Mutual submission is the 'Jesus-rule' for harmonious living (Ephesians 5:21). It is immensely liberating to know that you do not have to take the ultimate responsibility. That does not mean the person is always right, cleverer or wiser; it just means that the responsibility cannot be off-loaded onto anyone else. Paul now examines how that principle is worked out in marriage, the family and workplace. Firstly: marriage. Although submission is now almost considered to be a form of abuse, it simply means 'to place yourself' under the authority of another. This is not a demeaning thing; even Christ did not please himself but chose to submit Himself to the Father (Romans 15:3).
In God's design for marriage, the Bible says that it is the husband who has to take the final responsibility. That is not to say that the wife may not be sharper witted, a better multi-tasker, better at DIY and more competent to understand the emotional needs of the children - often all that is true. But what it does say is that there is an inescapable responsibility upon the husband (who will certainly also need all the advice that his wife offers) and, in the end, he has to be responsible for family decisions. Properly done, this relieves the wife of the burden of ultimate liability and allows her freedom to exercise wisdom in the many areas of her life, including the home and work environments.
The principle is that of 'headship'. We see it in the military, the operating theatre, and the concert hall. The responsibility for success or failure rests with the people in charge, and their ability to command the respect and willing cooperation of others in the team. Headship in the home is not arbitrary. It is based on the way that Jesus Christ loves the church (all of us who believe in Him). His love was one of total commitment, in self-sacrificial giving of Himself to meet our needs (1 John 3:16). That is the pattern for husbands (Colossians 3:19). As we submit to Christ, so we benefit from all His self-giving love. But if we refuse to submit then we lose out on so much that He would freely give to us, and incur His wrath (Exodus 10:3-6).
This is no small challenge, but the prize is huge - not least in the formation of a relationship with Christ that will stand for eternity. It is the same in marriage except that it only lasts until death intervenes. The way that Jesus Christ loved the world was totally unique, even being willing to take responsibility for the sins of the world (John 1:29). It was an amazingly effective love too. So, Christians have the very best example as they steer their way through marriage - and we have His promise that He is with us always, to help us to do it (Psalm 23:1-4).
© Dr Paul Adams