Yesterday I cleared up three common misunderstandings about submission in marriage. Today I want to explain what submission looks like.
First, the WHAT of submission: Voluntarily allow your husband to be your leader, giving him the final say. This is what it means to submit. Voluntarily allow your husband to be your leader, giving him the final say. Author Elizabeth George writes, “Submission is primarily a military term meaning to rank oneself under someone else. This heart attitude is lived out by subjection and obedience, by leaving things to the judgment of another person and yielding or deferring to the opinion or authority of someone else (A Woman After God’s Won Heart, p. 65)."
Again, it doesn’t mean the wife can’t be involved in the decision-making process, or offer insight. But in the end, the wife let’s her husband have the final say.
Notice that I used the word “voluntarily.” Submission is the wife’s decision. It’s really between her and the Lord. The Bible does not command husbands to bring their wives under submission, or to discipline their wives when they disobey. Submission is the wife’s decision.
Second, the HOW of submission: Submit to your husband as to the Lord – unconditionally.
Ephesians 5:22-24 (CSB) says, “22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, 23 because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.”
Your submission to your husband has a bigger purpose than you. You are supposed to paint a picture with your submission. You submission is to be a picture, or a living illustration of the church’s submission to Christ. This has two applications.
First, your submission needs to be respectful. Just as the church should obey Christ with a good attitude, respectfully, you are called to submit respectfully. Let your husband have the final say, and do it respectfully. That means don’t criticize him; don’t complain; and don’t rub it in his face if the decision turns out bad. Second, your submission needs to be unconditional. Here’s what I mean. (I’m going to challenge you a bit.) The Bible doesn’t say submit to your husband when you feel like it; or if he’s being good to you; or if he is meeting your needs; or if this or that. The Bible says to submit unconditionally. Now on the surface that sounds very challenging, but isn’t that similar to what God calls husbands to do? God calls husbands to love their wives unconditionally – not just when she smells good and looks pretty; not just when she’s meeting your emotional needs; not just when she’s fun to live with; not just when she’s healthy; not just when she’s young. Husbands are to love their wives unconditionally. In the same way, wives are to submit to their husbands unconditionally.
I found this quote by author Emerson Eggerichs to be very challenging. He wrote the book, Love and Respect. “The problem many women have today – including Christian wives – is that they want to be treated like a princess, but deep down they resist treating their husbands like the king.”
Third, the SCOPE of submission: Submit to your husband in everything.
Ephesians 5:24 (CSB) says, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.” You are to let your husband have the final say in every area of your life. Do you know what everything means? Everything.
Now there is one obvious exception to this. You must not submit to your husband if he is leading you to disobey God. In that case you must say what the Pater and the apostles said in Acts 5:29 (NLT), “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” So if your husband is leading you to sin, or to do something illegal, then you not only have the freedom to not submit, you must not submit. God comes before your husband.
Fourth,the STRENGTH of submission: Trust in the Lord to take care of you through your husband’s leadership.
Submission is very challenging. Where do you find the strength to submit like this? It comes from faith. You have to have faith that God will take care of you through your husband’s leadership. You have to believe that if God commands you to submit to your husband, then God is big enough to take care of you through your husband’s leadership, even when your husband makes bad decisions.
Remember Matthew 6:31-33 (CSB). "31 So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.”
Fifth, the MOTIVE of submission: Submit in order to win your husband over to a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.
Why does God want you to submit to your husband? We already mentioned order and harmony. And we already mentioned that your submission is to be an illustration of the church’s submission to Christ. But there’s another motivation. It’s found in 1 Peter 3:1. “In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word by the way their wives live.” This verse was written to Christian wives who had unbelieving husbands. And Peter said that your best tool to evangelize your husband, to win him to Christ, is not to preach to him, not to argue with him, but to submit to him. And there’s something magnetic, and attractive, and winsome about godly submission. And I believe this also applies to women who have Christian husbands who are backslidden. How do you influence him to turn back to the Lord? Your best tool is submission. There’s something about submission that God can use to grab your husband’s heart and pull Him to the Lord.
I read an interesting story about Mark Twain. Once when he was lecturing in Utah, a Mormon argued with him about polygamy. After a long and intense debate, the Mormon finally said, "Can you find for me a single passage of Scripture which forbids polygamy?" "Certainly," replied Twain. "No man can serve two masters." That story is funny because it describes the way that many women treat their husbands. But God has a better way. The happiest marriage is one in which a wife respectfully submits to her Christ-like, loving husband.
(Much of this was inspired by Elizabeth George's wonderful book, A Woman After God's Own Heart. It's the best book on Biblical womanhood that I can recommend.)