This blog will be most relatable for wives who tend to be strong willed/in charge whose husbands are passive.
If your husband is controlling or you are more passive – many things I talk about will still apply (God’s Word always applies)- but you may have to approach some of the practical issues from a different angle. It IS possible to be TOO submissive and TOO respectful. This blog may not be as helpful for you. If you have serious marriage issues like addictions, abuse, uncontrolled mental health disorders or infidelity -please seek godly, experienced help. I am not able to address these kinds of extreme issues here and I do not have experience with these situations.
I only write for wives – I don’t write for husbands. A husband cannot force or demand his wife to respect him and submit to him any more than a wife can demand that her husband love her. She must do this willingly and voluntarily out of her love and respect and obedience to Christ.
PLEASE! Always compare everything I say to God’s Word! My wisdom is useless. Only God’s truth is valuable. Please prayerfully evaluate everything any human says and weigh it against Scripture.
THE SUBMISSION OF CHRIST TO GOD THE FATHER
“Not My will, but Yours be done!”
This is the essence of biblical submission. These were the words of Christ, Himself, within hours of His betrayal and then His crucifixion. If ANYONE in the universe had a reason for wanting to find another way for people to be made right with God – it was Jesus Christ. He asked God sincerely, urgently, with anguish – if this “cup” (of crucifixion) could pass from Him. But He chose to submit to God the Father for our benefit, yes, but primarily because He loved His Father – so He obeyed and submitted Himself to God the Father.
“Submission” in the sense that God uses it in the Bible is a concept that began in the Trinity – in a relationship of Equals. Jesus is not inferior in any way to God the Father. They are One. The Father has the position of authority, the Son honors His Father’s authority. He is not a second class citizen, a slave or of less value than the Father. In fact, His willingness to submit to and honor His Father leads to His own glory later.
A COVENANT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PEOPLE AND CHRIST
It’s the Great Exchange. He exchanges our spiritual poverty for His spiritual riches, our death and punishment for His life and victory. He gave up ALL for us. And He desires all of us – men and women – to be willing to give up ALL for Him – to submit to Him, to surrender to Him as Lord and to obey Him. That is how we show our gratitude and love for Him. He won’t force it on us. It has to be our free choice and gift to give our lives to Him. He died for us willingly, now it is up to us to live for Him willingly. Both sides of this holy covenant relationship are gifts, freely given to the other. Both commit their all.
As Christians, we are all part of the bride of Christ.
Marriage is to be a living parable of the intimate, one-spirit relationship between Christ and His beloved church – His people, those who know Him, love Him and serve Him as Lord.
Christ knows what it means to submit to the authority of God. He submitted to God FIRST, then He became the Head of all things, including His body of believers, His church. He is our example. THAT IS LOVE. That is what the love of a husband is meant to be for his wife.
THE SUBMISSION OF ALL BELIEVERS TO CHRIST
Our primary relationship of submission/authority is between ourselves as believers and Christ – that is true for all believers. This is why we call Him, LORD.
I cannot MAKE or FORCE my husband (or anyone) to submit to Christ – whether he already claims to be a believer or not. That is a free decision to be made by each individual. I cannot control him. I can influence my husband to want to obey God by my own willingness to obey God and my own humility. I can pray for him. But I cannot control or change him.
- A husband cannot force his wife to submit to him or respect him.
- God does not command husbands to enforce their wives’ submission and respect.
- A wife cannot force her husband to love her as Christ loves the church or in the specific ways she desires him to love her.
- God does not command wives to enforce their husbands’ selfless love.
- A wife cannot force her husband to lead in marriage. She can step down out of the way and wait for him to lead and give him encouragement.
- Each husband and each wife decide willingly and voluntarily whether they will obey God and meet his/her spouse’s needs or not – independently of what their spouse does or does not do.
I can only control my own obedience to God’s Word, not my husband’s. Christ-like love, submission, godly leadership, respect – the ingredients of a healthy, godly marriage spring from each person’s heart voluntarily out of our reverence and obedience to Christ.
