It’s a word that often makes us feel icky- submit. We’ve been led to believe submitting to our husbands makes us weaker or less valuable. The Merriam-Webster definition of submit is: “to yield oneself to the authority or will of another; surrender” or “to defer to or consent to abide by the opinion or authority of another.” Christian submission has nothing to do with the weaker sex. It has nothing to do with traditional gender roles. It has nothing to do with complementarianism versus egalitarianism. We could have a lengthy conversation about those ideas, and I’m sure it would be a lively and passionate discussion. But this is about the written word of God telling wives to submit to their husbands.
It is important to note that the passage on submission begins with Ephesians 5:21, telling everyone to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” It is not only wives who are to respect and listen to their husbands’ opinions and ideas, and thoughts, but all of us, as children of God, are to submit to each other as we recognize we are each made in God’s image.
As with many parts of the Bible, it is important to know some of the cultural implications of the time. Most societies at the time Paul wrote that women should submit to their husbands did, indeed, expect wives to submit to their husband’s authority. While different areas defined what submission looked like differently, Paul suggests continuing the tradition of wives submitting. In a chapter full of advice on how to live a Godly life, Paul writes
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:22-24, NIV).
Merriam-Webster defines “submit” as “to yield oneself to the authority or will of another; to defer to or consent to abide by the opinion or authority of another.” As wives, submitting to our husbands means showing respect for his authority as the leader of the family. It means listening to his opinions without criticism and allowing him to make choices with our full support. It does not mean that he is the only one who gets a say in decisions. Submission is more about respect, support, and encouragement than about being a doormat. As we submit to our husbands, we also must remember how important their role is. As head of the household, our husbands have an enormous responsibility, and they are being guided in how to treat us, as well.
After the guidance for wives to submit to their husbands, Paul goes on, with a longer message, to instruct husbands on how to treat their wives. He writes in Ephesians 5:25-33, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. ‘For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” More succinctly, Paul writes to the Colossians,
“Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19, NIV).
It is important to note that we, as wives are not the only ones called to action. We are not to let our husbands use verses about submission against us. Men are to love their wives. Submitting to your husband does not pave the path to abuse. Submission is a mutually beneficial relationship in which each person is called to treat the other in a loving and respectful way.
We are to be like Jesus, and Jesus submitted more than we will ever be expected to. Jesus submitted by sacrificing His residence in heaven and coming to earth to live as a limited human. He submitted to death on a cross because of His love for us. We can become more like Jesus when we submit to one another. We can also live a life of freedom when we submit. James 4:7 tells us,
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Submitting to God not only enriches our lives with His blessings but also builds a discipline that can help us resist the devil in times of temptation.
It may not be our natural inclination to submit to others, but it is a skill that can be improved through prayer and practice. James 3:17 tells us that “the wisdom that comes from heaven is, first of all, pure; then peace-loving, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere.” This wisdom, which is submissive, can be obtained only from God. How? “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7, NIV). God wants to give us good things! When we ask Him, seek Him, and spend time with Him in prayer and in His word, we will be rewarded with wisdom from Him, and this wisdom will help us in our relationships. Having trouble wrapping your brain around what it really looks like to submit to your husband? Ask God to teach you! Not sure that you can step back and let your husband lead? Ask God to help you! Don’t respect your husband enough to submit to him? Ask God to change your attitude, your relationship, and your outlook! The Lord wants to help us. He wants us in marriages that are thriving and healthy, and happy. Tell God your fears and concerns about submission, and listen to where He leads you. If your husband is not a believer and is not leading the family in the way you think it should be led, continue to pray for him but also remember that you are accountable to the Lord for how you treat your husband. 1 Peter 3:1-2 says
“Wives, in the same way, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the Word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.”
Our relationships grow stronger and more Godly when we submit to one another with mutual respect, and we may just win over souls for the Kingdom while we are at it.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/LaylaBird
Megan Moore is a military spouse and mom of 3 (through birth and adoption). A speech-language pathologist by training, she now spends her time moving around the country every couple of years. She is passionate about special needs, adoption, and ice cream.