There’s a common misconception people have about marriages in which both spouses act with equal authority and submission. It’s that if the wife is not following her husband, she must be in front of him, pushing him around, telling him what he must do. This belief is especially pronounced around couples in which the husband has a naturally sweeter and more gentle personality than the wife (not that I know of any couples like that… ahem).
Comments like these are some of the most common criticisms I have heard of that have hurt the egalitarian couples I know (including me and Brian). It’s also a really big question that people have when they’re reconsidering what the Bible says about marriage.
But it’s not actually remotely true that Biblically equal marriages have the wives in charge. At all. We wives are still commanded by God to submit to our husbands. We must submit to him and hold him above ourselves – and also, as Christians, to everyone else! Just like Jesus put down His life and submitted even to death on a cross – so we are to submit to our brothers and sisters in Christ – including our husbands. The Bible is clear on this issue.
The main difference between a complementarian marriage and an egalitarian one is not the role of the woman – it’s the role of the man.
See, in a complementarian marriage, the husband is the servant-leader. He’s the final authority in the house. In an egalitarian home, he’s just a servant. Just like his wife. Two servants, with Jesus as their Leader.
In an egalitarian marriage, a man is not beaten down by an overbearing woman. He lays his life down for her, just as Christ did for the Church. Just like his wife does for him. Just like each Christian person is commanded throughout the New Testament to do for his or her brothers and sisters in Christ.
And this is revolutionary! All through the world, in the animal kingdom as well as in humanity, those who are physically stronger are in charge. In a marriage that functions as the Bible says, the (usually) physically stronger submits to his wife. Mankind bows to Womankind to serve her and lift her up. Just as Womankind does to Mankind. Just as Christ did for the Church.
Isn’t it funny? It’s the same mistake the Jews made when Jesus came. They expected a strong warrior King, a Ruler to defeat the Romans. Instead, they got a meek Servant Who humbled Himself to the cross. So many Christians today join most of the rest of humanity in expecting men to be the kings and rulers of their homes. But they must be, as Jesus was on Earth, humble servants. Period.
People try to deflect this unpleasant realization by putting the focus on the wives – “She has such a strong personality – she must be a real task master behind closed doors.” But actually, the Bible’s plan is simply, radically countercultural. That God intends for men to give up the privilege that size and strength ordinarily give to men in this world. Just as Jesus gave up the glory of Heaven to be a Servant here on earth.
This can be a scary thought. If everybody is submitting to everybody and no one is leading and no one is following, then how does anything get done? Who has the Final Say when spouses cannot agree? I’ll be discussing this in a later blog post. Stay tuned!