A colleague of mine was recently engaged. And the question arose, as it often does: "How are we going to resolve conflict? Who gets the final say? Who has to submit?"
The linguistic structure of Ephesians 5 yields a helpful insight.
Under the overarching missional heartbeat of this passage (v.15-16 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil) is the reality that before we ever get to instructions for husbands, wives, children, slaves and masters, we get another instruction for all that follow:
"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."
In the Greek it is unmistakable that submission applies to all who follow, because the word "submit" in "Wives, submit to your husbands" is actually absent. In ancient Greek when a verb is missing from a statement, you pull down the previous verb ("Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ"). This is grammatically true for wives, but structurally true for the rest of them as well. The verb 'submit' is intended to be pulled down on not only wives, but also husbands, children, slaves and masters. So you might interpret it:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives, (submit) to your husbands....
Husbands, (submit and) love your wives...
Children, (submit and) obey your parents...
Slaves, (submit and) obey your masters...
Masters, (submit) to your slaves...
This is the origin of the popular phrase among proponents of egalitarian marriage "mutual submission." Submission, it seems, ought to characterize the relationships between ALL persons in Christ.
Note that wives don't get an EXTRA command with the 'for-everyone' command to submit. Husbands are to love AND submit. Children, to submit AND obey. Slaves to submit AND obey. Notice that wives were not told to 'obey and submit' as the clearly hierarchical relationships of Parents-Children and Masters-Slaves. Obedience is not the meaning of "wives, submit to your husbands."
So who gets the final say? Well, Paul would say "Christ," because ultimate submission is to him.
Who should submit? Wives, definitely wives. And husbands. And children. And slaves. And masters. In short, everyone. Everyone should submit.
Beyond this, a practical solution may be helpful. Lindsay and I practice what a Christian counselor advised: when you face a decision with conflict, each person rates the importance of the decision on a scale of 1-10. If the decision is more important to me, and I feel more passionately - then I make the call. And if Lindsay does, then it's her call. If you're both at a 10 - you need a mediator (or one of you is just being stubborn, acting like its a 10 for you when it's really not).
This works much better than what someone insisted Lindsay and I do. She implored us to follow the biblical way and told Lindsay flatly she must submit to (obey) my decisions. After imparting this wisdom, she went on to tell about the time she submitted to her husband's decision, and how it was "one the dumbest decisions" they'd ever made, with a significant financial downside. And yet, she concluded, "That's the price we pay for doing things God's way."
There is a price to pay in doing things God's way, but I think it is in giving up power, not eschewing the collective wisdom.
How's your submission going?
Other Posts in this series:
Good Looking Gospel: The Missional Heartbeat of the Household Codes
Submit to Authority: The Biblical Agenda (and Ours)
Who Wears the Pants? Unlocking the Household Codes