Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Colossians doesn’t have much to say about submission. Paul doesn’t expound here on what submission is, or to what extent we are called to submit–he just commands it, and calls it fitting . That little word “fitting,” though, is an excellent place to begin talking about submission, because it answers a crucial question: why should we submit?
It’s not in my nature to be submissive. Even when I was a child, there were few times when I felt compelled by peer pressure to do anything. I remember very coherently in junior high wearing clothes that I knew were not in style, and I think I rather revelled in nonconformity. I’ve also tried to do whatever I thought was best regardless of what others thought. I don’t think I’m an overly domineering or bossy person, exactly, but I can be a know-it-all and I can also be pretty unyielding when I think I’m right.
So, bringing this into the sphere of marriage–I do quite well at being submissive, as long as Seth wants me to do what I want to do! But stray off that happy path and… well, there’s a reason I’ve picked submission as my topic du jour!
There do seem to be a few women out there who are more naturally submissive, stemming from anything from an internalized need to please or being “good-natured.” But I suspect that for most of us, we’re born rebellious and submission is continually a matter of internal conflict. So… we might think that being submissive is a virtue. We might think we’re doing pretty well. Conversely, if we’re not doing so hot on the submissiveness score, we might think we’re still okay, because, after all, it’s awfully difficult and so few women get it down pat. Maybe we’re not as virtuous as we could be, but it’s not like we’re living in sin, either, right?
But then Paul uses that little word, “fitting.” Not “submit as is a beautiful expression of love,” not “submit to earn rewards in heaven,” not “submit so others may see and learn from you,” but submit because it’s fitting.
I think that’s a bit of an archaic word in English, but the Greek is quite clear. The word is aneko (with macrons that I can’t get to show up), which carries the idea of attaining. In other words, do exactly what you’re supposed to do. Submission isn’t anything “extra,” it’s par for the course. If you’re submissive, you’re being what a wife is expected to be. Describing a Christian wife as “submissive” should be no more spectacular than describing a banana as “yellow.” Do green bananas exist? Sure, but nobody wants them. And when someone asks what color a banana is, the only answer that comes to mind is “yellow.” Similarly, “submissive wife” should be redunant; when we think “wife,” we should think “submissive;” and when we think of unsubmissiveness and wife in the same breath we should be appalled. It’s impossible to be a good wife without being a submissive wife.
Another thing worth noting from this passage: Paul doesn’t say “submit to your good husbands” or “submit to your husbands because they love you and deserve it.” He specifically sets the command in a very different context altogether: it’s fitting in the Lord . Our submission is unconditional, in the sense that it doesn’t depend on the character or actions of the man we’re married to. If we find it easier to submit to our husbands when they’re being nice and wonderful, then we’ve got to check that our submissiveness isn’t stemming from the wrong motivations! We submit because we are commanded and created to do so. And while it takes more endurance and strength to submit to bad husbands, or even to good husbands when they’re being unkind, God promises us the grace to do so.
There’s a reward that comes out of submitting when it’s difficult, too, but I’ll save it for a later entry. 🙂