I was reading one of those 'anti' websites. This 'anti' website was aimed towards my particular flavor of Christianity. There's a handful of sites like this out there, populated by remarkably bitter people who have, in a lot of cases, taken legitimate grievances and allowed those grievances to poison their souls. This site had various doctrinal positions categorized as 'deception' like 'The KJVO Deception' or 'The Homeschooling Deception'. The overall vibe of the site is that people like me are stupid dupes at best and oppressive control freak jerks at worst. Frankly I've been called worse by better people, so that doesn't bother me.
What does bother me is the flagrant abuse of the meanings of words to promote an agenda. You see this in the political realm where words like 'tolerance' are used to say 'I can talk, you must shut up'. This happens in the bible realms too, where a word is redefined by usage to mean things that it doesn't really mean.These folks at the anti-site have taken enormous liberties with the word 'submit'. There are postings that talk about the horrible egregious wrongs committed by oppressive control freak jerks from the pulpit in regards to women. They attempt to make the case that these aforementioned jerks are wrong, and they make their case by changing the definition of the word 'submit'. They do this by appealing to their dictionary, or to the 'original languages' or the marginal notes in their NIV (as long as those notes agree with them). By the time these anti-folks are done, the word 'submit' means 'do whatever you want'. It's quite a trick.
But what a word means in the Bible isn't defined by what the dictionary says it means; what a word means in the Bible is defined by how that word is used. With that in mind, before we take a look at Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 (which are the passages whose application bothered them) I think it's fair to look at every other time in the Bible that the word 'submit' is used in order to see what it means before we try to figure out how to apply it.
In Genesis 16, Hagar the slave is skipping town to get away from Sarai how is ,at the very least, openly hostile towards her when Hagar turns out to be fertile where Sarai is barren. Is it permissible to be hostile towards your servant after she has a child by your husband, especially after it was your idea? Probably not. Was Sarai in the wrong? Probably so. However, in verse 9 Hagar is commanded to return to Sarai and submit herself under her hands. I understand how hard a thing that is to grasp in this modern age, but the fact is, in the very first appearance of the word, God tells a woman to return to her mistress even though her mistress is probably in the wrong! See how contrary that book runs to the desires of our flesh?
What was Hagar supposed to do when she got back? What did God mean by 'submit'? In 2 Samuel 22:45 the word is defined. It says "Strangers shall submit themselves unto me: as soon as they hear , they shall be obedient unto me." To submit is to hear what somebody says, and do it. Not only to obey, but to obey as soon as they hear it. Delayed obedience is disobedience. This definition is backed up in Psalm 18:44 where the Bible says "As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto me." My opinion or your opinion on this is amazingly unimportant. That's what the word means. Hagar was supposed to go back to Sarai and do what she said as soon as she said it, even if Sarai was wrong.
You don't have to agree with the commandment to submit. You can think the commander is wrong, and you may even be correct in that assessment. From Psalm 66:3, you can even be at enmity with somebody and still submit unto them! The definition is very narrow and doesn't require your agreement ,only your obedience. If you're looking for an application according to Psalm 68:30, one of the ways you submit yourself is to part with your money, and give it to the one to whom you are submitting.
The Bible moves smoothly from definition to application and in the New Testament the Corinthian church is told in chapter 16 verse 16 that they are supposed to find people who are labouring in the ministry, and submit to them. If the definition holds, these labourers may occasionally be wrong. Everybody is. The God who commanded you to submit acknowledges throughout the Bible that 'all flesh is as grass' and that 'there is none that doeth good, no not one' and that 'man at his best state is all together vanity'. That same God tells you to find people who are legitimately labouring in the ministry, and do what they say, as soon as they say it! The qualification given in 1 Cor 16 isn't that you submit yourselves to people you agree with all the time or who see things the way you do. The qualification is that you submit yourself unto people who addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints. If you have a person who has addicted himself to the ministry of the padding of his own wallet, or addicted himself to the ministry of his own self-exaltation then congratulations, you're off the hook. But you are still obligated to find somebody that is labouring, and help them. The way you help them is you do what they say as soon as they say it! The Bible really isn't that hard to understand.
The person you are submitting to doesn't have a blank check in regards to you. The burden and accountability they have before God is really quite frightening according to Hebrews 13:17 and until you've had people labouring with you and submitting themselves unto you, you have no idea how much sleep the position costs you. In the military and in the ministry, I have had people looking to me to make a decision, and I've had to proceed on, worried both before and after whether or not my judgment calls were the right ones. I have had people labouring with me and submitting themselves unto me that were much more talented at what we were doing than I was. In fact, that has been the case more often than not. The decision , and accountability, was still mine, not theirs. All they had to do was do what I said, when I said it, and if it was wrong, God would judge me, not them. True biblical submission protects the submitter, and brings the submittee under the scrutiny of the judge of all the earth.
James 4:7 says we are to "Submit yourselves therefore to God." If the definition holds we are do what God said as soon as he said it. What did God say? Among other things he said that you are to "submit yourselves unto the elder" if you are the younger (1 Peter 5:5). As my dad has told me more than once "I didn't get this old by being stupid." God also told us to "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake..." and if there was ever a commandment of God that I have struggled with, it's that one. If you don't believe me, ask my wife. The truth is I want to do what I want to do and I think I know best for my life. I may even be right, and the local government wrong, but the Bible still says what the Bible says. Speed limits may really be about revenue generations more than public safety, but I still have to do what they say as soon as they say if I am submitting myself to God. My spirit bucks so hard against that I don't even like typing about it.
Now, having prepared the ground, let's look at Ephesians 5:22 ("Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.") and Colossians 3:18 ("Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.") If that word still means what it means every other place in the Bible, my wife is supposed to do what I say when I say it. She is supposed to do that even if she thinks I am wrong. She is supposed to do that even if I am wrong. She is supposed to do it even if she is smarter or more spiritual than me (both of which happen to be the case at the Alford house). There are no qualification given in either chapter other than it be to "your own husbands". If I am wrong, God will clean my clock, not hers. She is protected from the judging eye of God by her obedience while I am left flapping in the breeze by my position. Knowing that, and knowing that God has given her gifts to be able to minister to me, unless I'm a complete chucklehead, I'll listen to her counsel. I will consider that we are heirs together of the grace of life. I will think about her and the kids before I decide. I will seek safety in a multitude of counselors. I will scrutinize what the word of God says. But, and here's the tough part, even if I do NONE of those things, she is still required by the scriptures to do what I say when I say it. If I say 'wear this' or 'read that' or 'turn off the Facebook and come to bed', she needs to do it. Even if she doesn't want to. God will bless her and judge me.
In closing, let me say this; the women's liberation movement produced an entire generation of disobedient women who, after having stepped out from underneath the protections of submission, raised a generation of silly women laden with diverse lusts. They 'preached' freedom, but they produced miserable slaves. Unfortunately, that's the way that sort of thing always turns out. And if some preacher somewhere was a control freak jerk and mis-used his scriptural authority, just stand by, God's been dealing with stuff like that for a long time, and knows exactly how to trim his wick. Don't get bitter, and don't get rebellious.