Being a Christian wife with many friends who are also Christian wives, the Biblical concept of submission is a subject that comes up quite frequently. This is due to the charge of wives to submit to their husbands, given throughout the New Testament. For example, Ephesians 5:22 instructs:
“Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.”
This verse has been twisted, pulled out of context, and misused in so many ways. Not long ago, most western-world marriages were expected to be dominated by men, and women were expected to know their place and be submissive to their husband’s every command.
In our modern, self-centered society, humility through submission is not a very desirable characteristic. In a world without Christ, we are told that our relationships with others must meet our needs. This concept makes submission seen as foolish, cowardly, and sometimes even a form of self-abuse. The idea of one person having personal authority over another, especially a man over a woman, is extremely controversial in the 21st century. Biblical submission is often seen as outdated and culturally inappropriate for our society.
How does submission fit into the marriages of modern society? I think to find the answer, we must take a closer look at what the Bible means by submission.
What does Biblical submission mean?
“Submit” in the New Testament is translated from the Greek word hupotassó, meaning “I place under” or “make subject to.” This indicates giving something authority over something else. The Bible does not only charge wives with submitting to their husbands. Children must submit to their parents, and all must submit to the Lord. Romans 13:1 commands Christians to submit to all authority figures:
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
God wants us to submit to the authority of the government. He made each one of us specifically in the time and place we live (Acts 17:26) and carefully chose which one of us would be in authority over another. The highest authority, however, is Jesus Christ! He loves us unconditionally and leads us knowing exactly what is best for us. Because we submit to Christ’s authority over any other, we can seek His help to approach any situation where someone is not being a godly authority figure.
What does submission mean for marriage?
In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul compares the marital relationship between man and woman to the relationship between Christ and the church.
Men are given authority over their wives just as Christ has authority over the church. Many in modern society have a difficult time accepting this, and I would too, if the passage ended there! Paul goes on to charge men with giving their wives the same treatment as Christ gives the church, with “sanctifying her” (verse 26), presenting himself to her without blemish (verse 27), and loving her as he loves himself (verse 28). What a tall order!
Wives, on the other hand, are told in verse 22 to “submit to their husbands as to the Lord.” This means we are to willfully, lovingly, and voluntarily support our husband’s authority as if he were Christ. God placed husbands in authority over wives for a reason, even if they do not always like it! This does not mean that a wife is to bow to her husband’s every command. It means that wives should use their capabilities and talents to respect their husband the way the church glorifies Christ!
Should the Bible’s ideas of submission be applied to modern Christian marriages?
Yes! God’s plan for marriage is the most sacred, special, and beautiful plan — and His plan transcends all time periods and cultures! Because Christ’s desire is for wives to glorify their husbands, we honor Him by doing so. Due to the intimate nature of marriage, marital submission is tightly integrated in every decision we make. We must diligently pay attention to how our actions affect our spouses. When we look to society to see what marriage should be like, we can often be led into traps. Denying the purpose God has lovingly created us to fulfill only leads to our own despair and destruction. Our society is temporary, ceaselessly changing, and undependable. We should not be trying to make Christ fit into current society; instead, our marriages should reflect Christ, who is eternally unchanging
If you are like me, and have trouble submitting to authority, here’s some things you can do…
- Ask yourself, “Is this action or decision glorifying my husband? In doing so, am I glorifying God?”
- Ask yourself, “WHY am I doing this? To serve myself, or to serve God?”
- Ask yourself, “How do my current actions fit into God’s plan for me and my marriage?”
- Familiarize yourself with God’s word. Knowing His word will help you know His will for you and will help kindle the flame of the Holy Spirit inside of you.
- Pray! I cannot emphasize this enough. Prayer is one of the most powerful tools God has given us. We can pray for the self-discipline to submit to Him and others. We can pray for His guidance. We can pray for His will to be revealed to us. We can also pray for wisdom in a situation where we must face an ungodly authority figure. God listens to our prayers, and He loves us.
- Find a mentor or counselor to help guide you on your journey in faith. Often a godly, more experienced person’s insight can help you look at your marriage and faith in ways you never thought of before.
Submission means letting someone else take authority over you. This is not a bad thing, because God ordained certain people (especially Christ!) to make certain decisions for others. He gives us the means to analyze those decisions and take action if they are ungodly. By trying to modernize submission, we do a disservice to ourselves and our marriage. Submitting to Christ is the best thing we can do for ourselves. Christ is never wrong; His way is ALWAYS better than our way, whether we can see that or not!