Real 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)

Few topics will raise the alarm in today’s culture like biblical submission. Those outside the Church consider it the same way they consider racism or polygamy, while it’s difficult for even the most die-hard good girls gracing the pews every week to not think of submission in the same terms as those weird passages on not touching a woman on her period and never cutting her hair. Surely the submission thing was meant to be geared toward the culture way back then and not to us, right? Haven’t we outgrown the whole slave/wife deal by now?

Let’s bring this convoluted, bullied topic out into the light of Christ, shall we? Show it a little grace?

God created men and women equally in His image, equally sharing worth, purpose, and dignity. But He did give them distinct roles, and this is important to understand in the context of marriage. Husbands are meant to echo Christ, while wives portray the Church. Jesus sacrificially loves, provides for, and protects His people, and His people respond joyfully and obediently to His leadership. In the same way, husbands guide their wives with compassion and wisdom; wives gladly say yes.

Attitude makes all the difference here because we are royalty, daughters of the Most High King, loving and serving other royalty, sons of the Most High King, for the sake of the Most High King.

There’s still a lot of murky water swirling around the topic that needs to settle and clear. The process of elimination might come in handy: what is submission not?

It’s not checking our brains at the altar. We are called to enter fully into life with our husbands, thoughts intact. Submission simply means that at the end of the day, he makes the final call. Wise leaders gather varying perspectives (including yours) before making a decision; likewise, we honor both Christ and our husbands when we sharpen our minds and contribute a well-thought-through opinion.

It’s not pointless. The world has actually picked up on this. If soldiers are busy arguing about their orders in the middle of a war, people are going to die. A clear chain of command guards against unnecessary casualties.

It’s not a system that robs us of our humanity. The Pillar New Testament Commentary on Ephesians says that “Paul’s admonition to wives is an appeal to free and responsible persons which can only be heeded voluntarily, never by the elimination or breaking of the human will, much less by means of a servile submissiveness.” We say yes to our husbands out of freedom, not out of bondage.

It’s not thinking our husbands are flawless. We submit not because our husbands are perfect but because our Father is perfect, and this is what He’s asked of us. If we’re praying for wisdom on behalf of the guys, leaving the final choice (and not complaining or arguing after the decision is made) up to them is simply an exercise in our faith. That’s all submission is. Find and use your voice well—not harshly or unbiblically—and then trust God with the results.

It’s not as tough as what is expected of our husbands. As hard as “yes” (with a smile!) can be sometimes, it’s nothing compared to their standard: loving us like Jesus loves His Church, sacrificing relentlessly, even to the point of death. At the end of days, your husband will be held responsible for how he led his family in the final decisions made. All you will be held responsible for is how you honored him in that. Believe me, we have a lighter load.

It’s not easy (keeping it real, you know?). But like so many other aspects of the Christian life, in following God’s way, even though our culture scorns it, we are blessed with a peace that can’t come from any other lifestyle.

It’s not limitless; there is a line to keep in mind. God’s daughters are never called to submit to sin. If your husband expects you to say yes to something Scripture is clearly against, your higher responsibility is to honor the Lord by walking in His way, no matter how difficult that might be. Another boundary is that we are only called to submit to our husbands, not to all men in general.

Fine, fine, but my husband’s not a believer. I get a pass, right? Oh, sweet thing, I know that would seem easier. But God’s ways are never our ways (thank goodness), and He uses what doesn’t make sense to us to create movement toward Himself. Look at 1 Peter 3:1-2. “Likewise, 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.” It’s even more important on an eternal level to submit well if your husband isn’t godly! The Lord seems extra able to work in your home through you. “All” you have to do is be a great conduit.

Let’s put a frame around this conversation. Submission isn’t some crazy relic from the past that we really ought to let go of; it’s the front door to the Christian life. The kingdom is closed to those who won’t submit to God. Every believer from the first day until now has had to humble themselves and admit their personal surrender at some point. Submission is the air we breathe—every time we say yes to the Lord, every time we act according to truth rather than our own inclinations, every time we choose God’s way, it’s all practicing the submission thing.

To this kingdom of yes-sayers, to men and women, to husbands and wives, our King gives the following command: “Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ” (Ephesians 5:21, emphasis added). Huh. It goes both ways after all. There is a beautiful give-and-take among the people of God, and when we enter into that space well, it makes Him look glorious. Which is what it’s all about.

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