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:

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Submission Does Not Mean the Husband Is Always Right

Submission Does Not Mean Being a Doormat

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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

Submission Means We Hold the Things of This World Loosely

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“If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet forfeit his very self?” Luke 9:23-25

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they one from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God? Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the Spirit He caused to live in us envies intensely? But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up. James 4:1-10

First, I submit fully to Christ as a believer in Him. I relinquish control over my life and yield control over everything in my life to Jesus.  Then, because I want to obey God and please Him (because I love Him more than anything or anyone), I submit to my husband’s  God-given leadership (Ephesians 5:22-33, Titus 2:3-5,  Colossians 3:18).

When Jesus is LORD of my life, getting my way is no longer my primary goal. Bringing honor and glory to Him is my primary goal now – even in my marriage.

DYING TO SELF, CARRYING OUR CROSS DAILY

This is a concept that is central to being a true disciple of Christ, and it is a painful and unpopular one. “Dying to self “is much overlooked in our Western churches today because we prefer to hear about “health, wealth and happiness” – not the biblical concepts of suffering, sacrifice, obedience no matter what the cost and total submission to Christ as LORD of all in our lives.

As disciples of Jesus, we cling to Jesus alone. We hold everything else loosely. When there is something we want, we ask God for it in faith. We also ask God to help us examine our motives to be sure we are not asking with wrong motives. We learn to lay each issue at the feet of Jesus, being content with whichever outcome is the will of God regardless of our own will. We learn to seek His will far above our own.

This is what Jesus means by carrying our cross daily.

  • We lay down our will.
  • We lay down our desires.
  • We remember that our sinful nature was crucified with Christ on the cross and that we learn to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus.
  • We lay down all that we are, all of our plans, our dreams, our health, our money, our jobs, our husbands, our children, our future, our talents, our wisdom and everything that is ours and we place it on the altar before Christ. Meaning – we trust Him fully with all of the things that are most precious to us.
  • We are willing to give up anything He asks us to at any time.
  • We cling only to Jesus. We count Him as the only thing we MUST have. He is our Greatest Treasure. He is our LIFE. We truly desire Him far above anything else in this world,

This is hard. It is a very painful process. Submission to God’s will was difficult and painful for Jesus Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane. How much more difficult and painful will it be for us as sinners to die to self? Yet, our submission to God and faith in Him is His measure of our love for Him. If we are willing to obey God and trust His heart – even if He asks us to be willing to surrender our greatest and dearest relationships and treasures on this earth – the end result is maturity in our faith and great joy and fruitfulness in Christ!

Each of us have different priorities and different things we hold very dear.

For the rich young ruler – the thing that was most important in his life was his money and his wealth. He was not willing to sell all he had and follow Christ. His money and belongings were more important to him than Jesus. Jesus doesn’t necessarily call each of us to sell all he has and give to the poor and follow Him. But –

He does call each of His followers to be willing to give up anything and everything for His sake at any time and to put nothing above Him in our hearts. Ever.

That is how we show our deepest devotion and love is for Him alone – that we believe He is worthy of any sacrifice He might ask us to make.

Check out the response of God’s faithful servant, Job, when he lost all of his 10 children and all of his wealth in one day:

Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. Job 1:20-22

God tests our faith by trials (James 1, Job and I Peter are about this). Many times He will ask us to be willing to give up whatever is most precious to us. These tests force us to purify our motives, refine our faith and to grow into maturity as we must wrestle with being willing to give up the things of this world that we love most to demonstrate that our love for God is greater than our love for anything or anyone else. The Lord certainly tested Abraham when He asked him to sacrifice Isaac on the altar to Him to prove that He loved God more than the promised child. And then, what an incredible thing – God did not actually require Abraham to go through with the test – but God Himself DID  sacrifice His only Son to prove His outrageous love for us.

WHAT THINGS DO YOU HOLD MOST DEAR?

