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Mutual Submission in a Marriage

By June 12, 2008January 22nd, 2010Christians, Marriage

What is the Biblical concept of mutual submission as found in Ephesians 5:21 (and throughout the Bible) and how are we to apply it in our relationships today?

I’m working on a new concept in my mind and teaching. It has originated from recent marital counseling with several couples. Couples usually come to me with the mindset that they will meet the other person half-way, but only if their spouse does likewise. The thought of mutual submission, where each person is willing to give up all rights (100%) to the other person, is a very foreign concept and actually seems to anger people when I suggest it; yet I believe that’s what this passage teaches. The meaning of submission here literally means “to put under authority”. As I read Ephesians 5:21, we are to “submit” to each other. When both parties in a relationship are willing to give 100%, the dynamics of the relationship are incredibly enhanced. (It also seems that is what Jesus was willing to do for us!)

It is obvious today that we live in a very “me” centered society. Unfortunately that mindset includes my children and, sad to say, me. How are we to submit to one another? What is the correct Christian response to the culture in which we live that seems to teach us to think for ourselves and “every man for himself”? Of course the Ephesians passage is addressed to believers, so is submission only withing the Body?

I’m still in the wrestling stage with all this, but would love your thoughts…

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Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • Chellie Bea says:

    To start with your larger, more universal query, why wouldn’t God’s “laws of relationships” apply any differently than His “laws of nature”, or any other law? Gravity affects us all, whether or not there is a belief or recognition of the One who created it. Just because God gave us free will, does not change the fundamental/foundational principle. We just have the choice whether or not to do it. And just as defiance of any other law, i.e. gravity, there are consequences and repercussions. On the other hand, with “obedience”, “submission”, (again like gravity), there are blessings and rewards.

    Whether the universe or within ourselves, the concept holds true. Just because humans made the choice to turn their mindset from God’s instructions, and have chosen to enable the behavior instead of correcting with love, as further instructed, does not mean the “law” is re-written or the results negated.

    Nor is the tendency to be self-absorbed, self-serving, a new occurrence. It goes back to the very beginning of time and we have a book that lays out in detail that it’s the “nature of man”; accounting explicitly what the consequences, destruction, heartache that occurs with that choice; as well as, describing not only the rewards and blessings, but how we should act to achieve it. Unfortunately, it seems to be in our nature not to learn from those who have gone before us.

    As for your reference of “thinking for ourselves”, an example is Philippians 2:12 which states to “work out our own salvation” BUT “with fear and trembling…” Just as with our own children, they have the opportunity to work out for themselves whether or not to touch a hot pan, but if they choose to touch it, there ARE consequences; they do get burned.

    The problems in our lives and in our world, when brought down to the very basic concept, ARE a result of violating God’s fundamental principles in some way. We try to justify our attempts to “re-write” the laws with situational ethics, but just as we “can’t fool Mother Nature”, we cannot “fool” God, or, as we deceive ourselves to the contrary, we cannot BE God.

  • Vince says:

    I wholeheartedly agree on your five points regarding men and communication in the previous post. It was only after divorce and searching did I find and I understand the meaning of wives submit to your husbands and men love your wives. I totally agree with the mutual submission, mutual respect, and mutual love for one another in a marriage relationship. The true work of success in a marriage relationship is a joint effort in these three areas. When God reference for husbands to love your wives as Christ loved the church it is due to a shortcoming or shortfall that men have towards their wives and being attentive. This is a result of man’s sin nature. Likewise where it says wives submit to your husbands is a result of the woman’s sin nature in there shortfall of doing this. Husbands need to submit and love their wives as wives need to submit And respect their husbands. Doing these things shows a mutual love for one another and leads to a successful marriage. And added thank you this is commitment to one another through all lights turmoil that me come. Without commitment to love and respect one another till death do us part will produce a failed marriage. All of this with Christ and our Lord God in heaven as a central focus personal relationship and Mutual growth and nurturing of one another as a three in one relationship God husband and wife.

  • Chellie Bea says:

    I "survived" a marriage in which the wife's "submission" was equivalent with "slavery" and often struggled with "the Christian thing" to do. I studied those passages in detail and at length. It says a husband is to give to his wife as Christ gave to His bride, the church (people) for whom He died. You show me a man willing to die for his wife as Christ did and I'll show you a wife who has no problem with "submission". When the scripture says "the two will become one", it means far more than becoming "one address". There are so many levels to us humans and the relationships we have are defined by those levels. If couples have not at least discussed those levels, ramifications, preferences, etc., they have no business getting married and certainly NOT bringing children into the mix without the commitments and submissions to each other that is needed to extend to the most venerable who are solely dependent on that submission. Submission is a deeper level from external to internal, being of like mind and purpose. That unity is not achieved by one side "dictating", another side "giving in", it's the negotiating, strategizing to achieve a common goal. For example, one wants fiscal responsibility in the marriage: evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of not only as individuals but as a couple. One might have the expertise but the other more time. So the decision might be to teach the one with more time. One of the very best examples of true partner submission is to watch a team of horses, oxen, etc. Truly watch how they work, or better yet, take the reins and FEEL it. If at all possible, experience how they do when "re-teamed" with another partner. One may be "lead" one time, "follow" the next; if one stumbles, the other will change gait to compensate until in unity again; if one is "short sighted" in an eye, the other will guide. A harmonious team is one that is committed to the same purpose. Teams that do not do well are ones in which they do not walk as one, when the two are at cross purposes by pulling as each desires. That does not make them a bad horse or a bad partner. It does make them a bad partnership and should never be yoked together…..

  • David Clark says:

    I believe that in a relationship that works there are different areas of submission. I know you didn't mention complete submission to the spouse so I will state it now. There are areas in my relationship where I respect my wife decision without questions. I may ask question to further clarify the situation for my self or to pose a good point but other than that I charge ahead as if it were my idea and plan. Such as raising our child, she has had some education in early childhood development where I have not. Earlier in our relationship I was the authority on every thing, I made the lasting decisions, and I was the end all. She resented it and we fought continually fought about most every thing. I slowly backed off of some issues to experiment with and noticed how much they cleared up and eventually weren't even issues any more. I even noticed that she was right, in some cases. Therefore I willing submitted to situations where I could see and understand her logic or where I didn't have experience in.

  • Kris says:

    That’s awesome. I have shared that thought process with people before and been told I am crazy for thinking we should put the other person first. I guess its “crazy” because its rare. A Japanese lady told me something that really stuck with me. She said in American culture 1+1=2. But she said, in her culture 1+1=1. And I thought, “WOW.” Why would we not want the best for ourselves? And when we marry, that’s how we should see our spouse, as a part of ourself.

  • wow..that’s a deep thought…I love where it’s leading! I can envision that kind of submission within a marriage relationship…but how does that work with other believers and as a parent?
    I’m reading The Shack at the moment and your post made me think of the way the Trinity relates to one another in that book, and it has been making me think about how that means I relate to and submit to God, as well as those around me…..
    .-= Michelle George´s last blog ..Worship with your eyes open when walking! =-.