July 1996, Ajith Fernando
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:21).
It is strange but true that people we often think are strong leaders are actually very insecure individuals. They do not feel good about themselves. They suffer from a strong sense of being rejected by people. They overcome this by strong leadership. They like to control people; to have people depend on them. This boosts their flagging egos. But it also makes them achievers. Some of these people are strong visionaries. So it is not surprising that many of them end up as leaders. Even the church has many such people in leadership. And that is not wrong. Our family background, which often causes these problems, should not be a disqualification for leadership. We are all what we are because of the grace of God. And this grace is sufficient to meet the needs of everyone, even the need to transform driven people.
But we must be very careful that we do not confuse the strong discipline and power of these people with spiritual maturity and godliness. People like this must learn the discipline of crucifying self. And we must not confuse sacrifices made along the path to success—even success in God’s work—with crucifying self. Sometimes we look at the sacrifices one makes along the path to success in the work of God and say, “What commitment!” But that may not be commitment to God. It may simply be commitment to achieving our ambitions in life, which—in this case—happen to be related to the work of the church. Work, for example, is not a sacrifice for a workaholic, stillness is!
Suddenly, we are shocked to hear that this “highly disciplined” and strong Christian leader has fallen into sexual sin. And we say, “How could such a disciplined person do such a thing?” But if this person is a male, and you talk to his wife, she may say, “I’m not at all surprised at what happened.” She would have come to the realisation, after a time of living very close to him, that this “disciplined Christian worker” was actually a very selfish person who always had to have his way. She would have seen that he was so insecure that he wanted to control people. She would have come to realise that his hard work was actually an expression of his insecurity and selfishness in Christian dress.
Every man, however godly, is susceptible to sexual temptation. If there is no joy and intimacy in his marriage, then the temptation will hit him with greater force, as the thought comes: “I deserve more than I am getting from my marriage.” When a person who has not learned to say, “No” to his own will is tempted like this, something within him could say, “I must somehow win this prize. I must get this woman if I’m to be truly satisfied.” Being the strong leader that he is, he will somehow get his way. But being the capable person that he is, he is usually able to hide this from the Christian community for a time…. until he gets careless or it simply goes too far to be hidden. Then, there is a huge scandal.
Is there hope for strong Christian leaders? If there isn’t, we’d better stop preaching, for our gospel would be weak. And if this is the case we dare not preach lies to the people. But the gospel is not weak. God will give strength in times of temptation to those who submit to him (1 Cor. 10:12-13) and change their natures to be more Christlike (Rom. 8:1-14). But often the best way to learn to submit to God is to learn to submit to others, especially our spouses. This is why Paul said, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:21). Our spouses can see through our deceptions. What others see as discipline, they see as the drivenness of selfish ambition. So they can help us to purify our motives, if we will submit to them! They can teach us the discipline of learning to submit, until submission becomes second nature to us. This is why the advice to couples to submit to each other is so helpful. It helps us avoid falling into the trap of self-deception.
What does it mean for a strong male leader to submit to his spouse? It means he devotes quality time to talk to her. It means he listens to her, and takes what she says very seriously. If she questions his motives for doing something, he seriously considers whether that is true. After all, she knows him better than anyone else. She must know and sense things that others don’t. Then, out of submission to her, he works hard at making her happy. He tries to understand what interests her, and tries to get himself into her world, so that he could enjoy those interests along with her. Just as he works hard at his projects at work and at church, he works hard at his marriage. He may change his recreation so that his family can join in with him. Formerly he loved going for soccer matches on Saturday evenings, now he stays at home and plays indoor games with his wife! There is simply no substitute for hard work when it comes to making a success of our marriages. Incidentally, all of these principles apply to wives too. But this article is about husbands!
Now this type of hard work is a little different to the hard work done on projects at church and work. That hard work boosts our ego by keeping us busy. This hard work may be the “hard work” of silently listening to his wife. And such stillness will not boost the ego of a restless workaholic! That hard work gives him a big name in society. This hard work is not recognised outside—no one sees him quietly seated beside his wife having a long chat. And some who see might ask, “What is that servant of God doing at home instead of ministering to his flock?” Alas, people who have not been taught about happy married life, don’t appreciate the value of the effort that goes into making a marriage happy.
Is all this hard work worth it? Let me answer with a few other questions. Is happiness worth it? Is avoiding adultery worth it? Is abundant life—the life only open to the obedient—worth it? Is it worth making sacrifices for love? Did not Paul say “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25)?
But how does this avoid adultery? Submission to spouses helps purify our motives and also helps cure us from addiction to achievement and wanting to control. When we lovingly submit to our spouses we find ourselves appreciated and loved by the one who is most important to us on earth. God uses this to give us the security we lack and also to make us happy. Little by little we learn to choose happiness over drivenness, for we find that happiness satisfies more than drivenness. We are cured of the sickness of grabbing our security through the control of others. We become happy people.
If we work hard and with utmost dedication to solve the crises our families face, we will be ultimately rewarded with happiness. If you are happy, why spoil it through an affair? Besides, once you have developed a totally open relationship with your spouse, how can you hide your indiscretions from her? The openness will help you nip the temptation in the bud!
Let’s be done with our false “discipline” which are really expressions of our insecurities and drivenness, and let’s start obeying what God says in his Word about the balanced life, let’s develop the discipline of submission. It will be hard, for there is a world out there in need of a Saviour; there are responsibilities in our job and church. How can we combine all these things? It IS hard. But a hard life is what Christ promised. Trying to be a good family man, a good office worker and a good churchman may leave you exhausted. But you will be exhausted and happy. We’ll have happiness in this life, and we can rest from our labours when we get to heaven—for ever and ever. It is worth the effort.