Does Anyone Object to a Good Back Rub? [aka “Massage”]

John C. Rankin

In the late 1990s I was speaking with a well-educated woman evangelical Methodist minister in California. She knows well the predicate of Ephesians 5:21ff, where the apostle Paul begins with the directive, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Paul then follows with marriage as the first example.

The English translation then says, “Wives, submit to your husbands …” Yet, the word “submit” is not in the actual Greek, but is assumed, and applies to different contexts. For indeed, in the next section of the text, Paul calls for men to love their wives as Christ does the church, he who submitted to death on the cross for our sake. The term “submit” comes from the Greek hupotasso, and means to be “placed under.”

In a meeting of pastors and other church leaders, I mentioned how people react to the word hupotasso because too often in the church and elsewhere, submission is imposed. This Methodist ministers then said, “Yes, under someone’s boot.” She knew well the language of those women who have been violated by male chauvinisms. This is a godly woman who also knows well the realities of spiritual warfare.

The problem is not with “submission,” but submission to whom, on what terms and why. Imposed or freely chosen?

Think of receiving a good back rub (though once, when teaching in Singapore, the audience did not understand the term until I learned that “massage” is their term). Do we know anyone who does objects to a good back rub?

Let me give two options:

  1. Give yourself a back rub.
  2. Have someone else give you the back rub.

Any contest? Now for two more choices:

  1. Have the person giving you the back rub be someone who wants to hurt you.
  2. Have the person giving you the back rub be someone whom you trust, who loves you.

Any contest again?

Tragically, when people are violated by ungodly sexual relationships, especially women being dehumanized by male chauvinisms, but also men being manipulated by untrusting women – the trust to receive begins to die. And from such a vantage-point, the word “submit,” instead of being seen as the freedom to be blessed, is perverted into the fear of being violated.

Unless people know the goodness of God, the Gospel (“good news”), then the healthy submission to the trusting love of others is not possible. And thus, Jesus submitted to death, placed himself under its curse, so that we can submit to him and one another, and thus meet each other’s needs as defined in biblical marriage and human community.

We all submit to one another in a thousand ways — it is a question of to whom and what we submit. Where is trust present, where is it not, and what is the Source for trust?

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