Marriage and the Family - 4 - Submission

Chapter 4

Submission -The Support of Leadership

Ephesians 5:21-24, 33; Col 3:18

If it is fair to say that confusion exists over the New Testament teaching concerning headship, thinking is even more biased when it comes to the subject of submission. We come to the Scriptures with so many presuppositions, the baggage of cultural roles, and the selfishness of our hearts that we fail to grasp the wonderful and exalted role that is assigned women by the Spirit of God in the New Testament.


Tragically, we err at both extremes on this vital subject. We either define submission as total subservience, or rebel against it as another sign of Pauline masochism. In truth, Christianity exalted and ennobled the place of women in cultures into which it penetrated. It afforded security in marriage and significance in the home. It raised her from a mere chattel of her husband to someone who stood with him, side-by-side, experiencing life together.

What then is submission and how does the New Testament envision it being expressed by a Christian wife?

Light From the Epistles

Her Attitude

The teaching of Ephesians 5 is perhaps the major portion touching on this subject. It is supplemented and expanded by the brief mention in Colossian 3:18, Titus 2:4, 5, 1 Timothy 2:15; 5:4-14, and 1 Peter 3:1-7. By placing the injunction to submission before any mention of the husband’s love, we are being taught that submission is not an optional matter. It is a mandate from the Lord; it is not dependent on a husband loving in the right manner. Thus a wife willingly submits herself to the leadership of her husband.

But what is the manner in which true submission is displayed? It is not servile fear or servitude; it is a recognition of his leadership and responsibility before the Lord. The intention of God, as seen in Genesis 2, was for a woman to be a true helpmeet to her husband in every sphere of his life, including his spiritual life. So she has the responsibility to give counsel and advice. She is to balance his thinking and ideas. Her place of submission is not because of inferior intelligence but because of divine order. She maintains a body-head relationship to her husband and gives him “input” to help in his decision making role.

Just as there is unity between the natural head and the body, so there is a unity between husband and wife. As the body inputs information to the head, so a wife is responsible for wise counsel and advice to her husband. In every circumstance, the body relays information which is vital to the decision making process which is going on in the head. Without the sensory input from the body and its members, the ability to make right choices is severely hampered. In the natural realm, this is seen in many disease states in which individuals have compromised or absent ability to sense pain in a foot or other body part. It results in damage to the body and can threaten the well-being of the body.

Likewise, in the marital sphere, if the wife is not giving wise counsel and advice, inputting her intuitive insights into situations to her husband, his ability to make Scriptural and wise decisions may be hindered. But just as the body bows to the leadership which the head “directs,” so a wife is to bow to the leadership of the husband.

Her input should be done from a position of security; she has been endowed by God with ability which makes her a wise counselor to her husband. She should not try to manipulate or advise from a position of fear and desperation, worry that her advice will be ignored. She is to have confidence in both God’s gifts to her, and in the Lord’s ability to see to her welfare.

Her Affections

If Ephesians 5 teaches what a wife’s attitude ought to be, then in Titus 2:4 we see what should mark her affections. She is to be a lover of her husband and her children. The word is not the agape but the phileo love. Does this suggest she is to look for qualities in her husband and learn to love him? The wife is not called upon to have a selfless, self-sacrificial love for her husband. That is uniquely his role.  She is called upon to have the love of companionship and warmth. Her affections are to be reserved for her husband and family.

Paul touches upon the wife’s attitude to her husband in Ephesian 5 by an oft-neglected statement: “ ... and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” The concept embodied in the word reverence is really respect. While marriage involves mutual respect, Paul accurately places his finger upon an area which is especially critical in the male make-up. A wife must respect her husband and do all possible to convey that respect in a clear and unmistakable language.

Respect is vital in light of the male’s makeup. His sense of significance and leadership can be threatened and under-minded by any sense that he is not being respected. The Spirit of God recognized this need and gave this command to wives. This not only applies to the words and manner in which she speaks them, but non-verbal behavior is a powerful communicator.

