The New Testament Wife is part of an ongoing series, Portrait of a Godly Wife.
Submission. Is there a more controversial word in marriage? It is the s-word no one wants to talk about. I am a non-controversial, non-confrontational person. Talking about the s-word is not about pointing fingers or demanding agreement. It is something beautiful I have experienced and I want to share it with you.
I am, by nature, a strong-willed person. When my husband asked my dad for permission to marry me, he was met with this warning: “You are going to have to stand up for yourself or she will run all over you.” How’s that for a blessing?
He was so right. I spent the first years of our marriage at the helm of the ship. I am a leader and a decision maker who married a laid back thinker. We compliment one another well, but settling into our roles as the submissive wife and leading husband
was is difficult.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Ephesians 5:21-24
Let’s geek out for a minute. The Greek word for submit is hypotassō. It is a military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use, it is “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.¹
In any military unit, someone has to take command or chaos will erupt. Two commanders lead to division; without a commander there is no direction. The same concept is true in marriage. There must be a leader; God has assigned this role to the husband. This does not mean submission to all men. It does not mean we lack value or importance. It is simply the created order in the home (read more about Eve and created order).
John Piper provides one of the best definitions of submission I have found. (The entire sermon is worth your attention.)
Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. It’s the disposition to follow a husband’s authority and an inclination to yield to his leadership. It is an attitude that says, “I delight for you to take the initiative in our family. I am glad when you take responsibility for things and lead with love. I don’t flourish in the relationship when you are passive and I have to make sure the family works.” John Piper
Peter’s admonition to the church regarding submission in marriage (1 Peter 3:1-6) is nestled in the larger topic of submission to all authority in 1 Peter.
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.
1 Peter 2:13 (emphasis added)
No matter our opinion, the foundation for our submission is reverence for Christ. That is, our motivation for submission is absolute trust in God’s perfect plan for our life. The New Testament wife’s hope is in God (1 Peter 3:5). Therefore, external circumstances take on less significance. When we trust God’s plan for our life, submission becomes a part of living out that plan.
God’s plan for our life is not sin. If a husband leads in the direction of sin, it is not God’s will that we follow in that direction. We submit to Christ first, husband second. Our response to such leading can be guided by 1 Peter 3:1-2. Peter encourages wives to be respectful and pure. Prayerfully and respectfully disagreeing with your husband while maintaining a pure heart is the most effective way to win your husband over.
What about disagreements when there is no clear right and wrong? If it is not against scripture, your husband makes the decision as head of your home. This does not mean that you are without a voice in the matter. It is a time to say (after prayer), “This is how I view this, and I could be wrong, so I’m just going to leave it with you, and you can go to God, and I trust that He is going to direct you. However He directs you, it’s good with me because I trust your relationship with the Lord.”²
Once you submit to his God-given authority as head of your home, you have obeyed God. You are released of the responsibility of that decision. Picture yourself under the protective umbrella of your husband’s authority, hypotassō. The responsibility of that decision rests fully on him.
The move toward submission in my own heart is only through the power of the cross. Because of Christ’s submission to the will of the Father, and because of His love for His Bride, I can be free from the struggle to rule over my husband. Romans 8:5-6 describes the shift that occurs for the believer:
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:5-6
In my marriage, submission means I ask for direction instead of planning our future on my own. I follow his lead in our finances while using my gifts of organization and planning to assist and support his decisions. I offer opinions respectfully without attacking his leadership and his manhood. I request his guidance when disciplining the children.
Supporting him in these little decisions along the way builds his confidence as a leader. It also builds my faith in him as the competent, godly head of our home.
When we are in our positions of headship and submission, we know the peace Paul speaks of in Romans 8:6.
When I step outside of that protective umbrella of hypotassō, I invite discord and conflict. I get in a tangle trying to make decisions for him or undermining decisions with which I disagree. I cause him to question his leadership skills and doubt his ability to make decisions. My desire is to rule over him and I fight the Spirit as I try to take control.
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:7-8
The strength for submission is in the cross–dying to self for the glory of God. In the early years of marriage, I spent a lot of time in hostility with my husband and ultimately with God. I still struggle to submit. But, over the years, as I have submitted my will to God and then submitted to my husband in marriage, peace replaced conflict and unity replaced discord.
A Hurting Couple Finds True Hope, with LeRoy and Kim Wagner (CDs). This couple was on a downward spiral of criticism and withdrawal. Learn how to get out of this type of spiral.
The Beautiful Faith of Fearless Submission, by John Piper
The catch is that submission, from a biblical perspective, is determined, not by the worthiness of the person to whom we submit, but by the worthiness of the person who calls us to submit: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21, emphasis added). Gary Thomas, Sacred Influence
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