Marriage and Submission (The Meaning of Marriage Chapter 6)

One of the most difficult things in marriage is to figure out how to serve each other. The Bible says, ‘Submit to one another in the fear of Christ.’ But what does that look like in married life? I know at the beginning of my own marriage there were ways I wanted to serve and ways I did not want to serve. And there were ways Jenifer wanted to serve and ways she did not want to serve. We spent more time negotiating and less time submitting to each other. We had to grow up a lot to get to a point where we could really serve each other in ways that grew our marriage.
Timothy Keller’s wife Kathy writes the six chapter of The Meaning of Marriage. In it she discusses the topic of gender. She begins by saying, “The differences between men and women will become an unavoidable issue in every marriage.” Everyone, she says, enters marriage with a certain understanding of how a husband relates to a wife and how a wife relates to a husband.
So, how do the gender roles and submission play out in a Christian marriage?
Keller goes back to the beginning and quotes Genesis 2:18, “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement.’”
The word ‘helper’ is a word that means one who will make up for what is lacking in strength. So, what the man lacks, the woman supplies in strength. She is the complement. As Keller puts so well, male and female are “like two pieces of a puzzle that fit together because they are not exactly alike nor randomly different, but they are differentiated such that together they can create a complete whole.”
So, instead of resisting real difference, we are called to love and embrace the differences that come with coming together as male and female. The differences in gender are not meant to divide us but to help us. Women need men and men need women. We both bring strengths to the table that the other needs.
The foundation for these complementary pieces to fit together is mutual submission. The picture provided in Ephesians 5 is that marriage is like Christ and the church. Christ served, and continues to serve, the church out of love. The church follows Christ.
Yet, once you get married, you know that simple idea of mutual submission becomes a tremendous struggle.
The reason mutual submission is so difficult is because we want to be in control. So we manipulate and bargain to try to gain the upper hand. We use every tactic we can imagine in order to get the other to surrender to our way. Even in the smallest things, we work to pull the relationship in the direction that we want it to go.
In marriage, you will have to surrender. You will have to compromise. Though this is common sense, it seems strangely out of touch with the modern world that still secretly believes, in its heart of hearts, it can have everything it wants and still be happily married. As Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III said, “Submission is the giving up of one’s own will and agenda for life for the benefit of another person. It is putting oneself in alignment to the greater good of the other.”
So, the battle to submit to each other in marriage begins when we face the fact that we will not get everything we want and that this fact is okay with us. We need to look beyond ourselves and our own wants and ask how we can serve the other.


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