Marissa believed in God and wanted to live a Christian life. However, when she read some New Testament passages discussing the husband-and-wife relationship, she felt uncomfortable. To her these scriptures seemed outdated and written for a very different culture.
For example, the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:22-24 Ephesians 5:22-24 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body.
24 Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
American King James Version×: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.”
Marissa felt that God surely would not consider this passage valid today. After all, Paul lived in a male-dominated culture, where women were often dependent on their fathers or husbands for survival. Today, women are able to support themselves and in most cases are as educated or even more educated than their husbands.
Marissa had been married to Tony for three years. He also shared her Christian beliefs and tried to live a godly life. While she loved Tony very much, submitting to his decisions was sometimes difficult. She often felt that her choices and goals were superior to his. After heated “discussions” she would sometimes go along with what Tony wanted to do. But more often than not, she insisted on doing things her way.
Tony and Marissa’s marriage had settled into a rather dry routine. They both worked during the day and jointly shared in the household duties in the evenings and on the weekends. However, Marissa remembered how Tony used to bring her special gifts or surprise her with a poem he had written for her. He no longer did those things and spent most of his free time with his brothers and friends.
He had also recently expressed his feeling that she no longer respected him. She was surprised to hear this, and it made her wonder if their marriage would last. Could she be sabotaging her marriage by refusing to submit to Tony? Yet how could she do so when she didn’t agree with many of his decisions? Marissa decided to once again look at what the Scriptures said about the marital relationship.
Is this biblical instruction out of date?
Perhaps you too have questioned whether biblical instructions regarding marriage are still valid today. Specifically, are the words of the apostle Paul out of date, or can they be used as a foundation for Christian marriages?
We must first understand that the biblical view of marital roles derives not from ancient patriarchal culture but from the order established by God at the creation of man and woman (Genesis 2:21-24 Genesis 2:21-24 21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her to the man.
23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall join to his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
American King James Version×). When couples submit to God’s pattern for marriage, the result is peace and happiness.
Sadly, our Western society teaches women to reject the biblical view of the husband’s headship and the wife’s submission. Ignoring this role distinction within marriages is a major cause of many breakups today.
Both men and women can misunderstand what God really intended for the relationship between husband and wife. The husband’s headship does not mean domination over his wife, but rather it is his God-given responsibility to provide caring leadership to ensure the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of his wife and children. A wife’s submission to her husband does not mean serving him as an “inferior,” but rather being willing to accept his loving leadership.
Does this mean, though, that all family decisions are to be made by the husband? Not at all, for there are various times when a husband should wisely defer to the wishes of his wife (compare the principle of all Christians submitting to one another in Ephesians 5:21 Ephesians 5:21Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
American King James Version×). This would especially be true in areas where the wife is more knowledgeable. Both partners should always discuss major decisions and goals. However, if their opinions vary, God has instructed that the husband should make the final decision, and all family members should honor and respect that (Colossians 3:18 Colossians 3:18 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
American King James Version×).
Are women inferior to men?
One reason wives sometimes find it difficult to submit to their husbands is that in our society “submission” sounds like a flawed relationship of inferiors to superiors. Do the Scriptures say women are inferior to men? Are men God’s favorites and women created merely to take care of them? These are relevant questions in addressing the critical role of a Christian wife.
For example, consider Genesis 2:18 Genesis 2:18And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
American King James Version×: “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’” From this verse some might assume a wife’s role is merely to help her husband achieve his goals. But a careful examination of the text reveals that the godly role of a wife is much more than simply functioning as her husband’s assistant.
The Hebrew word translated “helper” in Genesis 2:18 Genesis 2:18And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
American King James Version×is ezer. Interestingly, this word is often used to describe God Himself and has the sense of giving strength. Notice Psalms 115:11 Psalms 115:11You that fear the LORD, trust in the LORD: he is their help and their shield.
