John Piper,“If our marriages are going to tell the truth about Christ and his church, we cannot be indifferent to the meaning of headship and submission.”
Submission takes great faith. I am tempted to say it takes great faith for a wife to submit to her husband, but that would only be part of the truth. It takes deep faith for every child of God to submit, period. I believe if we were to approach this passage at face value, we would walk away greatly offended. You’ve heard it said, “Context is everything” and here it is vital. I do not doubt that there are many women in the same uncomfortable position as myself as the tides of womanhood are changing. We must firmly plant our feet in the depths of God’s Word as our unmovable foundation. If your feet are not finding their stability in the unchanging, unfaltering Word of God, every change makes you susceptible to its power. You stand vulnerable in the face of countless arrows released your way to weaken your faith in the beauty of God’s joy-producing design, including His design of marriage.
Ephesians 5:22-24, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now, as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”
Notice, before Paul gives this command to the Christian wife, he broadens the horizon of biblical submission, attributing it to not just wives but to the whole family of God.
Ephesians 5:20-21: “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Recognize that submission is not just the duty of a wife, it is the duty of every follower of Christ who regards him as Master. Submission to Christ is the call for every sinner in need of transference into a new kingdom, God’s Kingdom. Salvation creates in the sinner’s heart the humble disposition of submission, understanding that it is Christ alone who leads us to freedom, loves us perfectly, and governs His people majestically. It is important to note this because of how tarnished the brilliance of submission has become in our culture and the disdain many have for the word “submission” itself. We need to be reminded of the beauty submission carries with it when as it is upheld by the arms of faith.
Submission can be defined as this: “An act of submitting to the authority or control of another.”
As wives who are under the Lordship of Jesus, the aim of all we think, say, and do should be propelled by a desire to obey and glorify our Lord. Earthly submission must begin with heavenly submission because the goal is not to glorify man, esteeming him for his greatness, but rather it is to magnify Christ for his greatness. He is the forerunner of all things (Hebrews 6:20), submission included. As we submit to our own husbands, it is to be treated as if we are submitting to Christ himself. Contrary to culture’s opinion, yielding to a God-fearing husband leads us into freedom, not into bondage. That may seem like a contradiction, but let me explain. When we buck against God’s will for our lives, we buck against our own joy and our own freedom. Our Good Shepherd leads us out of harm’s way where we find rest and abundant life (John 10:9-10). For the wife, placing ourselves under the authority of our Heavenly Husband means placing ourselves under the authority of our earthly husband, and at times, this can take great faith.
Does Paul Really Mean in Everything?
I am determined to encourage you, dear wife. The treasury of obedience is large and plentiful for us as we submit to our husbands and respect them as head over us and our homes. It takes courageous faith of entrusting ourselves to God in this aspect of the Christian life. There will most certainly be moments you are tested to forfeit your goal of honoring The Lord through submission in fear of man that it doesn’t truly make a difference, and you feel unseen in your effort. Opinions are changing, roles are being blurred, so maybe Paul didn’t really mean we are to submit in everything. What is at stake?
Thinking that way challenges the supremacy of Christ as our Lord and the trustworthiness of his Word. Because that is what it really comes down to, “Will we trust Christ’s word despite what we see and how we feel?” When Paul, through the inspiration of the Spirit of God, says “wives should submit in everything to their husbands,” do we trust that God is speaking for our good and that his way leads to life? Despite how minuscule our trusting seems at times, we can rely upon the power of God working through our attempts to please Him as we submit to the husband God has given us. When man loves woman as Christ loves the church, submission isn’t painful, it is pleasant.
John Piper speaks well to this when he says:
“It is a great sadness that in our society—even in the church—the different and complementary roles of biblical headship for the husband and biblical submission for the wife are despised or simply passed over. Some people just write them off as sub-Christian cultural leftovers from the first century. Others distort and misuse them—I mentioned earlier that I actually sat in my office once with a husband who believed that submission meant his wife should not go from one room to the other in the house without asking his permission. That kind of pathological distortion makes it easier for people to dispense with texts like these in the Bible. But the truth of headship and submission is really here and really beautiful. When you see it lived out with the mark of Christ’s majesty on it—the mutuality of servanthood without canceling the reality of headship and submission—it is as wonderful and deeply satisfying drama.”
