1. Is there mutual submission in your home?
Day-old scones in hand, I mentally outlined my blog post and waited for the microwave. To my pleasant surprise, when it finally dinged, Annie turned and offered me the first hot plate. This momentary, sweet exchange reinforced the cheerful atmosphere of our morning and perfectly illustrated the concept I’d been trying to verbalize in my mind. I was happy for her to put her breakfast in the microwave first and she was happy to give me the plate that came out first. This “mutual submission”–two or more people simultaneously caring for one another’s needs more than their own–is markedly missing in our society, the Church, and often in my own home.
In your home, when it’s time to do the dishes, pick a restaurant, choose a movie, or finish the ice cream, how are decisions made? Is it husband against wife, mother against daughter, brother against brother, roommate against roommate, each for his or her own way?
In an exchange from Season 2 of The Office (you can watch the clip here), Angela wants to put up her poster of babies playing saxophones, but Oscar contends, “It’s the opposite of art. It destroys art–it destroys souls.” Michael, having recently seized the HR binder, is trying to find a “win-win-win” solution. Ultimately, the conflict proves nearly impossible to resolve, because Angela and Oscar are each arguing for opposite outcomes. What the characters fail to realize is that the key to a win-win outcome has little to do with changing the decor and everything to do with changing their attitudes. If each party had wanted to serve the others, any furniture arrangement would have become win-win.
2. Mutual submission is Christ’s love in action.
Of course, we don’t expect anything like this from sitcom characters, but Christians should hope for and contribute to mutual submission in our daily lives. Before talking specifically about husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and slaves, Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians: “Be filled with the Spirit…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Mutual submission is more than peripheral moral minutiae from The Wedding Passage; it is the day-to-day expression of Christian love. It’s what Jesus demands of his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount: “So whatever you wish that other would do to you, do also for them, for this is the law and the prophets.” It’s the love embodied in deference and epitomized in sacrifice, as Jesus both taught and displayed. Mutual submission is what ensues in Christian relationships and communities when love is practiced by multiple people at the same time.
In the Sermon on the Mount (and it’s counterpart, the Sermon on the Plain) Jesus envisions a mutually submissive kingdom, but he also commands selfless love to selfish people, even in a fallen society (“non-mutual submission,” as Annie dubbed it this morning). “If you love those who love you,” Jesus asked, “what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them!…But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”
Therefore, as Christ’s followers, we must submit our own desires to God’s and our neighbors’. If this loving submission is mutual, all the better!
3. How do we begin?
The Seattle Mariners are at their best when the offense and defense are both playing well, but even when they were struggling this past June, we still got to watch Raul Ibanez hit some home runs. Similarly, mutual submission has a peculiar beauty, but even if your husband’s, sister’s, coworker’s, or neighbor’s behavior is out of your control, you can choose to start showing deference today.
Setting out to get your own way creates win-lose situations. If the other party is setting out to get his or her way with equal fervor, you can expect to win half the time. If the other party is more selfish than you–something Jesus teaches us to expect–you will lose every time.
Setting out to serve others creates win-win situations. Mutual submission does not mean we set out to fail; it means we change our definition of success from satisfying out own appetites to serving other. If dinner is wrapping up and I’ve already made up my mind to do the dishes for Annie, it’s become a win-win situation:
- Outcome A: I end up doing the dishes tonight and I was able to serve her. Win.
- Outcome B: She convinces me to let her do them tonight and I’m not too proud to accept. Let’s be honest, that’s also a win.
If it’s not just an act and you truly “consider others more significant than yourself,” it doesn’t matter if it ends up being Option A every time; as Jesus’ disciple, you win. Some people will never offer you Option B, but even in non-mutual submission, you have loved as Christ has loved.
I challenge you to try it today. Set a tone of mutual submission in your home, neighborhood, or workplace. Get a little bit competitive–“Outdo one another in showing honor,” as Paul says in Romans 12. You’ll initiate peace in your relationships, free yourself from constant disappointment, and honor the God who submit Himself to death and is therefore exalted above all.