headship and we hear authority, power and privilege. When the Bible uses these terms, it is a template for understanding responsibility and service for those around us. There is no sense of entitlement, no sense of ‘lording” over others. When that is present, it is not biblical headship. Any time Christians use headship as an excuse for lordship, it is a sin.
Biblical Headship cannot mean power as the world understands power. It cannot mean authority for the sake of being in charge. It cannot mean someone is at the top of a hierarchy of value, worth and dignity. It can only mean self-sacrificial responsibility to empty yourself, and treat everyone around you as more important than you are, to die so that others may live, and not care if you get noticed or appreciated.
Once again, let’s look at the forest, the big picture. We already read what Jesus said about being a servant as recorded in Mark 10, so let’s look at one of Paul’s teachings:
“ If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.
You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:1-8)
“Moved to treat others better than ourselves.” Concerned about the interests of others.” That’s biblical submission. Notice it’s not unquestioning passivity. It’s not cowering in fear or anxiety (we read some verses in 1 Peter last week). Biblical submission is not taken. Biblical submission is honor and obedience which is given freely as a principled decision to sacrifice and serve others in the same way Christ sacrificed and served us.
Biblical Submission cannot be a life in which someone lives in a coerced prison of fear and anxiety. Mere conformity is not the goal of submission; harmony of mission and purpose is the goal. Biblical submission is not following while rebelliously undermining – if there is a challenge to be made, it’s open and honest. Submission does not mean one is silent or passive in such a way that sin or degradation is enabled. Biblical submission is a principled commitment to allow others to lead and encourage those who have leadership roles for which God has equipped them. It’s encouraging and challenging but never insulting. It’s working to bring honor and not shame to those who exercise leadership.
We are all transformed into the image of Christ as we all learn what it means to exercise godly headship and godly submission.
So who’s in charge? I guess I’ll use my home as a way to talk through this, not because it’s a model but because it’s one way to see how this idea plays out. I asked my wife last night if she thinks of me as the “head” of our house, and she said she did. So I asked what that meant to her. She said, “You have the weight of the household on your shoulders.” In other words, I will answer to God in a way that she does not for what happens in my home – which is why I have to love my wife as Christ loved the church, and pour out my life in the service of her and my family.
I asked her what she thinks it means to submit, and she said, “I need to help you carry that weight.” In other words, we are on the same mission. I pour out my life for her and our home, and she pours her life back into me and our home. God has given me a terrifying weight to carry, and my wife sees that, and she comes along side me in this mission. In the Kingdom of God, we should tremble when we bear the weight of leadership and celebrate when we are able to freely submit and follow godly leadership.
How does this look practically?
I don't just decide where we go on vacation, or how we spend our money, or how to discipline or reward our boys, or what job I or my wife should have, or what to plant in the garden, or what vehicle to buy, or what translation of the Bible we should use in our home. Neither does my wife. My wife and I wrestle with these questions together. But at the end of the day, do I make the final call? No. Yes. Depends on the issue. What’s my strength? What’s my wife’s strength? How can we serve each other? How can we help each other flourish?
Let’s broaden this principle….
With my kids, or here at church in my role as pastor, or at TC Christian in my role as teacher, it’s not about how I will be served, or how I will be obeyed, or how people must give me what I am owed. I’ve not earned some privilege that forces others to bow to me. I have been given a position of responsibility from which to serve my kids, to serve you, to serve my students. The question must be, “Am I equipping, promoting, and nourishing through loving service for the good of others and the glory of God?”
And here at church I serve in a plurality of leadership, and at school I have an administrator, and at home my wife takes the helm in certain areas, and the question must be, “Am I allowing them to lead and encouraging them in the leadership role for which God has equipped them?
We are all going to have times in our life when we lead, and when we are given the responsibility of serving through leadership, we had better drop to our knees and beg God to overwhelm us with His strength, wisdom, goodness, and humility because if we don’t have that, everything around us will crumble.
When you are following the lead of someone else, are you stubborn, critical and judgmental, or are you praying for their wisdom and offering respect even if it is (at times) confrontational respect? When we are in situations where we are called to submit, follow and serve, we had better drop to our knees and beg God to do a work in this around us who lead, and to fill us with strength, wisdom, goodness, and humility so that we allow those who lead to flourish.
So how do we do this impossible task? There is only one way: “ If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ… if there is any fellowship of the Spirit…” (Philippians 2). Next week we are going to talk about encouragement in Christ and the fellowship of the Spirit, and how God is glorified in all this.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
- If you desire to be in charge, be honest before God. Why? Do you want power and control, or are you humbly looking for greater opportunities to serve?
- If you cringe at the idea of submission, be honest before God. Why? Is it because silence and inaction will enable sin and ruin, or do you just want power and control?
- If you are married (or engaged), are you and your spouse on the same page about the interplay of leadership and submission in your own home?
- When you are at home, with your friend and coworkers, or working with people at church, do they experience you as leading by equipping, promoting, and nourishing them through loving service? Do they see you submit to the authority figures in your life by looking out for their interest above yours?
- What are some signs that someone in biblical headship/leadership is moving from being a servant to be being a ‘lord’?
- What are the biblical limits of submission (for what biblical reasons should someone draw a line and not submit to someone in authority)?
- Why is it so important to find encouragement in Christ and maintain fellowship with the Holy Spirit?
