by Sonia Hulme
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Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).
Paul’s instructions to married couples and families have come in for their share of criticism over the years. Whether you think his words on submission and differing instructions to husbands and wives are horrifying or freeing might depend on your own experience and context in reading them.
I’ve been blessed to be married for 26 years. Our marriage has been good but not always easy. We made the decision early on to invest every few years in something that would help it grow. But we have seen many marriages fall apart around us, and we have witnessed others who have stuck together with difficulty. How might Paul’s suggestion of mutual submission play itself out today?
Jesus chose me to be joined in life with him. My relationship with him is the foundation for all my other relationships. Out of that life-giving relationship springs my capacity to love the other person. So then, all my relationships (including my marriage) involve not just two people but Jesus as well. Marriage is an awesome chance for growth in my capacity to love, and a lot of that growth happens as I choose to ‘give way’ to the other person. How does that happen in a practical sense? How do I yield to the person I love most in the world when they paradoxically manage to be incredibly so frustrating and selfish? (A question my patient husband has probably asked himself many times over in our marriage.) By thinking of a loving thing to do and doing it. By choosing the next loving thing. By making small daily choices that make a big difference.
And if you are not married? Or you have come out of a messy marriage, bruised and broken in the very relationship God intended to be an echo of his love for his people? Then Jesus gives himself to you every day in sacrificial love, pouring out his heart of love for you and drawing you towards healing and wholeness. If we’ve been hurt, it becomes harder to try again. But God is a God of fresh starts, new chances and new beginnings. Of course, healthy submission cannot happen in a violent or abusive relationship. One-way deferral and acceptance were never part of God’s plan.
Is there a relationship where you might practise healthy submission, thinking of the other, turning towards them in a loving, practical way? Perhaps it might be with your children or in your church community? As a follower of Jesus, I am called to give way (submit) to God in my life, expressed in love for him and, flowing out of that, love for others.
Jesus, in a world where what’s best for me and how my needs are being met, submission is counter-cultural. Help me reflect your light by how I love you and others today. I name before you a relationship that needs your healing. Help me enter into your new, radical way of love with this person today. Amen.