As man’s power over woman is restrained by love, woman’s power over man is restrained by submission. Any woman knows that she has ways of getting her own way. These must be restrained. The kind of restraint God asks of her is submission. -Elisabeth Elliot
As wives, we have influence over our husbands but too often we use that power in self-centered ways, manipulating to get what we want when we want it. But to be a woman after God’s own heart is to think first and foremost about God and His Kingdom, then about others, and lastly about ourselves. So how can we grow to have that heart within our marriages? By learning to walk in the 3 clear commands God has given us to refine our influence in our marriages: help, submit, and respect.
In part 1, we discussed what it means to be a helper to our husbands. Please go back and read it if you haven’t yet as it sets the tone for the other two commands.
So now let’s move on to submission.
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 in everything to their husbands. Ephesians 5:22-24
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 1 Pet 3:1-2
Submission is not just for wives. The concept to subjecting yourself to an authority is showcased in many arenas throughout the Bible: young men submit to elders, servants to masters, children to parents, and everyone is to submit to government, rulers and authorities, and to one another.
Submission simply means to operate under authority and have a disposition to yield to that authority. John Piper defines submission “not in terms of specific behaviors, but as a disposition to yield to the husband’s authority and an inclination to follow his leadership. It is a disposition rather than a set of behaviors or roles because mature femininity will express itself in so many different ways depending on the situation.” I agree with Piper that submission is much more an attitude than a set of behaviors.
Biblically, your husband holds a position and a rank over you. This is not due to his merit, his skill, or his personality. It is simply because God ordained men to be the authority in a marriage. A refusal to submit to a husband is a refusal to submit to God, since it was He who gave the command.
The mature woman acknowledges that submission is the will of God for her, and obedience to this will is no more a sign of weakness in her than it was in the Son of Man when He said, “Not my will but yours be done.” – Elisabeth Elliot
In submission there is protection and freedom. Consider our government. We operate in submission to it every day. Your choice to drive the speed limit and to pay for what you take from the store is a choice to be subject to our government. But I have unlimited freedom every day to do what I want with my day within the boundaries set by this authority. It only intervenes when necessary. I also experience protection because this authority exists. I can trust that it is unlikely someone will steal my car or run off with my purse because there are consequences in place for law-breakers by this same authority.
Our husbands offer the same freedom and protection. The intervention of this authority won’t come into play every day. If you are operating in the directives and boundaries set by your husband for your family, there is great freedom within that. Ultimately, he will answer to God for how he has led you in this way. You on the other hand, will answer to God for how you submitted to his leadership.
Submission in Context
There are several contextual clues in the verses above. Let’s take a few key phrases and talk about what they imply about our submission as wives.
“As to the Lord”: the issue of submission to a husband has nothing to do with the husband himself. It has everything to do with God. He has given the command and it is unto Him that we obey. We do not submit because our husbands deserve it, but because God deserves it. Submit to your husband because you love God and trust Him. Sarah submits to Abraham twice when it seems foolish. And both times, God steps in and protects Sarah! (Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-7) God is our protector and defender, and submitting to your husband puts you under His loving care.
“In everything”: this means in the big and the small things, you should allow your husband to be the authority that he is. He might not have an opinion on every small thing, but if he does, allow him to have authority even over those small things.
“If some do not obey the word”: It doesn’t matter how mature your husband is. Or even if he is saved. This 1 Peter passage doesn’t say “submit to your husbands, unless he is disobedient to God, then you better lead since he’s incapable.” No, it calls us to submit even when our men are disobedient to God. This does not mean following him into sin. But when our husbands are not walking with God in obedience, we should respond with submission.
This is counterintuitive for sure. But God alone can bring change, and when we submit, we get out of the way and put our husbands under God’s authority. Remember, Jesus understands this form of submission. He chose to subject Himself to His parents, even though they were sinful and He wasn’t. He was better, more mature, more holy, and more everything than His parents, and He still submitted to them.
Voluntary submission is [a wife’s] very strength. Because it is the thing asked of her by her Creator, it is the thing which assures her of fulfillment. It is the task assigned to her which, willingly performed, actually strengthens the husband in his weakness. – Elisabeth Elliot
Submission in action
Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. Submission is an inclination of the will to say yes to the husband’s leadership and a disposition of the spirit to support his initiatives. –John Piper
Submission is more an attitude than it is an action. So it’s difficult to give specifics of what this will look like, as it will be different for every wife depending on her husband.
But, if you are cultivating a submitted attitude toward your husband, his authority over you will probably not intervene that often. But when it does and you are asked to let him make a decision or lead you and your family in a way you don’t agree with, engage your faith in God and remember you are called to submit because God has asked it of you. Remember, your life and your happiness are not in the hands of your husband but in the hands of God. And there exists no safer place than to be in the will of God.
Let the wife see that she respects her husband. Eph 5:33
The greek word used here for respect is strong. Only once in all of the scriptures is it translated as respect. Every other time this word phobeo is translated to either fear or afraid. What does this mean? I don’t think it means we should be afraid of our husbands. But I do think it means something stronger than what most women think of when they hear respect. The biblical concept of fear is associated with reverence, weightiness, or honor. This is more accurate of the command given here.
We are called to show consistent honor and reverence to our husbands. This should affect all aspects of our interaction with our husbands.
How counter-cultural this is! The air of the culture around us tells us we have the liberty to only show a husband honor when he is worthy of it. So to talk of unconditional respect is foreign to most of us. Yet, in God’s design and for His glory we are called to show reverence and honor to our husbands simply because of the position that they hold.
Respect in Context
There are no caveats, no disclaimers, no “if” clauses on this command. Which is extremely telling. Even when they are undeserving, our husbands deserve our respect because God has asked us to give it.
Respect in Action
In Word: First and foremost this means in word. Even when our husbands have failed or have hurt us, this is not an occasion to be disrespectful in our words. Sure, “they don’t deserve to be respected,” but God did not ask us to respect our men only when they deserve it. If that were the case, we would NEVER have a reason to show them respect. There is a way to tell a man he’s wrong or has hurt you with vindictive, belitting, and condescending words and also a way to share the same thing with respect. Choose the latter. It will actually produce the result you want: a husband who wants to change because he loves you. We must reign in our emotional outbursts and choose words that are full of as much grace as they are hard truth.
In Timing: Respect also manifests in when you choose to speak. This means when you have a complaint to share, choose the right time. Five minutes before your husband enters an important meeting might not be the best time to share your disappointment that he forgot to take out the trash. As women, we just talk more than men do. It is a proven fact. We can honor them by creating space for them to share their heart and not filling every second with conversation. When your husband gets home from work, don’t immediately overload him with information. Ask him about his day, listen carefully, and care deeply about what he cares about.
In Public: Respect means honoring our husbands publicly. You should be slow to speak of anything negative about your husband to anyone. David honored Saul (a self-centered man seeking to kill him) by rebuking the man who killed him saying “How were you not afraid to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” (2 Samuel 1:14) This is a huge statement! David, more than anyone, had suffered needlessly from Saul’s self-centered and jealous desire to rule. Yet he never spoke a disrespectful word about Saul, but honored him simply because of his position: he was the Lord’s anointed. Your husband might have a lot of flaws, but he is your husband nonetheless, and deserves your honor publicly.
Let’s trust that God knows what He’s talking about when gives us guidelines for marriage. He created men and women. He created in institution of marriage. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in your marriage by submitting to the commands He laid out (help, submit, respect) and He will make your path straight. (Prov 3:5-6) You have been given a HUGE place of influence as a wife. Do not take it lightly. Submit yourself to God and use your position in your marriage to further the Kingdom and benefit others not yourself.