Each of us have different “hot button issues” and fears. What may be a great test of faith for one of us may not be difficult for another. But we each have certain things that we don’t want to sacrifice and surrender to God. There are all kinds of things that we may feel we “must have” to be happy in this life. When we are tested, God may call upon us to be willing to give up something of this world that we hold dear. Many times, the thing may be a “good thing.” It may even be a gift from God. But God wants to see us be willing to choose Him and to obey Him over having what we want in this world. If we are not willing to surrender something and we are unwilling to give it up in obedience to God, then, we are likely dealing with an idol, something that is more important to us than God.

THIS IS PART OF THE PROCESS OF REFINING OUR FAITH AND PURIFYING OUR HEARTS

He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” Matthew 26:39

To give up something we hold as precious requires us to spend MUCH time wrestling in prayer, MUCH purposeful surrendering and submitting and yielding to God. It can be agony. Have I had to do this with certain issues? Yes. Will I have to do it again many times in my life? Definitely! But this process forces us to learn to lay down our will and seek only God’s will as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is HARD! It is PAINFUL!!!!!!!

There is no shortcut here as we learn to trust God completely, depend on His sovereignty and goodness and His unspeakable love for us.

We learn that God is truly going to do what is ultimately best for us and what will cause us to be more like Christ as we walk through the fiery trials. We learn that this is the path to maturing in our faith and learning to depend on the sufficiency of Christ. This is how we learn to be content in any circumstances no matter what the outcome of any situation.

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13

This is where we learn to experience the supernatural peace of God, as we give God the freedom to give and take whatever He knows is best in our lives. We learn to lean not on our own understanding but to wholly depend on God and His wisdom. We learn to live in constant submission to His Spirit and His Word. We long to delight Him and to know Him more. The things of this world grow “strangely dim” as we focus on Christ and eternity. We begin to store up treasures for ourselves in heaven because that is where our hearts are. We become willing to suffer for Jesus even if it costs us dearly and we learn to count suffering for Him as an honor and blessing. We learn to be willing to literally lose our own lives for Him if He calls us to do that. We cleave to Jesus and cling tightly to Him. And we are willing to let go of everything else, seeking only His will and all of His will. We ask Him to change our hearts to want what He wants and to hate what He hates. This is the process of being pruned, refined, tested, tried and sanctified as God conforms us to the image of Christ.

My full submission to God means that my life is not about me, it is about God’s greatest glory!

There are times when God will ask us to be willing to do things we REALLY do not want to do. Submission can be very painful – our submission to God and to our husbands. Sometimes a husband may ask his wife to do something that she completely disagrees with. I believe that she can and should share her heart, desires, thoughts, ideas, perspective and feelings respectfully – just like we share our hearts, needs and desires with God in prayer. But then, if he still believes it is the best course of action and he is not clearly asking her to sin (by God’s definition not hers), she can submit to his leadership joyfully, trusting God to work through her husband’s leadership to bring about His will in her life even when she doesn’t understand. She knows that she will understand in time and that God is able to use every circumstance to bring about His will and to do good in her life for His glory (Romans 8:28-29).

* If a husband is asking his wife to clearly sin, please check out Spiritual Authority.

SHARE:

I would love to hear from some of you who have submitted to God and your husband in a time when you did not agree, but you rested in the sovereignty of God and then later saw the wisdom in your husband’s decision and in God’s ability to lead you through your husband.

If there are specific issues that are particularly difficult for you to submit to God and/or your husband about, let’s talk about it together!

PS:

For wives whose husbands tend to be very dominant and strong, you will want to check out the comments on last week’s post. There are some beautiful gems of wisdom there from other wives who are learning to honor God and their husbands in such situations when their husbands are angry.

RELATED:

A Real Life Example of Biblical Submission and Respect

How to Make Your Husband an Idol

The Idol of Control

My Secret Idol – a wife wants her husband to be saved more than anything

How to Stop Idolatry and Truly Live for Christ 

Things that Fuel Discontentment in Me

Contentment Only Comes from Having Christ as Lord

Waiting Becomes Sweet

Fear Fuels Our Need to Control