At the end of our weekly Bible study in a local coffee shop, I looked ahead to the passage we would be studying the following week and read aloud, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”
I chuckled as I turned to my equally single friend and joked, “Hey, since neither of us have our own husbands, we can skip next week!”
Her response surprised me. “Not yet,” she said, “but chances are that one or both of us will end up married before we die. What if we looked at this passage as applying to us and our future husbands?”
Her question, along with that Bible study, set me on an almost decade-long search to understand how, as a single Christian, I could both protect and prepare for my potential future marriage.
The paragraph before Paul’s instruction to husbands and wives (found in Ephesians 5:22-29) reminds believers to encourage each other with singing, give thanks to God, and submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
In our culture, that word, submit, has a bad reputation. It is synonymous with being “oppressed” or “beneath.” The actual meaning of the word, though, is much more positive. The Greek word Paul uses here is a military term that means “to know one’s place,” or “to fall in line.” As singles, we need to understand how to submit to our brothers and sisters in Christ—just as husbands and wives submit to one another.
Ephesians 5:22 says that wives are to submit to their husbands. It seems to imply the submission happening within the context of that specific relationship. But remember that this statement is made within the larger context of Paul saying that we are all to submit to one another. In other words, if believers are to submit to one another, then we are to understand how to interact with one another, to know our place in any given situation.
The Art of Submission
So what does an instruction to submit to one’s spouse have to do with single people? I have to admit that I didn’t always see the connection. But here is where we can look at marriage in two different ways: our potential future marriages as individuals, and as an institution within the church.
First, it’s good to remember that just as the bride of Christ (those of us in the church) is preparing for the return of the bridegroom, we are simultaneously preparing for our future spouses. Using this Ephesians passage as a plumb line for us, we as women can ask, Am I learning to cultivate a submissive heart? Am I willing to listen to others and consider different opinions, even if I think wholeheartedly that my way would be best?
I had an opportunity to practice this not long after that initial coffee house conversation, when some coworkers and I set out to create a banner for March Madness brackets. I wanted to measure the paper, work from the center, and ensure that each bracket was of equal size. The man who was actually drawing the brackets, however, was starting in a top corner, doing different math to plan his attack. I was literally biting my tongue while repeating to myself in my head, There’s more than one way to get something done right.
Instead of jumping in, taking over and showing him how to do it the “right” way, I submitted, realizing that my place was not “Bracket Drawer.” And you know what. The end result was evenly drawn brackets that were used to track the ball games that month. The bracket artist gained confidence as a leader and planner, and I developed some self-control.
Another important point to notice is that Scripture does not teach that all women are to submit to all men. Paul is clear in saying that this type of submission occurs in a marriage relationship. So while I in no way had a biblical mandate to submit to my coworker due to our respective genders, I took the opportunity to submit “to one another” as prescribed in verse 21. The more we practice submission to others in matters in which there is more than one “correct” answer, the more we can develop the fruit of the Spirit, which includes self-control.
Men need not feel left out, either. Based on Ephesians 5, they can ask themselves, Do I treat women in a way that would make submission to me an appealing idea? Do I lead in situations socially, professionally and spiritually with confident gentleness? Am I humble enough to submit to others when the situation calls for it?
Man or woman, if you aren’t working toward being the type of person who will joyfully submit to others, then you may one day find yourself in a marriage where you are completely unprepared to live out the relationship in the way God intended. Even if you end up never marrying, keep in mind that you are never in a losing situation when you are pursuing Christlikeness.
A second reason it’s worth developing a biblical understanding of submission is that it is one important way we as singles can protect the institution of marriage. Sociological studies confirm that strong marriages and families help strengthen societies as a whole, so it is really in all of our best interests to cultivate environments that foster strong marriage relationships.
In fact, as singles, one practical way to show our support for marriage is by caring for our married friends. Here are a few ways I’ve learned to support the marriages around me.
Acknowledge and encourage the change of friendships when people get married. When a friend gets married, his or her priorities should change. Often these friends are mourning the loss of their singleness, even while celebrating the gift of marriage. Be understanding when they have less time for your friendship as they learn to balance their new responsibilities.
Even “giving permission” verbally from the start can communicate your support during this transition, especially for friends who may feel guilty about the changes happening in all of their relationships. Be prepared for those changes and allow them to happen.
Don’t abandon married friends. Just because a friend has married doesn’t mean that his or her life will revolve solely around that relationship. While couples do tend to cultivate couple friendships, after some time, they will also come to appreciate that time with friends, old and new, who recognize them as individuals. Be open to girls or guys nights out that mix singles with marrieds, and be intentional about keeping married friends in the loop with such plans. They may be unavailable sometimes, but I guarantee they will appreciate being invited.
Help your married friends build into their marriage. Once people have kids, it’s hard for them to prioritize time as a couple. Help them make it happen by offering to be the cool aunt or uncle who watches their children (for free) so mom and dad can have a date night. Decide ahead of time that you can do this without feeling bitter or taken advantage of, because what you’re really doing is being a blessing to people who often feel overwhelmed or ashamed to ask for help.
The idea of preparing as if the hope of marriage is an eventual reality can seem like a daunting task, especially for those of us who genuinely long for a spouse. But the grace of our God has allowed for us to prepare for marriage as we also prepare for eternity.
The more we become like Christ and grow in our relationship with Him, the more we will recognize how to best submit to one another—giving the marriages in our communities the best possible chance to succeed.
Copyright 2017 by Bekah Mason. All rights reserved.