With that being said, here are three practical ways a wife can be encouraged to submit to her husband.
1) Entrust your soul to The Lord in all things (1 Peter 2:23).
All of us have an innate desire to usurp authority and decide for ourselves what is best. This is especially seen in relation to husband and wife. Submission births God-glorifying beauty when it labors through the sharp pains of sin and brokenness, holding out in hope for something better. An easy response to our pain is to control and take the reins ourselves. Not so easy is entrusting all of our hopes, dreams, desires, and opinions to God in the hope that he is at work in whatever the situation may be, and that not a moment passes that He does not tend to the state of our hearts and hear our cries. Christ has left us this example, and we imitate him as we entrust all of ourselves daily to the Overseer of our soul (1 Peter 2:25). This takes great faith.
2) Love your neighbor as yourself. This includes your husband (Mark 12:30-31).
Submission that honors the Lord and your husband begins with love. As we seek to love our husbands and honor the role of headship God has given them, we help them flourish in this role as we lovingly refer to their leadership in all things. Headship is not domineering, and submission is not demeaning. When headship and submission work together out of love for The Lord and each other, peace and harmony, come forth, and we testify in our marriages that God is sovereign over his design and his way is best. Part of modeling the gospel in the marriage covenant is counting our husband as more significant than our own preferences and opinions—even as our own lives (Philippians 2:3-4). We get the privilege of coming alongside our husband and working with him to accomplish the vision God has given to him. In those moments, when we don’t feel swarming butterflies or youthful passion in our marriage, we must choose faith over feeling and love our husband despite our feelings. Setting our heart and mind on the love of Christ strengthens our faith and helps us to love as Christ has loved us. This takes great faith.
3) Rejoice in the husband God has given you and honor him in public and in private.
A godly husband gives us a great reason to praise the Lord! I look around and see so many men enthralled with trivial pursuits, greedy for worldly gain, and hungry for power. A godly husband is humble in heart and caring towards those whom God has given him to shepherd, and we should honor the husband who seeks to love his wife in this way. “She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:12).
I know how degrading my tone can be towards my husband and how easy it is to discourage him rather than encourage him. The wife can be the greatest expert at her husband’s faults and can be the worst expert at his virtues. We cannot discount the power of encouragement towards our husband as they seek to live holy lives among a perverse and crooked generation (Philippians 2:15). Does this mean we do not bring him concern and worry when we see sinful patterns in his life? Not at all. As I said before, our husband is our neighbor, and we are to love him just as we love our brothers and sisters, and this includes speaking the truth in love. As we bring him our concerns, the goal is to honor him and see him rise up and lead as Christ leads His church, not to belittle or degrade him.
Let’s seek to encourage our husband every day and honor him in private and in public as he is placed with the heavy task of leading his wife and children closer to the heart of Christ. If our voice stands alone in honoring our husband, may it be so! Let the gospel be seen and the name of Christ revered as we honor the perfect way of our loving Creator. This takes great faith.
Submission is not easy and is becoming increasingly hostile to those around us. I believe if we are to see the glory of God in the unique role of womanhood, we must take duty of submission and change the negative conversation around the word. Our goal should not be to soften the command of submission; the goal of our existence is to glorify our Lord. When this is the end, submission becomes joyful, and faith takes flight as we daily submit our whole self to the Son of God who knows a thing or two about faith-filled submission. May we be wives of great faith!
Hayley is worship pastor’s wife and mother of two little girls. Her greatest passion is to see women love God’s glory supremely, His word deeply, and each other sincerely. With Texas roots, Hayley resides in Ohio with her husband, Kris, seeking to be faithful to her Lord in every aspect of life including marriage, motherhood, and ministry.