In Part 1 of “The Voice of Papa is the Voice of God”, I addressed the “chain of command” that God has laid out in His Word, placing the wife in submission to her husband. Today, many people have rejected the idea that wives must submit to their husbands. The very term “submission” has been made a dirty word, and any man who promotes it is deemed a “misogynist” (woman-hater) and chauvinist. However, this does not negate the truth of God’s Word, which clearly teaches, “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.” (Ephesians 5:22-23)
But does submission denigrate the one who submits? The Bible gives an emphatic “No!” to this question. People have ignored the fact that Jesus is also under submission to His Father.
But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:3)
Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. (John 5:19)
I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. (John 5:30)
I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. (John 9:4)
Did Jesus’ submission denigrate Him? On the contrary, it exalted Him:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
Nor did it affect His position as God.
I and my Father are one. (John 10:30)
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. (1 John 5:7)
Jesus submitted to God the Father because someone has to be in charge. The Father was first-in-command, and Jesus was second-in-command. It provided order in their relationship. But it did not mean that Jesus was a second-class god.
In the Home
Similarly, God has also ordained that, in the marriage relationship, the wife is to submit to her husband. In other words, the husband is first-in-command, and the wife is second-in-command. This is not denigrating to the wife. It is a means of keeping order in the family and the house. Quite frankly, it also gives extra responsibility to the husband, because God has placed him in charge, and he must guide his house properly.
In Galatians 3:28, God assures us that He does not look on women as second-class citizens of His Kingdom:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
No woman is forced to submit to a man, under God’s plan. She is free to remain single and run her own house. But if she wants to get married, she has to take her place as second-in-command.
In every marriage, there will be times when a decision must be made, and the husband and wife disagree on what is best. If no one is truly in charge, who makes the decision? If nobody can say, “THIS is what we are going to do”, the family will be paralyzed by indecision. If the parents do not agree on the standards for their home, the children can pit the parents against each other and add to the confusion. That is why God wants someone to have the final word—the husband. And that final word is not “Yes, dear”!
Part of the reason that submission has gotten such a bad rap is that it has been badly abused. Women in abusive situations have been told to stay with their husbands and submit to them. When I was growing up, my impression of what I heard from the Mennonite and homeschool cultures around me was that if the woman did her part and submitted, everything would be fine in her marriage. That is not true. I am not aware of any passage that says that. God does tell us:
Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation [conduct] of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. (1 Peter 3:1-2)
Note that God said that the unsaved husband may be saved by the conduct of the wife. It is not a guarantee.
The truth is that while one person’s efforts can go a long way towards making a better relationship, it takes the cooperation of both spouses to achieve a marriage that truly exemplifies the relationship of Christ and the Church. If you read over Ephesians 5:22-33 (the passage discussing the marriage relationship), you’ll find that there are four verses that speak to the wife and nine verses that speak to the husband. Is that an indication of who needs to put in the most effort?
The husband who requests his wife’s submission had better make sure that he loves her as Christ loved the church. Men, if you demand submission without doing your part, you may as well kiss your marriage—and your relationship with Christ—goodbye. God cares about your wife very much, and threatens to hinder your prayers if you do not treat her with proper care.
Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)
The truth is that God has not merely called wives to submit to their husbands, without placing any checks-and-balances on the husband. God has called the husband to love his wife with sacrificial love, treating her as his own flesh, and seeing that her needs are met. This sounds like the recipe for a happy, successful, lifelong marriage, between two people who work as a team, led by the husband.
What Submission is Not
- Treating the husband as God
- Expecting the husband to be God to his wife
- Being a yes-woman or puppet
- Shutting up and not sharing concerns, feelings, cautions, or ideas
- Believing that the husband is always right
- Accepting everything the husband says without question or reservation
The Failed Promises of Equality
Today, the idea of “marriage equality” is prevalent in our culture. Many people believe that marriage should be run on a 50/50 principle, with responsibilities and authority split equally between both spouses. Childbearing is the most obvious violator of this idea of equality: men are physically incapable of being pregnant, nor can they breastfeed a baby.
In a marriage, the authority structure has to tip one way or another, sooner or later. Otherwise, if the husband and wife disagree, they can’t come to any decision. My observation is that in “50/50” marriages, it ends up tipping in the wife’s direction.
