Pardon the ridiculous title, but we gotcha readin’ didn’t we? Yes folks, I used the “S” word… today we are going to take a few moments to fruitfully explore the daunting topic of “marital submission”.
Woman Should Obey: Submission in the Modern World
Let’s face it, in our modern, commercialized, quasi-Christianized America, below are some of the ridiculous thoughts that race through our heads:
- We live in the world of the feminist agenda and female empowerment, that submission stuff is “old school”.
- “Marital submission” means the wife should only speak when spoken to, cook, clean, care for the children / have babies, only to disrobe the apron when leaving the house for church on Sundays or for marital enjoyment when summoned by the man.
- Woman: “We do not live in ancient times, I should not have to and will not submit to anyone, especially my husband. I am not a dog, he doesn’t own me.”
- Man: “I’m the head of this house, she should submit to me by obeying me and not questioning anything I say.”
We could obviously keep going, but hopefully we’ve established “the point”… those ideas on submission are simply inaccurate, period.
Reality Check: What the Bible Actually Says about Submission
We could definitely use this nook and cranny of the web to quote every verse in the Bible about submission, but we will not. Instead, let’s look at the themes of what the Word communicates. The core message can be conveniently and neatly summed up with a few points, coincidentally, all taken from Ephesians 5.
23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5: 23-24)
We know what you are thinking: “These guys really ARE feeding into a Neanderthal world-view”. Unequivocally, the husband is called to be the “head of the house” (as he submits to Christ). This, however, is a statement of position, NOT equality. Everyone follows someone or something. Two CEOs cannot effectively and efficiently manage an organization. Man and wife are equal in marriage, the man is only called to the humble role of Christ-focused leader.
This is actually one heck of an intimidating calling! The husband is accountable to the Creator of the Universe for how he leads your marriage and serves you. Men, Christ calls you to present your wife “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but as holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27). This is a blessing, but a very real and heavy responsibility.
25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5: 25)
This verse makes us look at that pesky “life of Christ”, and is a fantastic “data point” for this discussion. Husbands are called to treat their wives as Christ served the church. He gave everything, including his life, to serve / uplift the church as he lived in congregation with, obedience to, and absolute dependence on the Father. Husbands should point their wives to and glorify Christ in all they do within their marriage. Christ led and loved through humility, sacrifice, and by actively serving others.
21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)
Shucks… here is another “doozy”. The Bible does NOT say “Woman, submit to your man!” Both man and wife are called to submit to each other within their marriage, as both submit to, focus on, serve, love, and delight in Christ and each other (in that order).
Understanding the Core Message: Change “Submit” to “Serve”
As you read scripture on submission, change the word SUBMIT to SERVE in order to maintain a better understanding of what Christ intends. Christ led and served the church. “Serve each another as Christ served the Church.” Hopefully light bulbs are clicking in your heart now. This does not absolve the man of the leadership position, it just appropriately orients is.
How Submission Could Actually Look in Your Marriage
Imagine how your marriage would look if the husband joyfully and consistently did these things as an inevitable result of his deeply prioritized, all-encompassing relationship with and worship of God.
- Asked you about your day, looked you in the eyes with complete undivided attention, and listened to every word you said.
- Did his best to create a peaceful home environment.
- Initiated being involved at Church and with a Bible study / small group.
- Picked up his clothes, made the bed in the morning, washed the dishes, cooked dinner, and completed other household chores without being asked because he knows how much you appreciate it and because he desires to make your life easier.
- Prayed and read the Bible with you and your family.
- Sought your knowledge, wisdom, and opinions for decisions about life.
- Brought you flowers / love notes / candy, just to let you know he was thinking about you.
- Prayed daily for you, your family, friends, future, life, spiritual protection, relationships, activities, etc.
- Intentionally, gently, and calmly talked / worked with you through any conflict.
- Engaged in loving conversation with you, taking care to not raise his voice, be sarcastic or condescending.
- Proactively invested in your marriage by seeking accountability from mentor couples, seminars, quiet getaways, etc.
- Consistently planned romantic, fun, and cuddly date nights.
- Never embarrassed, corrected, or talked down to you in private or public.
- Woke up early on Sundays to get the kids ready for church,a leaving in time to be early!
- Could genuinely never get enough of spending time with you.
- Only said positive and affirming things about you and your marriage to others.
- Prioritized honoring and protecting your relationship from outside control by relatives / friends, gossip, vulgarity, etc.
- Looks toward the future of your life together and prepares for it with you as his teammate.
- Did everything in his power to undeniably prioritize you above all else except his relationship with God.
Of course this is not a complete list, but surely you get the idea. You should also derive that this man would never ask you to do anything that violated scripture.
Ladies, would it really be difficult to submit to that guy? Also, here are a few quick and important notes to help you:
- You are NOT being a submissive wife by commanding / nagging your husband to do these things!
- Your husband does not have to “earn” your submission.
- You encourage your husband to be this guy by serving, respecting, and affirming him.
Fellas, are you that guy? It’s fair to say I have plenty to work here as well. You will only become this guy as you make Christ the center of your life. Simply put, you lead your spouse as you actively initiate purpose-driven, Christ-centered, passionate love. You must lead in love. Lead in servanthood. Lead in prayer / Bible reading. Lead in romance. Lead in passion. Lead in humility. Lead in pursuing Christ. Lead in knowledge and grace of Jesus. Lead in prayer. Lead in serving and giving to the church. Lead in giving of yourself. Lead in joy and laughter. Lead in patience.
Do not focus on “getting” in your marriage, focus on endlessly giving. There is no end to how much you can give when the Holy Spirit dwells in and flows from your core.
- What has shaped your view / understanding of “submission”?
- In which aspects of your marriage are you doing well?
- In what areas may you need to focus on / improve?
Update: Spiritual Mismatch Book
In the comments below, many readers posted of their sadness and frustration related to living in a marriage that seems one sided. I definitely want to encourage you to continue praying, seek out relationship with strong people of your same gender at church, talk with your care pastor, pray constantly, and continue seeking to show the love of Christ to your spouse.
Also, below are some good books on this subject to read through:
- Surviving a Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage by Lee & Leslie Strobel
- Winning Him Without Words: 10 Keys to Thriving in Your Spiritually Mismatched Marriage by Lynn Donovan & Dineen Miller
- When He Doesn’t Believe: Help and Encouragement for Women Who Feel Alone in Their Faith by Nancy Kennedy
- Beloved Unbeliever: Loving Your Husband into the Faith by Jo Berry
- How To Be Happy Wife Of An Unsaved Husband by Linda Davis