# Submission vs Subjection | DaveTrenholm.com Skip to content

Submission vs Subjection

I have done some foolish and dangerous things in my lifetime – some of them years ago when I was a kid, and some of them not all that long ago. For example, when I was probably about 9 or 10 years old, I decided one day I wanted to see how long and how far I could ride my bike with my eyes closed. For some reason, I didn’t really see the potential danger in this and so I took off down our driveway of our farm – eyes closed and pedalling hard! It wasn’t until I was slapped in the face with a spruce tree branch, that I began to realize that I may have done something foolish. I opened my eyes just in time to avoid the tree trunk but still ended up in the barbwire fence. I still have a scar on my arm to remind me of my foolishness that day.

But that didn’t keep me from doing foolish and dangerous things as an adult. A short time after my wife & I were married, we lived in the farmyard across from her family. Her brother Roger was still living at home at that time, and so we often got together to do guy stuff in the shop – like carefully filling up lightbulbs with acetylene and oxygen and watching them explode when you turn on the light and things like that. Well, we had learned that if you mix tin foil with a certain cleaner – there is a chemical react that lets off a couple gases. If you do this in a 2 litre pop bottle and close the lid, the pressure increases until the pop bottle explodes with a tremendous bang. So one day, we decided to explode a hot water bottle – It would be pretty exciting to see how big those things would become until they finally burst!

So we filled the bottom of the hot water bottle with little balls of tin foil and then Roger went to put in the cleaner. Well, it reacted so quickly, that as he was pouring it in, the pressure began spewing out the cleaner out the top of the bottle. Of course, we had never thought to wear eye protection or anything and so Roger got this highly corrosive cleaner in his eyes! So we immediately drop the bottle and rush to flush his eyes out. I think we put him in the shower or put his face under the gardenhose or something like that. I believe he eventually went to the doctor to get his eyes check out – and if I remember correctly, there was some marks on his eyeballs, but thankfully no damage was done to his retinas. But the potential for significant damage was great! We’re thankful that God was watching over us – even while we did those foolish and dangerous things.

That being said, I’m trusting that God will watch over us again today, as I attempt yet another potentially foolish and dangerous thing this morning. This morning I want to talk to you about the role of women in marriage.

As you know, for the past month or so, we have been talking about the church in your house. 

Specially, about how God has designed your marriage to mimic Christ’s relationship with the church. We’ve discovered that in marriage, husbands are to mimic the role of Christ – by sacrificially loving our wives, being the example for them to follow, leading them towards holiness, and helping them become everything that God created them to be. We are to do for our wives exactly what Christ has done for all of us. Whatever we see Jesus doing for his church – that’s what we should be doing for our wives. This is what the Bible is talking about when it teaches that men are to be the heads of their wives. 

23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. Ephesians 5:23

So leading, protecting, providing – all those things that we’ve been talking about for the last several weeks – that’s what we see Jesus doing for the church – and that’s what husbands are called to do for their wives.

To sum up the husband’s role and responsibilities of headship in marriage, we have said:

  • Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christlike servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home.

And of course, that’s a pretty loaded statement, and we’ve spent the last three weeks talking through what that actually looks like – and we’re still only really scratched the surface. I trust that you husbands are continuing to work out what that means for you specifically in your own marriage. 

And by the way, if you want help working through all that (and we probably all need help) – as a church, we’d love to walk through that with you. Feel free to talk to me or one of the elders or someone else in the church that you regard as a good, godly husband. And I guarantee that we don’t have it all figured out – but we’d love to come alongside you and figure it out together. That’s one of the awesome advantageous of being part of this family of God – we don’t have to go through this stuff alone. There’s a great bunch of guys here who would love to see you become the husband and father that God created you to be!

Now, having spent all that time looking at the roles and responsibilities of husbands over the past few weeks, today I want to shift our focus over to the roles and responsibilities of wives. And this is where the potential danger lies….

Being one who, by the very nature of my personality, typically seeks to avoid conflict, there is a part of me that really doesn’t want to preach about how wives are to submit to their husbands. Living in the world that we do today, that just sets off all kinds of red lights and warning bells in my head. 

However, that’s exactly why I feel I must preach on this very topic. We do live in a world that that simply does not hold to the teachings of the Word of God – particularly in the area of marriage. The world would paint God’s design for marriage to be archaic at best – oppressive and destructive are more likely the words they would choose.

But that simply doesn’t fit my understanding of who God is. My God is – is timeless – not archaic. He is loving and good – not oppressive and destructive. 

So if God has designed something like marriage – and he’s given us instructions for how he wants us to do it – I have to assume that God knows what He’s doing – and that His way is best – that it’s loving and good.

And so that’s the approach that I want take on this. Let’s go into this thing with the assumption God has an awesome design for marriage and that it’s to our benefit to do things the way God says to do them.

Of course, that means we need to properly understand what God is saying – I think there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding out there particularly when it comes to these roles and responsibilities of husbands and wives in marriage – but again, that’s exactly why we need to talk about this stuff.

