Submission in marriage is one of the toughest topics to discuss. We all come from different backgrounds and cultures and that brings different understandings to the conversation of submission. Even among Christian circles, this topic can become tainted and ugly which is why I suggest we talk about it often and with an open Bible.
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The True Meaning of Submission in Marriage
The reality is the world has taken the idea of submission and distorted it beyond recognition. The church hasn't done much better in most parts of the world by ignoring the topic until they can't and then only grazing it when discussing a wife's role in marriage.
Since submission in marriage is such a controversial topic we need to go back to the root of this word, define it, understand it in the context of Biblical culture and then see how to apply those truths to life today.
Bible Verses About Submission in Marriage
When someone begins discussing submission they often start with Ephesians 5. This is a beautiful passage depicting the Biblical roles of husband and wife. I get a bit agitated though when people start at verse 22 ignoring the first part of the chapter. I'll show you why.
“and subject yourselves to one another in the fear of Christ.
Wives, subject yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” Ephesians 5:21-24 NASB (emphasis mine)
If you just start a verse before the turn toward marriage you would see that Paul isn't singling out wives. Nope, Paul basically just told all Christians to submit to all Christians! How did we buy into the lie that wives are the only Christians who need to learn submission?!?!?!
Yes, wives are called to submit to their husbands but y'all if we read the whole chapter we see that husbands also submit to their wives at times! We'll come back to that later though.
The word submission comes from the Greek word hupotassó. The Greek definition of submit is also used as a military term. It means to place or rank under, to subject.
We’re not talking about a rank of importance here, but a hierarchy of accountability.
I am not a military person, but I do understand rank and responsibility. Ephesians 5 tells us that Christian rank flows like this.
- God is at the very top.
- Christ submits to God.
- The church submits to Christ (by submitting to the Bible).
- Each believer submits to the other believers and their elders.
- Husband submits to God, the church, and other believers.
- A wife submits to her husband but also to God, the church, and other believers.
And it is important to also understand that:
- Every role on the list is important.
- Not one of them should be walked on disrespectfully.
- None of them has 100% control over the other's life either.
- Each has a specific job to fulfill.
- Apart from God, each accounts to someone higher up.
- And if one becomes out of line with God the one under it can go up the list to be sure they are staying in line with God.
The truth is, in life we are all to submit to God first, then each other. Submission is about loving others well and knowing that God does put the responsibility of accountability on particular roles.
Submission Does Not Apply to Abuse
Hear me clearly. I am NOT saying that if you are in an abusive situation you should be waiting for God to change your husband. If you are being abused in any way – physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually – get out. Get to safety.
Yes, God can change your husband.
No, your husband may not allow God to change him.
Regardless of what God can do in time, God is NOT calling you to be hurt while waiting on Him. That is NOT Biblical. God loves you. God does not give a spouse the right to abuse one of HIS children. And submission is not a way to get your spouse to stop abusing you. Nor does submission somehow give your spouse permission to abuse you.
Abuse is wrong. Never stay in an abusive environment. Get to safety. Find a Christian counselor. Work on healing and boundaries and restoration from a safe distance.
The Benefits of Submission in Marriage
When understood from a Biblical foundation, submission in marriage brings so many blessings! So many!!!!! Listen, we can debate how hard submission is all day long and I'll concede the point. Yes, submission is tough, but the benefits make the hard work worth it.
Some of the benefits of submission in marriage include:
- Right standing with God.
- Open communication with God.
- Spiritual growth.
- Emotional growth.
I'd like to talk through each of these blessings today. Also, please know that these blessings are merely the tip of the iceberg.
Right Standing With God
When you choose to obey God you live in right standing with God. However, when you choose to disobey God you are no longer in right standing with Him.
God said submission would be a part of our lives. It stands to reason then, that if someone decides submission is too difficult and they walk in rebellion in that area they are living in sin.
“But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” Isaiah 59:2 ESV
Whew, but when you decide that you will obey God, no matter how hard it is or how unfair it feels, and you are walking before Him with clean hands and a clean heart the blessings are beautiful. There is something freeing about being right with God.
Open Communication With God
In the same way that obedience to God brings freedom as we stand before Him in obedience, communication opens. The fact is, prayer is hindered by sin.
