by Pastor Tim Burt
Note from Pastor Tim: This post is just a little longer than usual so read it when you have time. I pray it blesses and helps you!
The word submit is a scary word to many people—especially women! People who don’t know God, don’t understand the biblical application of this word. It’s been my experience that most couples struggle with understanding biblical submission. When I’ve conducted premarriage counseling, the unspoken thought from women is, Pastor, can we just skip that verse? On the other hand, men get excited of the thought that God tells his wife to submit to him, but the thought of him submitting to her? Really? I don’t think so! Women often hate the word because it paints a picture in their mind of becoming some kind of mindless slave to their husband, having to obey everything he says. They both struggle because they often see this word as some kind of a permission slip to dominate and make each other subservient. That is not the heart of God at all in instructing us.
I want you to know that I submit to my wife frequently. There are decisions, small and large that I direct in our marriage that fit my strengths, talents, and wisdom and there are those that fit my wife’s. Submit sounds so controlling and unfortunately, some Bible teachers present it more that way. But, it’s not at all if that way if both husband and wife understand that it’s love that drives submission. I submit to God happily because I know of His love and that He has my best interests and desired blessing at heart. Likewise, there is a great deal of our daily life that my wife would have better instincts for. And so I yield/submit to her regarding those thoughts and decisions. There may be a discussion but I know when she’ll make the better decision for the both of us and I trust her. And so to us, the word submit is not a scary word. It’s the wisdom of God. Ephesians 5:20-21 NKJV says, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”
Let’s look at the verse again. It starts out, “Giving thanks always…. Submitting yourselves…” Who would be giving thanks if they were being made a slave or feeling dominated and treated like one? This verse is really teaching us that as husbands and wives, we need to thank God for the spouse He has given us and learn to adapt to each other’s gifts and strengths with whole-hearted respect out of love and reverence for each other and to God. That will happen if this one thing is quickly broken in a marriage. What is that one thing? A spirit of competition! Young couples who are newly married are entering into a new season and arena of life—the merging of two lives together. In the beginning, you don’t know each other’s talents, strengths, wisdom and weaknesses. And so, marriage often starts out as a competition of control. Falling in love starts out with such a high. Engagement begins the merger. The initial love high quickly turns to windy waters. And then marriage, which should be a couple of years of honeymoon, instead turns into a competition of dominance bringing the marriage it’s first lows. If you haven’t been properly prepared for marriage, then this is what will be the case in most new marriages. And the couple won’t talk about it much because they are too embarrassed by it. And so they suffer through it, many sinking lower and lower.
Let me share some of Renee and my adapting which I think is a much more palatable word than submitting. When Renee gets into bed at night, she doesn’t go to sleep until after she has spent a fair amount of time reading. We’ll pray together and then she’ll usually read until she’s tired. I go to bed, lay my head down, and usually fall asleep within 60 seconds. Because I fall asleep quickly and she likes to read, we’ve adapted and created a plan that works great for both of us. This is the process of respecting and adapting to each other.
When Renee wakes up in the morning, the wheels of her mind begin to turn slowly. It takes her a little while to come out of her wake-up fog. She gets up, puts on the coffee, grabs a cup, and heads to the couch to read her Bible. As she reads and prays, she journals her thoughts from the Lord. By that time she is wide awake, so she calls her sister for a few minutes to say hi and chat. (That used to be a call to her mom until she went to Heaven.) After that, she’s ready to get out of her bathrobe, get ready, and take on the day.
From the moment I wake up in the morning, I’m energized and ready to go. After going to the bathroom, I do my core exercises, shower and get ready for the day. I open my Bible and set my thoughts on God’s word. And then I make my way to the couch to join Renee so we can pray together over our day. When we are done praying, we talk over a few things and then I head to my home office to write Fresh Manna. She knows I appreciate not being interrupted during this time so that I can focus on writing. This works perfect for us and is how we start most days because we’ve adapted to each other. But our mornings were not always like that. In the early days of our marriage, because I wake up so quickly, I tried to get her up so she could come and pray with me. She moved slowly and could hardly think or communicate. Though that would have been a good routine for me, it was not the right routine for her. And so we adapted, finding out what worked best for both of us and trying to meld that together. And of course all that changed during our child-raising years and seasons of life.
Back then, Renee loved to talk about the day’s activities at night, which is great, but sometimes she carried that into the bedroom right before trying to go to sleep. We’d end up talking about problems, finances, the kids, and situations that created stress. This was not the way to prepare for sweet sleep or romantic adventures. We decided to set other time frames to discuss those kinds of things outside the bedroom which made our bedtime and sleep much more sweet.
These are just a few of the many areas in which we’ve learned to adapt to each other. There were so many! Childrearing, decorating, budgeting and financial planning, meals, and on and on. Adapting can be as easy or as difficult as you want to make it but being competitive instead of adapting and submitting to each other’s strengths will hurt your marriage and possibly destroy it. Instead of competing over how we were going to execute our life together, we adapted from a heart of love and mutual submission to each other’s strengths. That is what God intended when He said, “submit one to another.” This is the fulfillment of another verse that is spoken in most weddings. Ephesians 5:31 (NIV) “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” You become one flesh in God’s eyes when you become married. But you really become one flesh when you’ve learned to adapt to each other!
God does not expect anyone to adapt to rudeness, disrespect, or slothful habits. But, we all have our little idiosyncrasies that we formed over the years and we all have maturing and growth to go through. Adapting, loving, and appreciating each other makes any desired change from one spouse to another more doable, and it defuses many potential battles that Satan would like to stir up to ruin your marriage.
Renee and I have ministered to married couples a great deal over the years. We are still moderately shocked when we see couples that have been married for 15 to 20 years and are still competing instead of learning to adapt to each other in a spirit of love! When two people stop trying to compete and dominate each other and instead take the approach of learning to lovingly adapt to each other’s needs and ways, life will become better. Learning to communicate and adapt in areas that don’t seem to be working can produce great results. Yielding to your spouse’s way of doing something from a spirit of love over something that in the big picture is inconsequential, puts love in the love bank. Be thankful for the spouse God has given you and respectfully adapt where you can. You’ll find much more joy in your life and marriage, and see your marriage become what God intended it be. Learn this sooner than later in your marriage so that you can become a team and heirs together of God’s blessings and grace of life!
“Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” 1 Peter 3:7 (NKJV)
In His love,
Pastor Tim Burt
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