Uh-oh. There’s that word again. Submission.
Any time I speak about this concept, I risk offending the women in the audience, because Godly submission is one of the most misunderstood concepts in all of Scripture. Let’s look at the source.
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:1–2)
First, notice that submission in this passage doesn’t only apply to women. The first command is “submit to one another,” applied to men and women. Reverence for Christ means loving service to others, period. It means relating to others with a sacrificial, giving spirit.
In the next sentence, Paul commands women to submit to their husbands. This isn’t about diminishing a woman’s identity or downplaying her significance in a marriage. Men and women are equal in every way, and men have no right to control or dominate their wives. None.
Submission is not about subservience; it is about humility, kindness, gentleness, and purity of heart. It is a decision to respect one’s spouse and work alongside each other to guide a family and make decisions…together.
In fact, men are commanded to do the same thing—to lay down their lives, to meet their wife’s needs, to serve them and love them and respect their opinions. They are expected to make sacrifices for their marriage and work as a team when it comes to decision-making.
I often describe marriage as a two-way street, with two servants in love, each doing whatever it takes to meet the other’s needs. Godly submission plays a role in this. Through submission, a woman finds the key to unlock her husband’s heart. It’s there that she finds the love and worth she needs and desires.
“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.” (1 Peter 3:1-2)
Here, Peter encourages the wives of unbelieving husbands to treat them with the same respect they might treat a believing husband.
Why? Because Peter understands that it is only through honor and praise that a woman can make a difference in her relationship with her husband—regardless of what the man believes.
The passage has another message, too. Peter commands women to win their husbands over without words, using “purity and reverence.” In following verses, he values the inner self above outward beauty. He says a gentle and quiet spirit, on the inside, is “of great worth in God’s sight” (v. 4).
God finds much value in a gentle, reverent spirit, and that is why He has created men to respond to it. The presence of gracious sacrifice, respect, honor, and humility in a marriage relationship—so different from subservience or domination—is at the heart of godly submission.