“If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Psalm 66:18 ESV
When you decide to obey God through submission in marriage your prayer life will forever change. Honestly, this is such a process, I would add that as you decide to obey, and confess the times you have failed, your prayer life changes.
Over the years, as I've wrestled with submitting to my husband I've seen this powerful benefit. It happens in waves and cycles that look like this.
- I submit for a while with excitement but hesitation.
- I get frustrated by his sin and foolishness, then choose to not submit.
- My prayer life dries up and I begin to beg Him to show me why.
- There were many times of fasting for a fresh wind to refresh my prayer life.
- God revealed where I wasn't submitting to my husband or I was being disrespectful in some way.
- Again I would surrender to God to begin submitting to my husband.
- And like a flood of grace, my prayer life would be wonderful again.
- Until he did something else foolish or hurtful and I fell of the submission wagon again.
Yes, submission in marriage is difficult at times, but the blessing of an open prayer life makes sit worthwhile!
Notice that each of these blessings of submission in marriage builds on the last?
Spiritual growth naturally flows from a right standing with God where you hunger for His Word and cultivate a rich prayer life. I hear you, that is obvious. Of course, you will grow spiritually when you obey God, but you are not the only one.
When I have chosen to submit to my husband rather than demand my own way, God has shown favor on me and helped my husband grow. Yes, when a wife submits to her husband, God grows her husband (at times even when he isn't seeking God for growth himself). Let me give you an example to help clarify.
Related: How We Grow In The Storms Of Life
An Example of Submission Leading to Spiritual Growth
My husband is a job hopper. He is rarely content for long in any activity and work is no exception. You can imagine the hardship this puts our family through. He goes from job to job, shift to shift, pay scale to pay scale. For years I was vocal about how much harm he was causing our family.
Then one day God challenged me about how vocal I was. My words were causing a sort of rebellious spirit in my husband – pushing him to continue a behavior he already knew was wrong. God prompted me to submit to my husband's choice to hop jobs with grace, prayer, and support.
In full disclosure, God prompted me to this for 2 years while I flat out told Him He was crazy! When I finally surrendered this to God, began to pray over this sin in my husband's life more than I complained about it, God began to grow my husband.
- God showed my husband how his job-hopping was hurting his family.
- God began to stir my husband's heart to care about how his change in schedule was breeding fear and insecurity in our children.
- Without a word from me, my husband began looking at the family budget to see how differences in pay affected so much.
Today, my husband still gets restless at jobs and still changes jobs more often than I'd like, but he does it with care for our family and mutual input. God grew my husband in an area I've prayed about for years only after I surrendered to God.
In the same way that God grows us spiritually through submission, He grows us emotionally. Over the years, I've really wrestled with the idea that I should submit to anyone, lease of all my husband. When we married, he wasn't saved so to submit to him felt wrong if I am honest.
The Truth is, we grow emotionally when we accept that God knows best.
God set an order to life. It is not very modern for a woman to say God sees her husband as the head of our family, but it is Biblical. God set the husband in a position of responsibility. He will answer for the way our family goes one day.
Accepting that my position in the family is to support my husband as he leads is tough. I am a natural leader and he is not – really he is not. Regardless of our personalities though, God is still God and He hasn't changed His standard.
So we grow as we accept. We grow as we see God move through our obedience. It matures us emotionally to be okay with letting God be God. It is also freeing to say I don't have to be god or try to do His job because when I get out of the way, He does His job perfectly!
Peace comes when we allow God to be God. The truth is, when I was refusing to submit to my husband, I was really saying something like this:
“God, you clearly don't have control here. Do you see what my husband is doing? This will hurt our family and you don't seem to be doing anything about it. So I'll just step in and ‘help' You until You come to shake some sense into my husband.”
When I realized that I was actually wrong for trying to do God's job and I stepped back, peace came.
Peace comes when we are content to wait for God to move in His way and in His time.
I would never have thought joy would come through submission in marriage. Never. I was sure that submission would lead to a life of misery and hurt where my needs were never taken into account.
Instead, God takes care of my needs more while submitting. In fact, God began to show my husband where he was neglecting my needs. God moves in beautiful ways when we are obedient to Him.
