I was a submissive person before I got married. I was a go-with-the-flow sort of gal. Laid back. Easygoing. If others had an opinion about something — like what activity to do or what to eat or how something should be done — I was the first to agree to their way of thinking.
I also was quick to assist — taking whatever job I was assigned and happy not to be in charge. I assumed submission in marriage would come fairly easily to me. I was so agreeable! True, I did have strong convictions around God’s word, but as long as I married someone who shared those commitments and convictions, submission would be breezy. Or so I thought.
What I hadn’t reckoned with before marriage was the somewhat terrifying reality of being completely and utterly bound to another person in every conceivable way. No matter how enthusiastically we choose one another on our wedding day (and would still do so today), there still comes a time in marriage when we realize that the husband’s problems are the wife’s, and the wife’s problems are the husband’s.
Perhaps we wish we could un-choose one or two of those problems. Perhaps we’d like a little distance from those particular difficulties. But for better or worse, we belong to one another.
If the sheer reality of being bound to someone else so completely is enough to shake us up a bit, then it’s not hard to see how submitting to another person can be even scarier. And frankly, many women don’t get around to the submitting part. They see him and his problems, and it seems like enough work simply to stay utterly bound to him for as long as they both shall live.
Submission hasn’t been tried and found wanting — it’s been left on the shelf gathering dust. As the hardened wife walks past it, occasionally she jabs, “Hey, some of us have real problems to deal with in life, like being married to this sinner over here.” Submission is that quaint idea meant for women married to near-perfect men, not for us. We live in the real world. Leave it to the pastor’s wife or professional Christians. We’re just trying to get by.
But it’s much easier to scoff at and deride the command for wives to “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” as an impossible ideal when we’ve never actually tried it out (Ephesians 5:22). Or when we’ve only once or twice given it the lukewarm effort a small child gives the first time they’re asked to share their favorite toy. We’ve dabbled half-heartedly and given up the moment no one was looking (if we’ve even dabbled).
What Is Submission?
Submission is willingly coming under the authority of another. This is why every true Christian is a submissive person. The new heart that God gave us when he saved us, and made us his own, pumps submissive life all through our new selves. We submit to God — who is the Author of our lives and, therefore, our true Authority in every way.
It’s from this ultimate submission to God that every other earthly submission makes sense. He has ordered his world and, in our submission to him, we take our place within that order. So, when God says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord,” we don’t shrug it off because, in minimizing this command, we minimize and make light of our submission to God himself.
I’m hesitant to give an example of boots-on-the-ground submission because I’ve seen how such examples can be stretched and misapplied. But the Scriptures are clear that older women are to teach younger women how to be submissive to their own husbands (Titus 2:3–5), so it’s worth a try. The trick is finding an example that helps you submit to your husband, rather than accidentally sets you up to be ready to submit to mine.
For instance, my husband likes for us to regularly have people over for meals or other gatherings. Part of submission to him means inviting people over, writing emails or texts, coordinating the times, getting the menu planned, and making sure our home is decently clean to welcome others. But your husband may prefer a quieter home with less hospitality than what we do. Submission in your marriage may mean waiting to invite that family over until you check with him, and then refraining from doing so if his vision for family life involves a slower pace of entertaining.
Now, you might be wondering, “But what if it’s sinful for him not to want to invite that family over? What if he’s just being selfish? Should I still submit?” And while I think you should likely take these questions to an older woman in your local church, there is an important distinction to be made between submitting in such a way so that you are sinning, and submitting to a man who still has imperfect motives.
The first kind of submission we must not engage in (for instance, if he asked you to stop being part of a local church); the second kind will be the reality for all of us until Jesus comes again. Just like your husband is called to love you even as you persist in sinful attitudes and behaviors, so you are called to submit to him even when his motives may not always seem pristine. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a conversation and let him know you’d like to do more hospitality and ask him to reconsider. But it does mean that how you do it matters.
One Thing Submission Is Not
One thing that often gets mistaken for submission is acquiescence. Acquiescence is different than willingly placing yourself under another’s authority. When we acquiesce, we reserve the right to be on our own team inwardly, while outwardly appearing to be on the same team as our husband.
An acquiescent wife silently goes along with something she disagrees with and even perhaps despises. She will not raise an objection because she thinks she’s being noble or godly by keeping her thoughts to herself. But a godly wife can and should raise an objection if she has one. She should ask questions of her husband and seek to understand why he is leading them the way he is.
A good marriage is one filled with agreement. A wife ought to seek to get on the same page as her husband as much as she can. Sometimes this means raising objections and asking him to change his mind. Other times this means drawing him out or letting him know you aren’t sure where he’s leading you. In any case, silently acquiescing (while inwardly living in anger, fear, or contempt) can do damage to the marriage relationship by concealing distrust and leaving your husband in the dark about the true state of your heart.
When we communicate truthfully and in good faith with our husbands, it doesn’t automatically make submission easy, nor does it mean we will always agree, but it will give us deeper peace as we entrust ourselves first and foremost to God and, next, to the man God has joined us to.
To Silence Scoffing
Submission is often hidden. It happens in the nitty-gritty moments of life. It’s the disposition driving our heart when we follow our husband’s lead and come alongside him to cheerfully do what we can to help his initiatives succeed, realizing that his success is our success and vice versa.
When we do it well, nobody notices. Or if others do notice, they assume we were just born with the gift of submission. But what we often don’t realize is that submission is a weapon. Titus 2:3–5 says, “Older women . . . are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”
One of the primary teachings older women are to pass to younger women is to be “submissive to their own husbands.” Why? “That the word of God may not be reviled.” That’s the hidden weapon of submission.
Revilers of God’s word are all around us. Would you like to know one way to slow their tongues? Submit to your husband. We may wonder just what it is about our wifely submission that could keep God’s word from being reviled — after all, it seems that to even bring up the topic of submission can be the source of much reviling for the person brave enough to do so.
But in God’s high and unsearchable wisdom, he has made submissive wives a bulwark against the reviling of his precious word. When we submit to our own husbands, we are a living authentication of the truthfulness and goodness of his word and his ways. Won’t you join me in asking God for more and more grace to obey this glorious charge?