Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Biblical Submission: What It Does NOT Mean

When most people hear the word “submission” they often link it with the following words: superiority/inferiority, head/feet… Well, let me tell you straight out that this is NOT a Biblical understanding of submission!

In the context of a Christian marriage (where both husband and wife are believers) there is a deeper relationship than just marriage. Marriage, as wonderful as it is, is temporal. In other words, your husband/wife will not be that same role in heaven. In heaven he/she will simply be your brother or sister in the Lord. Understanding this is very important because it allows you to see that your spouse is more than just your spouse, they are your brother or sister in the Lord. Further, your marriage is to reflect the perfect union of Christ and the church! 

A word to husbands: Husbands, you are to love your wife. You are to love her selflessly and sacrificially as Christ loved the church. Love, as 1 Cor 13 tells us, does not “seek its own”. In other words, it does not demand its own way, push for its own agenda, or control things according to its own desire. Love is patient, kind, gentle. It is considerate and respectful of others feelings and opinions. It does not push, it is not selfish. Men, you will ALL struggle with this because you are sinners and you naturally want your own way. It may look different from person to person, but you will all struggle to love your wife more than your own way.

Now, we get to the point of this article. Wives are called to submit to their husbands. But what does this mean? Submission is a Biblical command, but it is not one that we usually like. However, simply put, submission is love. Similarly to husbands, wives, you will struggle with this because you will often desire your own way more than doing what is right. Often loving others requires putting yourself in second place and this is what we are called to do for our husbands. In a sequel post I will get to specifics of what submission does mean, but for now….

  •   Never disagreeing.

Biblical submission is not the obligation to stay silent and never disagree with your husband. You are an intelligent person and may have much to contribute to the situation at hand. Many times women have great insight to offer in making decisions and a husband should be wise enough to listen. Perhaps your husband does not allow you to do this. If that is the case it's a clue that something is not quite right... keep reading. As a human being you have value and worth before God, you are given wisdom and insight, but remember you have weaknesses too. Don’t assume that you know better than your husband (just like you don’t want him to assume the same about you!). Each of you will have strengths and weaknesses and can learn from one another. Don't be afraid to disagree, but love says be humble, willing to listen, and willing to yield.

  • You exist to serve your husband.
 Some women will claim that they feel like a doormat because they feel as if exist just to serve men. This is certainly not true. You exist to serve and glorify God first and foremost. However, as a wife you were intended by God to be a “helper” to your husband. A helper, not a servant. If your husband does expect you to serve his every whim and wish there's a problem (see next point). At the same time you do need to realize you have different roles. In most cases the husband is working a job to provide for the family and the wife is at home taking care of the household. These roles may be somewhat different in your situation, but whatever the roles are they need to be clear and defined otherwise there’s confusion and disappointed expectations. There are various ways of helping your husband and one of those is serving him, showing him respect, honor, etc. There may be times where you feel like a “doormat” but that doesn’t mean you are and he’s likely not doing it intentionally. Better communication is needed. Perhaps you are struggling with being at home, you would rather not have to make dinner and do laundry and would rather be doing something else. Look at your heart… are there selfish desires driving you to be discontent? Would you rather be pursuing your own interests than the interests of others? Our purpose in life is not to seek happiness and feeling good, it is to glorify God wherever we are. This is selfishness and that is where your battle is – not with your husband. Be careful not to trust your feelings too much. See the enemy as what it really is… unfortunately it’s often our own hearts!
  • Giving into abuse. 
Unfortunately in our fallen world there are cases where husbands are abusive. But Biblical headship is not domination and Biblical submission is not forced. Sometimes they may require things from their wives that are legitimately unreasonable. Perhaps he pressures her have everything “just so” and the way he likes it. Maybe he is in control of nearly everything, she feels threatened and manipulated into doing things and has limited freedom to make her own choices. If she feels like a doormat then, it’s probably because he IS actually treating her like one. If this is the case with you please realize that this is not healthy relationship. Pray and seek counsel on what you can do. (Keep reading, and see below!) For anyone to use force, manipulation, threats of violence or violence itself is SIN and you should not put up with it.

As you seek to communicate a disagreement/sin pattern with your husband here are some helpful pointers:
Talk to your husband. The best thing to do is make sure everything is the way he likes it, get dressed nicely, make him his favorite meal (or take him out to his favorite restaurant) and then afterwards ask him if you can talk to him about something. Encourage him in some ways first and then in a gentle, kind and non-judgmental way share with him your concerns. If he will not listen to you than seek counsel for your specific situation. 
Ask him if you can read a book together. Find a book that addresses both husbands and wives that is balanced. Remember you both need to grow. Ask someone you trust for a recommendation.  
Find someone to disciple your husband. Talk to an older, more mature man or a pastor (someone who you trust has a good marriage) about befriending your husband and inviting him to do some Bible study with him. They could study various things including how to love well, marriage related studies, etc. and this would eliminate you getting involved. For a husband to be told by his wife he's not doing his job is hard for a man to take. He needs patient and gentle teaching from another man.
If he is still resistant, stay and pray or take action if needed. If your husband is a believer but is resisting the idea that he should be treating you with love and respect he is in sin and you have two options. 1) Stay and keep praying for him. Continue to speak the truth to him, but love and serve him as long as he is not causing you physical harm or causing significant emotional distress. 2) If he is causing physical harm, or emotionally damaging you (see footnote) than he is in a sense “forcing” you to leave and seek safety. It is alright to separate from your husband under these circumstances BUT you must do it only after you have first tried previous steps. Sometimes in order for him to wake up and realize that he is in sin there needs to be consequences and marital separation is a big consequence. Go to your pastor (or a trusted Biblical counselor) for advice before acting. In cases where he will not repent and work on changing, you will need to follow the process of Church discipline laid out in Matthew 18.

In summary, Biblical submission is not forced, it is an act of love. Check back soon for my sequel on what Biblical submission does look like!

Footnote: Emotional abuse is often hard to define and sometimes women can think they are being emotionally abused because they are having difficulties in their marriage. Now, your husband is a sinner and will sin against you, however abuse is when there is a pattern of abusive power and control. It’s often progressive, it gets worse over time, becomes more frequent over time. If he is dominating you to the point where you are “walking on eggshells” around him or you are not free to be yourself or have responsibility and control over some things within the jurisdiction of your role than you could be in an abusive relationship. See this site for more resources and advice: Or you can take this test:

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