The word “submission” carries a lot of negative assumptions with it in this day and age. Over the years it’s been so twisted and misused that many Christian married couples are avoiding the subject altogether. Wives often find submission especially cringey because they view it as a means for their husbands—and men in general—to hold them down and control them. This perception is usually a result of their own life experiences from childhood to the present. Regardless of our circumstances, most of us misunderstand the beauty of marital submission as outlined in the Bible, but it is an important part of a thriving marriage for both husbands and wives.
As wives, here are some important components of marital submission that will help us better understand why God calls us to submit to our husbands, and how we can practice this daily in our marriages.
First of all, we must understand that submission is first and foremost a MUTUAL condition of the heart. Before Paul officially addresses wives, he tells the Ephesians to live “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 ESV). This is a beautiful picture of a husband and wife BOTH coming together on equal ground, choosing to serve one another and sacrifice their own personal independence, preferences, and pasts for the sake of the unity they can have with one another in Christ. Therefore, healthy marital submission is birthed out of a couple who first submits their hearts and lives to Christ and then chooses to mutually submit to one another.
Secondly, we must realize that submission is rooted in TRUST. In Ephesians 5, Paul tells wives to submit to their husbands, as husbands are the “head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (v23). This verse is probably one of the most misunderstood and abhorred verses in the Bible. As women, it can be tempting to read this and roll our eyes. Yet there is beauty in this. A few verses later, Paul tells husbands that they must love their wives as Christ loves the church, and they must be willing to lay down their lives for her. That’s a high calling! So, when we read Ephesians 5:23 in light of this, it carries a whole new meaning. Paul is not giving a husband license to hold down his wife or be cruel to her in any way. Instead, he is telling husbands to protect their wife and to guide her in the way of the Lord. He is also asking wives to trust her husband to do this and to see him as a leader. This doesn’t mean that husbands take over and do whatever they want to do because that would go completely against mutual submission. Instead, Paul is pointing out that when the two cannot come to an agreement on something, the burden falls on the husband. God has placed him in a position of sacrificial leadership and He holds Him responsible to lead and guide his family in the right direction.
This brings us to the third and very important component: marital submission requires RESPECT. In fact, Paul ends Ephesians 5 with, “…let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Wives, the only way we can submit to our husbands with a happy heart is by CHOOSING to respect him—even when we’re having a hard time finding something to respect about him. I know this seems counterintuitive, but hear me out. God designed men with a high need for respect. This is not only clear in the Bible, but it has also been proven time and time again to secular research. It’s no coincidence that Paul asks wives to provide this very thing for their husbands in these verses. On the other hand, Paul tells husbands to love their wives as themselves. God designed women with a high desire to be loved and adored. Go figure! Yet, there are times that husbands don’t feel like showing their wives love and adoration because she isn’t acting particularly lovable.
See where I’m going with this? Paul doesn’t mention anything about doing what one feels like doing in Ephesians 5. He simply tells wives to respect their husbands, and he tells husbands to love their wives. He offers these as wise choices and behaviors that lead to a Godly, thriving marriage.
But, is all of this really possible?
Can we really choose to respect our husband even when we don’t feel like it?
Absolutely. But, only after we submit our hearts to the Lord and mutually submit to one another. We must always start with that. Here are some daily ways to practically submit to (and show respect to) our husbands on a daily basis:
1. Always consult with him before making plans. Nine times out of ten, he’s going to say “Go for it,” but be willing to postpone or change plans if it doesn’t fit with both of your schedules.
2. Thank your husband for the things he does for you and your family. This is a simple yet very effective way to show him respect.
3. Encourage your husband in his spiritual growth and leadership. Even if he doesn’t initiate at first, ask him to pray with you and read the Word together. Then, commend him on taking the time to invest in his relationship with the Lord.
4. Tell your husband that he’s “the man.” Brag on him to his face, in public, and online. You can even show him by giving him a smile and a pat on the back. This may sound silly, but these words and actions will go a long way in building his confidence as the protector of the family.
There are many more ways to show respect and submission, but these four are a great daily practice. Again, healthy marital submission starts with us individually submitting to the Lord and mutually submitting to one another. When we practice submission within these Biblical boundaries, our marriages will be stronger and our homes will be happier.