HUSBANDS’ SUBMISSION TO CHRIST
Husbands are called first to submit themselves to Christ – as are all believers.
It is only when a man is under the authority of Christ and submits himself, his desires, his plans and his dreams to God’s desires, plans and dreams – that he can truly lead his wife in a godly way that most honors Christ, brings glory to the gospel and benefits his wife and family. All believers are also called to submit to government authorities and church leadership as well as managers/bosses in the business world.
God can and does use even unbelieving husbands to lead believing wives. Wives with unbelieving husbands are still to obey God’s commands for them to respect and submit to their husbands. I Peter 3:1-6 specifically addresses this situation.
A godly husband is willing to say to God, “Not my will, but Yours be done in my marriage, in my family, in every aspect of my life, Lord!”
Note Solomon’s prayer when he became king of Israel and God invited him to ask for anything he wished.
7 “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguishbetween right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. I Kings 3
The response of a godly man to being in a position of God-given authority is humility – not arrogance or pride.
THE SUBMISSION OF WIVES
Wives have parallel roles. I learn to submit to Christ and I learn to submit to my husband.
Ultimately, my submission is primarily to Christ, not my husband.
The reason I follow the leadership of my husband is out of reverence, respect and submission of my life to my Lord, Jesus Christ – not because my husband “deserves it” in my estimation.
Many people get upset about the concept of “submission.” And, sadly, this word has been used to describe so many derogatory situations and such outright perversion today, that it has almost completely lost its original implications on our culture. Sometimes I wish we could use a different word for this concept altogether! Submission has nothing to do with a person’s value, oppression or slavery. Jesus and God are equal, but Christ submitted to God out of love.
In the Bible, “submission” is similar to the concept of the Captain and the First Mate on a ship.
It’s a military term that connotes ranking oneself under a higher authority. This doesn’t mean that one person is more valuable than the other, or that one doesn’t need to use his brain or do any work. No! They both have a long list of critical roles and responsibilities. But the Captain has ultimate responsibility and accountability for the decisions and consequences. It is the First Mate’s duty to give the Captain her perspective and her wisdom and ideas respectfully whenever time allows. But then she supports the ultimate decision the captain makes and communicates that to those beneath her in the chain of command. Neither the First Mate nor the Captain are to “dress down” the other in front of those under their command (same concept with a husband and wife not criticizing or undermining each other in front of the children). If they disagree, the disagreement is handled privately, and they present a united front to the crew.
God is a God of order and when He places God-given authority over us – it is always for our protection, for our provision, for our sanity and to give us peace and joy. Husbands are the ones who will stand accountable for the decisions and well-being of their families before God one day. God’s ways are higher than my ways! And the foolishness of God is higher than man’s wisdom.
A godly wife has the attitude toward Christ, “Not my will, but yours be done.” She desires God’s will above her own. Her intimacy and relationship with Christ and her husband are MUCH more valuable to her than getting her way about a certain decision.
She can and should express her feelings, desires, concerns and thoughts to God and her husband – these are both deeply intimate relationships of oneness. But once she has expressed herself, she trusts that her Lord Jesus is big and powerful enough to lead her through her man. She doesn’t want to stand in the way of God’s leading in her husband’s life. She cooperates with God’s leading and is willing to say, “Yes!” to God and to her husband. Ultimately, her faith is in Christ. But because she has great faith in Jesus, she is able to show great faith in her husband.
SUBMISSION “IN THE LORD”
My understanding of Ephesians 5:22-33 is that a wife submits to her husband IN THE LORD. The Bible teacher I studied under at my church teaches that it is a principle of the doctrine of spiritual authority in the Bible that if a spiritual authority attempts to force a believer to severely violate God’s commands, we “must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29
But, if we choose to obey God rather than men, we must be prepared for the consequences of our actions. Some examples of this are Daniel, who refused to bow to the king’s idol, and faced the lion’s den and his three friends who refused to worship the king and were thrown into the fiery furnace. The apostles all refused to stop preaching in the Name of Christ, and 11 of them were martyred, all of them we severely persecuted by the Jewish religious authorities.
