Submit Yourselves

To submit is to put under, to place underneath. In a relational sense, we associate submission with our willingness to defer to others in community, to obey and/or align ourselves with them. Yet the primary community we must first learn to submit to is our future selves, the people we will be next hour, next day, next week, next month, next year … and ultimately our true eternal self (He 12:22-23), who we will be in eternity. This community comprises ourselves, and we must learn to submit to it.

The alternative to submitting to ourselves is to place no rules upon ourselves at all, to exercise no control over ourselves. Yet, the more we neglect to govern ourselves, the more we destroy our own ability to do so. (Pr 5:22) To be unable to control ourselves is certainly not good (Pr 25:28), unless all our natural impulses happen to be what we truly want for ourselves in the long run, which is generally not the case.

Before we can rightly submit ourselves to God (Ja 4:7), or to someone else (Ep 5:21), we must first be willing and able to submit to ourselves, to control ourselves, to make choices which our future selves will approve and appreciate.

In order to submit to ourselves we must be able to recognize when an impulse or desire isn’t what we truly want for ourselves, and we must be able and willing to deny any impulse when we perceive our future selves will not approve. We must learn to recognize the consequences our future selves will likely experience from our current choices and choose wisely, ordering our steps so our future selves will tend to prosper and succeed rather than suffer and fail. (Pr 22:3)

This is obviously on a spectrum; we may align many, or even most of our choices with our future selves, but we may consistently make certain types of choices which are misaligned with our future selves, which we know are not good for us, which we know most all of our future selves will regret.

For example, if we’re frustrated, embarrassed or depressed because we’re overweight or in poor health due to poor diet and/or lack of exercise, we’re very likely making short-term, impulse decisions in the moment which we ourselves don’t actually want, and the root cause is we’re unwilling to control and harness our own immediate appetites and desires and submit to ourselves, that community comprised of all our future selves who depend explicitly upon our current choices. To the degree we’re unwilling to submit to and care for our own selves we’re showing lack of respect, trust and love for ourselves.

If we don’t even respect and love ourselves, how can we love and respect God? (1Jn 4:20) or others? Loving, fearing and obeying God is where we begin to live life as we should, and we all need His mercy and grace to do so. (He 4:16) This leads us to loving and respecting ourselves because God loves and respects us (De 14:1-2), which then leads to loving and respecting others. (Le 19:18)

We call this self-control, temperance, personal discipline: the ability to govern ourselves. This is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. (Ga 5:23) which we should be adding to our faith regularly and with all diligence. (2Pe 1:5-7) As we face the daily choices in living our lives, we should be asking: What would my future selves want me to choose right now? (He 12:1) We live our best life by continually choosing what our best selves want. This is the life of no regret.

When there’s an area of our life where we’re consistently making poor choices, choices we eventually regret making, if we love ourselves, we must try to understand why we’re doing this. What beliefs do we hold about the consequences of our choices which our repeated life experience is telling us are lies? Find out what these lies are and seek help from God (Ps 119:29) and others to align ourselves with truth as well as we know it. (Ja 5:16)

To the degree we’re able to master ourselves (1Co 9:27) we can properly position ourselves to serve God and others. Our best self, the Christ life within us, wants what’s best for us (Ep 5:29), so we must be willing to submit to ourselves, and also to learn how to be good masters to ourselves. (Ep 6:9)

And for the child of God, the choices our eternal self approves, the one living in the infinite, glorious presence of God Himself, will indeed be those which God Himself approves. (1Jn 3:2)

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A Covering

Whether a woman should cover her head in public or not has often been a topic of debate in the church; the practice was evidently common in ancient societies, and is still observed in some more traditional cultures. God does address the topic in Scripture, but not so clearly that may be confidently dogmatic about it, hence the debate.

As a guiding principle, we should observe that God has defined sin in His Law, and He has explicitly commanded us not to add to it (De 4:2); so, we shouldn’t expect God to authorize anyone in the New Testament to change the definition of sin by adding new commands; only to provide commentary, to help us see more clearly what He intended from the beginning.

