Maybe it’s just me, but have you ever noticed that when it comes to teachings from the pulpit on godly submission in the Christian marriage, the emphasis is mainly placed on wives? Have you noticed that the most common portions of scripture singled out are the ones that teach wives not to usurp the husband’s authority, being careful to maintain a meek and quiet spirit? Here are the most popular passages:
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savor of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be unto their own husbands.” (Ephesians 5:22:-25)
“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands…whose adorning…let it be of the hidden man of the heart, that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” (1 Peter 3:1, 4)
While these passages are the Word of God, and, of course, are to be taken seriously, for some strange reason, many often seem to stop reading there! The funny thing is, following these three short sentences are SEVERAL sentences describing how husbands are to treat their wives! It goes on to describe the tender love, provision and protection husbands are to give their wives— “even as Christ loves His church”. That says a lot. Strangely, this larger portion of the text is oftentimes omitted from the discussion!
So, as Paul Harvey would say, what is “the rest of the story”?
The rest of the story is quite simple: 1 Corinthians 11:3 teaches that “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the wife is the husband, and the head of Christ is God”. This simply means all authority (headship) trickles down from, and is centered on, God Himself.
In other words, God’s authority flows through those He places in authority (as stewards)— as they submit to [aligning themselves with] Him. Like the interlocking gears in a clock, if people and relationships are operating in alignment with God, there will be order, peace and harmony. If authority figures do NOT operate in submission to God’s authority? There will only be chaos, disorder and confusion passed down to their recipients!
What I am getting at is this: In marriage, both husband and wife have responsibilities in keeping peace and harmony. However, it begins with the husband! If the husband is properly submitting to Christ by demonstrating Christ to his wife and children, laying his life down to meet their spiritual, relational and physical needs and is humbly guiding them according to God’s Word, then his wife (and children) will flourish! She will naturally respond with heartfelt, loving submission to her husband, as unto Christ Himself! Why? Because it is Christ’s love and authority flowing through her husband! If the husband is not properly submitting to Christ, then he, himself, is creating internal chaos and disorder in his wife (and children). This will lead to all kinds of problems, both spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically.
So, first of all, what does it mean to “submit”?
I ask this, because a misunderstanding of the word has lead to countless crimes committed against wives (and children) within Christian marriages and families. Crimes including spousal rape (I personally know of a case), chronic, stifling control, (which is emotional abuse), selfishly neglecting the wife’s needs for relational connection and support, protection and security, demeaning, disrespectful behavior such as showing disregard for her Godly wisdom, spiritual gifts and leading from the Holy Spirit, and verbal and physical abuse—all in the name of her “Biblical” responsibility to “submit” to her husband. It’s a real thing.
Shockingly, some of this is propagated from the pulpit! I once attended a women’s conference that left my head spinning in bewilderment! With my own ears, I heard the speaker, a woman, actually teach, “If your husband beats you, you are to submit to him by remaining silent. Instead of resisting, you are to turn your cheek and let him beat the other side of your face as unto Christ.”
A misunderstanding of Biblical submission once led of friend of mine to call me for godly advice from her locked bedroom: Her husband had just chased her around the yard with a butcher knife and now he was in the house! Of course, I gave her some “godly advice”, alright. I told her to call the police!
So, what is Biblical “submission”?
Biblical submission is men, women and children yielding to Christ, the Head of the church, by respecting and lovingly yielding to those He has placed in authority over them. Its purpose? For the many-membered body of Christ and the family unit to operate in peace and harmony under One Head. (Ephesians 5:22).
Verse 21, however, goes beyond submission to authority alone, instructing ALL believers in the family of God to submit to one another out of reverence for God. This speaks of a mutual submission [to Christ], maintaining an attitude of Christlike humility, gentleness, meekness, patience and respect toward one another. It’s a beautiful thing. Even Jesus willingly submitted to His Father’s will, demonstrating His love for Him and for us. This mutual subordination of each person’s desires, for the good of the other, is firstly to be manifested within the Christian family– beginning with husbands and wives. The husband is to lovingly lead the family in the ways of Christ, laying down his life to meet their needs as best as he can while depending on and submitting to the Holy Spirit.The wife, in turn, lovingly yields to his God-given leadership as they together follow Christ, while loving, praising, and supporting her husband from the heart. It’s a picture of Christ and His church.