There is joy in my life now because God has filled my cup to overflowing. God meets my needs and my husband meets my needs. Joy!
Life is never perfect. Yes, God has grown my husband in amazing ways. Yes, there is joy and peace in my heart today that was missing even 10 years ago while I refused to submit.
There are still so many areas where my husband struggles. His sin hurts me and our family often. It is tough at times. But I have hope now because I've seen God move in areas I thought would never change!
Hope is a benefit of submission in marriage. When you see God move it grows your hope and faith that God will move again! Keep at it! The rewards are amazing.
What Does Biblical Submission Look Like?
Biblical submission is filled with so many blessings, but it is so confusing. One thing I've learned is submission looks a little different in different types of marriages.
- If you are both saved and walking with the Lord, submission will seem a bit more clear-cut.
- If you are saved and your spouse is not, or if your spouse is very spiritually immature, submission may need to look different.
Submission In An Equally Yoked Marriage
The Bible cautions us to be equally yoked in marriage. Equally yoked means both husband and wife share faith in God and are maturing in that faith equally.
Wife, if your husband is walking faithfully with God you have so much less to worry about. Feel that blessing! When he is in the Word, has a thriving prayer life, and is serving with others in the Church so that they are speaking into his life, he will be more likely to make wise choices that honor God.
This sounds like a perfect world scenario, but we all sin and fall away from God at times. All.
So, when your husband is making a choice that feels unwise or ungodly and you know he is a godly man you need to approach things with an Ephesians 4:15 mentality.
“Speak the truth in love.”
When he is in a good mood, bring the topic up with affirming statements. I suggest an affirmation sandwich like this.
Honey, I know you are a godly man who values your family. When you talked about quitting your job to start a food truck this morning I was concerned. I trust you to make the wisest choice for our family, but could we talk about this some more?
Using I statements and affirmation shows respect and love and opens conversations that may be shut down if you accuse or disrespect.
Submission In An Unequally Yoked Marriage
Submission in marriage when your spouse is not saved or is very spiritually immature will look a lot different. I counsel wives in this situation to remember the hierarchy we discussed earlier. We all submit to God first.
- If your husband is asking you to do something that is ungodly or puts you in a situation that you know will lead to sin you have a clear out.
- When your husband is doing something himself that is ungodly and sinful you do not have to support him in that.
However, most wives are NOT dealing with such clear-cut situations. For many of us, we are dealing with unwise choices, foolishness, and grey areas.
When your husband is making a foolish choice that will affect your family negatively – but it is not a clear Biblical matter – you still have some steps to take.
- Pray about it.
- God cares about you and what you care about.
- Check the Bible.
- Even if it's not black and white, there could be advice around it there.
- Find a calm time to talk about the issue.
- I still recommend the affirmation sandwich approach.
- Clearly state how you feel about the situation (with ‘I feel' statements rather than ‘You always' statements) and why – lovingly and respectfully.
- Choose to submit as long as there is no abuse involved.
- Submitting means you won't belittle, bash, nag, or correct him about it beyond the one time voicing your thoughts.
- You can submit to him while asking God to intervene.
- Schedule to time pray about it every day until God intervenes.
- If there are consequences, refuse to say, “I told you so.”
- Love him through the consequences instead.
- Show him grace and mercy the way God shows you when you err.
- If things turn out well, commit to acknowledge him in that and praise him.
Wives, Submit to Your Husband
The Bible clearly says that wives are to submit to their husbands. We talked about what that could look like in an equally yoked marriage and in an unequally yoked marriage. I'd like to give you another example of what this has looked like in my marriage.
My marriage is unequally yoked. When we wed, Bud was lost but has since been saved. I on the other hand accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior when I was 6 years old. No amount of work on his part will equal out the maturity in our marriage. Wow, it can be hard to navigate at times.
LOL, having said that, I am far from perfect and can be hard to live with. Early on in our marriage, I had crazy high expectations of my husband and he could never please me. One silly area was with the laundry.
I expected him to put wet towels in the laundry basket.
He tosses towels close to – but not into – the laundry basket, every day.
I would see the wet towel, imagine how it was warping the beautiful hardwood, and begin to nag him about his mistake. Every day.
