Submit – Father’s Day-5

St Paul has been presented as one who has been a source of repression over women, but this is a condemnation made without giving him a fair hearing.  One of his most famous passages against which there is strong reaction is the Ephesians 5:22-23 passage:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is head of the wife, as Christ is head of the Church; and He is the Savior of the Body.

What makes it worse is the verse just prior to this passage:

Be subject [submit] to one another out of reverence for Christ.  [v 21]

What Paul says to the woman in verses 22 and 23 is actually under the umbrella of each person submitting to the other – in other words, not only is she to submit, so also even the man is to submit.  You catch wind of this same attitude in I Corinthians 7:

Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband.  The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does.  And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.  [vv 3-4]

Even in premarital discussions concerning God’s blueprint for marriage, there have been strong reactions to these words.  There is an attitude of distrust, which is curious, since on the one hand, marriage involves the mutual pledging of each’s life to the other “’till death do we part,” and yet there is the sense that “but I cannot trust you for me to dare to really commit myself that totally to you” – I must hold back, I must protect myself.

Of course, sadly, we are all too aware of some who have abused this truly sacred trust given to them by their spouses as they mercilessly seek to control, to exert power for the sake of their own selfishness purposes – and there is no intent here to trivialize the tragedy of such misuse of God’s arrangement.  Yes, there does seem to be justification in certain cases to have reservations about letting some have that kind of domination.

Yet the question might then be asked as to why marry a person one cannot trust completely with his or her life?  And if there is no common respect for the Lord and for each other to motivate such mutual trust, then the script is most vulnerable for the ending to turn out badly.

Without realizing it, however, the reaction of doubt actually stems from a far deeper problem than mere uneasiness about each other – it is a very ancient uncertainty which goes to the very core of all people.  In one form or another, it has a defiance has been repeated ever since Genesis 3, when both Adam and Eve basically had that distrust toward Jehovah.  It identifies a suspicion of even God’s motives: Jehovah is holding back, depriving us of necessary life-enhancing experiences, meanwhile laying out unrealistic commands – as Satan’s temptation gives evidence:

“For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  [Genesis 3:5]

Man and woman are to reflect “the Image of God,” yet there is significant skepticism about His intentions and plans.  When suspicion reigns in regard to this key role of mankind, it is no wonder that the picture everywhere else becomes muddled as well.  Erupting from a human nature that has been infected with the rebellion of sin, the ambivalence carries over into the “Image”’s pivotal relationship of marriage, of the joint expression of that “Image” through “male and female” (as identified earlier).

Again the concept of “the Image of God” has come to haunt our discussion!  Could “submission” actually have a place within this idea of reflecting God?  Power, authority, control – those are “naturals” as we think of the great Creator God -, but also servitude, subjection, and obedience??  Well, one would think that a God wouldn’t be found dead doing anything like that!

Then again, perhaps He was found dead doing precisely that sort of thing:

Who, in the days of His flesh, offered up pleadings and supplications, with forceful cries and tears in deep reverence, to Him Who had power to save Him out of death, and He was heard; though He was a Son, by the things which He suffered He learned obedience.  Having been bought to completion, He became the Author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him  [Hebrews 5:7-9, my translation]

If such “submission” is truly within the nature of God then does it mean “the Image of God” has to reflect even this disagreeable aspect, too?

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, though already in the nature of God, did not clutch at being equal with God, but neutralized Himself, taking the nature of a slave, having become the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient even to death, even the death of the cross.  [Philippians 2:5-8, my translation]


… man was created for a life of complete selfless love, whereby his actions would always be directed outward, toward God and neighbor, and never toward himself – whereby he would be the perfect image and likeness of God…    [Fr. John S. Romanides, “Original Sin According to St. Paul” in St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly Vol. IV, Nos. 1 and 2, 1955-6; the author’s website at]

So apparently in Ephesians 5 Paul is not being anti-woman, but rather pro-“Image of God,” especially when he kicks off his discussion of marriage relationships in terms of mutual “submission.”  And remember the important perspective: he does not compare the marriage of Jesus with His Bride, the Church, to human marriage, but rather the other way around – again the accent is that “the Image of God” is to reflect the Original.
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Do we really understand “submission”?   Such “servitude” takes strength – it takes the Son of God Himself to submit: “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work … For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me’” [John 4:34; 6:38].  And this is not just in regard to submission to His Father:

just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. [Matthew 20:28]


If I, the LORD and the Teacher, have then washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that as I did to you, you also should do.  [John 13:14-15]

The same John who declares, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” [1:14], also later records Jesus saying, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him. … He who has seen Me has seen the Father” [14:7,9].  Now that is the true and perfect “Image of God” at work! – and notice that Paul says that the man is to emulate Jesus as husband.

In fact, it could be argued that when God describes Himself as One Who has fed, clothed and otherwise cared for not only us but all creation [Psalm 145:15-16, Matthew 6:25-33], such activity could describe a butler or some other servant as well.  Jesus’ servitude is indeed nothing novel, but rather in keeping with what Jehovah has constantly been doing for His creatures – and us – all along.

But there is an additional step in this “submission” of Jesus.  He is not merely “taking orders” but rather voluntarily “taking on” the burdens of those He serves.  He does not give theories or a “self-help” manual to those who are struggling, He does not even “lend a hand” to ease the dead weight.  No, He takes it all upon Himself:

that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses.”  [Matthew 8:17]


Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sin, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed.  [I Peter 2:24]


He endured hardship, rejection and disgrace.  To buy His Bride from slavery, He Himself was sold for the price of a slave [Matthew 26:15, Exodus 21:32], and He purchased her by His own Blood, to “purify for Himself His own special People” [I Peter 1:18-19; Titus 2:14].  He washed her, not with mere water, but with the water from His side [John 19:34; I John 5:6,8] – the water connected to the Word.  He still gives of Himself, Body and Soul – Body and Blood – to His Bride in Holy Communion.  It had not been easy for Hosea to have loved Gomer so deeply, it has not been easy for Jehovah of Covenant to love His Bride so deeply.  Yet for both Hosea and for Jehovah, it is what love is all about.  [Marriage: Hosea’s Heartgrief, Heart-love, and Heart-hope]

Mutual servitude then is indeed the order of the day if we are to be true reflections of God:

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. …  For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Galatians 6:2; 5:13-14]

However, there is a strange paradox here as well.  On one hand, Jesus takes fully our burden in His submission to our needs; but then there is also the counterpoint: we take His burden, His yoke, upon ourselves – we are to be “the Image of God”!

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.  [Matthew 11:28-30]

The long and short of it all (well, not all that short, it seems), is that Paul’s comment about submitting to each other is not merely about two individuals who are uneasy about fully trusting each other, rather it is focused on a continuum of submission that begins with God’s deliberate humbling of Himself.  Then, since we are “the Image of God,” this “submission” becomes reflected in all our relationships with God and with others, especially significantly with our spouse.

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