Monday, February 25, 2008

No Doormat Mentality

"Wives, be submissive to your own husbands . . ." 1 Peter 3:1

The word "submit" has never been a positive one for me. I grew up in a denomination where women kept their heads covered and their mouths shut. In my younger years, First Corinthians 11 was quoted to me more than any other passage of Scripture. For most of my life, I have tried to obediently swallow others’ interpretations of Scripture like the passage above. Submit meant to obey. Period.

One summer at camp, I was asked to lead the singing for the two weeks of Boys Camp. There was no one else available. As the camp director, program director, and I talked it over, we agreed that my friend Frank would lead alongside me, to keep a man up in front for the boys to see. It was awkward. While Frank had a good ear, he had only picked up the guitar that spring, and was very new to playing in front of a group. I had been leading singing for many summers and was very comfortable playing and singing in front of a crowd. So it ended up with me leading, and him playing in the background. That evening in the snack shop, I was cornered by the Boys Camp speaker. He lit into me about being a woman and taking a leadership role in a room full of men. After about ½ hour, I was just about a puddle on the floor. I had only been trying to help the camp, and had no intentions of usurping anyone’s authority. It was a devastating experience.

Was this type of thing what Peter and Paul had in mind when they spoke of submission?

Today I did a word study on the word submission, taken from the Greek hupotasso. I am working on 1 Peter 3:1-6 for my Message Preparation class. This is what I discovered:

The word originally came from a military term, which meant to put the troops into order under a commanding officer. The lexicon I read termed the non-military use as a “voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, or carrying a burden.” There are three nuances of meaning of hupotasso that I can see as it is used in the New Testament.

1. Obedience.
Luke 2:51 Jesus submits to his parents.
Luke 10:17 The “devils” submitted to Jesus’ disciples.
Romans 8:7 The carnal mind is not in submission to the Law.

2. Under the authority of position.
1 Corinthians 14:34 Women are to subject themselves and be silent in the churches.
1 Corinthians 16:16 We must be subject to those in ministry and everyone who helps in the work and labors.

3. Allowing the other’s needs to come before your needs or agenda.
Ephesians 5:21 Subject yourself to one another.
Colossians 3:18 Wives, be subject to your husbands. Children, obey your parents.
1 Peter 5:5 Subject yourselves to one another.

Definition #3 was the most challenging to figure out. If submission meant obedience, then why would Paul and Peter tell everyone to obey everyone else? That would get complicated, fast! In Colossians, Paul tells wives to submit and then children to obey. If those commands had the same meaning, why would he use different words?

Going back to that “non-military usage” I quoted earlier, that nuance of meaning begins to make a bit more sense. I like the idea of cooperation or bearing a burden. If we as wives did everything in our power to enable our husband to fulfill what the New Testament defines as his role, what would that look like? There is no doormat mentality there. Rather, it is an idea of partnering together to help each other be obedient to the Word of God.

Paul told husbands to “love their wives as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25). In 1 Peter 3, after writing to the wives, Peter addresses the husbands. “Live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.”

I went back and looked at 1 Peter 3:1-6 again in this light. I think that we as wives sometimes do hinder our husbands from obeying God’s commands. When we second guess everything he says, or contradict him in front of the children, or even show a lack of faith in his ability to be head of the family as Christ is head of the church, we make it difficult for him to obey the Scripture defining his role. Yet when we gaze on him with love, support him in his efforts, and respect him as the head of the home, he is enabled to love us as “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself up for her.”(Ephesians 5:25)

I don’t think submission in a marriage is about obedience at all. Instead, it is the decision on the part of the wife to love her husband in a sacrificial way, with no thought to herself. It is placing her husband’s needs above her own, with the thought of enabling him to fulfill his role as her husband. Unlike a traditional interpretation of submission, there is great power implied here.

So I think I can finally toss out the idea of women being doormats in the Christian world. I wish I could have that conversation over again with that zealous speaker. I think he missed the point.

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