So I want us to begin right back in our Ephesians 5 passage that has been the cornerstone for this series so far. 

21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. Ephesians 5:21-24

Now before we even talk about how this plays out in our marriages – let’s first look at how this plays out in Christ’s relationship with the church. After all, that’s the model we are trying to follow. Paul says the husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church and that the wives are to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ.

So there’s an obvious model for us to follow. The question then is: what does it mean for the church to submit to Christ? What does that kind of submission look like?

And I think it’s important that we start with that because, in the english language, this word ‘submission’ or ‘to submit’ kinda has an unpleasant connotation. It seems like it’s a negative thing. Submitting to someone else is not something most people want to do.

In contrast to that, there are all kinds of people who aspire to be leaders of some sort – there’s all kinds of books about how to be a better leader and so on… But there’s just not a lot of books about how to be a better follower… How to be an expert in submitting to those in authority. That’s not something that a lot of people are real excited about!

But when the Bible talks about submission – it’s not a negative thing – it’s actually a very positive thing. It’s good and beautiful and godly.

In fact, before we look at how the church submits to Christ, let’s back it up one more level. This idea of submission is present even in Christ’s relationship with God the Father. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 11:3

“But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” 1 Corinthians 11:3

Now this is an interesting statement. We know that Jesus and God the Father (as well as the Holy Spirit) are all three equally God. They are equal in power and glory and divinity. No one is more ‘God’ than the others. But yet, this verse tells us that the head of Christ is God. Somehow, in this perfect relationship of the trinity, we have one who is the head – and one who submits. In fact, Philippians 2 is a familiar passage that brings this point out even more. Speaking of Jesus, Paul writes:

6 Though he was God,

    he did not think of equality with God

    as something to cling to.

7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;

    he took the humble position of a slave

    and was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form,

8     he humbled himself in obedience to God

    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Philippians 2:6-8

Becoming human did not change who Jesus was. Jesus was still God – but he took on the role (for the sake of our salvation) of submitting himself under God the Father. That didn’t make him any less ‘God’. But he willing choose to place Himself under the authority of God the Father.

And why did he do that? I’d suggest two reasons.

#1. He did it because of his great love for us.

#2. He did it because he had absolute trust in the Father.

Jesus had such confidence in the Father’s love for Him – that he was willing to wholeheartedly submit himself with no reservations – under the Father’s authority, his provision, and protection.

And we don’t get the idea anywhere that that was a negative thing. Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit have the perfect relationship. It’s the definition of good and beautiful and godly. As you read through the Bible, Christ’s submission to the Father is always something that’s celebrated and applauded!

In fact, if we read just a little more in Philippians 2, we read:

9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor

    and gave him the name above all other names,

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11

Christ’s submission to the Father was a good thing for everyone. It means salvation for us – it means highest honour for Christ and it means glory for God the Father. These are all very good things.

And I think we would say the same thing regarding the church submitting to Christ. It’s a good thing. As a church, I think we want Christ to be the head. Any church that chooses to ignore or to rebel against Christ’s leadership, his protection, and his provision for the church – that’s not a wise church. I would not want to be part of that church. We would be foolish not to want Christ as the head of the church?

Why? Why do I think the church should submit to Christ? For the same two reasons that I gave for why Christ submitted to God.

#1. Because of his great love for us.

#2. Because we can have absolute trust in Him.

Christ has proven his love for us by everything we just read in Philippians. The fact that he was willing to take on human nature, become a man – all so that he could live the sinless life that we never could and then die on a cross to pay for for the sin that we could never pay for – and then be raised to life again so that we could join in him in resurrected life for eternity – if that doesn’t convince you that God loves you – then I don’t know what kind of valentines day card you’re waiting for!

Because of Christ’s incredible love for us, we can have absolute trust in him. We can submit to his headship with no reservations. We can, and in fact, we want to.

We want to place our selves under his leadership, under his protection, under his provision. Why? Because we know that He will lead us well. We know that He will protect us. We know that He will provide for us.  For us to submit ourselves to Christ is a good thing – it’s for our own benefit and for His glory.

And I would suggest that God’s design in marriage is for those exact same reasons. In God’s design, wives should actually want to place themselves under the leadership, under the protection, and under the provision of their husbands. Why? Because they know that their husbands love them – they know that they husbands will lead them well. They know that their husbands will provide for them and protect them.

Now that’s God’s design – that’s not always the reality that we find ourselves in – but that’s God’s design.

The problem is that sin always makes a mess of God’s good design. And we can see that right from the very beginning of time. Think back to Adam & Eve.

In the beginning, before sin entered the world, Adam & Eve experienced God’s good design for marriage. Adam was the perfect husband and he lovingly lead, provided for, and protected his wife Eve – which for the most part was probably pretty easy to do in the garden of Eden. 

And as a result, Eve was very happy to place herself under Adam’s leadership, under his provision and protection – she had no reservations that Adam loved her, that He would provide for her and protect her.

