Back in college, I remember friends who spent long hours debating whether or not, in a wedding ceremony, the individual candles that were used to light the unity candle should be blown out after lighting said unity candle. They wanted to make sure the symbolism was just right. It was a few years before all the uproar caused by the “S” word – submission.
When the whole “Wives submit to you husbands” thing was big, I was about to be a newlywed in a military community in Germany. My about-to-be-husband and I attended a non-denominational home church made up of military families, and it seemed to me that the preacher spoke on that subject all the time. He had a phrase that he would use almost every time he spoke on the subject. I think he’d say it to try to dispel some of the tension rising in the room because I don’t remember him ever moving on to the husband’s part of the equation. Anyway, he’d smile and say, “You know, ladies, the man may be the head of the household, but you ladies are the neck…you tell us which way to turn. *chuckle, chuckle*”
It was usually at that moment I felt like punching him. Submission is hard for me to begin with but don’t be condescending while you’re telling me I have to do it. In retrospect, though, I realize what that pastor as well as many other well-meaning pastors of that era were talking about was not submission, but subjugation. There’s a huge difference. The problem is that even the dictionary overlaps the two words.
1. to yield oneself to the power or authority of another: to submit to a conqueror.
2. to allow oneself to be subjected to some kind of treatment: to submit to chemotherapy.
3. to defer to another's judgment, opinion, decision, etc.: I submit to your superior judgment.”
1. to bring under complete control or subjection; conquer; master.
2. to make submissive or subservient; enslave.”
For me, the main difference is that you choose whether or not to submit, but you don’t have any choice about being subjugated. The enemy works really hard to make sure that when pastors speak on submission in the marriage relationship that we hear subjugate. It doesn’t help that often pastors dwell on the wives’ side of the texts and kind of zip right through the husbands’ part of the deal.
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Ephesians 5:22-33
Paul spends a lot more time describing the husband’s responsibility to love his wife than the wife’s submission. The problem is that we live in a sinful world and most of us are afraid that if we submit to someone, they’ll subjugate us – and that’s not the relationship that Paul was talking about.
We forget that our example is Jesus. Yes, Jesus asks us to submit to Him, but look at what He’s done with us in mind.
“The world’s Redeemer was treated as we deserve to be treated, in order that we might be treated as he deserved to be treated. He came to our world and took our sins upon his own divine soul, that we might receive his imputed righteousness. He was condemned for our sins, in which he had no share, that we might be justified by his righteousness, in which we had no share. The world’s Redeemer gave himself for us.” (E.G. White, The Review and Herald, March 21, 1893)
It’s just my opinion, but it seems like we spend quite a bit of time worrying about getting what we deserve. Advertising really pushes that button hard – that somehow we all deserve more than we’re getting. When we worry about what we think we deserve, we can’t submit to God or anyone else. But when we remember that Jesus gave up everything He deserved because we were more important to Him, we can see and begin to understand what a loving relationship should look like.
When God created Eve, He was giving Adam someone who could be equal – someone with whom he could share every experience. It was a relationship that was supposed to have demonstrated how God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are One and yet Three. God never intended that Adam should push Eve around or make her to feel “less than.” He never intended for Eve to fear or resent Adam because she had to quit doing the things she liked, to do what he liked. God made Adam and Eve to work as a unit with two equal parts. Each part was complete on its own but could only be fully successful when firmly bound to its other half. Two individuals joined so tightly together that each person’s first thought is not, “How can I get what I deserve,” but “What can I do for this person to show them how much I love them.” How did Jesus show us how much He loves us?
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:5-7
 submit. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved February 22, 2013, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/submit
 subjugate. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved February 22, 2013, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/subjugate