The Bible’s call to the wife to submit to her husband is one of the most misunderstood and confused areas of the Christian life. Therefore, sometimes, when defining what something is, it is helpful to consider what it is not. In her excellent booklet, HELP! I Want to Model Submission in Marriage, biblical counselor Glenda Hotton gives rock-solid counsel to wives. She explains how when a woman humbly submits to her husband in a godly manner, “it gives her freedom to become all that she desires and dreams of, because first she is submitting to the Lord.” The author then explains biblical submission by correcting six common ideas of submission. Submission is not …
- Being a Doormat – God has not given men permission to be inconsiderate of their wives or in any way to abuse them. He has not told men to do things that will be hazardous to their wives’ mental and emotional health. Remember, the command to wives to submit to their husbands is followed by the command to husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave his life for her (Ephesians 5:25). Men and women are different. But not all women believe that is how God ordained it. Their thinking comes out of the teaching of the current women’s liberation movement, which tells us that we have been sex-role socialized. It is taught in our secular universities that we have been programmed since childhood how to act and behave as women, thus creating a sense of inferiority. We are not inferior but equal in all ways. Equal but different! God has given men and women different roles to play in marriage.
- About Who Is Superior – The title of “leader in the home” is not one for which we can compete, to see who is best. God said, “The husband is the head of the wife.” God knows our strengths and weaknesses, and he uses all for his glory. If a husband is wise, he will seek his wife’s wisdom, knowledge, and opinions. But many husbands say that they cannot use their wives’ talents, efficiency, or intelligence because their wives tend to take over. It is easy to recognize wives who are more gifted in some areas than their husbands. Some are naturally adept at finances, creative gardening, decorating, or organizing. But statements like, “I’m more gifted with administration so I lead our family,” can be extremely destructive for the husband who is trying to excel as leader in the home. However, I want to add that a man who is confident and secure in his role of leader in the home may recognize that his wife is gifted in such areas and may ask her to take those responsibilities. He will be proud of her help. Taking on these roles in this manner still constitutes submission.
- Being Passive – Some women are naturally quiet and give their input very carefully, and by nature find it a challenge. If a wife, however, withholds her input because of fear or desiring peace at all costs, this is not submission. Yet there are times when a wife will choose to be quiet for a purpose—a bigger plan. Jesus, God in the flesh, is our example in all things, and in Mark 15:3–5 he gives an example of being quiet with a purpose: The chief priests began to accuse Him harshly. Then Pilate questioned Him again, saying, “Do You not answer? See how many charges they bring against You!” But Jesus made no further answer; so Pilate was amazed. Christ was not afraid to say something. He was not afraid to defend. He was not scared of what Pilate would do. He knew what Pilate could do and knew he didn’t have to defend himself because God had a bigger plan. He was still in charge, but he didn’t waste his words by defending himself. When a woman holds her voice for a season, it gives her the ability to gain control of herself, to choose her words carefully, to pray and seek guidance, to journal her facts, thoughts, ideas, opinions, and intuitions, and to present all to her husband in an orderly fashion….This is not being passive; this is demonstrating her strength. It may appear to an onlooker that she is passive, but in reality she is exercising intelligence, discernment, and Spirit-control by presenting her concern in private when both are calm and she is prepared.
- Determined By Who Is Right – Christians live within the parameters of scriptural principles and their own preferences. If Scripture has spoken on an issue, it behooves us to pay attention. But some things are what we may call “gray areas” and are subject to personal preferences. Many situations that come up in a family may not have a clear scriptural right or wrong. It is important to share our preferences, but we must remember that God works through our husbands for the good of the whole family and that our husbands will answer to God for their choices. This puts us wives in a praying position. Submission is easy when we agree with our husbands’ decisions. But the test comes, of course, when they choose the opposite of what we want. This requires us to trust that God’s way is the best way, and to understand that he will care for us and that true happiness comes through trusting God. He has called every wife to submit to her own husband [see 1 Peter 3:1–2].
- A Burden to Be Borne – Rather, submission is a God-given privilege and necessity in order that homes run smoothly. A woman may take on the martyr-type stance. This wife becomes a complainer, a troublemaker, and she is very disruptive to her household. She has a “Poor me!” attitude and is a poor testimony for her Christian faith. This is not godly submission.
- A Tool to Use When a Wife Wants Something – Submission comes with no strings attached. It is a desire to please God and do what is best for the family. Most women desire the inner peace that comes from living in harmony with their husbands and obeying God. As I am writing this, words of a hymn by Fanny J. Crosby play in my mind: Perfect submission, all is at rest, I in my Savior am happy and blest; Watching and waiting, looking above, Filled with his goodness, lost in his love. This is my story, this is my song; Praising my Savior all the day long!
Hotton then concludes with this important call to submissive faith in Jesus Christ: “If you do not know Christ as your Lord and Savior, it will be almost impossible to have an attitude of submission to your husband and to trust God to work in your marriage. Ask your pastor or elder in your church to introduce you to this wonderful loving God, who loves you (Romans 5:6–10). He loves you so much that he gave his only Son to die on the cross—a miserable death—for you so that you can have spiritual rest. Jesus says, Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). The blessed assurance that submission brings is a fruit of a Christian’s faith.”
Read the follow-up post: What a Wife’s Submission is…
This helpful resource is not only great for personal study, but for women’s Bible studies and small groups.