Now let’s talk about what Biblical submission is NOT!!! It is NOT yielding to the MISUSE of authority! Neither is true, Biblical authority bossing and controlling everything that someone thinks, feels, says and does. Um, excuse me, THAT would be the role of the HOLY SPIRIT–talk about “USURPING AUTHORITY”! That said, even the Holy Spirit does not force us to obey Him, for He will not violate anyone’s will! (He’s a Gentleman, not an abuser!) Instead, we willingly yield to the Holy Spirit, lovingly surrendering the control of our heart and life to Him. Why? Because He IS God! Moreover, because, AS God, our heavenly Father loved us enough to sacrifice His only begotten Son to redeem us, we can trust His Leadership.
Neither does a husband’s Biblical authority mean selfishly forcing his wife to meet his needs like his personal slave. Jesus, (the husband’s Head), is anything BUT selfish! (Read Philippians chapter 2!) If a man rapes, controls or verbally abuses his wife, again, he is not operating in submission to Christ, for he is commanded by Christ to honor his wife’s needs above his own, to love, protect and provide for her. Instead, he is submitting to his flesh and the devil! And, if she submits to him in that moment– so is she– to her own detriment and his!
Since we are talking about wives submitting to their husbands (like the church submits to Christ), then LET’S talk about it! Just how DOES the church submit to Christ?
Does Jesus force submission?
Not according to Isaiah 40:11: As our Great Shepherd, instead of driving His sheep: “He gathers His lambs with his arm and carries them close to his heart, and gently leads those who are with young.”. In Isaiah 42:3, Christ is so gentle he will not even break a bruised reed! The four Gospels are full of accounts of Jesus inviting people to come and follow Him and to walk in His ways, (never forcing them). In Matthew 11:28 Jesus describes Himself as “gentle and humble”, (not forceful and abusive) as ministering “rest” (refreshing, repose, ease; Strong’s #G373) to our “souls” (our mind, will, emotions)“.
Don’t we passionately and heartily submit to Jesus’s Lordship as a response to Him first loving us, having demonstrated it by unselfishly laying down His life for us on the cross? It works the same way in marriage!
In short, “ruling one’s household well” does not mean bossing and controlling one’s wife and children like hostages. It means living in submission to Christ in everything, modeling His meek and gentle character to his family. Leading by Christlike example actually breads respect and godly submission.
So, then, what are the Biblical ramifications of husbands and fathers misusing their authority?
After instructing each member of the family of God to put off one’s old, sinful nature and to put on the nature of Christ, (“hearts of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and forgiveness”), Colossians 3:18-21 instructs wives to lovingly submit to their own husbands as is proper in the Lord. It then goes on to teach the husbands how to treat their wives–with love and tenderness, as opposed to being “harsh” with them. The original Greek implies that husbands are not to “embitter” their wives. (Strong’s #G4087) We will come back to that.
Children are then instructed to obey and honor their parents; However, fathers have a responsibility in bringing that about; Besides godly instruction and loving discipline, they are told to “not provoke their children to anger, lest they become discouraged” , meaning “spiritless, disheartened, dismayed” (Strong’s #G120). This definition implies a crushed spirit, resulting in emotional problems of fear, depression and hopelessness. I know by personal experience that it also leads to hatred for and joyous rebellion against authority figures, and looking for fatherly love in all the wrong places.
How do people become bitter and provoked to anger?
There is such a thing as Biblical “righteous anger”, which results when someone violates God’s laws (to be differentiated from fleshly anger, like when you don’t get what you want when you want it) If someone harms you or a loved one, it results in righteous, justified anger. It is justified because God Himself has righteous anger over the harm done to people by disregarding His commands. I guarantee you that God feels ANGRY when an innocent victim is raked over the coals, especially if it is a child. Because we are created in His image, so will WE feel righteous anger over injustice!