Resisting our husband’s God-given authority does not mean we will experience capital punishment, thankfully, in most parts of the world…
But we had best be VERY sure that we are in line with scripture before we dare to go against our husbands’ God-given authority.
I would certainly not personally resist my husband for something minor like whether we tithe or not. I would personally have to believe my husband was asking me to commit very egregious sin for me to be willing to refuse to submit to him. Such a situation has never happened in 5 years in our marriage since I have been practicing biblical submission.
Ultimately, each of us will answer to God for our obedience to Him. Be VERY SURE you are operating in obedience to Christ before you consider going against your husband. Read God’s Word. Pray. Study it. Understand the possible consequences. No one answers to me! We will each stand accountable to God one day and we will be responsible for each decision we have made. Only God’s authority is absolute. Every human God-given authority has been given his/her authority by God to be used for God’s will and His purposes. (
- If my husband asks me to blatantly defy God’s Word and clearly sin – then my understanding is – I must obey God rather than my husband. That is my husband’s understanding as well. He is totally on board with me teaching this subject in this manner. I made sure I am submitting to his authority on this issue! (Acts 5:1-11 a wife followed her husband into sin. Both were killed by God.) ie: if he says to kill, steal, commit idolatry, have an abortion, commit adultery, lie, do something illegal, molest children, cover up a crime for him, lust with him by watching porn, have a threesome, worship him as god … I believe I would have to refuse and obey God instead. This should only be in very rare cases, hopefully.
- God holds our husbands accountable for their leadership, love, gentleness and selflessness and He holds us accountable for our respect, biblical submission and obedience to the commands He gives to us. We will each stand accountable to God for any time we resist our husbands’ God given authority. Tread very carefully and reverently here! God’s Word says that those who disobey God given authorities bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.)
- If it is just that I don’t agree with him, or it is a difference of interpretation in Scripture – I share my heart, my perspective and feelings and then trust God to lead him to make the best decision. Just because I don’t agree with my husband does not necessarily mean he is wrong. But even if my husband is wrong, that is not an excuse for me not to obey God’s Word to submit to my husband’s leadership. God is still SO SOVEREIGN that He can use even my husband’s mistakes to bring about His will in my life.
- Submission does not mean I must agree with my husband and change my mind and not have my own opinion. If I always agreed – that wouldn’t be submission, now, would it? I am my husband’s most important advisor, and he cherishes my ideas, feelings, insights and suggestions as I respect him and cooperate with him.
- We as humans are not in a position to always be able to see clearly what decision “is right” at a given time. Our wisdom and vision is flawed. Only God can see the whole picture. God may move upon my husband to make a decision that I don’t like at the time – but I may see later that God was in it. Submission to God and to our husbands is a HUGE test of our faith!
Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding Proverbs 3:5
GOD CAN USE THE OBEDIENCE, RESPECT AND COOPERATION OF A WIFE TO WIN A HUSBAND OVER TO HER AND TO GOD
The amazing thing is that as my husband witnesses my joy and peace in Christ, and my faith in Christ – which also begins to be faith in him as a husband – he is empowered to become a more godly husband! A wife’s respect, admiration and willing cooperation with her husband’s leadership POWERFULLY motivates her husband to love her with the love of Christ, to desire to hear God’s voice more clearly and to begin to lay down his life for her with a servant’s heart.
There is no guarantee my husband will change. I must trust God with the results and the timing and allow Him to work in my husband as I focus on allowing Him to change ME. Then I am out of God’s way so that my husband can much more clearly hear His voice.
Show us Your beautiful design for marriage! Rebuild our understanding of marriage on the foundation of Christ and Your Word alone! Help us to be willing to die to ourselves, to crucify our own sinful nature and take up our cross daily and follow You, Jesus!
Biblical Submission is Not Passivity (or Slavery)