Jesus once said to his disciples:
Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:12-17, TNIV).
In this passage, Jesus does not deny his authority over his disciples, but he makes it clear that he has laid aside whatever "rights" he might claim in order to serve them in profound humility. He then tells us that we will be "blessed" if we follow his example.
Complementarians assert that husbands have the "right" to expect their wives to submit to them, and egalitarians vehemently challenge any such notion. We can, and do, debate these assertions ad nauseam, but whatever theological position we adopt, our course of action as Christians is clear: we are to follow Christ's example of laying aside whatever "rights" we may legitimately claim.
For example, a recent comment thread has focused on the question of how a wife should respond when her husband wants sex and she doesn't. If they're arguing and she's feeling hurt or misunderstood, should she yield her body to him when her heart is not in it? Should she feel guilty for feeling used, objectified, or even violated? Scripture clearly teaches that husband and wife both have authority over and rights to each other's bodies, and that we should not deny each other except for a limited time and by mutual consent (1 Corinthians 7:3-5), but how do we live that out in a way which does not result in frustration and pain?
This is a very real problem, and I am tempted to deal with the ethical dilemma which the wife faces in such circumstances. But my focus here is on the cause of the dilemma: namely, the husband's demand for sex. Eliminate the husband's demand, and you largely eliminate the wife's dilemma.
Now, I'm not saying that the husband should never want sex; only that he should never demand it. According to the Bible, I have the "right" to my wife's body; but I want more than just her body. I want her passion, and I'll never get that by making demands. Consequently, if I exercise my "right" to sex, I strip sex of everything which makes it most enjoyable.
Note the degree of self-interest in that last paragraph. It is my desire for passionate sex which drives me not to demand perfunctory, half-hearted sex. I know that if I am a gentleman and I wait until my wife is just as passionate for me as I am for her, what we experience together will be well worth the wait. A gift which is given freely and enthusiastically means far more than one which has been coerced in some way.
The same thing applies to other forms of submission. When Lisa and I don't see eye to eye on something, I might be able to "get my way" by playing what I call the "submission trump card." But would I really be "getting my way"? I want more from my wife than grudging resignation to some unilateral decision. So I don't make unilateral decisions, and I never play the "submission trump card". Rather, I seek unanimity, I ask her perspective, I encourage her to pray that God would reveal his will to both of us. I'll talk more about how we make decisions in another post, but for now, my point is that whatever my "rights" may be, wisdom and love dictate that I set those "rights" aside for the sake of not riding roughshod over my wife.
Complementarians and egalitarians differ over what they see as the husband's and wife's proper "rights" and "roles." I do think it is important to consider those questions, because we need to understand the proper framework in which to interact with each other as husband and wife. Yet whatever conclusions we come to about rights and roles, Christ's example is clear: we are to lay aside our "rights" for the sake of washing one another's feet. His promise is that we will be "blessed" when we do.