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Biblical Submission Is Not Passivity

April - 01-2010
April – 01-2010

There seems to be so much confusion around the concept of biblical submission for wives. I’d like to discuss today something that biblical submission is not because a number of women think they hear me say that biblical submission means passivity:

  • I shouldn’t ever say how I feel or what I want.
  • I should have no opinions.
  • I should never disagree with my husband.
  • I should never share my insights, perspective, wisdom, or concerns with my husband.
  • I should be quiet all the time.
  • I should smile all the time.
  • I should let my husband decide everything in our marriage without any input from me whatsoever.

I am completely heartbroken to think that ANY wife would ever live like this!

This is not biblical submission. For a wife to give up all of her ideas, her personality, her influence, her identity, her personhood, her emotions, and her input would be complete passivity and inactivity – not biblical submission. I am not sure how I can be more clear than this. I don’t know ANY healthy husband who would want his wife to act like this. All of the remotely decent husbands who comment here want wives who can think and feel and be intelligent partners with them.

Instead of passivity, biblical submission means:

In our own human strength, apart from Christ, the best we can do as men or women is to be passive and uninvolved or dominant and controlling. We tend to swing from one sinful extreme to another. But there is this place in the center where we can soar far above human ability as God’s Spirit empowers us. That is where we must be as godly men and women – in the center of God’s design for masculinity or femininity.

John Piper (pastor) and Wayne Grudem (general editor of the ESV version of the Bible) define submission in marriage in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:

“Submission refers to a wife’s divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. It is not an absolute surrender of her will. Rather, we speak of her disposition to yield to her husband’s guidance and her inclination to follow his leadership. Christ is her absolute authority, not the husband. She submits “out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). The supreme authority of Christ qualifies the authority of her husband. She should never follow her husband into sin. Nevertheless, even when she may have to stand with Christ against the sinful will of her husband… she can still have a spirit of submission – a disposition to yield. She can show by her attitude and behavior that she does not like resisting his will and that she longs for him to forsake sin and lead in righteousness so that her disposition to honor him as head can again produce harmony.” (pg. 61)

Real biblical submission begins when a believer (man or woman) yields control of his/her life fully to Christ as Lord.

We die to our old sinful self. We die to sin. We die to wanting our will more than anything else. Then we are living for Christ through His power in us. We embrace and promote His will. We become His ambassadors. We allow Him to love through us. We allow Him to influence and bless others through us. We take up His desires, His priorities, His goals, His wisdom, His heart, His mind, His power, and His Spirit. Christ allows us to keep our personalities, our personhood, our human emotions, our own free will, and our own thoughts and opinions. We do not become mindless robots. We do not unplug and sit like an abandoned, unplugged, old computer in a closet. We are intelligent, emotional, spiritual beings who are able to think on our own – but we willingly yield our lives to Christ, trusting Him to lead us through our husbands.

  • When He prompts us to be quiet and pray – that is what we do.
  • When He prompts us to speak up respectfully, that is what we do.

From this position of great strength in Christ, we submit to our husbands.

This means, we honor their God-given leadership and we treat them with genuine respect because they are our husbands and because God commands that we do this. We do it to honor Christ above all else. The main time that submission is an issue is if a husband and wife cannot agree. In fact, if we always agreed, there would be no need for submission. But we will not always agree – which is why submission is necessary in marriage – in order for one person to be ultimately accountable to God for the decisions and management of the family.

When I don’t agree with Greg, I share the issues I have respectfully as God prompts me to – and then I let Greg know that I trust him to make the best decision for our family as I pray for God to direct him and give him His wisdom. Ultimately, my trust is in Christ Jesus and His sovereignty to work in our lives – not in Greg. God’s wisdom is worthy of all of my trust. (By the way, there are plenty of things a biblically submissive wife will decide on her own, within the parameters of the loving leadership of Christ and her husband. She doesn’t need to run every single possible issues past her husband, usually just the bigger ones that they agree on.)

We are to share our concerns, our ideas, our feelings, our perspective, our wisdom, our desires, and our perspective with our husbands. We have “influence authority” just like a king’s advisor has. The king has “positional authority” and his advisor has “influence authority.” I may choose to use my influence authority to influence my husband to sin – like Eve did. Or I may choose to use my influence authority for God and to bring praise and glory to God like Esther did with the king, her husband.

It would be tragic for me to take the abilities and influence God has given me and bury it all in the dirt and do absolutely nothing with it. No! May it never be!!!

We are accountable to God to use the gifts, talents, abilities, and opportunities He has given us for His purposes and His glory. We are His servants and He expects us to influence our husbands for Christ and to shine for Jesus in our homes. Check out Proverbs 31 to see how industrious, intelligent, capable, wise, thoughtful, and useful a godly wife is supposed to be. We are responsible for our own spiritual growth in Christ. We are responsible for our own emotions.  We are responsible for our own sin and our own obedience to Christ Jesus.

We cannot shine for Christ if we lay down and become completely passive and do nothing. What is the purpose of us even being there if we are not being godly stewards of the position God has given to us as wives and mothers?

I hope that this might help to clarify some of the confusion some ladies have had and prevent women from attempting to become passive, inactive, and invisible in their homes and relationships.

Much love to each of you!

RELATED:

Submission is not CDD or BDSM

Submission Does Not Mean the Husband Is Always Right

Submission Does Not Mean Being a Doormat

Confronting Our Husbands about Their Sin

Godly Femininity

Godly Spiritual Leadership

What Is Biblical Submission?

How Respect and Biblical Submission Impacted a Husband’s Soul

Submission (to Christ) Means Holding Things of This World Loosely

Does Being a Biblically Submissive Wife Mean I Can’t Share How I Feel or What I Need?