Her Authority

Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy and in Titus reveal the sphere of authority for a wife. In both Titus 2:5 and 1 Timothy 5:14 she is the “home ruler.” It is here that her talents and intelligence are put to the greatest uses. The ordering of a Christian home and the creation of a sanctuary from the world is by no means something that calls for inferior intelligence or talent. No woman in the business world faces a greater challenge than the Christian woman in the home raising children for God. No career oriented feminist uses her intelligence more maximally than the woman who is a home-ruler, transferring the atmosphere of heaven to a home on earth.

Light from Eden

Something of the meaning of “helpmeet” can be gathered by a consideration of some of the places in the Old Testament where this expression, “help” is used. Used first in Eden to express desire of what an ideal wife should be, it is also used elsewhere in the Old Testament. It is used frequently concerning God’s relationship with Israel. He was to be their “help.” This then is hardly an inferior, subordinate role of insignificance.

In Genesis 49:25, Jacob tells Joseph that “God ... shall help thee.” God was to be a help to Joseph in carrying out the blessings which were reserved for him.

Moses called one of his sons “Eliezer” meaning God my helper. He looked on his years of loneliness and exile in a strange land (“Gershom”) and spoke of the God who helped him through those difficult and lonely years.

Moses’ prayer of blessing on Judah included the invocation that God was “to help him from his enemies” (Deut 33:7), and Israel was seen as being shielded by God their “help” (v 29). The thrilling title, “Ebenezer” embodied the truth of a God who was the help of His people. 

In 1 Chronicles 15, we read that God “helped” the Levites who were bearing the ark (v 26). Uzziah likewise was “marvelously helped” until he was strong (2 Chron 26 15). The help suggested here was the wisdom and ability to build the city and prosper.

The numerous uses of the word in the Psalms are too many to detail but notice it is used in Psalm 28:7 to suggest encouragement, in 46:1 He is a refuge, in 121:1,2 He is a defense, and in 146:5 He is the helper Who is the God of Jacob.

Bring them all together, sift through them and reflect on them. To be a help means to: comfort, counsel, cheer, be a companion, confront when necessary, and care. Far from being a subordinate role, far from a stoical resignation to the rule of another or the resentful acceptance of place of silent subservience, it suggests a vital and active partnership in life.

The important lesson for wives is that to be the kind of wife God intends you to be, you must learn God and display His character as “help” in your relationship with your husband.

Light from Exhortations

Three expressions in the Old Testament highlight this even further. We read in Malachi 2:14 of the “wife of thy youth,” in verse 14 again she is “the wife of thy covenant.” finally, in Deuteronomy 13:6 she is “the wife of thy bosom.” If joyful companionship is suggested by the first and life long commitment by the second, then the expression, “the wife of thy bosom” suggests a unique companionship and intimacy shared with no one else on earth. She occupies a trusted and unique place of nearness and confidence.

Trust and intimacy are gained. We are to extend trust to those we love and to earn trust in return from those we love. A wife earns her husband’s trust by virtuous living, as the virtuous wife of Proverbs 31. “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her,” as a result of her wise behavior, counsel, care, and concern for his welfare.

A wife also helps her husband in his leadership by speaking well of him to the children, showing her own willingness to follow his lead, praising his virtues. A husband, doing this as well toward his wife before the children, sends a powerful message of his love for her and of how the children should respect and cherish their mother.

Light from an Example

Finally, read the description of the Virtuous Woman of Proverbs 31. She bears no resemblance to a passive, menial servant of her husband. The key to the passage and the appreciation of the relationship between this virtuous woman and her husband is the mutual respect, honor and confidence each has in the other. She is the ultimate “helpmeet” which God intended.

The measure of submission is in all things, as unto the Lord. Can I do it unto the Lord? There are examples of wrong submission (Acts 5) and correct independence (Abigail in 1 Sam 25) and failure in submission (Rebekah in Gen 27).

At the risk of being repetitive, please notice that submission is not a passive “inertness” but a very active role. A wife is responsible to counsel her husband in an appropriate manner. She is designed by God to give him a unique perspective to add to his decision making skills. She is to comfort him and be a companion, enabling him to fulfill his role as leader. She is to confront him when needed, bringing him back to his scriptural role as leader. She is to so live as to enable her husband to be “known in the gates.” He can “safely trust in her,” finding his confidant and friend to be the “wife of his bosom.”