American King James Version×: “You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord; He is their help [ ezer ] and their shield.” Other scriptures such as Deuteronomy 33:26 Deuteronomy 33:26There is none like to the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heaven in your help, and in his excellency on the sky.
American King James Version×, Psalms 33:20 Psalms 33:20Our soul waits for the LORD: he is our help and our shield.
American King James Version×, Psalms 70:5 Psalms 70:5But I am poor and needy: make haste to me, O God: you are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, make no tarrying.
American King James Version×and Hosea 13:9 Hosea 13:9O Israel, you have destroyed yourself; but in me is your help.
American King James Version×also use that same Hebrew word in referring to God as our help or helper.
Surely if the Hebrew word ezer connoted an inferior rank or position it would not be used to describe God. God is our helper, and He is certainly not inferior to human beings! Similarly, a wife is not inferior to her husband just because the Creator gave her the role as his helper. Men and women are equal before God since they are both made in His image (Genesis 1:27 Genesis 1:27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
American King James Version×). Similarly, Christian men and women are equal before God because they are “one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28 Galatians 3:28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
American King James Version×).
Of course, though husband and wife are equal before God, their roles are different—as are some of their responsibilities.
Does God expect submission?
Many scriptures reveal that a wife is under the authority of her husband. Consider, for example, 1 Corinthians 11:3 1 Corinthians 11:3But 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.
American King James Version×: “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”
This scripture clearly explains that the husband is the head of the wife. But some wives feel that they are not under the authority of their husbands because their husbands are not totally submitting to Christ. In addition, they may feel that their husbands are also failing the command to love them as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25-29 Ephesians 5:25-29 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself.
29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the church:
American King James Version×).
As we have just read in 1 Corinthians 11:3 1 Corinthians 11:3But 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.
American King James Version×, a husband must submit to Jesus Christ’s leadership so he can truly lead his wife. Husbands must indeed also love their wives as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25 Ephesians 5:25Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
American King James Version×; Colossians 3:19 Colossians 3:19 Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.
American King James Version×).
Jesus gave us a wonderful example of sacrificial love. When a husband exhibits the same love and commitment to his wife that Jesus showed the Church, it’s much easier for her to follow his lead. She knows he always has her best interests at heart. Conversely, if a husband is not submitting to Christ, or does not love his wife as Christ loved the Church, it can be difficult for his wife to submit.
Of course, no husband is perfect in submitting to Jesus Christ and loving his wife. Many are far from it. But does this give wives the right to ignore the scriptural commands to submit? Some wives even come to the point where they have difficulty loving and accepting their husbands.
How can a wife submit to a humanly flawed husband? What if she is convinced his decisions are not in her or their children’s best interests? What about her rights as a person? And what if he would want her to do something morally or ethically wrong?
The Bible reveals that we should always obey God over man (Acts 5:29 Acts 5:29Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
American King James Version×). He places no human being under the unconditional authority of another. Only obedience to God is absolute. A wife should not be expected to disobey God in order to submit to a misguided husband. For example, if a husband asked his wife to sign a fraudulent tax return or not report his abuse of their children to the police, she would not have to comply.
Scripture is clear that wives are to be submissive to their husbands and obey them unless obedience involves breaking God’s laws and biblical principles. Regrettably, there may be situations when a wife may have to resist her husband’s will (1 Samuel 25:3-38 1 Samuel 25:3-38 3 Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail: and she was a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings; and he was of the house of Caleb.
4 And David heard in the wilderness that Nabal did shear his sheep.
5 And David sent out ten young men, and David said to the young men, Get you up to Carmel, and go to Nabal, and greet him in my name:
6 And thus shall you say to him that lives in prosperity, Peace be both to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have.
7 And now I have heard that you have shearers: now your shepherds which were with us, we hurt them not, neither was there ought missing to them, all the while they were in Carmel.
8 Ask your young men, and they will show you. Why let the young men find favor in your eyes: for we come in a good day: give, I pray you, whatever comes to your hand to your servants, and to your son David.