Is this really what women want, though? In a recent Huffington Post article, Randi Gunther, a secular psychologist, talks about what she is seeing in these 50/50 relationships.
Fifty percent of marriages are still ending in divorce, and women continue to be the gender that initiates those endings. In the past, their reasons for leaving most often had to do with infidelity, neglect, or abuse. Now they’re dumping men who are faithful, attentive, and respectful, the very men they said they have always wanted. Why would women who have accomplished the female dream suddenly not be satisfied with it?…
…things started to go awry. Perhaps these androgynous couples over-valued adopting the same behaviors in their relationship. Maybe the men got too nice and the women a little too challenging. Oddly, the androgynous [“man-woman”] men seemed to like their new-found emotional availability, while the women began to feel more unfulfilled. Her “perfect” partner, in the process of reclaiming his full emotional expressiveness, somehow ended up paying an unfair price; he was no longer able to command the hierarchical respect from her that was once his inalienable right.
How can a man be a caretaker and a warrior at the same time? How can he serve his woman’s need for a partner who is vulnerable, open, and intimate, while donning armor to fight the dangers that threaten his family and place in the world? How can he stand up and be a man amongst men, loyal to the hunting band that covers his back, while taking the night feeding, while not appearing less than a man? Did he blend his male energy with his female side, or did he learn to be more like a female at the price of his innate masculinity?
The women I have treated who have left their husbands for more “masculine” men believed that their new relationships would be able to both excite and nurture them. Sadly, that has not always happened.
The bottom line? God is the creator of humans. The Bible is His “owner’s manual” on how to make human life work best. We need to follow His instructions if we want happy, stable lives, regardless of what society says.
But What If He’s Abusive?
Thankfully, in our relationship with God, there is never abuse. However, in the husband/wife relationship, there can be abuse and mistreatment. How much should a woman submit to an abusive husband?
One thing I want to make absolutely clear: there is no Scriptural basis to say that all marriage problems are the result of an unsubmissive wife. It is entirely possible for a wife to be submissive in every way, and yet be unable to get along with her abusive, unloving husband.
Nowhere—even in the story of Sarah and Abraham—did God ever give the husband the power to circumvent His commands and require his wife to disobey God. It’s important to note that when Abraham asked Sarah to say that she was his sister, it was a half-truth—she was his half-sister—and the Law had not yet been given. Today, God has clearly commanded, “Lie not one to another” (Colossians 3:9a). In addition, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29b).
In 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, God gives the wife an “out” if she is in an abusive situation:
And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
An abused wife has the permission of God to leave her husband, not for the purpose of divorce and remarriage, but for her protection. She also has the right, in the United States and many other countries, to report physical and sexual abuse to the police.
The church needs to support women who leave abusive husbands, and not turn a blind eye to the husbands’ sins, or treat the wives like scum, or give them “You should have submitted better” guilt trips. I’m sure there are some cases where the wife’s lack of submission fuels her husband’s anger and abuse. But that does not, in any way, excuse him or reduce his responsibility for his own sin. God did not say, “Love your wife as long as she is submissive.” Instead, He calls men to love their wives like Jesus, Who loved us and died for us when we were still sinners.
The church needs to be a safe place where abuse is not tolerated and is not swept quickly under the rug with “forgiveness” and ignored. The church, as the holy Bride of Christ, should be the least hospitable place for those who rebel against God’s commands and abuse their families.
Submitting to Jesus
Both the husband and wife are to submit to Jesus. Is this Jesus’ way of putting us under His thumb and using us for everything He can get out of us? No! Jesus has a wonderful promise for us:
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (John 14:23)
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. (John 17:20-23)
When we follow Jesus and submit to His Lordship, He and His Father come and dwell with us. In the process, we become one with God. That is stupendously amazing—to be one with the Creator of the Universe! Wow!
In short, submission, in God’s kingdom, does not make those submitting inferior in any way. It is a means of providing order in leadership. Everybody, including men, submits to someone. Jesus submits to His Father. Men and unmarried women submit to Jesus. Wives submit to their husbands. Children submit to their parents. And when all that is in line, we find ourselves following the Perfect King of the Universe, who, interestingly enough, is not merely reigning on a high-and-holy throne, but is actually dwelling within each one of us. What a treasure!