Submission, a Biblical Principle that Gets a Bad Rap

It is highly controversial in this day and age to talk about a wife submitting to her husband. It, however, is a biblical concept, which means we can’t avoid it just because it is controversial.

Submission is universal and voluntary

In Colossians 3:18 Paul writes,

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (Col. 3:18)

Zeroing in on the second half of the verse for a moment, we learn that a wife’s submission is fitting for all times and places. In others words, Paul’s command wasn’t solely for his day. Rather it is still active and alive today, which means it’s something that is expected of all Christian women.

Even though it is expected, it isn’t to be forced on women. Submission is voluntary. Wives are not slaves or servants who are to be controlled and dominated by their husbands. Instead, they are to voluntarily submit to God’s command as obedient followers of Christ.

What does it mean for a wife to submit to her husband?

Let me start by saying what it doesn’t mean because I think that will clear up some misunderstandings.

  • Submitting to your husband doesn’t mean you are to be dominated by your husband – A husband is supposed to love his wife, not harshly rule over her.
  • Submitting to your husband doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with or even challenge your husband’s ideas – A wife is to be a helper. Helping others doesn’t mean you agree with everything the person says. It means contending with and helping them think through situations, so that they act in a way that accord with godliness. So submitting to your husband doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with or even challenge his ideas.
  • Submitting to your husband doesn’t mean your husband can use and abuse you and you must take it willingly – If you are in an abusive relationship, the best thing you can do for yourself and your husband is to call the cops. It is never kind or loving to make it easy for someone to do wrong. When a wife doesn’t report abuse, a husband doesn’t have to own up to what they have done, nor do they have to deal with it, which means they ultimately won’t repent and change, which isn’t healthy for the family or society. As well as it undermines one of the purposes of a marriage relationship, which is sanctification.
  • Submitting to your husband doesn’t mean you can’t call them out on their sin – Again one of the purposes of marriage is sanctification. Overlooking sin isn’t healthy. Not only does it have the potential to destroy your marriage, but it also has the potential to destroy the person.

Submission isn’t compatible with any of the above. It can’t be because a husband is supposed to lead like Christ.

Instead, a wife submitting to her husband means:

  • She willingly accepts her God-given role as her husband’s helper.
  • She willingly allows him to lead and guide her.
  • She willingly accepts his Christ directed decisions.

A wife’s submission is modeled after Christ’s submission

We know the above is what it means for a wife to submit to her husband because that is how Jesus submitted to the Father. Even though Jesus is co-equal with the Father, being God Himself, He willingly accepted His position as the Son, submitting to His Father. In doing so:

  • He accepted His role as Christ — The One who died for the sins of mankind.
  • He willingly allowed the Father to lead and guide Him, even to the cross.
  • He willingly accepted the Father’s will — Allowing His decisions to be final.

A wife’s submission to her husband, then, is modeled after Jesus’ submission to the Father, which tells us Jesus isn’t asking us to do anything He wouldn’t or didn’t do Himself.

Why are wives supposed to submit to their husbands?

When I was in high school, I, probably like many of you, had to take an Algebra class. Thinking back to that time, I remember asking, on more than one occasion, why I needed to take that class. I asked because I couldn’t see an everyday application for algebra. (If I am honest, even now I don’t have an answer to that question, but that doesn’t mean you don’t or won’t have an answer, so you probably need to learn it.) Since I couldn’t understand why I needed Algebra, I didn’t fully apply myself to learning it.

I tell that story to make the point that knowing the “why” for what we are to do is important. It is often the difference between us doing or not doing something. Why, then, are wives called to submit to their husbands? Is it just another way for women to be oppressed by men, or does it actually provide value? I don’t believe it is a way for men to keep their thumb on women. Instead, I believe God commanded submission because it is what makes for a healthy and productive family environment.

From the business world, we know that more than likely if two people try to run a corporation, fights and stalemates will hinder the company from running well. As a result, the stock price will drop, employees will lose their jobs, and consumers won’t enjoy their product.

You can apply that same logic to the family. In order for a family to run well, one person, not multiple persons, need to be the head. One person should be responsible for making the final decision, breaking the tie or stalemate when there is one. God has divinely determined the husband is to be that person. He is responsible for making the final decision. His wife is supposed to submit or defer to his decision, so long as he isn’t leading his family into sin.

A family works best when a husband lovingly leads his wife, and a wife joyfully submits to her husband.

All this tells us a wife should submit to her husband, so that her family would be healthy and productive at accomplishing it’s God-given task, which is to honor Christ; build each other up in Lord, sanctifying one another; and then, when you have kids, training your children in the way of the Lord.

A husband can make submission easier

Even though a wife is commanded to submit out of obedience to Christ, her husband can make her submission, and subsequent obedience to Christ, easier by having a loving, caring, and sacrificial approach to his wife’s well-being. When the man puts forth the effort and operates in the way God calls him to operate, he makes submission a joy, not a chore for his wife.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you agree or disagree with the biblical idea of submission?

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2 thoughts on “Submission, a Biblical Principle that Gets a Bad Rap

  1. I do not agree with many interpretations of the concept of submission. I firmly believe that some men have lost any right to be the head over their family and to have their wives submit to them. Last month, I saw a video of a church deacon who admitted that he was abusive. This should have disqualified him for leadership, but he was too important to the church, so the pastor called in the wife, told her to “submit more” and to “stop doing whatever she did to make him angry enough to hit her.” Unsurprisingly, the abuse got worse. The couple left that church and went to another and got some help with some real professional counseling. The wife was given the tools she needed to stand up to her husband, set limits on his power, and a real system of checks and balances to help him cope with his issues. When he lost the right to rule and when she was under no obligation to submit, they were able to begin the healing process. He says that it’s a fight every day against his old self – the one that used to hurt the woman he loved. He doesn’t relish those memories, but being completely honest about it keeps him from doing it again and again. It’s not unlike the advice that parents used to give children at school, if you don’t stand up to a bully, it just feeds the fire with the fuel it needs to burn you later on. The difference is that different Christian groups emphasize submit in everything, women are never allowed to tell their husbands no, and elders don’t report abuse or deal with right away. Another story I know of is of a pastor who used to teach submission. His daughter said that things were getting difficult, but he just told her to submit more because God would bless her faithfulness and . One day, she called him asking for help – he went over to her house to find her bleeding and losing a lot of blood – the abuse had gotten so bad that her husband had grabbed a knife and stabbed her. Not only did her father now allow her to get a divorce, he now no longer teaches that submission is the solution to everything and counsels victims of domestic violence to help them understand that it wasn’t their fault – they didn’t cause the abuse, nothing they did or didn’t do would have changed what happened.

    1. Jamie,

      Thanks for sharing some stories from you past. I wrote the post to counter the idea of submission you talk about in your comment. Too often submission is misunderstood and misused, as you have shown here.

      Thanks again for commenting.

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