9 And when David’s young men came, they spoke to Nabal according to all those words in the name of David, and ceased.
10 And Nabal answered David’s servants, and said, Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? there be many servants now a days that break away every man from his master.
11 Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men, whom I know not from where they be?
12 So David’s young men turned their way, and went again, and came and told him all those sayings.
13 And David said to his men, Gird you on every man his sword. And they girded on every man his sword; and David also girded on his sword: and there went up after David about four hundred men; and two hundred stayed by the stuff.
14 But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, saying, Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he railed on them.
15 But the men were very good to us, and we were not hurt, neither missed we any thing, as long as we were conversant with them, when we were in the fields:
16 They were a wall to us both by night and day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep.
17 Now therefore know and consider what you will do; for evil is determined against our master, and against all his household: for he is such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him.
18 Then Abigail made haste, and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and an hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses.
19 And she said to her servants, Go on before me; behold, I come after you. But she told not her husband Nabal.
20 And it was so, as she rode on the ass, that she came down by the covert on the hill, and, behold, David and his men came down against her; and she met them.
21 Now David had said, Surely in vain have I kept all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that pertained to him: and he has requited me evil for good.
22 So and more also do God to the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that urinates against the wall.
23 And when Abigail saw David, she hurried, and lighted off the ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground,
24 And fell at his feet, and said, On me, my lord, on me let this iniquity be: and let your handmaid, I pray you, speak in your audience, and hear the words of your handmaid.
25 Let not my lord, I pray you, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I your handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom you did send.
26 Now therefore, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, seeing the LORD has withheld you from coming to shed blood, and from avenging yourself with your own hand, now let your enemies, and they that seek evil to my lord, be as Nabal.
27 And now this blessing which your handmaid has brought to my lord, let it even be given to the young men that follow my lord.
28 I pray you, forgive the trespass of your handmaid: for the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house; because my lord fights the battles of the LORD, and evil has not been found in you all your days.
29 Yet a man is risen to pursue you, and to seek your soul: but the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the LORD your God; and the souls of your enemies, them shall he sling out, as out of the middle of a sling.
30 And it shall come to pass, when the LORD shall have done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you, and shall have appointed you ruler over Israel;
31 That this shall be no grief to you, nor offense of heart to my lord, either that you have shed blood causeless, or that my lord has avenged himself: but when the LORD shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember your handmaid.
32 And David said to Abigail, Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, which sent you this day to meet me:
33 And blessed be your advice, and blessed be you, which have kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with my own hand.
34 For in very deed, as the LORD God of Israel lives, which has kept me back from hurting you, except you had hurried and come to meet me, surely there had not been left to Nabal by the morning light any that urinates against the wall.
35 So David received of her hand that which she had brought him, and said to her, Go up in peace to your house; see, I have listened to your voice, and have accepted your person.
36 And Abigail came to Nabal; and, behold, he held a feast in his house, like the feast of a king; and Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken: why she told him nothing, less or more, until the morning light.
37 But it came to pass in the morning, when the wine was gone out of Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became as a stone.
38 And it came to pass about ten days after, that the LORD smote Nabal, that he died.
American King James Version×).
A wife who is unsure about whether to submit to her husband in some matter should seek guidance from God through prayer and studying His Word—and through counsel with a minister if necessary. In some cases just discussing her feelings and concerns with her husband in a humble manner may cause him to reconsider his decision (1 Peter 3:1 1 Peter 3:1Likewise, you 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 of the wives;
American King James Version×).
The key to submission
The key to understanding submission is to realize that ultimately a wife is serving God, not man. Notice what Paul wrote in Colossians 3: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord … And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:18 Colossians 3:18 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
American King James Version×, Colossians 3:23-24 Colossians 3:23-24 23 And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men; 24 Knowing that of the Lord you shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for you serve the Lord Christ.
American King James Version×).
Jesus Himself was the perfect model of both loving leadership and submission. Paul discusses Christ’s attitude in Philippians 2:5-9 Philippians 2:5-9 5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross.
