Around the Christian community we hear a lot about men’s and women’s roles in marriage. We talk often about husbands as leaders and women as being… (that often misunderstood and misrepresented word) submissive.
Feminism has caused us to hear that word and interpret it as “brainlessly subservient.” We instantly think, “Great. I’ll never be allowed to have an opinion again.” That’s not at all what submission means. In fact, submission is an empowering and sanctifying heart position. The greek word used in the New Testament translated as “submit,” is hupotasso. It’s a generally military term used in regard to ranking. The husband is often called the king of the home, while the wife is the queen. This is proper order and ranking. However, the king has to answer to his subjects as well as to God. So it’s not as simple as the husband calls all the shots while the wife gets no vote. That’s misuse of his role.
“in all your ways submit to Him, and he will make your paths straight [direct your ways].” -Proverbs 3:6
“Submit to God and be at peace with him; in this way prosperity will come to you.” Job 22:21
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” -James 4:7
“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” -Hebrews 13:7
Notice in the above scriptures it’s not only wives who are called to submit. Many places in scripture call us ALL to submit to the Lord, His will, spiritual and natural authority. Our fleshly and sinful nature hates the idea of submission simply because we desire to be in control of our lives. However, God calls us to “put down” our sinful ways and “pick up” our cross by choosing His ways and giving up control to Him who cares for us.
As women, we especially like to to manage, organize, and control. It’s part of our nature. I think that’s why wives are specifically told to submit to husbands’ headship in 3 different places [Eph. 5:22, Col. 3:18, 1 Pet. 3:11] The reason we are so resistant to the idea is because our flesh wants to be bossy!
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” -Ephesians 5:21
I find it interesting that the above verse is right before the dreaded Ephesians 5:23 [“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.”]. Everyone zooms in on the first half of the wives’ instructions, but don’t notice that right before that, everyone was commanded to submit to each other. When read in context, women are not so specifically being singled out. Read the whole chapter, instead of taking a single verse out of context. There are some heavy responsibilities placed on men in verses 25-30.
More importantly, there is an order. As believers, we are to submit to God first in everything. That means giving up control to Him and allowing Him to shape us into Christlikeness. Secondly, as wives, we are to submit to our husbands. If a husband asks his wife to do something against God’s will, that request is not to be obeyed. Why? Because we are to submit to God first!
How is a wife to know if her husband is contradicting God? Aside from the obvious ones like stealing, killing, and lying, how should a wife know when it’s proper to submit (obey, go along with, etc) to her husband’s leadership? The answer is simple: godly wisdom and discernment which can only come from a personal relationship with God. We all must cultivate our own relationship with Christ as believers. We should be pursuing His will in our own personal time.
So this is where the wife’s role becomes so empowering. You see, we aren’t called to be brainless “Yes Women.” We’re called to be Christ followers first and foremost. When a difference in opinion (perhaps in regard to a job change or a move) arises, both husband and wife place their wisdom and perspective on the table, perhaps they prayerfully weigh the options (together and individually). If they are still at an impass, the husband, as the head of the home, makes the final call. It is at this point that submission comes into play. It should operate like a benevolent democracy at home. Once all the votes are cast, the husband has the power of veto. And the wife shouldn’t grumble and complain if the decision doesn’t go her way.
“A foolish child is a father’s ruin, and a quarrelsome wife is like the constant dripping of a leaky roof.” -Proverbs 19:13
At the core, submission is more about allowing the husband to take the lead. Not just letting, but encouraging him to be the head of the household. God created the husband to be the leader. It’s our job as wives to cultivate the leader and call out the king in our husbands.
All that does not mean there aren’t amazing women leaders, teachers, and speakers. There are many wonderful married female Christian speakers. Lisa Bevere, Beth Moore, and Christine Caine to name a few. Public speaking, authoring, and teaching scripture has little to do with being a submissive wife on its own. Submission applies in terms of family ranking. If a woman’s husband encourages her to operate in her gifting as a Christian counselor or speaker, there is no reason not to further the kingdom in that way! Unless God says no. Then of course submit to that. A godly man will recognize the spiritual gifting you have and encourage you to use it rather than squash it because he feels threatened.
So, fellow single ladies, how does all of this submission talk help us?! I’m glad you asked. First, it helps us to demystify the expectation of our future role as wives. Do not think that once you get married, you suddenly won’t be allowed to have an opinion. In fact, a godly man will value your wisdom.
Secondly, as we navigate the dating world, look for a godly man who will see your gifting and encourage you to operate in it. Find someone who appreciates your life experience and godly wisdom. Wait for a man who honors your kingdom role as a woman. Adversely, run from the one who claims that because he’s the man he gets to call all the shots and control you. That’s just abuse.
Finally, when you are intentionally dating a godly man, practice godly submission. Let him take the lead. Encourage him to step out and take risks. Call out the king in him. And when it comes to heavier decisions, respectfully offer your opinion and then let him make the final decision. Remember, that you are not married yet, so you don’t have to submit to anything. However, the courtship dynamic sets the tone for a potential future marriage. If you want your future husband to be a leader, let your current boyfriend practice leading.