A Wife Can Be TOO Submissive!

My Beliefs about Marriage – The Danvers Statement

32 thoughts on “Biblical Submission Is Not Passivity

  1. Reblogged this on Peaceful Single Girl and commented:

    Single women are not commanded to submit to their boyfriends or fiances. There was no such thing as dating in biblical times. But as you think about preparing to submit to a man in the future, if you believe God calls you to marry – this is a really critical issue. I want women to understand what biblical submission IS and what it IS NOT.

    Much love!

  2. This was incredibly clarifying to me. This is probably my number one struggle in my marriage – attempting submission only to drive my husband crazy because I won’t give my opinion or ask for help. It’s definitely backfired on me in the past.

  3. I find even amongst Christian circles, women shudder at the word submission. And 90% of the women I’ve spoken to think it is passive. Even my husband said he wasn’t sure what the exact definition of biblical submission was in order to explain it to someone else. I had to explain it to him. It’s nice to see it on paper. Would be great to hand out to those who may benefit from it.

    I remember in adult Sunday school we were having a discussion and my husband brought up the passage where Jesus referred to the greek woman as a dog. And that he wasn’t being rude. That was a cultural name that were given to all Greek people’s back then. And boy,if looks could kill!! All the women in the group gave him filthy looks and snapped back an answer. I was shocked.some of these women are regarded as Godly. It was like they thought my husband was justifying calling women a rude name.

    Anyway, great post! Thanks April.

    1. Megan,

      Yes, just the word, “submission” creates a very negative, almost visceral reaction in many women, even in the church. That is why it is SO important that we understand exactly what submission is according to the Bible.

      Please pray that God might empower me to explain this clearly and that He might give His people eyes to see and ears to hear His Word and His truth – that our marriages might draw many to Christ!

  4. I like your comparison of king and adviser. It’s how I normally think of my relationship with my wife.It’s helpful to me to remember that she is a daughter of the Most High God, so that I’m careful to treat her well. Also as a son of God through grace, it reminds me to behave accordingly. My wife is my most trusted adviser, most especially where our children are concerned.

    1. tjcox53,

      I am so thankful when I get to see humble, loving, Christlike hearts of husbands for their wives. Such a blessing! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  5. Oh, amen to this post. Submission is actually strength in Christ, it is not “weakness before men,” as some try to present it. It is a gift we give to husbands, a gift of encouragement, support, and gentleness.

  6. Hi April…I am from India and recently married.. I thank you very much for all your posts and videos. They have helped me a lot. You are truly Gods blessing to me. Thank you very much. I can’t thank you enough.I want to email you regarding a personal issue but I don’t know your email id . Please help. Waiting ….. Love u lots

  7. Anonymous,

    I hope to have a post this Thursday about how God inspired one wife to deal with her husband when he was yelling and very angry – and in the wrong.

    Another great resource is Sacred Influence – by Gary Thomas. He devotes several chapters to wives who have husbands with anger issues and yelling issues and talks about how the wives learned to handle that in a godly way.

    Much love!

  8. What perfect timing! 7 days ago I started studying this and other videos on my role as a Godly Wife and renewed my faith and dedication to God. My husband was always a Christian.

    In the mornings we sit and talk and chat leisurely over coffee. The first day I told him I was following Mrs. April and shared the latter part of Ephesians 5 with him. He read it, listened to me, is familiar with the concept but had no opinions to share with me.

    (He is used to me reading and studying a very wide variety of things.)

    Today,I told him that I was uncomfortable with some of the extreme passivity (silent doormat) things I was finding. And that I knew what attracted him to me was my strong mind, thoughts, beliefs, opinions.

    Today he answered me. He said he did not want a robot. I nodded agreeing and mentioned Stepford wives.

    He then brought up Genesis 2, where man and woman are both created in His image, are equal in His sight and are to become one in marriage.

    I loved it. He has never shared much of his faith or beliefs with me. a man of few words who speaks thro steadfast daily actions.
    That has made it abundantly easy for me to trust and respect him.
    It has just evolved between us that we both submit to one another.

    So I really needed to hear this clarification TODAY!
    I know that my convictions fit us and I can continue my pursuit and growth in Biblical submission.

    We don’t argue or fuss, so I have been seeking to do a couple of small extras each day and have been receiving some of the gifts of it already.

    I continue to be completely excited about this journey and I will know how to conduct myself when issues present themselves.

    All in Jesus’ Glorious Name.

    1. Tena,

      Thank you so much for sharing! If you think you are hearing me promote extreme passivity – total silence or being a doormat – I want to hear about it. That is NEVER what I m trying to teach. I do talk about times when previously very disrespectful, vocal, controlling wives may need to have a period of silence as they learn at God’s feet what is wise to say and what not to say – that is a phase. It is not the goal. Does that make sense?

      I have many, many posts where I talk about how to share our hearts, desires, needs, feelings, ideas, and concerns respectfully and how important it is that we use our godly influence and not throw it away!

      I don’t believe God desires robots for followers. And I know that no healthy husband wants a robot for a wife. If there is any more confusion, please do let me know!

      I am very glad that you had that conversation with your husband and that you talked about it here, as well. 🙂

      Much love!
      April

  9. Tena,

    Thank goodness you didn’t think you read that here. I bend over backwards to try to keep women from thinking like that!

    Thank you for sharing the things you are working on. 🙂

    I am thankful that my husband’s “yoke is light” like that of Christ, as well. He is not demanding at all. It would be a much greater challenge to submit to a man who was perfectionistic or micromanaging.

    We do all need mountains of God’s grace! Sometimes in different areas – but we all need it. 🙂

    Thank you for praying for these precious women and men who are hurting here.

    Much love!
    April

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