“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” Ephesians 5:22-23
Let me start off by being honest. I was not saved when I married my husband almost 26 years ago. I believed in God, but I had walked away from him and from the church I was raised in. I tell you this so you will understand why I had such a distorted view of biblical marriage, and why I refused to allow the word “submit” to be a part of our wedding vows.
Married in the early 90’s, I had a very modern view of a woman’s place in the world and in a marriage. The idea of a woman submitting to her husband seemed antiquated and somewhat ridiculous to me at the time. In my mind, I was just as good as him, just as smart, just as educated, just as capable—I didn’t want to relinquish all control to my new husband.
I wanted a partnership, not a dictatorship.
As I came to know the Lord and to develop a relationship with Jesus, I also began to read and study the Word of God.
What I have come to understand is that submitting to my husband is not the weakness that I once thought it represented. What I now know is that submission is a sign of strength.
Wives in the Modern World
In our culture today, we, as women, are bombarded with messages about the equality of women and what the world believes is the role of the wife in a marriage.
Long gone are the housewives of 1950’s television shows who walked around their perfectly clean houses in a dress and high heels and made sure that dinner was on the table precisely at 6:00pm when their husbands came home from work and demanded a hot meal when they arrived.
Many TV shows today, portray the husband and the dad as foolish and incompetent; oftentimes no more important or intelligent as the chair they are seated in. They seem completely withdrawn and clueless about what is happening within the dynamics of the family.
It is the woman who is the one who is in the know, in control, and in charge. The husbands and fathers are mocked by the wife and by the children. The man is often more feminized than the woman. And although this may get some laughs from the audience, it is detrimental to how society views men. It is also detrimental to how women view their position in the hierarchy of marriage.
Because TV, movies, and media are such an integral part of our culture, they have skewed how God designed biblical marriage and we need to go back to the truth and discover what is meant by submission.
“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting the Lord.” Colossians 3:18.
What Does It Mean to Submit?
Submission for many represents the idea that one is superior over another. But this is a misrepresentation of what Paul was explaining in Ephesians 5:15-33.
Men and women have equal worth, but there is no denying that we are also inherently different. We have different love languages. We have different needs. Men typically need to feel respected by their wives, and women need to feel loved by their husbands.
This is why Paul, in Ephesians 5:33, explains that women are to respect their husbands and husbands are to love their wives. This doesn’t suggest that men don’t need love or women don’t need respect. Both should be given because submission is God’s beautiful design of partnership.
Biblical Definition of Marriage
I like the way Focus on the Family defined the union of man and wife:
“The union represented in marriage may be one of the greatest miracles in all of creation But it’s also something more. For in addition to everything else marriage means for a man and a woman, it has deep spiritual significance—an eternal and cosmic significance. At the very highest level, it functions as an unparalleled working image of the seeking and saving Love of our Creator and Savior—the Love that compels Him to unite Himself to His people in a mystical bond of eternal fellowship and never-ending interpersonal give and take.”
I know this is a beautiful definition—but not always so easy to live out.
Marriage is hard. I can tell you in my own marriage, there have been times when one of us has wanted to walk away for one reason or another. We are flawed human beings and we brought baggage into our marriage, and we continue to carry some of it.
I can be very stubborn and I get my feelings hurt very easily. There are times when I know I am supposed to be submitting to him, but it is so hard.
My husband and I have polar opposite personalities. This causes us to see the same thing completely differently; which can be a blessing or it can be a curse. We have had some wonderful times together—living up on the mountain of gladness, but you can’t spend twenty-six years with someone and not spend some time in the valley of despair.
Here are some things I have learned to do, even when it is difficult, to live up to the standard of marriage that God has ordained for us in his Word.
Respect Your Husband as the Spiritual Head of the Household
God has called the man to be the spiritual head of the house. This, of course, is dependent upon your husband being submitted to Christ as a believer. If this is not the case, then I encourage you to still believe that God has called your husband to this position and that one day he will come to know the saving grace of Jesus as his Savior.
Follow what is written in 1 Peter 3:1-2, “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence in your lives.”
If you are married to a man who is a believer, then put your faith and your trust in him. Believe that he is praying, leading, and guiding your family according to what God has spoken to him. God has given the man more responsibility for leadership as a servant-leader.
As a servant-leader, the husband is expected to imitate Christ. Jesus says in Matthew 20:25-28, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as the ransom for many.”
Allow your husband to serve and fulfill the role that the Lord has ordained for him.
Pray For Him
I have seen how hard my husband has worked to provide for his family over the years. I have seen the toll that it took on him physically, mentally, and emotionally, especially during those years when he was the main breadwinner in our family.
I know that my husband is a praying man who spends time with God each day, and I know that he must go to the Father with many burdens and questions about decisions that he has had to make for me and for our children.
As a wife, I believe one of my most important roles is to make sure that I lift my husband up in prayer. I need to be praying that God would give him the wisdom and strength to continue to lead this family. I need to pray for his physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health everyday.
God told Moses to lift his staff up in the air and as long as it stayed up, the battle would be won. But Moses became tired and his arms became weak and the battle turned. But then Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands and as they lifted their hands to help Moses, the Israelites prevailed. (Exodus 17:8-16).
In the same way, I must lift my hands to help my husband when he is tired and weak and can no longer lift his anymore.
This is why marriage is a partnership—different roles, but ONE union.
Do Not Emasculate Him
Earlier, I told you that one of the most important things that men need is to be respected by their wives. I have discovered this in the Bible, but also in my discussions with my husband. He has told me that the number one thing I can do to make him feel like a man is to respect him and be proud of him.
Belittling your husband, mocking him, ridiculing his decisions does not show him respect and it will make him feel less of a man.
If he feels less of a man, it will be difficult for him to continue to lead.
I’ll say it again—we don’t always agree on everything! I know that many of you can relate. But we can have a disagreement about how to handle something without using harsh words that serve only to cut and wound and not solve the problem. Respect cannot be found in the rubble of the fight to be the one that needs to be right.
This doesn’t mean that your opinion doesn’t matter or that your opinion is never the option that is undertaken. What it means is that you go back to the biblical principle of your husband being the spiritual head of your household and you come to a compromise that both of you have prayed about and agree upon.
This doesn’t mean that you are weak. There is so much strength in having the discipline to know what to say and how to say it and when to say nothing at all.
You need to be loved.
He needs to be respected.
I know that the concept of submission can be difficult for many women today. There are many younger Christian wives I have talked to who don’t think it should even be an issue. They argue that those verses were written at a time when women held a different position in society and that those verses no longer apply.
My understanding is that God never changes and that his Word stands as true today as much as it did when it was written.
I know how hard it was for me to overcome my negative connotation of being a submissive wife. But as you begin to study the scriptures and to allow God to teach you the true definition of what submission means I hope you will see it differently.
It won’t be a popular concept, especially among your friends who are not believers. I know that when I have told women that my husband is the spiritual head of our home I got some pretty interesting comments and looks.
That is okay! We are called to be in the world and not of the world.
I pray you will find that allowing your man to lead your family does not make you weaker, it only makes you, your marriage, and your family stronger.
I would love to hear what you have to say about submitting to your husbands. Please let me know in the comments below!
Susie O’Neal and the Help Club for Moms Team
For more about me and my ministry, please visit my website at susieoneal.org.