So, when God focuses on head coverings, we should note that He doesn’t point us back to any specific command in Torah; He opens by stating the roles of men and women in relation to Himself and each other: Christ is the head of every man; and the head of the woman is the man. (1Co 11:3)

This evidently implies that a man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head (4); it also implies that when a woman prays or prophesies with her head uncovered she dishonors her head. (5a) What exactly is implied here, why is it implied, and how do we know this?

What we feel when a woman is made bald (involuntarily) tells us all we need to know here (5a) — there’s something unnatural about it. When it’s considered a shame for a woman to be bald, or to have all her hair shaved off (6), in any way that’s different than for a man, we’re admitting we know this principle organically.

We know from the Creation story (Ge 1:27) that men should not cover their heads: they’re made in God’s direct image (7a); women should cover their heads because they’re made in the image of man, or indirectly in God’s image. (7b) The Creation account further reinforces this concept in the fact that Man was not made from Woman, but Woman was made from Man (8), and since Woman was made expressly for Man, and not vice versa. (9)

In other words, the details of Creation imply that [1] women have a different role in the home and society than men do, [2] that this role is a submissive, supportive, helpful one (Ge 2:18), and [3] that it’s appropriate for women to reflect this role difference symbolically by covering their heads in public. (10)

This does not mean men are better than, superior to, or more valuable than women; their mutual interdependency proves this. (11-12)

So there’s a natural law, evident to all in tune with Creation: women should cover themselves in public (13), and men should not. For example, nature itself teaches us that when a man covers his head with long hair he brings shame on himself. (14) However, the opposite is true for a woman; when she covers herself with long hair it’s a glory to her; her hair is given to her as a natural covering. (15)

How we maintain our hair is thus the primary way we reflect God’s design here, and the biblical text plainly states this — so, technically, this has nothing to do with a material covering over the hair. Mandating that women cover their hair with a material covering at any time doesn’t stand up to scripture: it isn’t commanded in Torah, it isn’t clearly inferred here, and it isn’t explicitly discussed anywhere else in Scripture.

Further, as far as the biblical standard is concerned, how long men and women should generally try to keep their hair, or what style they should use to represent this role difference before God, is evidently cultural since no particular hair length or style is specified in scripture. Apart from those who are overtly defying, blending or reversing biblical roles, what do people in any given culture perceive to be a natural or appropriate hair length and style for each sex? This is the only guide we have, and it’s subjective and relative for a reason; as it is with the types of clothes which further distinguish the sexes (De 22:5), this is determined by culture.

All this said, it’s clear that we might adorn ourselves with headwear in ways which accentuate our appearance. In doing so we ought to apply the same principle; we differentiate ourselves in our respective roles by  how we treat the place in our bodies where we consciously reside, in our minds or heads. Ornamental or symbolic coverings should evidently be treated much like hair; for men, not covering more of the scalp and neck than where the hair is naturally growing as a covering of the skin, and larger, longer coverings for women.

For example, the priestly headgear required by God in the service of the tabernacle seems to follow this pattern: the mitre, crown (Ex 29:16) and bonnets (28:40a) weren’t shameful for the men to wear, but were glorious and beautiful. (40b) They didn’t violate this principle even in spirit; the style evidently covered little more than where hair naturally covers the scalp.

So then, when men wear a hood to keep from freezing in the bitter cold, or from burning in the sun, do they violate this principle in spirit? Since this type of clothing isn’t symbolic but more practical — and the context here is clearly symbolic — I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t a violation of God’s pattern in any sense.

And finally, what about the Nazarites, men who didn’t cut their hair for long periods; some never felt a razor their whole lives. (Jdg 13:5) No problem: long hair can be wrapped up in a turban and kept off the neck and shoulders in public – it need not be a shameful covering simply because it’s long.

In matters which are not clearly specified in scripture, let’s study it out for ourselves until we’re convinced of what’s right for us (Ro 14:5), being careful to follow God’s precepts as best we can without rigidly imposing new regulations on others, but each pursuing alignment with God according to our own conscience. (Ro 14:22)

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