As promised, this post is written by a guest-blogger, the lovely Alex Smart. Just as last post was written specifically to husbands on what it means to live out the biblical pattern of marriage in Ephesians 5 (loving their wives), so this post is to wives on what it means to submit to their husbands.
Before I give some practical points on what submission in marriage looks like, I’d first like to mention how I came to understand and appreciate biblical submission. I never really understood what biblical submission in marriage was until a year and a half ago. Up until that summer, I had only been exposed to the concept through conversations with friends, and I struggled a lot with understanding the Bible’s encouragement for wives to submit.
Submit to your husband? To me, it sounded degrading to women and something outdated. I was frustrated that I found it unattractive when some of my closest female friends saw it as a most beautiful picture for marriage, so I spent lots of time praying and exploring the topic in Scripture. I wanted to see what I was missing, why I wasn’t able to appreciate it.
Well, God answered my prayers in an unexpected way through a summer of working as a worship leader. It was definitely one of the most challenging experiences I’ve had, leading a team when I didn’t even play an instrument myself. But through it I learned in essence what leadership and submission means. The hardest worship practises were those when my team members would not let me lead, when they wanted to have things done their way. It would usually result in lots of arguing. I would listen to everyone’s suggestions, but at the end of the day, I was given the leadership role and had to make the decision.
I realised it does not work to have multiple leaders because decisions would never be made – and conflict ensued. I realised the importance of having the team submit to their leader and trust their leader. As a leader, I made lots of mistakes and I definitely could not have led without the team, I needed them just as much as they needed me. In the end, I realised the importance of leadership and submission. Submitting has nothing to do with inability, inadequacy, or inequality. It is about working to complement each other rather than compete against each other.
This flowed over into my understanding of biblical submission in marriage. Leadership and submission are a gift that help marriages run well, by God’s design. And much greater than this, I now see that God has given us a beautiful picture in marriage to describe the union between Christ and the church.
When we embrace the roles we’ve been given in marriage, we glorify God through portraying Christ’s union with the church. When we do not enact those roles, we miss God’s good intentions for us in marriage. Submission is not degrading to women – it is God’s purposeful design for marriage. Let’s take a closer look:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands…This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
God created marriage to be a metaphor for the relationship of Christ and the church. This means that when we act in accordance with the gift that He has given us in His design for marriage, we live out this beautiful picture. Therefore, we should gladly desire to put this into practise in our marriage. But for wives, what does submission look like?
Putting it into Practice
Well, I understand submission as respecting and honouring your husband as the leader in your marriage. It is recognising that your husband’s headship is defined by love, not selfish gain. It is acknowledging that he looks out for your holiness first. It is trusting your husband and willingly submitting to his leadership not out of duty but with joy. If you have children, it means never undermining him in front of them. It is realising that in your submission, you are helping your husband be a better leader.
Submission means supporting your husband in his leadership, it should be seen as a gift. It is not some passive attitude, but it is actively helping your husband lead the family well. It is keeping him accountable in areas of personal holiness, spurring him on in his faith, praying for him, encouraging him, giving your input and wise counsel.
Husbands need their wives just as much as wives need their husbands. It is a beautiful picture of the husband loving his wife through his leadership and the wife loving her husband through her submission for the goal of becoming more like Christ.
The Need for Grace
To conclude, let’s remind ourselves that we do live in a broken world. We are sinners and we are married to sinners. There are times in our marriage when this headship/submission picture does not play out perfectly. There are times when, out of a selfish spirit, I think of Ben’s actions as unloving towards me, even though they are out of a motivation for my holiness. And there are times when Ben fails to take active leadership.
It is during these times that we need grace, to have wisdom in knowing how to approach each other, reconcile, forgive and love. And it’s in the midst of these times that I’m overwhelmed by the love of Christ who continues to forgive and love us. When husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church, and wives submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ, we live out God’s good design in marriage.
It’s not an easy task, but it’s a good one. Wives, submit to your husbands.