In marriage, personal righteous anger must be quickly resolved by communicating the offense to our spouse, who should then admit it and turn to God in wholehearted repentance. The offended party’s responsibility is to forgive. (Ephesians 4:26) If this action is not taken quickly, it creates a foothold for the devil (verse 27). The anger will develop into a root of bitterness, growing into explosive rage. There is a ton of scientific evidence proving that repressed anger breaks down the immune system and releases toxic chemicals into the body, destroying one’s physical body from the inside, out. Not to mention the emotional damage created by the abuse itself, (especially repeated abuse), such as uncontrolled anger, guilt, fear, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and confusion, emotional numbness and shut-down, depression, PTSD, and even suicide.
What if a wife attempts to resolve an offense but her husband denies it, refuses to acknowledge or discuss it, OR gives a placating, “I’m sorry”, meant to sweep it under the rug instead of heartily acknowledging it and its damaging implications? Then there is no real resolution. Without true godly acknowledgement and sorrow over one’s sins, there can be no real repentance or change. Though the wife obediently verbalizes her forgiveness before God, the husband’s behavior will likely continue, causing her anger to perpetuate and internally corrode her spiritual, emotional and physical health over time. Of course, instead of reaping godly submission, his chronic abuse will produce resistance to his [misuse of] “authority”, mostly due to her being forced into constant hyper-vigilance to protect herself, her dignity and her sanity.
This is very confusing and guilt-inducing for an abused wife, not knowing why she is having such difficulty forgiving her husband and wanting to be close to him. Though she tries to forgive him every time he mistreats her, she finds herself becoming more and more distant, confused and disillusioned, while blaming herself for the breakdown of the relationship (only adding to the pain and anguish).
Over time, she becomes emotionally numb— a common survival mechanism— and becomes so conditioned by the abuse that she becomes oblivious to it. That does not mean, however, that the numbed emotions are not still wreaking havoc! Eventually, the unresolved anger, which is perpetuated and increased every time the abuse is repeated, makes her sick, both spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically.
Now, the wife is in complete internal and external disarray. And why is that? Because her husband, who is appointed by God to be a conduit of His love, provision and protection for her, is out of alignment with God! Through his misuse of authority he is instead administering the curse!
At this point, some Christians may tell this confused, disillusioned wife that she should simply try harder to come under submission and to develop more of a meek and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4), a common “resolution” from those who do not understand God’s order of Biblical submission. But how can she have a “meek and quiet spirit” when there is a relentless, massive storm raging inside her heart and mind??? Are these well-meaning Christians even stopping to consider whether or not the rest of the passage is being lived out? What, exactly, DOES the rest of the passage say?
“Likewise ye husbands, dwell with [your wives] according to knowledge (“science” Strong’s # G1108), giving honor (“value, esteem of the highest degree, dignity, as precious”; Strong’s # G5092) unto the wife, as unto the [physically] weaker vessel (who bears the King of Glory), and as being heirs together (“a co-heir, participant in common, fellow heir, heir with” #G4789) of the grace of life: that your prayers be not hindered… ALL of ye be of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous…” ( vs 7-8)
Did you notice in the above passage that God Himself will oppose the husband that treats his wife disrespectfully? What does THAT tell you?
So, if the scenario described above is the case, (not including wives whose said issues do not stem from their husbands), the answer is for her husband to repent from his lack of submission to God, and start treating his wife right! This may require intervention, perhaps mediated by a pastor or Christian counselor; Not one who will give her the classic “submit to your husband” answer, but one who has strong insight into God’s order of biblical submission. I once heard a wise, prominent pastor preach, “If a wife is messed up, look at her husband.”
If and when the husband realigns himself with God and His authority, loving his wife as Christ loves His church, she will be able to finally heal. That is when loving, Christlike submission to her husband’s leadership will begin to grow naturally and blossom like a rose! (This may take significant time and patience on her part, however, seeing that her husband’s problems didn’t develop overnight, and neither will his healing.)
I know what I am talking about!
