Written By Elisabeth Elliot from her newsletter in 2002
“Submission”—what does it mean? The question, asked of me by women only, never seems to refer to submission to civil law, military officers, the boss, or the schoolteacher. It’s submission to a husband that is the sticking point.
Instead of resorting to Webster this time, I’ll give you Oswald Chambers’ definition: “Etymologically [looking at the basic meaning of the word], submission means surrender to another, but in the evangelical sense it means that I conduct myself actually among men as the submissive child of my Father in heaven.”
Let’s look first at the Son of God, perfect in His submission to His Father. His whole life on earth demonstrated an unconditional surrender to that glorious will: “Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7).
Do we want to follow Him in this? “Yes,” we say. But then, what if the will of the Father happens to be our submission to the will of a man?
Nothing could be less to our liking. We search for every loophole.
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22).
Many are the discussions I’ve heard on this one, almost all of them directed to what it “can’t possibly mean,” rather than to the plain word of the Lord. The statement is simple. Not easy for women like me, but simple, that is, I understand it only too well. (As Mark Twain said, “I have far more trouble with the things I do understand in the Bible than things I don’t understand.”)
Worst-case scenarios are immediately put forward. “What if my husband asks me to do something immoral?” Heads nod vigorously. Cases are described. But the question was what submission means. Chambers has put it well—that I conduct myself as God’s child. The spirit of God’s Son was the spirit of submission, no questions asked as to His own safety or comfort, no effort to engineer things for Himself, but rather an utter handing over of all His powers to His Father, a perfect confidence that the consequences of this obedience lay in His Father’s hands.
“But my husband is fallible,” some say. So is mine. But my submission to him is obedience to God. How far am I prepared to trust myself into my Father’s hands? That’s the real question. We must learn to submit our “what ifs” and “yeah, buts.” To the humble and honest soul who does not proudly and arrogantly assume that God’s arrangement of things will not “work” in her case, the light of grace will always be given.
“But Elisabeth, you don’t seem to realize that my case is an exception!” Is it? Then it’s not my business. I try to stick to what the Bible does say, not to what it doesn’t say. He didn’t give us any footnotes. Take your special case to the foot of the cross. Have a long, honest look at it there. Let the light of Christ illuminate your situation.
Why should a wife submit to a husband rather than the reverse? Are we not equal? No, not equal in the sense of interchangeable. The heart of the matter is a mystery: the mystery of Christ and the Church. Try reading Ephesians 5:22-24, reversing the nouns. It’s nonsense. God arranged husbands and wives in different positions, each representing a tremendous verity: the husband represents Christ; the wife, the Church, His Bride. This is a divine assignment, not chosen, earned, or deserved by either husband or wife, not conferred by either on the other, but designated by God Himself. I am thankful for this arrangement because I know it is a revelation of divine wisdom and love, given for our freedom and peace.
I have been thinking, talking, writing about this for years. I confess that I am not Exhibit A of the submissive woman, but in my old age the Lord in His wonderful patience and mercy is showing me how simple it is just to keep my mouth shut. That’s what it comes down to most of the time. Sometimes, of course, my responsibility as a helper for my husband requires my calling to his attention something he has overlooked. Even if he ignores my advice, do I fall in with it graciously? Most of my testings come in the little things, when I automatically want to put forward my own preferences, arguments, logic, clarifications.
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.