There’s no “I” in Helpmate
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Image © Sally Weimer from GoodSalt.com

Image © Sally Weimer from GoodSalt.com

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.

“sub·mit [suhb-mit]
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

“sub·ju·gate [suhb-juh-geyt]
1. to bring under complete control or subjection; conquer; master.
2. to make submissive or subservient; enslave.”2

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 demonstrate 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 and 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

  1.  submit. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved February 22, 2013, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/submit
  2. subjugate. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved February 22, 2013, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/subjugate
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There’s no “I” in Helpmate — 10 Comments

  1. The "rule" over the wife by the husband that God commanded must be understood properly by both sides. It will never affect the uniqueness of any individual, but only in regard to the harmony of the pair when they must make a joint decision concerning God's specific will for them as a single unit. It is only IF a deciding vote needs to be cast. This fact should make any Godly woman realize that she needs Divine wisdom when choosing such a husband as God would have her submit to. So there is really nothing for anyone to fear except that they rely on their own finite wisdom in making one of life's most vital decisions.

    As you pointed out Lillian, the greater council is given to the man who must not only make the decision IF needed, but he is also the one accountable for it in the end. The man's motives must be as pure as the motives of Christ Himself, and his daily pleading for the heavenly wisdom should be without ceasing as he looks to the Author and Finisher of his faith for support, while holding supreme regard for the wife God has joined him to.

    This commanded submitting will work perfectly for those who are united in their love for Jesus, but will be a galling yoke for the self-centered.

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  2. I've been studying this week's lesson and it appears to me that so many women and men have issue with marriage because they are not prepared for it. Most times, men/women are looking for a helpmeet, true; help me to get this, help me get to that, choosing primarily from their eyes or their wisdom.

    We as God's people need to use His wisdom, His eyes, His counsel. Young men consider the counsel of God concerning virtuous character in your choices. Young women consider Christ like attributes in your choices. In order to be prepared for marriage you need to spend more time with God, the giver of the gift so that you can appreciate the gift as it was given.

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  3. I agree with you all the way Lillianne. To me the whole concept of subjugation is a real problem in our sinful world. It finds itself just about everywhere especially in politics where the operative word is "control."

    To be honest there is many more problems with men being dictators over their wives than the other way around. However, I have seen marriages where the wife felt it her duty to be the controller of the family and from what I have seen it works no better than a male tyrant at the helm.

    To me a marriage should be truly "one flesh" where the term "us" should be used far more often than it is. While each should serve the other I do not believe that one should totally neglect his or her self. To me the object should be the well being of both together. As Paul said of the church, "if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it" (1 Cor. 12:26 NKJV). As it is with the church so it is with the family. If one member falls ill it usually puts a strain on the other members so it is better that all members remain well and united together for the benefit of the whole. It think that is what Jesus meant by being one flesh or as Paul would say one body (ref. 1 Cor 6:16 and Rom 12).

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  4. When a husband quotes these verses to a wife, the woman will immediately say, "No way! I am not to 'submit' myself to my husband! We are equal partners in the marriage. No one is above the other!"

    Sadly, many minister will also try explain the meaning of why God created Eve from Adam's rib, which is to make her an equal "partner." God did not create her from Adam's foot which means she is not under his authority, nor did He create her from Adam's head which should mean she is not over him.

    I believe this is one of the many reasons for the so many divorces in our society. Everyone can agree that it is impossible to have two equal kings in a kingdom. But when it comes to a marriage, many people think that the husband and the wife should be both equal kings, and the wives will quickly dismiss this Ephesians 5:22-25 as a bunch of nonsense!

    I believe the context of these texts is within an ideal marriage: between a godly husband and a godly wife. So for the wives, what's wrong with submitting yourselves to your godly husbands? As long as the command from the husband is within God's law, yes, you must submit to your husband. But for too many women, they would rather see the marriages break apart rather than submitting to their husbands because they are supposed to be "equal."

    If the wife thinks she should not "submit" to the husband because he is not a godly husband, why did she marry him in the first place?

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    • I am not going to generalise here. Believe me brothers, wives HAVE no problems submitting to their godly husbands. The problem is sometimes we (both sexes are guilty) marry for convenience,,,not convenience of the other but one's convenience. The crunch then comes when submission becomes a swear word!! Unless self is crucified and husbands abandon their holier than thou attitude and wives tame their tongues and attitudes then sadly Christ cannot be part of our relationships and that hurts Him. We need the Eden ideal of marriage so a mass dying to self is needed. May the Lord help us.

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  5. The husband is to be respected not because he is the boss but because he loves his wife so much he would die for her. That is why we respect Jesus. Not just because He is our boss but because He died for us.

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  6. After reading and commenting on this, I was just looking at a picture of the earthrise over the moon. I thought to myself, that is how marriage should be. Each person thinking the other one is the one who rises and sets on the other one, when in fact they both do, determining on your point of view.

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