Wow, what a loaded concept. What a powder keg for discussion. What a necessary truth that needs to be explored rather than just an expectation to be exploited.

When we come to the topic submission, we have a huge problem. We want what we want. We want it how we want it. We want it, when we want it. We don't want to have to wait for it.

We have an itch. We want it scratched.

We have a desire. We want it met.

We have a need. We want it filled.

We have a hunger for passion. We want it satiated.

We don't expect to wait. We don't want to have expectations placed on us. We don't want to have consequences. We want instant gratification. We want submission from another to our wants, itches, and desires. The truth is, we want submission to be a one-way street that brings all of life and love's delights to us and demands very little from us.

In the modern world of sexual desire and fulfillment, submission is something expected from another. It is the implicit cost of the sex transaction. I expect the other person to meet my needs, to scratch my itch, and to fulfill my desires on my timeline. My "love" for them and my appreciation of them is dependent upon their meeting my needs, scratching my itches, and meeting my desires. If the other person's needs are met in the process, fine; if not... too bad, so sad, I'll move on to someone else. Love is made conditional on another's submission to me. In actuality, love becomes barter. My affection for another becomes dependent upon that person's performance to meet my needs: "Do this for me and I'll be devoted to you forever..." or till you don't do what I want.

So we're not sure if "submission" is a term for sexploitation or simply an unwanted concept that confronts my own private world of selfishness by asking me to give myself to another for their good. While the former use is currently in vogue, the latter is an unwanted and under-appreciated concept in every era selfish humanity. Yet for us to find the grace God has intended for our intimate relationship in marriage, mutual submission is an essential and primary principle necessary for marital joy, fulfillment, stability, discovery, love, and everyday worship.

Paul makes clear the essentiality of submission in all our most important relationships when he says:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).
This kind of submission is the voluntary giving up of my claim to rights, privilege, power, or pleasure to bless and satisfy the needs of another — in this context, my husband or wife. It is selfless and not conditional. For us as disciples, the purpose of this submission is the blessing of another to honor the example, teaching, and Lordship of Jesus. It is also a very integral part of daily worship — more on that later in our series.

While the Bible connects the principle of submission to all areas of life (Ephesians 6:1-9; Romans 12:9-21), Scripture connects it most directly to the relationship between a husband and wife (Ephesians 5:22-33). This kind of submission, this unconditional giving of myself to another, is upside down to the ways of the world. This kind of submission swims upstream against our human culture of selfishness. Paul rooted this concept of submission — let's call it redemptive submission to denote the holy version of submission — in both the teaching of Christ and also the example of Christ.

We seem to have a kind of toxic amnesia about the most core teachings of Jesus when it comes to the most fundamental relationships in our lives.s
Jesus taught us, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). So much of what Jesus taught us is rooted in this concept of blessed giving (Matthew 7:17 is just one example). Submission for a disciple of Jesus is rooted in this self-giving lifestyle. Jesus taught:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

(Matthew 5:3-12)

Somehow, we have managed to divorce this kind teaching of Jesus from the relationship between a husband and wife. We seem to have a kind of toxic amnesia about the most core teachings of Jesus when it comes to the most fundamental relationships in our lives. Think of the powerful implications of these teachings when it comes to our marriages and our marriage beds (Hebrews 13:4). These principles are the heart of redemptive submission. They are what we are to live with each other. They are intended to liberate our lives for love — to love each other and to experience the exhilaration of sexual intimacy in a relationship of protected and committed self-giving love. They are intended to help us experience Jesus' promise that it is more blessed to give love without condition.

Jesus demonstrated this redemptive submission with his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death —
even death on a cross!Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father
(Philippians 2:5-11).

If we are honest with ourselves, this kind of freely offered, voluntary lifestyle of submission seems humanly impossible. My needs, my wants, and my desires often get confused. We find ourselves driven by what we feel we deserve. We give our time pursuing what we want. How do we find the time, much less the energy and will power, to live our lives to bless another?

This situation is where the power of the Holy Spirit becomes so important. What we can't do, the Spirit empowers us to make part of our redeemed new nature. In addition to helping "put to death" the selfish deeds of the flesh, the Spirit empowers us to become who our spouse needs. When our love bank is empty and life is hard, God pours the power of his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). When we step out in faith to serve others, especially our husband or wife, we can find a new power, a fresh burst of loving energy because God is at work in us and through the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:13). What we don't feel able to do, God enables by the Spirit who is at work within us (Ephesians 3:14-21). What God commands of us, he empowers within us through the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:8; Romans 7:21-25; Romans 8:1-4). What God asks of us is to go first — whether it's forgiving, blessing, or submitting — and he promises to supply the power to enable us (Ephesians 1:17-20).

So yes, let's embrace submission — redemptive submission — as a foundation in Christ for our physical love, our sexual intimacy, in our marriages. As both husband and wife live and give this way for the other, each will find the blessedness of giving the other what is needed for joy, security, pleasure, and a life of discovery together as we find in each other what the God of all grace intended for us.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves (Romans 12:9-10).

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves has fulfilled [God's] law. ... Love does no harm... (Romans 13:8-10).