The concept of submission is probably one of the most misunderstood biblical principles. This word, for many women, stirs up a feeling of uneasiness once it is brought up in the context of faith, marriage, and gender roles. We worry that the typically male pastor will use Scripture to “put us in our place.”
Sadly, this takes away from the powerful way that this word can help us build thriving, healthy, and God-honoring marriages. It’s time for us to take back this word and begin to see it with clear eyes. We need to detach it from all the ways it has been manipulated to hold women back from being the strong, faith-filled equal partners to their husbands that God has created them to be. It has also been distorted to be used as a free pass for husbands to lord over their wives inappropriately. This view that inflates the status of men prevents them from fulfilling God’s calling to love their wives as God loves us.
Submission applies to all of God’s creation! We are ALL instructed to live fully submitted lives to the Lord. More than that, we are called to “serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13). This means that there is no room in God’s Word for the oppression of either gender or people group in our communities, churches, workplaces, and more. Every person is to take a posture of humility and service. This is how we can love others just as God first loved us.
What Does it Mean to Be Submissive?
God wrote a book intended to be a guide on how to live our lives. God is love, and his Word is filled with advice on how to best love the people he has placed in our lives. Submission in marriage is a part of the relational advice God gives us. The Hebrew word for submit is a verb meaning apply, serve, present, bring near. What a beautiful definition when applied to marriage!
We have to apply effort to our marriages; we have to serve one another in love daily. Our marriages can only thrive when we commit to being present in our communication with one another. Marriage is all about being near to each other, sharing all the details of our days. Following the Hebrew definition of submission is a great way to build a thriving marriage relationship!
What Does the Bible Say about Submissive Wives?
The Bible talks a lot about marriage. The church is called ‘the bride of Christ,’ which connects God’s grande story he is writing through history and the marriage that we live out in our homes. God is a relational God, and He wants to be in close communion with his Creation. He designed the family unit to be the relational foundation of our society.
We read in Ephesians 5:21-33, “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
Paul, the author of Ephesians, helps us understand that through service to one another, our relationships thrive! We don’t get far when we approach others with obstinence, pride, and selfishness. When we become followers of Christ, we live a submitted life! We submit to one another, and ultimately in all things, we submit ourselves to the leadership of Christ Jesus.
James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Ultimately every part of our lives is first submitted to the Lord. He guides us and gives us the ability to then apply, serve, be present, and draw near to our husbands. We can love our partners well because God first loved us!
Do Only Wives Have to Submit?
Submission is a mutual posture that applies to both a husband and a wife. Ephesians 5:21 tells husbands and wives to “submit to one another.” Husbands are also instructed to submit to the Lord and then are charged to love their wife, even to the point of being willing to lay his life down for her, just as Christ did for us! That is a pretty high standard for husbands to live up to.
Men are not exempt from the Bible’s command to apply, serve, be present, and draw near to their spouses. As the head of the wife, the husband should take the lead in ensuring that his marriage model the guide that Scripture gives us.
What Are Misinterpreted Truths about Submission?
The concept of submission in marriage and its application to traditional gender roles has been used and abused over the years. I distinctly remember getting to my Capstone class in college, and the faith-filled professor that was my advisor finally unveiled that his view of these Scriptures meant that every woman in his class would be going against God’s plan if we pursued a life outside of a home as future mothers and wives. I was deeply hurt that someone that I trusted to prepare me for the world would hold such a narrow-minded view of what God had created me for based on a flawed doctrinal belief. This is only one tiny example of the many, many ways that people of faith have misinterpreted God’s Word to promote the superiority of men in both our homes and society.
God is a God of order, and his instruction around marriage is not about elevating men over women but about helping us live in harmony in our homes. We are charged to live together in mutual submission, and most of all, we are instructed to submit ourselves to the Lord! This is extraordinarily helpful advice, especially when marriage gets hard (as it almost always does at some point or another). God’s Word (our instruction manual for this life) reminds us that our marriage union is ultimately about service not only to our partners but also to the Lord. Our marriages are designed to be a tool for us to honor the Lord with our lives.
Much of this flawed view of marriage and gender roles originate from a poor understanding of the story of Adam and Eve. At the start of human history, God created Adam and animals. He quickly realized that he needed a “helper” who was fit for Adam. Genesis 2;18 says, “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” God created Eve, that long sought after “helper.” While helper sometimes can bring to mind a weaker being, the Hebrew word in these passages of Scripture is “ezer,” which in the Hebrew Bible was only used in reference to a superior or an equal.
Women were never inferior to men but were created as equal partners for men to do life with. When sin and death entered the scene, living out this equal partnership became a struggle, and since then, we have struggled to live out mutual submission in our homes, churches, and society.
Submission looks like a culture of both love and respect to be present in our homes. Serving our spouse starts when we take a posture of humility in our marriages. This is so much harder than it sounds! For most of us, our natural tendency is to think we are right and to meet our own needs first. God calls us to lay down our pride so that we have the ears to hear our partners. When we begin to embrace a marriage defined by unity, mutual respect and love, service, and ultimately a marriage that is surrendered to the leadership of the Lord, something truly beautiful begins to grow in our homes!
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/jacoblund
Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for My Daily Bible Verse Devotional and Podcast, Crosswalk Couples Devotional, the Daily Devotional App, she has work published with Her View from Home, on the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Amanda on her Facebook Page or follow her on Instagram.