One of the most abused and misunderstood concepts about marriage is a wife’s submission to her husband. Anyone who has read the Bible knows what it says about this subject. But not many know what it means.
At probably no time in human history has the marital relationship between husbands and wives been fully understood and properly practiced. Because there are so few positive examples, the truth has often been distorted.
Frankly, throughout most of human history women have been put down, impeded in development and even abused. Therefore, to many feminists, the Bible has appeared to be a male chauvinist book exalting men and degrading women. Some women’s liberationists have totally misunderstood the writings of the apostle Paul regarding the marital relationship and believe he hated both marriage and women.
But nothing could be further from the truth. Paul hated neither women nor marriage. But he did teach God’s way of life regarding marriage. And to have a happy marriage, that way must be followed!
We first need to understand God is not a male chauvinist. In the beginning, God made mankind male and female--by design, with forethought. Woman was not a second consideration. The order of creation implied no superiority in quality or value. The female was not, is not, never will be a subspecies to the male. For at least two great purposes, God designed mankind male and female.
The most obvious reason is for human reproduction. When God made Adam, He permitted Adam to be alone for a few hours – long enough for Adam to discover that in all the rest of creation, “there was not found a helper comparable to him” (Gen. 2:20).
Adam alone would never have been able to reproduce. But God placed mankind on earth to multiply and replenish the earth. So God took of the same body and bone, Adam, and made that suitable, comparable, missing dimension – woman. Together, male and female could reproduce.
But in addition to reproduction, God made the man and woman capable of the greatest possibility of all – love. The very creation is an expression of God’s love. The apostle John said it in the most eloquent but simple fashion: “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (I John 4:8).
God, then, placed the greatest of all qualities within humans. These qualities can be expressed in many ways, but none greater than love that can be shared between husbands and wives.
From creation, the ultimate spiritual potential of male and female has been exactly the same. When Jesus spoke of this great expectation, He said, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven” (Matt. 22:30).
But in the flesh we marry. We are male and female – and quite obviously different. There are physical differences, emotional differences, personality differences. There are different needs, different responses. The differences between male and female were designed to complement one another. A husband and a wife should form a team. Two individuals become one in marriage.
In the first marriage ceremony, God said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).
When Peter instructed husbands in the marital relationship, he said, “Likewise you husbands, dwell with them (your wives) with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the (physically) weaker vessel” (I Peter 3:7).
Women are not mentally inferior. Not emotionally inferior. Not inferior in any way. But by design women are, in general, physically not as strong as men.
Husbands are to provide for the family and supply strength and leadership. Deep down, most women have to admit they yearn for a man of such stability.
Peter continued in the verse we just quoted: “Giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that our prayers may not be hindered.” Husbands and wives should spend their lives together striving for the same spiritual goal – to be in God’s Kingdom for all eternity. So in spiritual potential men and women are all equal. In many physical ways we are different. But different in no way implies better – just different.
If we are equal but different, why does the Bible talk about submission? Here is the misunderstood part. The apostle Paul wrote the famous verses so many have not really understood. It’s in Ephesians 5:22-23: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.”
Taken out of context, twisted and distorted, many have assumed this verse allows husbands to become dictators. That is not what it says at all. You see, it is a matter of responsibility. Paul uses Christ and the Church as a teaching analogy. The Church of God should be subject to Christ. Members should want to obey His instruction – live by His example.
Submit is not a horror word. This scripture does not by any means give any man the right to abuse a woman. Notice, in the same context, what Paul told men: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it” (v. 25).
Jesus Christ died for His Church. Any husband who really loves his wife should be willing to die for her. If more husbands conveyed that kind of feeling, care, warmth and love fewer wives would have trouble with the word submit.
For that reason, before marriage, a young woman ought to think long and hard about the man with whom she is going to spend the rest of her life. If a certain young man to whom she is attracted turns out to be indecisive, weak, lacking character and self-discipline, it will be hard to respect him, hard to submit, yield or defer to him.
On the other hand, if a man is dictatorial, cruel, demanding and abusive, who would want to submit to that kind of life?
It’s not easy – finding the right man. But ladies, if you are not married and hope to someday be married, think about the kind of man you can respect, love and, in the right way, submit to.
God is over Christ and Christ is over the Church. Someone has to be in charge. Nations have kings, presidents or prime ministers. Cities have mayors. Families have husbands and fathers who are responsible.
In that context, a wife submits to the God-given authority of her husband, who should set an example of loving care. The husband and wife then become an example to their children, who grow up understanding the proper role of husbands and wives.
So submit does not mean to give up identity. It doesn’t mean to remain uneducated and unfulfilled and unhappy. But to properly respect and submit to a husband is the God-given responsibility of a wife.
Even in this modern age, it is possible to live by the principles, teachings and laws of the Bible. It may not be easy. But with a great deal of prayer and effort, it can be done. It’s the only way a marriage will truly work.