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“Strong complementarian women combine things the world cannot explain: a sweet, tender, kind, loving, submissive, feminine beauty, with massive steel in their backs, and theology in their brains.” — John Piper 

The rarity of Biblical Submission

I first heard this quote by John Piper on a panel discussion he held five years ago at a “Desiring God” conference. It resonated with me as powerfully then as it did when I saw it again this morning on a status a friend posted.

I’ve always wondered what it is about the idea of submission in general, and then specifically in the Bible, that turns so many women off and, oftentimes, fosters such outright opposition or even hostility.

Is it because after years of unfair treatment and unequal rights, the idea of having to submit to males is repulsive?

I’ve heard women say (Christian too) that submission is difficult because often the men they’re involved with or that are interested in them are simply not men worth submitting to. Or perhaps it is that somehow any notion of submitting would be practically admitting that women are in some fashion not equal to men and that just isn’t fair in the seemingly progressive society and culture that we live in today.

Submission through the cultural lens

No matter what the reason, although I tend to find the latter most prevalent, I believe the pertinent question is this: Is it possible that our society and culture has warped, misinterpreted, and demonized what is supposed to be the beautiful role assignments the Bible has laid out for men and women?

Is it possible that as the quote states, the world simply is unable to explain the paradoxical nature of a sweet, kind, submissive woman, who is also godly, independent, and a leader in many different respects?

I think so. I believe one of the fundamental things Christians forget is that cultural standards are never meant to influence how we think about or interpret the Bible. On the contrary, the Bible should always be the lens in which we view and filter the world that we live in.

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We are rapidly beginning to inhabit a landscape of extremes here in America and abroad, one in which we are told that a progressive woman must solely possess strong willed determination, drive, and ambition. That they must be career driven, and that if this comes at the expense of archaic and outdated ideas of what a woman used to be then so be it -all the better. Of course the Bible is viewed as a completely antiquated book that has no concept of gender equality.

I find all of that to be very ironic since the Bible actually portrays multiple women in various roles that embody and reconcile all of the aforementioned characteristics along with the historical concepts of female femininity. Esther, Hannah, Abigail, and Ruth all possessed strength in character, wisdom, leadership, beauty, tenderness and kindness. Yet there seems to be this modern day idea that most of these are mutually exclusive.

Submission in the Bible

Part of embracing the Biblical complimentary roles within a relationship is understanding God’s design for men and women in the context of a partnership. The reality, no matter how much we as people would like to deny it, is that there are a number of skill sets and inherent qualities that I as a man would not be able to bring to a relationship. Similarly, there are qualities that a female partner would be unable to bring to the table.

It’s a matter of how we’ve been wired by God and not at all about inferiority or superiority. It’s important to remember that if we (males and females) are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), then there is an inherent equality that can never be done away with. I believe it is this same inherent, godly equality that’s important to constantly keep in the back of our minds as we filter and think about how we can submit to our God given partners, and how we can serve one another in the context of marriage. Marriages are meant to model the marriage that all Christians have become partakers of since our reconciliation to Christ. In the spiritual model of our relationship to Christ we are called to lovingly submit to his leadership and guidance with the promise that we will always be loved, respected, cherished, protected and provided for. To Christ, our voices, thoughts, opinions and desires matter and are taken into account. This should be no different in the context of an earthly marriage as well.

“Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her…” Ephesians 5:25. We’ve all been called to humble ourselves before the awesome sacrificial love of Christ. God, in turn is calling men to display and pour out that very same love to the women that we choose to spend the rest of our lives with. Women, is not that very definition of love (in fact the greatest example of it) worth coming underneath so that God can be glorified in a unique way? Does this love show the world that you can embody paradoxical qualities of leadership, strength, tenderness, and sweetness?

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Maybe it’s time all of us, male and female, wipe our minds of the stereotypical idea of what submission is, and objectively open our Bibles to see what it actually says submission should be.

You are not unequal partners that are to be subjugated to a man’s every thought and whim. You are daughters of Christ deserving of Christ’s love. Christian men are simply called to lead and give that to you.

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Men, are you willing to display that love to your wives, and women, are you willing to receive and submit to that love?

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