I have just read an excellent post at http://betterexegesis.blogspot.com/ and I urge all who are interested in the Greek rendering of the difference between “submission” and “obedience” to go there and read. I will not attempt such an analysis here.
Submission is an attitude of the heart that simply wants the will of another person. Obedience is the action that will follow when submission is in place. As such, submission is a gift you choose to give and only you can choose to do so. Obedience can and at times is a requirement that others can demand. Submission, on the other hand, is an attitude of heart that each person can choose to give to another. It is commanded in the New Testament as a requirement for the church to live in harmony, and for the marriage to be successful in Christ.
However, if the husband does not hear Ephesians 5:21 and understand that this attitude is required of him in reference to others, and he then attempts to demand it from his wife, there will be war. However, if it is lovingly taught and encouraged by mutual submission first, then it is a joy to watch it flow and increase the love and obedience in Christ between us.
Much of the “Christian” teaching we have experienced about marriage has encouraged a “Lordship” attitude from the husband. This same attitude is condemned by the Lord in reference to the way Christian leaders are to work in reference to the church. (Mark 10:41-45) So if we violate one passage to confirm our view of another one, something is terribly wrong.
The submission data must be heard by all so all will have opportunity to respond to the Lord in this attitude, and to respond to others in through this empowerment. I say “empowered,” because I believe only the Lord can work this inside us. Rebellion is so much a part of us that we often do not even recognize it. All of us must be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live out the reality of the holiness, through submission, that the Lord has imparted and invested into us.
It has occurred to me that many do not understand the difference between submission and obedience. We obey (often with gritted teeth and an angry interior) and think we are being submissive. As a woman often haunted by the “submission” necessity in marriage and often carried into the church, I have wrestled with this and the scriptures for many years.
Many years ago, another Bible teacher whose name is Janice Wise, taught that “submission” and “obedience” were two separate items. As I pondered this, it became a beacon of light into the Scriptures and into my Lord’s empowerment in my life. I praise Him for giving her that revelation and it has become an ever deepening revelation inside me.
I find that most of the time, we regard them as synonymous. This causes much condemnation and anxiety in hearts as we search for areas of disobedience to correct them. All the while, the problem with disobedience is not the action so much as the heart behind the action.
Let me explain. Submission is commanded for all Christians. “…submitting to one another in the fear of God.” (Eph. 5:21). (By the way, the next verse is not separate in content from this one as in the Greek the word “submission” is not written, but referred to only as connected to this verse. More on that in another post). Submission is for all who belong to our Lord Jesus. It is not action, but rather the deep heart motivation for the action. Submission implies that I am regarding another’s will above my own. If I do the action, but disregard the will, there is no submission. So submission is the work of and with the Holy Spirit in our closet of fellowship with the Lord.
Obedience is seldom the problem. Disobedience stems from a core that we label rebellion. That is because the heart has not accepted another will, but is insisting (inside) on its own. All of us live here – some more than others. I am very grateful for totally forgiveness and lavished grace as I live in my Lord and discover the areas in my heart that remain “upright” instead of bowed to Him and therefore to others.
Submission is a freedom word and is often the “eye of the needle” where we are invited to enter and find an openness, wideness and freedom in the Spirit we have longed for instead of constriction and condemnation.