Biblical principles for respectfully yielding to your husband’s leadership
Strong and healthy marriages are built on a solid Biblical foundation. If the husband would embrace his role as a loving leader and the wife would embrace her role as a loving helpmate in building a strong family, the process and construction of healthy marriages and families would be easier. Both need to embrace their roles.
Before we get started let me say a couple of things to the husbands.
- Husbands, it is your responsibility to make it as easy and enjoyable to follow your leadership. The more loving you are to your wife the easier she will find it to respectfully submit to your guidance and leadership as the head of the home.
- Husbands, your wife is about to hear some things that she may or may not agree with. Allow her the freedom to wrestle with it, struggle with it, and grow in it. Let the Holy Spirit encourage her, challenge her, and convict her where He wants, not where you want.
I believe every wife wants to be a loving and helpful wife. Just as God puts into the heart of men to love and protect their wife, God also places in the heart of women a desire to bless and love their husbands. This doesn’t mean it comes easy.
As a wife, God wants you to love your husband. You made a vow before God and others that you would love your husband for better or worse, in good times and bad times. Today, we are going to take a look at an important aspect of marriage but also a very controversial one: the Biblical principle of submission in marriage. To get us started let’s take a look at four different scriptures that address this subject.
- Ephesians 5:22 says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord” (HCSB). Before you can experience healthy submission to your husband, you must experience submission to the Lord Jesus. Your submission to your husband is to be an overflow of your submission to Christ.
- Colossians 3:18 says, “Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (HCSB) When a wife respectfully submits to her husband she is doing something that is “fitting in the Lord,” something that is appropriate and right as a follower of Jesus.
- Then in 1 Peter 3 wives who are married to an unbeliever are told, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the Christian message, they may be won over without a message by the way their wives live when they observe your pure, reverent lives” (vs. 1-2, HCSB). God has blessed the act of submission in such a way that it has the potential to be a major instrument in leading unbelieving husbands to the Lord. If you are married to an unbeliever, you have an inside advantage to influence and impact your husband for Christ like no one else can. Your humble and respectful acts of submission is part of the ingredients that God will use to draw your husband to Himself.
- Then in Titus 2 we see what the older women are to be teaching the younger women. The Bible says, “Older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to much wine. They are to teach what is good, so they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, homemakers, kind, and submissive to their husbands, so that God’s message will not be slandered.” (Titus, 2:3-5, HCSB). Unbelievers judge the authenticity and value of our faith more by our living than by our theology. In doing so, they judge the truth and power of “God’s message” by the way in which we live. The world judges the gospel by the character of the people who believe and claim to be transformed by it. When a wife who claims to be a follower of Jesus is demanding, difficult, and rebellious towards her husband’s leadership it gives the lost world reason to slander, dishonor and disbelieve God’s Word.
This act of submission in marriage is significant. It’s not something husbands should take advantage of and it’s not something wives should ignore. To help us understand this we are going to examine three aspects about respectful submission:
- We will look at some truths about submission in general.
- We will examine what a submissive wife is not.
- We will also explore what a submissive wife is.
Biblical Observations about Submission
Let’s begin with some Biblical observations about submission.
Submission is a kingdom principle
First, submission is a kingdom principle. Everyone submits to someone.
- The Bible teaches that citizens are to submit to the government. Look at 1 Peter 2:13 which states, “Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good” (1 Pet. 2:13-14, HCSB). As believers, we are to respectfully submit to any authority over us. This would include police officers, judges, governors, the President, and the laws they establish to bring order to our society. Submission is a kingdom principle.
- The Bible teaches that employees are to submit to their employers. In 1 Peter 2:18 we read, “Household slaves, submit with all fear to your masters, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel” (1 Pet. 2:18, HCSB; see also Eph. 6:5-9). The workforce in the Roman world (first century) consisted of slaves, and the way they were treated was wide-ranging. Some masters loved their slaves and treated them like family, while others were cold and mean. He is not saying submit to their physical abuse, but submit to them as their boss in such a way as to honor God and honor them. In the workplace, employees are to submit to employers as if they were serving Christ Himself. He’s telling every believer to work hard, do your job well whether your boss honors you or not. Submission is a kingdom principle.
