Honestly, it’s with a little bit of fear and trepidation that I approach — yet again — the topic of submission in marriage. The only reason I’m brave enough to even try is because my “blogging calendar” says that we’re on question #6 of the study guide for Chapter 2 of Juggling Life’s Responsibilities.
“Draw a simple chain of command for a family, using 1 Corinthians 11:3 as a guide.”
It’s the next thing! Honest! (As Winnie the Pooh has been known to say, “Oh, bother.”)
So here we go…
“But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3).
Taking this verse at face value, this looks like a pretty simple assignment. Christ is the head (leader) of man, and man is the head (leader) of the woman.
(Okay, blog post is over… we can all go home now…)
Seriously, I realize that the debate comes because these verses hit just a little too close to home. Just as God said they would.
After Adam and Eve sinned, way back at the beginning, God told Eve,
“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16).
To be very honest, no human being likes to submit to another. My husband was discussing this with another pastor just this afternoon. Just as Ephesians 1:21 says that we are all to submit to someone, even in the context of our local churches, in our towns (to government officials with whom we disagree), to leaders of all kinds — in the same way, it grates on our last nerve to be told that we have to do what someone else says.
But the Bible makes it clear that 1 Corinthians 11:3 really does mean that we’re to place ourselves under the headship, leadership, and command of our husbands.
“Wives, submit yourselves to [hypotasso – arrange yourselves under] your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22).
Samuele Bacchiocchi, one of my favorite authors on the subject of women, brings out several good points about submission.
- We don’t submit so we can sneakily get our own way (using our “feminine wiles”).
- We don’t submit for the sake of keeping peace in the home (“if Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”).
- We don’t submit because men always have superior wisdom. (Just ask King David about Abigail…)
Rather, Bacchiocchi reminds us that we should reject all worldly thought patterns about submission and substitute instead a new pattern of thinking (see Romans 12:2).
“submit… as you do to the Lord”
The previous verse tells us to submit to one another “out of reverence for Christ.” The old King James minces no words: “in the fear of God.”
The Bible makes it clear that the fear of YHWH God always results in my keeping His decrees and commands (Deuteronomy 6:2). Of course, it also tells us that obedience to His commands brings blessing and that His commands are always for my good (Joshua 1:8, Romans 7:12).
God, as Creator of all, established a chain of command for authority in the home, and He, as Creator of all, has the right to tell us what to do.
If I won’t submit to my husband, I’m telling God that I won’t submit to Him either.
I love how author Gary Sanseri puts it all into perspective:
“The woman in the flesh desires to compete for rule over the man, and the man will tend to either passively surrender or as a brute tyrant suppress the woman. The conflict traces back to the curse (Genesis 3:16). Only in Christ can the curse be lifted and woman submit with a meek and quiet spirit to the headship of the man while the man sacrificially and lovingly leads the woman without lording it over her” (Covered or Uncovered, p. 8).
Only in Christ am I able to submit — to Christ or anyone else, for that matter.
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
I’m praying that this week I’ll think about replacing my worldly thought patterns with a Biblical mindset.
That I’ll do every hard thing — as to the Lord.
And that I’ll do it all in His strength — not my own.
I loved this article. Great Job!
It made me realize how off my marriage really is though. And I don’t see how to get it on course. My husband of 26 years has never been the type to be able to make decisions. He isn’t a Godly person either. I used to be more like that but have changed. He hasn’t. I would like to have the kind of marriage that you refer to in your article, but I don’t see how that is possible with the way my dear husband is. I have often told him that he may have Asperger Syndrome like our oldest son has.
I just looked up the page and noticed one of the related posts is about wanting your husband to be a leader, I will go read that one.
I want to make sure to thank you Anne for all the work you put into your newsletters. I look forward to them every week, and learn a lot from them. In fact, your newsletters are one of the reasons that I have changed in my perspective. I am trying to follow Gods word more and more.
Oops . . .trying again without so many typos! Typing on a small device!
Sally Ann, I don’t think you are alone. For me, the quote above from Gary Sanseri stated the condition that occurs in marriages that are off balance . . . either the man is passive or over domineering. I am still a work in progress but it has helped me trremenously to view submission not in the traditionally negative way, but rather to consider it a joy to “get out of the way” so he can lead. If we women always take on that role simply because we think he cant or won’t, we are in disobedience regardless of what the man in our life does or doesn’t do. I think of it as facilitating the opportunity for him to lead. I have to be obedient to what God commands . . . not wait for my husband to obey before I do. Practical ways to start? Ask his opinion before you make decisions, even on little things and then follow his advice. If he tells you he wants you to handle the decision or do what you think is best, then you have his blessing to take on the leadership role in that area. My 2 cents.
This is wonderful and something I need to be reminded of frequently!
Years ago, I was at a place where I kept asking God to change my husband. I told Him how I wanted him to pick up his role as spiritual leader of our home. A friend of ours told me that he felt God telling him to tell me to read and pray through Ephesians 5:22-33. Well, I started but I never got past verse 22, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” As soon as I started praying, the Holy Spirit revealed to me that until I was willing to change, I shouldn’t be asking the Lord to change my husband. We are to be obedient to the Lord regardless of whether our husband is obedient to the Lord. I began in small ways, grudgingly of course. I made sure that I was honest with myself and with God. After all, God knows even the deepest recesses of our heart and mind. “Okay, Lord, I really don’t want to do this but I will because Your word says to.” I think the key is to admit to God when we don’t feel like it and immediately repent and ask Him to forgive us. He honors that. Slowly, things began to change. Is our home perfect? No. Am I always submissive? No! After all, I have only been saved for nine years. I have a lot of the world to purge from my mind and heart. But thank God, He is faithful even when we are not. It all comes in time. We just have to be willing to allow the Lord to mold us and shape us. My biggest hurdle was to stop being controlling and domineering in decision making. Now I tell him my side (opinion) and then I tell him to pray and ask God for guidance. I tell him it is between you and the Lord now. Then I am silent….I wait. It is very hard. But I have to trust God with it.
