Submission: What It Is
After discussing in the previous article what submission is not, we will now spend some time looking at what submission is. There are several verses that discuss the submission of wives to their husbands, and these give us a clear picture of what is involved in being submissive.
Genesis 3:16—“…Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”
Eve was tempted by Satan in the garden of Eden and disobeyed God’s command. She also encouraged her husband Adam to sin in the same way, and both of them were punished by God. On the occasion of pronouncing the consequences of the sin, God told the woman that she would have pain in childbearing, that her desire would be for her husband, and that he would rule over her. The husband is given the role of leading and ruling the family. He is the one in charge, and he was put in that position by God. Eve was told that her husband would rule over her, and that position of subjection continues (1 Timothy 2:12-15).
Colossians 3:18—Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Plainly stated, this verse tells wives to submit to their husbands. The wife is to put herself under his authority, to yield to his leadership, to defer to his judgments. We made the point in the last article that this does not mean that she cannot discuss her thoughts with her husband, but in the end she is to submit to him.
Ephesians 5:22-24—Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
Everything—please notice that word and think about what it means! Wives are to be subject to their husbands just as the church is subject to Christ. Perhaps in a time when people think of the “church” as many different things and have little respect for the authority of Christ to rule the church, this comparison has lost some of its significance. But if we understand that the church is supposed to obey every command of Christ and operate only within the confines of His will, then we should easily be able to see the point. We as wives are not truly submissive if we go along with our husbands when they agree with us and ignore them otherwise. We are commanded to be submissive in everything. The husband is the head of the wife. Just as God told Eve, our husbands rule over us.
Ephesians 5 does speak to the husband as well. In taking the role of head, the husband is also taking a role that involves a sacrificial love like Christ showed for us. If the husband and wife are both abiding by God’s will as described here, the marriage will be a wonderful relationship! However, we are focusing on the role of the wife. Even if our husbands are not what God wants them to be, God’s commands for us do not change. There is no “if” clause given here. Wives are simply told to submit.
Titus 2:3-5—…the older women likewise…that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.
Now we come to a word that people really do not like to talk about—obedient! Yes, God’s word says that a wife should obey her husband!
1 Peter 3:1-6—Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.
These verses in 1 Peter 3 can really bring the topic of submission together for us. We are to submit to our husbands, even if they are not obedient to God! (Of course, God always comes first, so we should not obey our husbands to the point of disobeying God.) The basis of our submission (both to God and to our husbands) is our heart, and the evidence of it is our conduct. We should be examples of righteousness. We should be cultivating our inner selves, not focusing on our physical appearances. The things we use to adorn ourselves will not last forever, but a gentle and quiet spirit provides a beauty that cannot be destroyed and will not fade.
Paul, in Colossians 3:12-13, tells Christians to “…put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another…” These characteristics are ones with which we should adorn ourselves. When people look at us, they should see these qualities as plainly as they see the clothes that we wear, and they should remember them even more clearly. God looks at the heart of a woman, at her attitude, her love, her purity, her humility, her selflessness. These qualities have been the adornment of godly women throughout time. Sarah is given here as an example of one who was a godly woman, was submissive to her husband, and obeyed her husband. She called Abraham lord! Ephesians 5:33 says, “…let the wife see that she respects her husband.” The way we speak to and about our husbands should reflect the respect that we have for them.
The scriptures we have cited give clear commands, but clarity does not mean ease of application. It is not an easy thing to submit ourselves to anyone, and it is especially difficult at times when we do not agree or share the same opinion. It takes an inner strength and a true dedication to God’s will to fulfill these commands. The world may view those who submit to their husbands as being weak. However, the opposite is true. There are many women who can demand their own way, yell at their husbands, defy the wishes of others, and speak their opinions loudly and often. There are few women who can exercise self-control, give themselves over to the God who created them, speak quietly and respectfully, put the desires of others before their own, and place themselves in a role of submission. If Jesus could humble Himself and learn obedience, so can we (Philippians 2:5-8).
For wives, submission is yielding ourselves to the rule of our husbands, because that role is given to us by God. Submission is the outcome of a heart that desires first to submit to God. It is a reflection of a heart that seeks to be truly good, humble, and pure. If we do not cultivate the qualities of Christ in our hearts, our actions will never be truly submissive to God or to anyone else. We must block out what the world around us wants us to hear and do, and give our attention to the will of God and the plain teaching of His word.