Wifely Submission

“Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22)

Bible Reading: Ephesians 5:22-24

The mention of Spirit-filled Christians submitting to one another (Ephesians 5:21) leads Paul to show how this is to work itself out in family and social relationships.

The first expression of “submission” that he addresses is that of a wife to her husband. “Wives,” he writes, “submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (vs. 22-24).

In the case of a wife, the act of “submission” has regard to the “headship” of her husband. In his design for marriage, God determined that one of the two people involved should act as the “head,” in the same way that Christ is the “head” of the church. In the case of marriage, the husband has that role.

That is not to say that the husband is given the right to act as a tyrant. Christ has to be the standard of what headship means for him – in everything. And that rules out the exercise of naked power or self-interested will. Just as Christ’s headship is always tender, wise and loving, so must the leadership of the husband be in marriage.

The reciprocal role of the wife is to “submit” to her husband “in everything.” Again, this doesn’t mean that there is never a place for her to be consulted by her husband, or be involved in making decisions. She is not consigned to mere slave status. Again, think of Christ. Does he not allow us to share our doubts, our confusion, and even our reluctance when it comes to following the way he charters for us? Of course, he does.

So it should be within marriage: a wife should have the freedom to share, contribute, query, and even disagree with the thoughts and decisions of her husband. But in doing so, she must respect and submit to his position as the God-appointed “head” of the family.

That she has to do this in “everything” is not to suppose that she must submit to demands to commit explicitly sinful acts. No wife should ever feel she must steal, or commit adultery, or kill another, just because her husband says she must. In these cases, the rule appealed to by the apostles when they were forbidden by the Sanhedrin to preach Christ applies: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

As unpopular as these ideas are in our day, we cannot ignore God’s order for marriage without suffering severe consequences. What needs to be remembered is that the submission of wives to their own husbands is but one form in which the general requirement for submission finds expression.  

In essence, submission is a conscious, voluntary act of loving strength in obedience to the Lord and recognition of his ways. No one is exempt from that – husband, wife, parent, child, master or servant.

Closing Thoughts:

  • Do people today have a problem with the idea of submission of any kind?
  • Is the “fear of the Lord” a basic issue in submissiveness?

– Andrew Young