9 Why God also has highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
American King James Version×and emphasizes that Christ became obedient to the Father, even to the point of death.
Likewise, every wife should strive to submit to her husband’s leadership with the same attitude that Christ displayed toward His Father. Even though she is equal to her husband in the eyes of God, she should not question his God-ordained right to lead, just as Jesus who shared divinity with God the Father did not question His authority (John 6:38 John 6:38For I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me.
American King James Version×).
Trusting in God is needed
While the submission of Christ to the Father provides a wonderful example to help us understand how a wife should submit to her husband in the Lord, it is still difficult for many women to do so. This is especially true when a wife is convinced that some of her husband’s decisions are unwise. The answer to this dilemma is found in 1 Peter 3:5 1 Peter 3:5For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands:
American King James Version×: “For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands.” The key phrase here is “trusted in God.”
By following her husband’s lead, a wife is trusting in God’s protection and deliverance. This parallels Christ’s submission to God, even to His death (Luke 22:42 Luke 22:42Saying, Father, if you be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done.
American King James Version×). If her husband truly wrongs her by his decisions, he will be judged by God. However, she will be blessed in the long run if she trusts God and follows the biblical admonition to submit to her husband.
Submitting requires faith in God (1 Peter 1:21 1 Peter 1:21Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.
American King James Version×) and belief that following God-inspired scriptural commands regarding the marriage relationship will bring success. Satan the devil wants wives to think that God’s ways do not always work, and that they must refuse to submit unless they totally agree with their husband’s decisions.
God requires the kind of submission that ultimately necessitates faith in His eternal power and goodness. God’s ways are not our ways! A wife may logically feel that the only way to achieve the security she desires is to control her own life, and even her husband, as much as he will allow. In reality, however, she can best achieve true happiness and security by trusting God and submitting, even when it does not immediately seem like the best choice.
God has called His followers to pursue a different path from that of the society around them (Matthew 7:13-14 Matthew 7:13-14 13 Enter you in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it.
American King James Version×). Christians are told to do good to their enemies, to turn the other cheek and always forgive (Matthew 5:44 Matthew 5:44But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you;
American King James Version×). Is it any surprise, then, that our great God would provide a pattern for marital happiness that requires faith in His all-knowing wisdom? For it is only by trusting God that a wife can truly submit to her husband in every situation (1 Peter 3:5 1 Peter 3:5For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands:
American King James Version×).
Stepping out on faith
And now back to the couple introduced at the beginning. After much prayer and study, Marissa decided to follow the biblical pattern for marriage. She was pleasantly surprised to find that Tony became much more attentive to her feelings and needs. She had feared that she wouldn’t be happy deferring to him, but in doing so she found herself much more at peace.
Tony once again felt respected and valued because Marissa recognized him as the leader. No longer threatened, he began to realize the incredible responsibility of loving and caring for her as Jesus Christ cared for the Church. He no longer feared that pleasing his wife would make him a slave to her whims, but instead he became even more sensitive to her needs.
Marissa and Tony were overwhelmed at the blessings that came from following God’s marital instructions. Marissa found the love and security she so deeply desired, and Tony finally felt the fulfillment of his longing to have a supportive companion to help and strengthen him. They also experienced much joy knowing that their marriage more closely reflected the relationship between Christ and the Church.
If you desire a better marriage, ask God to give you faith to believe and trust in Him. Not only will following God’s Word bless your marriage, but it will also prepare you to become more like Jesus Christ, who lived a life of constant submission to His Father’s will.
Jesus explained that we can truly find our life only by losing it (Mark 8:35 Mark 8:35For whoever will save his life shall lose it; but whoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.
American King James Version×). A husband must have genuine sacrificial love, and a wife must willingly seek to fulfill her God-ordained responsibilities through submission instead of primarily seeking to do her own will. This can be accomplished by trusting God and allowing His living laws for a happy marriage to unfold!