- The Bible teaches that believers are to submit to the spiritual leaders in the church. In Hebrews 13:17 the Bible gives some direction on the attitude believers should have toward the spiritual leaders within their local church. Hebrews 13 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17, HCSB; see also 1 Pet. 5:5). God has given each local body of believers spiritual leaders who are to shepherd, lead, challenge, oversee, and watch over your spiritual growth. For there to be order and unity in the church these leaders must lead well. Submission is a kingdom principle.
- The Bible also teaches that a wife is to submit to her husband (1 Pet. 3:1; Eph. 5:22). So God is not picking on you as a wife and trying to make your life miserable. God loves you and wants the best for you. Submission is a universal and divine principle that applies to many relationships. Today we are focusing on the husband and wife relationship in connection with submission.
Submission is an act of spiritual maturity
Secondly, submission is a Spirit-filled act. Notice the context and how submission is introduced in Ephesians 5:18-21. The Bible says, “Don’t great drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit [to be filled by the Spirit means to let the Holy Spirit control and guide you, then it gives us some examples of what a life guided by the Holy Spirit should look like]: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music from your heart to the Lord [that simply means you have a heart of worship and praise toward your God], giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ [a person guided by the Holy Spirit is going to be a grateful and thankful person], submitting to one another in the fear of Christ [a Spirit-filled and Spirit-guided act is to submit to whoever you are to submit to]” (HCSB).
One of the results of a Spirit filled life is that we submit to the authorities that God has placed over our lives, whether it’s a government, employer, spiritual leader or a husband. Submission is an act of godly obedience. Submission is an act of the Holy Spirit working in your life.
Submission brings order and structure
Third, submission brings order and structure. The term “submit” has a military connotation and indicates soldiers or troops being drawn together in order. None of them breaking rank or turning on each other or walking in disobedience to those in authority over them. Submission is a divine principle that God uses to bring order to government, businesses, churches, and marriages. There has to be some kind of chain of command whether in government, businesses, churches, or marriages. Somebody has to make the final decision. Somebody has to be in charge.
A Submissive wife is not…
What does submission look like for the wife? The Bible often commands that a wife submit to her husband. Before explaining what this means, we must first explain what this does not mean.
A submissive wife’s ultimate authority is not her husband
First, a submissive wife’s ultimate authority is not her husband. Her ultimate authority is God. For this reason, if your husband asks you to sin, you must not, because you need to be in submission to your highest authority, the will of God as revealed in the Word of God. For this reason, if your husband commits a crime, you can call the police. If he ask you to lie, you can say no. Your ultimate authority is God, not your husband. In Acts 5:29 we are told, “We must obey God rather than men” (HCSB).
A submissive wife is not inferior to her husband
Secondly, a submissive wife is not inferior to her husband. Some wives believe to submit to their husbands is to lie down, roll over, and play dead. Even if your husband tells you things and does things that make you feel inferior and less of a person, I want to say to you that you are valuable, important, significant and you matter to God. You are not inferior to your husband. Don’t allow your identity to be dwarfed or destroyed by your husband’s ego or selfishness. You matter to God.
A submissive wife does not yield to abuse
Third, a submissive wife does not yield to abuse. If your husband is abusing you in any way you should leave the house, stay with a friend or relative and work on the marriage from the outside. Your safety and the safety of your children do not have to submit to abuse.
A submissive wife is…
So, what is a submissive wife?
A submissive wife is equal to her husband
First, a submissive wife is equal to her husband. You and your husband are equal in value. You are both equally important. You are equals, but you have two different roles. A fork and a spoon are equals in the kitchen, but they have two different roles. In God’s divine design He created marriage in such a way that for it to work at the maximum level the husband should lead with a sacrificial heart and the wife should follow with a submissive heart. Again, you are both equal, you simply have different roles.
In Genesis 1:27 the Bible says, “So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female [They both were created in the image of God, that is a value statement]. God blessed them, and God said to them [to both of them], ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth’” (HCSB). God gave both of them the authority to subdue and rule the planet. You are equal to your husband because God made you both in the image of Himself and gave both of you authority to rule.
You are both equal, but you do not have the same role. You have different roles. This takes us to the next point.
A submissive wife is yielding to her husband’s leadership
Second, a submissive wife is yielding to her husband’s leadership. Colossians 3:18 says, “Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (HCSB). As a Christian wife you recognize that God has given the headship or leadership of the home to your husband. There will be times that you and your husband will disagree about a matter, when that happens someone has to make a final decision. That someone is the husband and God will hold him accountable for his decisions.
