What Submission in Marriage Really Means

What Submission in Marriage Really Means December 25, 2018

         Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.

(Ephesians 5:22)

In Paul’s model of marriage, women are told to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ. This passage makes today’s women uncomfortable.

When I teach it, many wives recoil at the thought of submission. Why? Because we’ve misconstrued what it means to submit.

As Christians, we submit ourselves to Jesus because we don’t fear being dominated, controlled, or abused by Him. We give Him a position of honor, respect, and leadership because we know His character. We trust Him.

This is the spirit in which Paul tells women to submit to their husbands. He instructs them to give their men a place of honor, respect, and leadership. He isn’t advocating subservience. He isn’t telling them to become doormats or accept abuse.

He is saying “Treat your husbands with admiration and esteem.”

I’m aware that this isn’t easy, especially with husbands who have done little to earn that kind of respect. One wife once told me, “If he ever starts acting like Jesus, I’ll be happy to treat him like Jesus!”

Women know that giving respect to a man who doesn’t deserve it will often make his irresponsible behavior worse.

Husbands have similar fears. When Karen and I married, I was a brute. I feared losing control, so I dominated her. I knew Scripture said I should serve her like Jesus served the church, but I thought she would take advantage of me if I did that.

I imagined her dumping all the housework on me. I saw myself wearing an apron. I don’t look good in an apron. It made me hesitant and fearful, and my defense mechanisms kicked in.

But I eventually realized something about this passage in Ephesians: It doesn’t come with a disclaimer. It doesn’t say, “wives, submit to your husbands…but only if they deserve it.” It doesn’t tell husbands to be loving and sacrificial but not until they get the respect they need.

The Christian life isn’t about reacting to others based on how others behave. It’s about responding to others according to the principles of Scripture—regardless of how we are treated.

We are called to be imitators of Christ. We are called to a higher standard of behavior. We are asked to turn the other cheek when we’ve been wronged, to treat others as we want to be treated, to put the needs of others ahead of our own.

In our marriages, we respond to our mate not according to what they deserve, but based on God’s principles.

When a husband begins loving and nurturing his wife the way God intended, she begins to soften. She treats him more respectfully. She trusts him.

When a wife takes the initiative and treats her husband with respect and honor, he begins living up to her expectations. He leads with integrity.

When people live in obedience to God’s Word, miracles start to happen. It happened in my marriage, and it can happen in yours, too.


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