Submission is a word our culture prefers to avoid, especially when it comes to the biblical submission of a wife to her husband. In most circles, even Christian circles, the idea of biblical submission within the context of marriage is quietly swept under a rug and ignored completely. Although ignoring submission is a tragic occurrence, it’s not at all a surprising one, considering that even the Lord God himself, after the fall of the human race in the Garden of Eden, told Adam of the difficulties he’d have in leading his wife and Eve of the struggles she’d face in submitting to his leadership (Gen. 3). So while this topic may be one that is easier to avoid than to face head on, biblical submission, when done right, is beautiful, God-glorifying, and truly a sigh of relief for wives. Before you make a mad dash for the “X” at the top of this blog post, allow me to explain myself. Let’s start by talking about what biblical submission is not, and then we’ll talk about what it is.
Biblical submission does not mean a wife should live her life in silence under an abusive husband. Physical abuse should be reported to the authorities, and verbal or mental abuse should be addressed through lengthy and serious biblical marriage counseling. Biblical submission also does not mean a wife shouldn’t have a voice in the home or that she cannot ever make any decisions within her home. It doesn’t mean a wife can’t work (Prov. 31) or that she should simply fulfill the charge to be “barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.” To put it plainly, biblical submission is not a belittlement of wives in any way, shape, or form (1 Peter 3:7), and it doesn’t mean that a wife’s role is any less important in the marriage or in life than her husband’s. Now that we’ve established what biblical submission does not look like within the context of marriage, let’s examine what it does look like.
Biblical submission means that:
- When both spouses have strong yet differing opinions regarding a specific situation, the wife can and should feel freedom to voice her opinion, but ultimately must concede to her husband. While some women may be offended by this thought, it actually causes me to breathe a sigh of relief. Because God has placed my husband as the head over our home (Eph. 5:22-33), my husband will have to be the one to give an account to God for the way he conducts our family. (I, on the other hand, am accountable for my joyful submission – or lack thereof – to his leadership.) Thankfully, when it comes to decision-making, the pressure is off of me. I try to help my husband as best I can in making wise, God-honoring decisions for our family, but ultimately he is the one with the final word. And I trust my husband enough to know that his actions truly are based upon what he believes to be the best, most God-honoring decision in any given situation. I can honestly say that every time I’ve let go of an argument and submitted to my husband’s leadership, God has honored my submission and my husband’s gentle yet strong authority within our home by causing the worrisome situations to work out way better than I ever could have expected.
- I am my husband’s helper. I must come along side him as his encourager, support system, and listening ear. Being my husband’s helpmeet does not make me less of a person, it makes me a wife. In Genesis 2, we see that God created wives to be their husband’s helpers (vv. 18-25). I love this popular quote: “Our generation is becoming so busy trying to prove that women can do what men can do that women are losing their uniqueness. Women weren’t created to do everything a man can do. Women were created to do everything a man can’t do” (Author unknown). I’m thankful the Lord gave me this special and unique role in life, and I strive to fulfill it joyfully to the best of my ability, though many days I fail at this monumental task.
- I gain a clearer picture of submission to the Lord as I lovingly submit to my husband. My husband is not perfect. He never will be. But joyfully submitting to an imperfect man leads me to appreciate and rejoice in ultimately submitting my life to a perfect and holy God. Submission to God and to my husband is not always easy, especially when I think I know best, but obedience to God should always trump my desire to be right. And one way I can obey and submit to the Lord’s authority is by submitting to the earthly headship He has placed over me: my husband.
When both the husband and the wife are fulfilling their roles in marriage as God intends, the relationship functions in beautiful harmony: As the husband loves his wife and leads her well, the wife in response lives under joyful, respectful submission to her husband; likewise, when the wife lives in joyful, respectful submission to her husband, her husband loves her and leads her well. If you feel that your spouse is failing in his or her role in your marriage, try focusing on fulfilling your own role to the best of your ability; oftentimes this beautiful cycle of love and submission will fall right into place. (If you have serious marital issues, talk with your pastor about biblical counseling.)
Truly, biblical submission isn’t anything to be afraid of or to sweep under a rug. It’s a beautiful gift from God that, when done rightly and in tandem with a loving husband, produces marriages that reflect Christ’s sacrificial love for His submissive bride, the Church.
Note: God has placed many wonderful women around me who have shown me the beauty of biblical submission. If you are a woman who struggles with submission, find a wife who understands and practices biblical submission really well and ask her to be your mentor.
“I’m not a different kind of a Christian because I’m a woman, but I most certainly ought to be a different kind of a woman because I’m a Christian.” ~Elisabeth Elliot