We are often told submission equals obedience, but if submission equals obedience, obedience must in turn equal disobedience, for submission doesn't mean we obey without qualification. In other words, submission must be intelligent instead of servile - or so we are told. What is usually meant is that submission must look and sound intelligent or no one is going to be willing to participate, but how intelligent is submission if it follows a fool into folly?
In the hands of the hierarchical theologians intelligent submission is a catchy phrase that is used to promote unilateral obedience in marriage without using the actual word. But one problem persists: Christians aren't allowed to obey anything other than the truth.
"Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me" (John 14:23-24 NIV).
If we don't love our neighbor (including our spouse) the way we love ourselves, we don't love Jesus either. Now that's something to consider.
Let's put this into practical terms.
If a husband demands his wife obey his preferences, he isn't loving her the way he loves himself, especially since love doesn't seek its own. If a husband fails to love his wife, he fails to love Jesus. No wonder Paul compared the husband's love to the love Christ has for the church, for it is self-sacrificial.
If a wife obeys blindly her husband's every command, she isn't loving God with all of her being, for God takes no delight in folly. No wonder Paul compared the wife to the church whose devotion to the truth is unyielding.
If submission has to do with obedience, the only submission possible for a Christian is submission to God, for only God will never ask us to sin. But if submission has to do with coming near as a friend instead of resisting as an enemy (Jas 4, Rom 13), then submission is possible within marriage, the church, and even larger society, for peace is something we are all called to pursue, and submission is the pathway to peace.