Pam, my wife, she is really good at this. When there is more than one way to handle something we will sit down, discuss an issue, look at the options, talk it through together, I will hear her thoughts on it, and she will hear mine. Then she will say something like this, “I know this is a tough decision. You know where I stand on it, but whatever you decide I will support you on it.” She has just yielded herself to my leadership. That is a helpmate.
A submissive wife learns from Jesus about submission
Third, a submissive wife is learning from Jesus about submission. The key to growing in respectful submission is to look to Jesus Christ. In the very nature of the Trinitarian God of the Bible there is functional submission through what is called “ontological equality.” What this means is that although the Father, Son, and Spirit are different persons, they are also equal and one while practicing submission. In a similar way, a husband and wife are equal and one while practicing submission.
For example, more than forty times in John’s gospel alone, we learn that God the Father sent God the Son to earth.
- And while on the earth, Jesus practiced submission by teaching us to pray, “Your will be done” (Matt. 6:10) and Himself praying, “not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
- Jesus also said that while on earth He only did what the Father told Him to do and said what the Father told Him to say (John 5:19). Jesus said this was because “I can do nothing on My own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, My judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent Me, not My own will” (John 5:30, NLT).
- Importantly, Jesus’ submission was both emotional and vocal. He said what He felt, as when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion. This means that a wife can simultaneously be respectfully submissive and vocally honest with both her husband and God about how she’s feeling.
To really understand respectful submission we all need to examine Jesus’ submission to the Heavenly Father.
A submissive wife focuses on her part of the relationship, not her husbands
Fourth, a submissive wife focuses on her part of the relationship, not her husbands. If your husband isn’t working on his part of loving, you are still called to work on your part of respectfully submitting, knowing that God hears your prayers and honors your obedience. This doesn’t mean if there is abuse or harm you are to endure it. But, as a helper on mission, you are supposed to respectfully discuss how he can be loving and ask how you can be respectful. Biblically these go hand in hand, and you are to help each other understand how to live out what love and respect mean. These should be regular conversations and actions if you want your marriage and friendship to mature. This is a time for humility, not pride, to look for ways to grow closer to Christ and your husband.
- Focusing on your part does not mean that you are to be a compliant wife. A compliant wife often thinks she is be submissive when in reality she is enabling her husband to continue in his selfish behaviors. One wife who realized this said, “In my own sin, I chose to falsely flatter that which wasn’t honorable in my husband, selfishly hoping I would get a better experience. My sins of giving way to fear of conflict and of my husband’s disapproval led me to submit dutifully while becoming more enslaved in my husband’s self-focused desires rather than the Lord’s desires.” Being a submissive wife does not mean enabling your husband’s self-focused desires.
- Focusing on your part does not mean that you are to be a contentious wife A contentious wife usually resists any kind of submission. They try to control their husband in order to get him to do what they want. A wife who realized she was contentious said, “My sin of constant disrespect and lack of submission has caused a part of my husband to die. I’ve made him afraid of me. He avoids talking to me so I won’t argue with him and doesn’t trust my love for him. He sees me as his enemy instead of a wife and friend because I am quarrelsome. I thought if I took control I would respect him more, but it didn’t work.” Being a submissive wife involves humility, patience, and gentleness.
To the best of my ability I have given you several things from God’s Word addressing submission in marriage.
- This may be new to you and you may need to do your own personal study of what God means when He says wives should submit to their husbands. I want to encourage you to do that study. Dig deep in it to see for yourself what the creator of marriage has to say about your role as a wife.
- This may not be new to you, but God’s Spirit spoke to you about some things you have been saying or doing that causes your husband to feel disrespected and devalued as the head of the home. Talk to your husband about it and if you need to, ask for his forgiveness.
Before we wrap this up I want to say a word to the husbands. Men, if your wife falls way short of what has been mentioned here today don’t criticize her or nag her about becoming better. If she was here today, she heard what was said and she saw what the Bible says. You pray for her, encourage her, and be her supportive and loving leader.
To become the woman God wants you to be and to become the wife and mom God wants you to be you need to have Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life. He needs to be your Lord so He can be your leader. You need to have His Spirit inside you [Explain salvation].
 Gen. 2:18, cf. 1 Tim. 2:11-15; Gen. 5:2, 1 Cor. 11:2-16; 14:33-34; Eph. 5:21-33; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:3-5; 1 Peter 3:1