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:
- It is important for me to say how I feel or what I want respectfully with the right motives in my heart.
- I can have opinions but they need to always line up with the truth of Scripture, not lies of the enemy. I am to take my thoughts captive for Christ.
- I have the freedom to disagree with my husband but I can disagree without being contentious, argumentative, controlling, disrespectful, or hateful. I can disagree respectfully without sinning against him or emasculating him. I can honor him even as we disagree.
- If my husband is truly trying to lead me into sin or wants me to condone sin, I must stand firmly but respectfully against anything that would dishonor Christ (being sure that this is truly sin, not just a matter of personal conviction).
- God can give me wisdom about when to be quiet and when to speak.
- I can always be full of the joy of Christ (Gal. 5:22-23). I can choose to smile simply to bless my husband. I may not always smile, but God’s joy can put a real smile on my face almost all of the time! If I am being sinned against or something is really wrong, I may not smile – but I can look to God, trust Him, rest in His sovereignty and peace, seek His wisdom, and praise and thank Him for His goodness.
- I can use my influence in a godly way to assist with decision making in our marriage.
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!