Ladies Corner

Ladies Corner

Submission: What It Is Not

In a previous article, we established that submission is for everyone. Specifically, the Bible teaches submission in these roles: everyone to God and to each other, Christians to elders in the church, younger people to older people, citizens to government, servants to masters, wives to their husbands, children to their parents.

On the surface these commands are straightforward, but we need to make sure we understand what is really involved in being submissive. Submission will be seen in our actions, which are a reflection of our hearts and attitudes. In this article, we will look at a few things that are not involved in submission. Because the role of wives is one that is constantly under attack, we are going to focus on that relationship.

Submission is not inferiority. We need to clear this misconception from the air first. This was mentioned in the previous article, but it is worth repeating. Our society as a whole wants us to think that submitting to someone means you are less important than that person. So, a wife who submits to her husband is being treated as a “second class citizen.” God, however, does not show partiality toward any person. He simply gives different people different roles.

The same Paul who wrote by inspiration that wives should submit to their husbands and that women should not teach with authority over men also wrote of two women in the Philippian church as “women who labored” with him “in the gospel” (Philippians 4:2). He does not say that they preached publicly or usurped authority from men, but their abilities to teach and work for the Lord were in no way inferior to those of a man. Submission simply places limitations on the situations in which a woman can teach and the demeanor with which she should do it.

Submission is not the absence of input. Women can and should have a voice in the home. There is no indication in scripture that their opinions are completely ignored or that they should never express themselves in any way. Wives are to be taught to be homemakers (Titus 2:4-5), and there are decisions that she needs to make to fill that role well. If a woman has been trained to be a good homemaker, she may be more competent than her husband at certain aspects of managing the home. She, therefore, can handle things that he does not have to deal with so that he can focus his energy on his own roles in the family. Managing the home is not violating the command to be submissive. Now, if she begins to be irresponsible in these duties, she is wrong. Proverbs 31:11 says of the virtuous woman, “The heart of her husband safely trusts her.”

When it comes to decisions of daily life as well as major decisions, husbands and wives ideally work together to do what is best for the family. Husbands are told to dwell with their wives with understanding (1 Peter 3:7). There is no way for husbands to have an understanding of their wives without listening to them and talking with them. Even though the final decisions are made by the husbands as leaders, wives can certainly have a part in working toward the best decisions being made.

Submission is not hypocritical. When it comes to women being submissive, the problem of hypocrisy is probably one of the most common. It seems that some women know that within the church submission is expected of them, so they put on an outward appearance of being submissive. They talk about it in ladies’ Bible class, they nod supportively when it is preached in sermons, and they keep themselves quiet during the assemblies. They make sure to point out that their husbands are the heads of their households, and whatever their husbands want to do for Sunday lunch is what they will do. Then at home, they pout, nag, and beg until they get their way. They make it clear that they can make life miserable for their husbands if the husbands do not do things the way they want them done. They have a “honey do” list and they expect it to be completed if supper is going to be put on the table. Then with a smile when they are in public, they make sure everyone knows how submissive they are.

Superficial submission is not submission at all. As with hypocrisy in any area of life, they may fool their brethren, but they will not fool God (1 Samuel 16:7; Hebrews 4:12-13). They will also lack the happy homes that God wants us to have, because the success of our homes depends on our success in following the plan He has laid out for us.

Submission is not manipulative. In a home where the submission is hypocritical and superficial, manipulation is often a core tactic. A wife does a lot to keep a home running smoothly—laundry, cleaning, cooking, errands—and, unfortunately, many wives think nothing of using these things as bargaining power. A wife may also withhold physical intimacy and use it as a way to wield power over her husband. There are women who have their husbands doing every little thing they want because the husbands are afraid of what their wives will do, or not do, if they do not appease their every whim. The looks, the heavy sighs of despair, the curt answers are all signs to these husbands: “I’m not happy and you won’t be either.” Of course, it is hard to put your finger on what is happening in these situations, and the husbands are generally seen from the outside as making the final decisions and being leaders in their homes. But, behind the scenes, they are simply doing what it takes to keep peace with their wives (Proverbs 21:9, 27:15).

I pray that such hypocrisy and manipulation may never be in my marriage, or yours!

Biblical submission does not mean that wives are inferior to their husbands, nor that they have no input into family decisions. Wives who are genuinely submissive are not hypocritical about their attitudes toward their husbands, and they do not use manipulative tactics as a subtle way of running things in the home.

It is important to understand what submission really means and how it is shown by godly women. Now that we have established some things that submission is not, in the next article of this series we will examine what submission actually is. We will see how the characteristics that God expects women to develop tie into successfully filling the role of submissive wives. Being submissive will only be the outcome of a heart that is cultivated to be truly good based on the principles of God’s word. (This is the second article in a series.)