Submission: In Marriage

The Bible is crystal clear about the institution of marriage as established by the Creator for the blessing of His creatures. This is one reason it is so vehemently attacked by the feminist movement, which, in its modern form, has gone far beyond its original quest for equal rights, especially the right to vote. The radical wing today denigrates men and seeks to destroy the long-held traditional values of marriage and the family as taught in the Bible. What, then, does the Bible teach about marriage?

In the Beginning

Eve was formed to be a suitable companion for Adam; they would be united and complement one another (Gen 2:18-25). Their oneness would develop and grow at every level – physical, mental and spiritual. Marriage, as God intended, is a shared journey of discovery and adaptation in which the husband and wife support one another and stick together through thick and thin.

After Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, roles in marriage were further defined when God told Adam that he would now need to work hard because thorns and thistles would grow on the blighted earth. Nevertheless, he was to be the breadwinner. Eve would suffer the pains of childbirth and also be subject to her husband in their relationship (Gen 3:16-19).

The Bible shows that complications can arise when God’s plan is ignored (for example, in abandoning monogamy for polygamy). It also reveals that a husband or wife can exhibit personality traits that mar the marriage. Even before the end of the book of Genesis, we are confronted with the impatience of Sarah, the deceit of Rebekah and the jealousy of Rachel. Their husbands too – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – were equally guilty of lying, deceiving and showing favouritism. There are no perfect marriages, and yet God’s abundant blessing can be known by a couple who humbly seek to do His will.


The biblical principle of headship is painted by the world as perpetuating the cruel domination and bemeaning subjugation of women. “Women are the victims” is the repeated cry. Yes, but the Bible teaches that they are to be “victims” of love and care and sacrifice!

After establishing the general principle of a submissive spirit for all believers, Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, considers marriage and the responsibilities of Christian wives and husbands. Briefly stated, he emphasizes that wives are to submit to their husbands and husbands are to love their wives. He speaks directly to each; he does not say, “Wives, insist that your husbands love you; husbands, demand that your wives submit to you.” The onus is on each to do his or her part willingly; there is no thought of coercion.

Furthermore, the apostle lifts matters to a higher level and instructs each to follow a God-given example both in the recognition and the practice of headship (the key is in the little word “as” and the phrase “even as”): “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph 5:22-25 KJV; cf. Col 3:18-19).

Now we are beginning to understand the beauty of God’s design. The husband is to step up to his responsibility in taking the lead and setting the tone. A wife is to submit, but what is she submitting to? Nothing less than sacrificial love and care that knows no bounds. This, surely, is what a woman desires deep within her heart. In marriage, she is not a slave nor an inferior or second-class citizen. She is equally precious to God, but her role is different.

Christian marriage is to be a living example of the relationship between Christ and His Church. It is to be filled with unity, love, trust, kindness and joy. The devil seeks to destroy all of this and replace it with division, selfishness, suspicion, cruelty and misery. Sadly, a husband can be demanding, domineering, cruel and manipulative. A wife can be the same.

The “Triangle of Love”

In the world of popular romantic fiction, the central but elusive theme is that of a man and a woman finding true love. The storyline is often complicated because there is a third party, or antagonist, involved. This creates the dramatic tension that is deemed necessary for an interesting story. It requires resolution so that, in the end, all misunderstandings are swept away and the two are left alone undisturbed.

In a Christian marriage, however, the presence of a third party is essential. It must be marriage “in the Lord.” The paradox is that when a husband and his wife seek to put the Lord first and love Him more, their love for one another grows even stronger and their lives together make a mark for God. Think of Aquila and Priscilla: loving one another – always being together; loving the Lord – always serving Him together; and loving His people – always helping others together.

A God-fearing couple will discuss all major decisions together. A wise husband will listen carefully to his wife and consider her opinion; in some matters, she may be more perceptive. Marriage is not meant to be an ongoing conflict of stubborn wills but rather a blending of Christlike minds. In implementing any final decision, the husband will take the lead on behalf of both. He will learn to be continually supportive of his wife, not only practically but also emotionally. She can readily submit to him, confident of his love, and encourage him to be a true man of God.

“But what if …?”

What if a husband or wife is cruel, domineering or even violent? Sad to say, there are more and more marriages plagued with such serious and complicated challenges. At times, there can be an urgent need for separation to protect a spouse and other family members from harm. However, the Bible does not condone divorce. God hates it and regards it as treachery in breaking a covenant made before the Lord (Mal 2:14-16). Elders today need to be wise and also watchful for the early signs of a marriage in trouble and seek to intervene and give counsel before it is too late.