Why does submission grate on our nerves in such a deep way? It is a universal human flaw, really, but for us as women, we feel it down to the core of our being, and we have the mother of all the living as the witness and root of our rebellion. The feminist movement began with Eve, after all, when she, in the Garden, being tempted by Satan, went outside of her proper place and ate the fruit. She then gave it to Adam, who shirked his role of headship, and he ate, forever imputing sin to the entire human race. But lest you be tempted to blame your rebellious hatred of submission on our ancient parents, I assure you, you would have done the exact same thing. Scripture guarantees us of that truth. But it was through this first act of rebellion, this first sin, that humanity came under the curse.
In particular, God said to the woman, “…yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16b). To grasp a fuller understanding of this text, we need only to turn over a page or so in our Bibles to Genesis 4:7 when the Lord, speaking to Cain about his unacceptable sacrifice says, “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” This anthropomorphic desire of sin to overpower Cain is the same phrase used in Genesis 3:16 to describe Eve’s desire to usurp her husband’s God ordained role. “Sin has turned the harmonious system of God-ordained roles into distasteful struggles of self-will. The woman’s desire will be to lord it over her husband, but the husband will rule by divine design” (John MacArthur).
The passage that most often harkens our thoughts when we begin to meditate on the beauty of this divine design is Ephesians 5:21-24.
"be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything."
Before we progress any further, I believe it bears significance to note here that divine design for male and female roles is not something that developed after the fall. It is only our rebellion to it the came as a result of Adam and Eve’s sin. The very fact that there was gender order for Eve to step outside of reinforces this truth. Subsequently, when God says in Genesis 2:18,
“It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him,”
The Hebrew for suitable there carries the idea of "corresponding to," meaning that Adam was incomplete without Eve before the end of the sixth day. Again, MacArthur gives us insight, “The words of this verse emphasize man’s need for a companion, a helper, and an equal.” We see here the beauty and the value of both genders, which though equal in value carry different roles that have existed from the beginning. I believe it bears great weight that when the Lord gave the mandate to not eat from the tree, He gave it to Adam, before Eve was even created. Adam was to be the spiritual head, the leader, the covering for his wife. Eve, from the beginning, was created as a helpmate, and Adam as her head. This is further explained on numerous occasions in the New Testament (1 Timothy 2:11-15; Ephesians 5:22-33; Titus 2:3-5; 1 Corinthians 11:1-16).
I believe one of the clearest demonstrations of this complementarian order is set forth in a passage that I have not often seen used to defend it, yet beautifully expresses it. 1 Peter 2:13- 3:17 is a treatise on submission. Peter addresses the Church and calls them to submit in verse 13 “to every human institution.” He then moves on in 2:18 to call servants to be submissive to their masters, “not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.” Then it gets interesting, because Peter begins to talk about Christ as our example in the midst of suffering. Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit says of Christ in 2:23,
“and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.”
To entrust Himself (paredidou) means to hand over to someone to keep. Because of His trust in the Father’s plan, His goodness, and His sovereignty, Jesus continually submitted to the Father’s will despite the suffering He had to endure. Verse 24 goes on to tell us why He endured the suffering of the cross, “so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness...” And then verse 25 takes yet another turn.
“For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.”
The picture Peter is painting for us is that we were wandering on our own and now because of the death burial and resurrection of Christ, we now have One we can not only look to as our example and our substitute but also as our Shepherd and the keeper of our souls. Interestingly, these two words, Shepherd and Guardian are also used in the New Testament for human spiritual leaders. Shepherd is the word for pastor and Guardian is the word for bishop or overseer. Both words refer to the same persons who lead the church.
Once Peter has laid this beautiful picture of Christian submission, with Christ as our ultimate example, he opens chapter 3 with these words,
“In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.”
In the same way as what? It would be hard to argue, given the immediate context, that he means to say anything different than in the same way as Christ was to the Father and in the same way we are to be to Christ as our Shepherd and Guardian, the head of the Church. Isn’t this exactly what Paul exhorted wives to in Ephesians 5:24?
“But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”
And as if we needed one more example of godly submission to convince us that this is the way of righteous living, the Holy Spirit calls us to look at Sarah, Abraham's wife, in 3:5-6.
“For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.”
I love that the Lord has us look at Sarah. Sarah who doubted, Sarah who was barren for most of her life, Sarah who had a husband who was less than perfect…twice, that we are told, he lied and said she was his sister in order to save his own skin, sacrificing her life and her dignity. But what do we learn about her here in 1 Peter? She must have had the “imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (3:4). She hoped in God (v5) and was submissive to her husband (v6). Despite her husband’s shortcomings, Sarah trusted God and sought to honor Him by honoring His order and submitting to her husband. And verse 6 tells us that we “have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.”
You see, submission can be a scary thing. Especially if your husband is an unbeliever, or if you feel like you can make better decisions than him, or if he continually makes bad choices or harmful ones. But friends, ultimately, I believe what Sarah knew, and what we must be convinced of, is what we saw in chapter 2 of Christ, that He submitted Himself to “Him who judges righteously.” We must trust in the God who is sovereign, knowing that ultimately it is not to man that we are submitting, it is to Him. And in submitting to our husbands and surrendering to the divine design, we are confessing that we know God is sovereign and that His way is ultimate. Ephesians 5:21 tells us to “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.”
It is our fear of the Lord and love for His law and His good order that causes us to submit. As we follow His example, He leads us as our Good Shepherd, without fear.