Some believe that being submissive means to simply obey and to deny personal feelings, desires, expectations, and dreams. They think a wife is not submissive if she shares her opinions with her husband.
Worse, countless women have been sent back to their homes and told to submit to abusive husbands — in some cases without anyone ever speaking to him about how he treats her. Some even believe that wives who are abused cause the abuse by their lack of submission.
This false concept of submission is often used to manipulate and control women. It advocates quiet obedience and subservience, and denies a woman’s irreplaceable value in her marital relationship. It also ignores the potential for a man to be heavy-handed and unloving in his attempt to be the “ruler” of his home.
Unfortunately, some Christian leaders have contributed to this false concept of submission by overlooking the husband’s obligation to love his wife. This is an extreme misrepresentation of Paul’s intent in Ephesians 5:22-30 .
Others have accused the apostle Paul of being a male chauvinist, one who didn’t respect women or see their value. If we consider what Paul wrote within his culture, however, we see that Paul had a high view of men and women. He understood how they can best work together in marriage to reflect Christ’s love for us.
In a day when men married for money, Paul strongly stated that husbands were obligated to love their wives (see also Colossians 3:19 ). Paul’s words to husbands were revolutionary in Greco-Roman society. Most men married not for love but for financial gain. Marriages were usually arranged, and the father of the bride provided a dowry — a portion of money, clothes, jewelry, and possibly slaves.
Paul’s instructions for marriage were a breath of fresh air. His thoughts were not those of a man who degraded women and wanted to “keep them in their place.” Quite the opposite — he elevated women to a place where they are to be loved as Christ loves the church. That is pretty radical thinking!
It is significant that Paul compared a husband and a wife to Christ and the church. He regarded marriage so highly that it is used as an analogy of Christ and His relationship to the church. If the husband is the head of the wife in the same way that Christ is the head of the church, we can safely draw conclusions from the comparison of Christ’s relationship to His bride, the church.
Christ loves His bride and is her Savior. Christ gave His life for her. Likewise, the husband is to love his wife as Christ loves His church. A husband’s love should be sacrificial, nourishing, cherishing, and protective. A man should love his wife in the same way he loves his own body ( Ephesians 5:25,28 ).
The same level of devotion as required of the husband to love is required of the wife to submit ( Ephesians 5:22 ). Before looking at submission unique to a wife, though, we need to remember that Paul advocates mutual submission between believers ( Ephesians 5:21 ). No one is to demand or force another to yield; submission is voluntary. The Bible doesn’t say that it’s a husband’s responsibility to see to it that his wife submits to him.
A wife’s submission to her husband is in response to her love and devotion to the Lord first. She submits to the Lord out of a humble and grateful heart, not because she is a slave, but a servant. Likewise, biblical submission in marriage is servanthood, not enslavement. A godly wife is motivated to submit to her husband, not out of fear, self-interest, or self-protection, but out of love ( 1 Peter 3:6 ).
Scripture does not define submission as mindless obedience to a husband’s every wish or demand. Nor is it avoiding an argument at all cost. Instead, submission is a deep commitment to a person. It is choosing to work with one’s mate in a way that promotes oneness. A married couple becomes one flesh and must work as a team ( Genesis 1:26 ). Constant fighting and arguing works against a couple trying to become unified.
To illustrate, a team player must submit to the guidance of his coach. A good coach guides the team in strategy and utilizes the strengths of the players for the success of the team. A gifted player may debate a point with his coach, but there comes a point when, if they continue to disagree, the player must submit to his coach. Likewise, the wife, at times, must put aside her disagreements and follow the lead of her husband, whom God has placed in her life as the head. (Sometimes, it is not in the best interest of either the wife or the husband to submit, as in the case of abuse.)
Marriage, according to God’s design, is a relationship that returns love for love, service for service. Husbands and wives love and sacrifice for one another differently. Husbands love their wives by protecting, cherishing, and serving them. Wives submit to their husbands out of respect and love. Both the husband and the wife are given vast opportunities to show Christ’s love to one another. It is not always easy, but marriages can best reflect God’s redemptive work in our lives by following the principles of Christlike love and submission.