September 9, 2020

Womanhood and the S-Word

By Jeanne Harrison

There was a time when I believed submission was the end-all be-all of biblical womanhood. I read verses like, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands” (Ephesians 5:22) and added “submission” to my ever-growing checklist of wifely duties:

  • learn how to cook something besides spaghetti (check!)

  • do what Clint says (check!)

  • be a good wife (check!)

But submission is about so much more than outward duty. Like everything else in Christianity, submission is all about the heart. I believe a lot of the controversy surrounding passages like Ephesians 5:22-24 stems from making submission about external actions more than internal attitudes. We fixate on what biblical womanhood ought to look like:

  • Are you single or married?

  • Do you work inside the home or outside the home?

  • Do you homeschool, public school, or private school? (Or virtual school, or hybrid school, or County Connect school…)

  • Who manages the finances?

  • Who makes the decisions?

  • What kind of temperament do you have — are you a leader or a follower? Outgoing or quiet?

Is it hot in here? That’s a lot of pressure!

Years ago I decided that the best way to be a godly woman was to walk closely with God. Period. Do I believe in biblical headship — that my husband is the head of our home? Personally, I do. Do I believe I’m called to respect and yield to his loving leadership? I do. Do I believe biblical submission looks the same for me as it does for you? I don’t. I believe it’s contextual, nuanced, and deeply tied to our relationship with Christ.

Ephesians 5:21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Before analyzing gender roles, we would be wise to recognize that there is a humble deference that should characterize the lives of all believers in Jesus — male and female, young and old, Type A and Type B. We respect one another, lay down our rights for each another, consider the interests of others (John 15:13, Philippians 2:4). Why? Because Christ said so.

Godly submission toward one another always begins with reverence for Jesus. This means that if we peel back the layers of our submission problems, we will find gospel problems. Because a heart that doesn’t want to consider the needs of a brother or sister in Christ, is a heart that doesn’t want to bow the knee to Jesus.

I have certainly been there.

I can give an A+ lecture on the value of submission when I’m the person in authority. (“Imagine this piece of string represents the circle of God’s blessing. When you obey your dad and I, you stand inside that circle…so in summary, you may not scooter down the street in your underwear.”)

But when it’s my turn to submit? It feels like swallowing sandpaper.

Submission is harrowing because by definition it assumes disagreement. If Pastor Mike said, “Let’s give the Staff Writer a hefty raise,” and I said, “I’m okay with that,” I wouldn’t be submitting to his authority as my pastor.

To submit is to yield. To stop resisting. In other words, you’ll know you’re submitting when you really don’t want to do it. That’s when surrender is truly surrender.

This sort of attitude can only come from a heart that trusts Jesus. And I’d wager that if you’re walking closely with Him, you don’t need to worry so much about the do’s and don’ts of wifely submission. You will love your husband genuinely because you see him through God’s eyes. You will listen to him humbly and receive his feedback — even when it hurts — because you recognize him as an agent of sanctification in your life. You won’t shame him when he makes a mistake because you’re keenly aware of your own brokenness. You’ll respect him — to his face and behind his back — because you respect Jesus and the value He places on marriage. You may challenge his decisions and speak difficult truth into his life, but you’ll do it with a kind spirit that wants the best for him. And that, I believe, is being a helpmate in the truest sense of the word.

When I said “I do” fourteen years ago, I was prepared to embrace biblical womanhood even if it killed me. But I had it all upside-down. There were times when I said “yes” on the outside and “I hate you” on the inside. I was following the letter of the law not the spirit of the law, and as 2 Corinthians 3:6 says, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

If that’s you, I invite you to consider a better way. Bow the knee to your Heavenly Husband, first. Repent of the ways in which you disrespect His authority. Pour out your heart to Him. Receive His love and rest in His presence. Then, when you’re ready, ask Him to soften your heart toward your husband — to teach you how to be a godly wife. Because at the end of the day, biblical womanhood simply means becoming the woman God wants you to be.


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