One day I was challenged about my nagging being a sign of disrespect and a lack of submission. He obviously didn't care about the floors or the smell or the childishness of his laziness… but I digress.
So for 30 days, I stopped nagging him about towels. He noticed. When I saw a wet towel by the basked I would use playful words and flirt while cleaning up his mess instead of pointing out his mistake.
7 years later I still don't nag him about his wet towels (very often) and he still misses the basket. The difference is that I'm okay with it now. He is human and this is a small issue, not worth tearing him down about or destroying my marriage over. In the past, I was sure every mistake was worth a fight. Now I pick and choose my battles because I love him and want our marriage to last till death do us part.
Related Post: 30-Day Marriage Gratitude Challenge To Stop Nagging
Husbands, Submit to Your Wives
The Bible is also clear that we, as Christians, submit to each other. That includes husbands and wives. As wives are to submit to their husbands, husbands are also to submit to their wives.
“and subject yourselves to one another in the fear of Christ.” Ephesians 5:21 NASB
“In the same way, you wives, be submissive. Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you1 of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” 1 Peter 3:1 & 7 ESV
In the same way that wives submit, husbands submit. I believe this happens way more often than we give credit for, but when there are big issues it becomes challenging. When we are opposed to what the other wants, how do we decide which person gets to lead?
You will not like my answer here, but if you as a wife are not in the habit of submitting to your husband, this will always be a fight. If however, you submit often, with a good attitude, when there are bigger issues you will find he is willing to listen to you. (I would say the same to him if we were face to face by the way. If he submits often she will listen more often.)
You will have gained his respect when you set aside unrealistic expectations and give him grace (like on issues as silly as wet towels). When you have his respect he will listen to what you have to say about big decisions. This is key because you are called to be his helper and he needs to know what you think.
An Example of My Husband Submitting in Marriage
For the first 12 years or so of our marriage, my husband made decisions without even consulting me. It hurt. It hurt my feelings, it hurt our family, it hurt our finances. He would come home announcing he had quit his job with no job to fall back on. Other times he made big purchases without even looking at the checkbook.
I had no hope this would change. He didn't care what I thought or knew or believed and I was sure he never would.
Imagine now, that God had been after me for over 2 years to begin submitting respectfully to this same man. I fought so hard but in the end, it has been worth it.
At first, to break bad habits of nagging and correcting and always giving my advice I had to take some time to do none of that. My husband thought I was going to leave him in the process because I hadn't been so quiet – ever.
Then I began going along with anything he wanted that wasn't ungodly or unBiblical. He noticed.
I also stopped correcting him for not doing things my way. He was so confused.
One day he corrected me about how I was folding his socks. His concern seemed ridiculous – he wanted me to match socks that have equal amounts of wear to them. Instead of exploding about how stupid I thought that was, I turned, very respectfully, and asked him why it mattered to him how they were matched. He walks all day and has sensory processing issues and it irritates him when they are not the same.
That day we had a real conversation about my day, my time and my attention span with 4-6 small kids in the house. That day he heard me say I couldn't do it his way. We decided – together – to not match the socks at all and to replace his socks more often.
Seem like a small issue? It was to me. It wasn't to him. In years past that would have turned into a full scale war. Divorce would have been mentioned. And it was the start of real conversations about a lot of things.
When we are in the habit of submitting, we become a team who listen to and love each other well.
Will You Choose Submission in Marriage?
Can we all just agree that submission in marriage is hard work? It is hard because the enemy has twisted the definition. It is hard because we don't marry in an equally yoked way. Sin came in and made it harder. All around, any way you look at it, the topic is hard!
The benefits though make submission worth the effort. God honors the wife who lives in submission and surrenders to Him. God comes in and does beautiful things in the household of faith where we are walking in obedience to Him.
Are there things you have been dreaming about and longing for in your marriage? A lack of submission could honestly be the thing blocking those dreams.
Do you feel stuck in your walk with God? A lack of submission could be at the heart of the struggle!
Will you take the time to learn how to live a life of submission? It could mean unlearning some bad habits. It could mean taking a few challenges to strengthen your appreciation and respect skills. I firmly believe that if I could do it, anyone can!
Will you start today?
in HIS love, Tiffany