The marvelous unveiling of the women who follow God

If you’ve never watched Fireproof, please watch that first so I don’t give away the surprise ending.  It is way better to see it in the movie than hear it from me.

Fireproof really compares two kinds of women.  The first woman is the kind who demands her rights, withholds her love for those who displease her, and gangs up with other girls to secretly gossip about the men she hates.  This woman is represented in the character of ready-to-divorce-her-husband Catherine.

The second woman is not revealed until the end of the movie.  We see only a hint of her throughout the story, Cheryl, Caleb’s mother.  She is mostly quiet around him, because he has a clear dislike for her.  We don’t get the full backstory, but we can infer she was pretty much like his wife Catherine when he was growing up: bossy and angry.

The few times Cheryl does try to give Caleb advice, he scorns her.  Rather than spewing bitterness or even standing up for herself, she quietly withdraws.  She seems to be pretty powerless and pathetic.

The only parent Caleb will ever listen to is his wise father.  It turns out, his father and mother were going through a very similar breakdown in their marriage a few years back.  His father begins to give him advice about loyalty, faithfulness, love in marriage, and, in the greater picture, God’s loyalty, faithfulness, and love to us.  His father even gives him a journal of wise words that encourages him to seek after the Lord.

Caleb’s life is changed through his father’s wisdom.  Over time, he begins to see God for who He is, and, in a moment of clarity about the patient love of God, his father leads him to Christ.

At the end of the story, Caleb’s marriage is saved because of the new incredible loyalty he has towards his wife that the Lord has blessed him with and Catherine’s change of heart.  Caleb is indebted to his father and is closer to him than ever before.  Caleb and Catherine decide to renew their wedding vows.

And then there’s the shocker.

Caleb’s father, walking with him through the woods as they have done so many times before, reveals a secret: it was Caleb’s mother, Cheryl, who saved their own marriage from failure–not his father.  And it was Caleb’s mother who wrote the journal, but asked her husband to copy it in his handwriting so Caleb would be open to receiving it.  And it was Caleb’s mother who quietly withdrew from his life so that his father could have the opportunity to reach him.

My favorite part is when Caleb runs back to the house to find his mother and says something like, “I’m so sorry, Mom.”

She answers with something like, “Oh, it’s ok.”

Nonchalant.  No biggie.

Because this was never about her rights, her glory, or her “winning”.  This was about the salvation she longed for her son to experience.

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22, NIV)

These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God. (Titus 2:4-5, NLT)

Indeed, just as the church is submissive to the Messiah, so wives must be submissive to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:2, ISV)

My Sunday school teacher told me that one of the words for “submit” in the Bible is “lower rower”.  The idea being, there were two decks of rowers on the ship.  The upper rowers got to breathe the fresh sea air.  This was the key spot.  This was where you wanted to be.

The lower rowers had to go below and work in the filthy, dark atmosphere of the lower deck.  This was a slave’s job.

Submit means, Biblically, to take the lower deck.

Wow, am I trying to make a woman’s role sound bad or what?

Ah, but wait.  There’s a surprise in all of this.

The rowers on the lower deck actually had control of where the boat moved.  It may not have looked that way, but it was reality.  The lower deck rowers determined the course of the ship.  In battle, the lower rowers could cause the ship to sink or skillfully weave the ship out of harm’s way.

In Fireproof, Cheryl is the lower rower.  She hasn’t been forced into this role–her husband is reluctant to even let his son think he deserves the credit.  But she is insistent to submit for the sake of her son.

A woman isn’t the only one in the Scriptures who submits.

To those under spiritual authority:

Continue to obey your  leaders and to be submissive to them, for they watch over your souls as those who will have to give a word of explanation. By doing this, you will be letting them carry out their duties joyfully, and not with grief, for that would be harmful for you. (Hebrews 13:17, ISV)

To those under physical or national authority:

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. (1 Peter 2:18, NASB)

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17, NASB)

To all Christians:

Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? (Hebrews 12:9, NIV)

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17, NIV)

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7, NIV)

And then there’s the shocker:

And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. (Luke 2:48-51, ESV)

Although he was in the form of God and equal with God, he did not take advantage of this equality. Instead, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, by becoming like other humans, by having a human appearance. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross. This is why God has given him an exceptional honor- the name honored above all other names- so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will kneel and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.(Philippians 2:6-11, GW)

Jesus is revealed as submissive to His Father.  He chooses–eagerly–to be the lower rower.  The Bible is clear about this: God the Father didn’t shove Jesus out of Heaven to serve us.  Jesus willingly, joyfully chose to take the humble form of a man for our salvation.

After Jesus had washed their feet, he put his outer garment back on and returned to his place at the table.
         Do you understand what I have just done to you? he asked.
         You call me Teacher and Lord, and it is right that you do so, because that is what I am. I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you.I am telling you the truth: no slaves are greater than their master, and no messengers are greater than the one who sent them. Now that you know this truth, how happy you will be if you put it into practice! (John 13:12-17, GNT)

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” (John 10:18, NLT)

He died out of love–what we could even call obligated love, love so zealous and motivated is was obligated by the nature of who He was–and not at all out of loveless obligation.

Can you think of anyone who made Himself more least than Jesus?  I, for all the world, cannot.

What if everything we think about submission is flipped on its head?  What if women have a greater opportunity for honor because they have the privilege to be more submissive?

What if Satan knows this great secret, this unexpected twist in the plot, and he does everything in his power to prevent it from happening?

Wouldn’t it be interesting if Satan incites women against submission to try to knock them out of the greatest honor they can receive: to be an imitator of the greatest “lower rower” of all time, the Lord Jesus Christ?

“But many who are now first will be last, and many who are now last will be first.” (Matthew 19:3, Weymouth NT)


Photograph by Anthony Clearn, profile on

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.


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