Of course, that all changed when Adam & Eve disobeyed God and they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now, for the sake of time, I won’t read through the entire passage, but I just want to point out a couple bits. First, let’s look at verse 6 of Genesis chapter 3 – this is just after the serpent had been talking to Eve – trying to tempt her to disobey God:

6 The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too.  Genesis 3:6

Notice first of all, that Adam was right there with her and he did nothing to stop this from happening. Adam did not lead his wife to do what is right. He didn’t provide any help in that moment of temptation. He did not protect her from harm. God had warned them that eating that fruit would lead to death – and Adam did nothing to stop his wife from eating it.  What kind of husband doesn’t attempt any kind of intervention when his wife is going do something that will lead to her death?

Adam totally failed. He totally broke Eve’s trust. He didn’t lead, he didn’t provide, and he didn’t protect her. And as a result, it would be a struggle for Eve to ever fully trust Adam as the head again.

And as we read on, there’s a little verse that gives us a glimpse of that struggle. In the next few verse, God lays out the consequences that will come because of Adam & Eve’s sin. God talks first to the serpent, and then to Eve, and then to Adam. But notice what God says to Eve in verse 16:

16 Then he said to the woman,

“I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy,

    and in pain you will give birth.

And you will desire to control your husband,

    but he will rule over you.”

Genesis 3:16

Now I know there are different interpretations of this verse and what it means and if you want to disagree with me on this, that’s fine. This isn’t a hill I’m willing to die on – but I do think it helps us understand how sin has twisted God’s good design for marriage.

First or all, I don’t believe that this is a verse that states that the wives role of submission is the result of the fall. I know there are some people who believe that a wife is to submit to her husband because of this sin. But I don’t believe that. As we’ve seen in Jesus’ relationship to the Father, submission is not a punishment. It’s an important role in a very healthy and good relationship.

But when sin enters the picture, God’s good design is quickly messed up.

And so here’s how I would interpret this verse.

Because of Adam’s massive failure to lead, to provide, and to protect his wife – she would continually struggle to submit to him. She would desire to control her husband because she couldn’t trust him to be the husband that God created him to be. She would feel like she has to do what He didn’t do.

Now I would assume there would be repentance and forgiveness involved – and that trust wasn’t fully destroyed – but it would never be the same. There would always be a struggle. 

And on Adam’s side, because of his new sinful nature, he would be inclined to abuse the power and the authority that God had given him – the power and authority intended so that he could serve his wife – instead, he would abuse that power and authority to rule over her. He would selfishly try to force the issue and make her submit.

And that’s maybe where we need to make another clarification. There is a big difference between submission and subjection.

Subjection describes actions taken by the one with authority where submission describes actions taken by the one under authority.

Let me say that again:  Subjection describes actions taken by the one with authority where submission describes actions taken by the one under authority.

Tim Challies describes the difference like this:

Subjection is the act of a ruler to force obedience. He uses fear or force or intimidation to break the will of the people so they eventually surrender to him. They give up and wave the white flag. They’ve been conquered. They are now in subjection to this leader.

Submission is the act of someone who acknowledges legitimate authority and willingly arranges himself or herself accordingly. Submission is voluntary, never forced. It is responding to the divine order of things first in the heart and then in the life. ~ Tim Challies

So in the case of Christ and the church – the church has not be conquered by Christ. We are not in subjection to him. He doesn’t force us to follow him. No, we willingly submit to Him because we know he loves us, we know he will provide for us, we know he will protect us! Our submission is a choice that we make.

Likewise, a wife is not in subjection to her husband. She has not been conquered. She has been wooed and won! A woman doesn’t become a wife unless she believe that her husband-to-be loves her and that he will provide for her and protect her. When she believes that, then she willing makes that choice to come under his leadership, his provision and protection. 

There is no where in Scripture where husbands are told to subject their wives. Husbands, you have no right to force or coerce or to manipulate your wife into subjection. Your role is only to be the kind of husband that your wife will want to submit to.

But on that note, wives, your role is to submit to your husbands – just like the church submits to Christ and Christ submits to the Father. God’s design for your marriage is for you to come under your husband’s leadership, under his protection and provision – for the mutual benefit of you and your husband.

This is all part of you becoming one with him. You both have separate roles, and when you both do them right, together you will flourish. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:31….

31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:31-33

When a husband loves his wife like he loves himself – and when the wife willing comes under the leadership, provision, and protection of her husband – there is an incredible sense of one-ness in that. That is a formula for incredible unity. That is a formula for a strong healthy marriage.

Now of course, no marriage is perfect – because we’re dealing with sinful people. I think God’s statement to Eve is applicable to all of us – both husband and wife are always going to have that tendency to be selfish and not to trust and to take matters into our own hands. But if we work at this thing – with God transforming our character over time –  keeping it as our goal for husbands to love our wives like we love ourselves and wife submitting to your husbands like you submit to Christ – when we both play our God-given roles in marriage – our marriage will flourish.

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