Thanks for the article. I am sure it was difficult to write…but it has to be done. This subject can not be ignored! 🙂 This is coming from a person who insisted that she did not want any Scripture read at our wedding (22 years ago) that had any reference to wives being obedient or submissive to their husbands. Praise God a lot has changed since then! God bless you all.
I’ll be praying, too…
“I’ll think about replacing my worldly thought patterns with a Biblical mindset.
That I’ll do every hard thing — as to the Lord.
And that I’ll do it all in His strength — not my own.”
I would appreciate practical advice on HOW to know that I am doing things in His strength and not my own. I struggle to discern the difference before hand. In hindsight, I often see it was my own strength (and thus a failure). Sometimes, I see “wow, that was God! not me,” but I’m not sure how that happens, how I can encourage that to happen more often.
Anne Elliott says
Jacqueline, What an excellent question… “HOW” to obey God in His strength, not my own.
I’m going to have to ponder this a little more, but I know when I was writing this blog post, I was thinking about Philippians 4:11-13. Paul lists a lot of things that were “hard things,” yet God gave him the strength to do them.
In addition, I’ve been reading John Piper’s book, Don’t Waste Your Life, and chapter 4 has been about how we can magnify God even in hard things, even death. I realize that many marriages are incredibly hard, and that submission can be humanly impossible at times, without the strength of God to help us. (Piper’s book can be read online for free at http://desiringgod.org/resource-library/online-books/dont-waste-your-life )
I don’t know if I’ve answered your question very well, but at least you can see what I was reading when I wrote this and how my brain was thinking.
As for “replacing my worldly thought patterns with a Biblical mindset,” reading and meditating on God’s Word is the only way to do that.
Thanks for making us think! I’ve loved EVERYONE’s comments this weekend. So encouraging…
Im still loving your site…
What blogging calendar? You keep one? Sounds nice
Aww, I’m sorry, Sally Ann! (Your name isn’t a joking reference to the Sally Ann test, is it?) I’ve got a lot of Asperger’s-type symptoms myself, so I can imagine how hard it must be to get a decision out of your husband sometimes! There are radically different thought processes going on compared to average people, and sometimes those thought processes just aren’t conducive to decision-making. It might help to figure out how he /does/ decide the things in his life he decides so that it’s easier to harmonize with the process. On the other hand, some of the time the lack of a final decision might actually /be/ the final decision. (After all, people have different needs concerning the duties they need their “other half” to fulfill, and those may or may not cross into managerial territory on various subjects.)
Sharolyn wrote – “…either the man is passive or over domineering. I am still a work in progress but it has helped me tremenously to view submission not in the traditionally negative way, but rather to consider it a joy to “get out of the way” so he can lead…”
Thank you for sharing that. My husband can be both passive and domineering. Thank you for reminding me that taking on the role of leader just because my husband often won’t does not make it OK. And especially for reminding me to set my eyes on the joy that is available in getting out of the way. It is true submission when done joyfully.
Thank you, Anne, for your reply. I’ll have to take a look at that book, or at least the chapter you mentioned. Doing hard things is, well, HARD. Though I don’t usually want to do those hard things, I recognize the value in doing them to God’s glory.
Noah Schwartz says
A truth I learned recently that blessed me was the meaning of the word “keep” in reference to keeping His commandments. It has the thought of “guarding”, like will you “keep” my grandson for me today. When that truth gripped me I realized that if I really love God, the last thing I will do is reason away a commandment. Rather I will go to great lengths to protect and promote any commandment and consider them very precious instead of groaning, “do I have to?”
No dis-respect intended, but first how do you know there really is a God? I mean REALLY really know?? What proof is there? The Bible? It has been revised so many times now, how do you know what is the truth and what some wahoo thought would be cool or beneficial to add to it? The Bible blames women for commiting the first sin, for prostitution, corruption, and other stuff, and women are being told to submit to men, of course right? This country is run by men, the workplace is run by men, what doesn’t have a man’s finger on it?? Women fought for equal rights, and eventually won, yet we are still treated like “less than’s”. There are women all over the world, who are single parents working twice as hard as the men and still, work under a man. We have to fight for everything we want, I think it’s ridiculous, then we are being told that God wants us to submit to none other than another man! I honestly have a hard time believing there really is a God, what’s even harder to believe, is that if you don’t do exactly everything like the Bible says, we will be damned to hell. I don’t think, that the God everyone talks about sounds like anyone I would want to meet. My idea of God, is one being, watching out for us all, as long as we do our very best to live the right way ( no murdering, paying our taxes, etc.) then He will be there waiting for us on the other side. How do we REALLY know what is on the other side??
Martha Liskey says
As a newly wed this is a MUST READ… Almost daily lol… I am praying daily that God allows me to fully submit unto my husband as I would if it were Christ (as I am told to do) Being not only a newly wed but yet a babe in Christ this is SO hard to push away the worldly teaching that ‘You are your own boss and NO ONE can tell you how something should be done or why’ URGH… I am SOOO sad sometimes that God didn’t intervene in my life sooner… but then again he tried and I ignored *smh* Oh well all in his time! I pray for discernment and guidance and forgiveness when I fail to submit. Thank you Anne for such wonderful teaching/interpretation of scripture!