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT….
There is another view of the biblical relationship between men and women that is called egalitarianism. Egalitarians agree with the theological claims, but argue that the distinction of roles will not reflect a designed role for genders but will instead reflect a designed role for our gifts. Men and women don’t necessarily complement each other as male and female, but because as individuals with imago dei they have particular gifts or strengths that will flourish in particular ways for their flourishing and for God’s glory.
Both of these perspectives invite controversy. Complementarianism is a word with a lot of baggage because it’s been used as a code word for stifling authority and coercive power. Egalitarianism is accused of being just a reflection of modern feminism, or a kind of postmodern attempt to eliminate differences between men and women and see gender merely as something we construct.
I recommend a book that does a fantastic job explaining these two positions from a Christian perspective: Two Views of Women in Ministry, Stanley Gundry and James Beck, editors. Here’s a statement from the four authors in the book: “We believe one can build a credible case within the bounds of orthodoxy and a commitment to inerrancy for either one of the two major views we address in this volume, although all of us view our own position on the matter as stronger and more compelling.” If you would like to read more about areas of agreement and disagreement, and why Bible-honoring Christians disagree about this issue, I will just refer you to that book. Since that’s not the point of my sermon today, so I leave that follow-up opportunity in your hands.
Here’s just one example (which you can read about in far more detail Two Views of Women in Ministry) why Bible-honoring Christians have a vigorous discussion about complementarianism vs. egalitarianism.
THE CONTEXT OF 1 TIMOTHY 2
“Now, Timothy, it’s not my habit to allow women to teach in a way that wrenches authority from a man. As I said, it’s best if a woman learns with quiet harmony and agreement. This is because Adam was formed first by God, then Eve. Plus, it wasn’t Adam who was tricked; it was she—the woman was the one who was fooled and disobeyed God’s command first. “ (1 Timothy 2:12--14)
Here’s the difficulty in wrestling with passages like this one. There is always a context, and understanding what the original audience heard vs. what we hear is hard work, and not everyone agrees. So, here’s the context.
The wording used to describe how women are not to “wrench authority from a man” always carried a violent or sexual meaning when used in ancient literature. Catherine Kroeger writes: “Chrysostom uses autheritia to denote “sexual license.” Dr. David H. Scholer cites Leeland Edward Wilshire’s exhaustive study of the word authentien“… almost exclusively meant “a perpetrator of a violent act, either murder or suicide.” In other words, there were a lot of other words Paul could have chosen that would have been entirely adequate to refer to teaching, but he chose this one. There is a much deeper dynamic going on.
Consider this reality of ancient Greek culture (pointed out once again by Catherine Koeger) that seems to have been a part of life in Ephesus: “Virtually without exception, female teachers among the Greeks were…hetairai (remember them from last week?) who made it evident in the course of their lectures that they were available afterwards for a second occupation. But the Bible teaches that to seduce men in such a manner was indeed to lead them to slaughter and the halls of death (cf. Prov. 2:18; 5:5; 7:27; 9:18). The verb authentein is thus peculiarly apt to describe both the erotic and the murderous.”
Something seriously distorted is happening in Timothy’s church that goes far beyond the mere act of teaching. It seems clear, if you read the whole book of 1 Timothy, that the church in Ephesus was plagued with false teaching. The primary source appears to be women in the church who had picked up some teaching that combined the religion of Artemis with some of the early gnostics. This is not surprising, considering that women were generally not educated, and were thus more susceptible to taking whatever was taught to them and accepting it as true.
The cult of Artemis, which was very active in Ephesus, taught female superiority and dominance. It was characterized by, among other things, fertility rituals and genealogies that only traced female bloodlines. There was also a movement in Judaism at that time that combined the teachings of Artemis with the teachings of the Old Testament story of Adam and Eve. In their version, Eve was the 'illuminator' of mankind because she got 'true knowledge' from the Serpent, who revealed truth God did not give to Adam. Eve was the Mother of both Life and Truth, and she gave birth to Adam and taught him the truth of the Serpent.
So When Paul writes, "Adam was formed first, then Eve,” and that Eve was deceived not Adam, it’s a direct attack on the idea that Eve was the Mother of both Life and Truth. A contextualized translation of 1 Timothy 2: 12-14 would read something like this:
“Now, Timothy, it’s not my habit to allow women to teach in a way that wrenches authority from the qualified men who are teaching. As I said, it’s best if a woman learns true doctrine with quiet harmony and agreement. Considering that women are being taken with the popular the idea that Eve was the originator of Adam and the goddess of life, let women submissively and humbly learn sound doctrine. And I do not permit a woman to teach that she is the illuminator of man because Eve was the illuminator of Adam. The Bible teaches that Adam was first formed first, then Eve. Adam disobeyed, but he was not deceived; Eve fell into sin because she was deceived."
So suddenly it’s not just, “I don’t let women teach because women are more susceptible to error than men.” It’s loaded with insight about how to structure life in such a way that those who are strong in certain areas take the lead, and those who are weak in certain areas let those who are strong do their thing. Everybody benefits if it’s done well. Some complementarians would say there is a timeless principle here; egalitarians would say it is situational. Maybe there’s elements of both. That’s the tension, and I point you again toward Two Views of Women in Ministry (Stanley Gundry and James Beck, editors) to read more about the discussion.