When friends who are unfamiliar with the Word of God attend the wedding ceremony of two Christians, they are often upset when the words of Ephesians 5:22 are quoted: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (KJV). The mention of “submission” evokes the deepest of visceral responses in many women in our society today. That reaction is based on several factors. The first, which is tragically a reality, is that men, at times, have abused that teaching and used the Word of God as a bludgeon to beat their wives into submission. Even more reprehensible is that at other times, men have used their fists to beat their wives, citing their “headship” as justification.
Also, the stereotypical image which submission suggests is that of a mealy-mouthed woman who has no will or mind of her own and who is treated as second-rate in the relationship. This should be rightly condemned as totally unscriptural and anti-scriptural. And then, finally, there is the misunderstanding of what biblical submission really is.
The “law of first mention” is an invaluable guide to understanding important biblical principles. The first mention of submission in the New Testament is found in Luke 2:51: “And he went down with them … and was subject to them.” The “he” of this passage is the Lord Jesus Christ as a boy of 12 years of age. The “them” were Joseph and Mary. From this first mention, we learn that submission does not imply inferiority. How could it possibly? Here was the omnipotent creator submitting Himself to peasant parents, the framer of the universe submitting to the furniture-maker of Nazareth. He was the omniscient God submitting Himself to limited human beings. You could go on and on with the contrasts. The stark reality must be faced – the morally and inherently superior submitted to the inferior. He submitted Himself to them!
From this we can arrive at an understanding of scriptural submission. It is the voluntary, intelligent cooperation with the leadership of God, instituted at every level of life: children to parents, wives to husbands, believers to the leadership of an assembly, and citizens to authority in government.
Contrary to the picture of a woman as a slave to her husband and occupying a “minor” place in the marriage, the place God affords to a wife could not be more “major” in its importance and value. Outside of the Lord, a wife is her husband’s greatest…
He probably does not know it – in fact, we men really do not know it – but a wife has been given by God to a husband to be exactly what he needs to function and fulfill his role. When God brought Eve to Adam as a “help,” He was placing by his side a source of wisdom which he lacked, of insight in which he was woefully inadequate, and tenderness and warmth foreign to his make-up. She was given to balance the analytical, goal-oriented tendency which can be seen displaying itself in Adam as early as Genesis 2, where he named the animals and was given goals to accomplish in the garden, etc.
But I think I hear some reader interjecting that the idea that she was a “help” to Adam implies a subsidiary role, something with the prestige similar to being an office assistant. I can dispel that concern by having you look up the many references to that very same word “help,” and noticing how often it is used of God Himself in relationship to His people (Exo 18:4; Deu 33:29; Psa 33:20; 115:9; 121:2; 146:5, to cite just a handful). God was a companion, comforter, counselor and confronter of His people. He was their resource for every need. The tragic story of Israel is that they failed to recognize and draw upon the resource they possessed. In a similar manner, it will impoverish a marriage if a husband fails to realize the resource he has in the wife God has given to him.
God has vested leadership in the male; the husband is responsible for the welfare of his wife and family; he stands accountable for the character of the marriage. A wife, in turn, is responsible to cooperate with that leadership. Her submission and role as a help requires her to give counsel to her husband, to balance his decision-making with her intuitive wisdom, to allow him to blend her wisdom with his and arrive at decisions which honor God. He must make the final decisions, but he should make them with the help of his wife.
There are two places in Scripture where we read of exceptions to submission. In one instance, a wife moved out of the role of submission, acting without her husband’s knowledge or approval. In the other instance, we have a wife who bowed to her husband’s leadership when she should have refused. The former instance relates to Abigail, who moved to save her family from David’s (uncharacteristic) anger by providing the food which Nabal refused him (1Sa 25). Lives were at stake and Abigail moved to save those lives as well as David’s honor. In the second instance, Sapphira conspired with her husband to lie to the Holy Spirit and deceive the believers (Act 5). The fact that each was judged individually indicates that she shared the guilt by cooperating with her husband. These rare exceptions in extreme cases reinforce the principle of a cooperative submission which will honor the Lord.
Sapphira should have confronted her husband with the evil of his acts. As a true “help” to her husband, a wife may have to confront him, in a tactful and gracious manner, when his path is clearly contrary to the Word of God. This should be a very rare instance in a marriage between believers.
The one responsibility which Scripture seems to emphasize as crucial for a wife is that of…
The Importance of Respect
It may seem surprising to many that the Word of God only once mentions the need for a woman to love her husband (Titus 2:4). The stress in the relationship seems to be upon a husband loving his wife and the wife respecting her husband (Eph 5:33). Respect provides for the husband the sense of significance which is so important for men. This is not a macho attitude; it is not a throwback to a neanderthal age. It is the Spirit’s imperative for the pattern God intended for a marriage.
The Undermining of Respect
A guaranteed recipe for destroying a marriage is to undermine the respect you have for your husband. This is not as difficult as it may sound. Simply criticize every decision he makes; be quick to say, “I told you so.” Occasionally add, “You should have listened to me.” And be sure to contrast him with other men who seem to be more successful in their businesses and careers, more gifted in the assembly, more self-confident in their manner. These “helpful” suggestions are certain to leave you with an emasculated husband filled with resentment and frustration. Your marriage may last on paper, but it will be over in practice.
The Implementing of Respect
The implementing of respect is obviously the opposite to undermining it. It is not, however, flattery or undeserved praise. It is thanking him for his efforts, recognizing his accomplishments, accepting his leadership, and valuing his loving care for you and the family. It is seeking whenever possible to honor his place of leadership in your marriage by your actions, attitude and accolades. A wife’s major role in the marriage has been designed by God and cannot be improved upon by the shifting winds of societal thinking.