When I married my husband I wanted nothing more than to be a godly wife to him. But, there were underlying problems in both of us. Mine? For starters, I was controlled and raped by my father from the age of two, only complicating any future marriage problems. My husband was severely verbally and physically abused and chronically controlled, at the hands of his father and gangs in Boston. This led to drug addiction and other severe problems.Though he was free from his drug addiction when we married, his “alcoholic personality” remained. It manifested as extreme, stifling control of every aspect of my life (even down to the chair I was expected to sit in), chronic verbal abuse, intimidating behavior designed to control me, chronic, rage-instigating arguing, chronic disregard of my personal boundaries (and dignity), and absolute denial of his abusive actions and tendencies, which was so intact that he was in denial that he was in denial. It was all par for the course considering his past.
How did I deal with it? For years and years I tried confronting him about the chronic abuse. Refusing to admit his problems, I took the kids and went to a women’s shelter. We would not return unless he admitted his abuse and agreed to get pastoral help. He did, and most of his abusive behaviors were put to death–all except his impulse to control.
His squelching controlling behavior continued with no heartfelt acknowledgement or repentance like a “little fox that spoiled the vine”, choking the life out of me. Eventually, I gave up confronting it and instead shut down emotionally. I went through the motions of “marriage”, faking that we had a “relationship”, (with no real communication due to his staunch denial and my emotional numbness), while basically living in separate ends of our home. Eventually, my physical body began to break down– big time.
Finally, one night I received a prophetic dream that revealed the origin of my surmounting maladies: repressed rage and deeply buried unforgiveness. This was mainly due to my husband’s ongoing control issues and chronic denial, but it also included a few other unresolved past offenses. Now my eyes were opened and my list of severe physical conditions began to make sense!
At this point, I was prompted by God to confront my husband and hold him accountable, explaining what God had revealed in my dream. I trusted God to break through his denial with strong conviction and prompt him to honestly admit his problem. Miraculously, by the grace and power of God, it worked!
After that day, I was clearly prompted by God to continue patiently confronting each incident, “speaking the truth in love”, refusing to back down or relent in the face of any resistance. (Ephesians 4:15). Little by little the denial began to chip away until he finally began courageously admitting the truth– not in a placating way, but genuinely, from his heart, with actual conviction and sorrow toward repentance. This was when a pattern of facing his heart issues began, true changes in his heart began to ensue—and walls came down in mine! Finally, mutual marital healing could begin.
Ever since then, our marriage has been on the mend, with some ups and downs, but continued gradual improvement toward trust and Christ- oriented, Biblical submission. Some days are even quite blissful, our love so intense it sometimes makes me cry– something I never thought I would ever see!
This is not to say, however, that our marriage problems were all my husband’s fault. I had many of my own trauma issues to resolve and for my husband to endure. I had so many, in fact, that it took an entire book to describe MY mess and how God restored it!
Having come out basically on the other side, all my husband and I can say now, is this: Anyone who is willing and obedient to both speak and admit the truth in love, (both to one’s self, to God, and to each other), will find God to be a remarkable Healer of broken pieces!
Today, my husband is grateful that I obeyed God in honestly and patiently confronting him on each incident, while at the same time trying my best [while admittedly failing at times] to show him grace and mercy when needed. He is now a STRONG proponent of painfully facing the truth about one’s self, claiming it saved our marriage and is continuing to set him free. I’m glad that my husband put up with my mess, that I’m finally getting to know the real, wonderful man of God that I married, AND that he’s getting to know the real me. We’re both glad we didn’t give up!
In conclusion, though I am in no way perfect, I am a passionate lover of Jesus who literally craves pleasing Him in everything. From the beginning, I always wanted to be a godly wife in the Biblical sense of the word. But, marriage takes two. As an advocate for hurting women, I have written this article to show that there is more to “submission” than is generally out there. Abuse is rampant in our society among both males and females, and its dynamics run deep. I am tired of seeing the responsibility for marital success placed mainly on the wife, predicating it on her being “meek and submissive”, and neglecting “the rest of the story”.
Please, let’s preach the WHOLE Biblical counsel on the subject, and we will all be happier for it! Amen!