When you get into a conversation with someone about biblical submission in marriage, things can get out of hand quickly.
First, there is a misconception about what biblical submission in the marriage looks like. For those who are not understanding the scripture, or twisting it, they believe it is the woman being a doormat and the husband is the ultimate supreme dictator of the marriage. They look at the first portion of the scripture from Ephesians 5, about the wife, and neglect that latter half that is directed to the husband. Additionally, they are not acknowledging the very direct instructions given to husbands throughout scripture (Eph. 5:25 and 28, Col. 3:19, 1Peter 3:7, just to name a few). It is true that some religious groups and families may use this scripture to advocate abuse and oppression of the wife. But, remember, they are the bad apple amongst the bunch… unfortunately. They give the rest of us a bad name. When you tell someone you believe in “biblical submission to your husband”, they are envisioning you are one of these bad apples. If you can get the opportunity to explain yourself, you can help them recognize the difference.
Second, there is a misconception that biblical submission in a marriage is going to look identical in every family, which is not only untrue but also not even practical. Different families will have different structures in place based on the needs of the family. A wife who has a deployed husband is going to carry a lot more authority in her home when it comes to making day to day decisions, than a woman who has a husband who works from home or a regular 9-5, Monday – Friday job. There are some people/groups who define what the gender roles and responsibilities are, and sell them as a one size fits all package. You will find some women in your life may try to convince you their way is the right way, the only way. The truth is no two families in the Old Testament were the same, nor are they today. Deciding what submission will look like in your home is going to come from God through prayer and communication with your spouse.
Third, you will find some people will try and refute biblical submission with the scripture found in Proverbs 31. This woman is clearly not a doormat, she makes fiscal decisions, she makes decisions for the family and the household. In fact, she does quite a bit of things that may be defined as “man’s work”. She works out of the home. She’s making major purchases (she bought a vineyard!). Naysayers will try and push that if this is a woman who is of “noble character” and a woman to be desired as a wife, and ideal wife… then it negates biblical submission. This is what I would like to address today.
WHAT IS BIBLICAL SUBMISSION:
Biblical submission is a two way street. It requires something from both the wife and the husband. She is to submit to his authority, he is to love her as Christ loved the church. This means that she allows him to make the final decisions for the family & he takes the burden and accountability of those decisions before God. He will love his wife so much that he will be willing to sacrifice himself (his time, money, resources, pleasure) for her. He will consider her feeling, opinions and even expertise in his decision making. It is a reciprocal relationship of mutual love and respect.
WHAT BIBLICAL SUBMISSION IS NOT:
Biblical submission is not a husband dictating the wife, or family, from a place of superiority. It is not the wife having no voice, or opinion, on matters related to the home. It is not a clear cut check list of “his duties” and “her duties”. In fact, when it comes to gender roles in scripture there is no clear cut do/don’t do check list. In fact, it is quite broadly defined. Most of the very clear cut instructions are relative to how we treat one another, and how to unify ourselves as one flesh. God didn’t dictate who would do the dishes, mow the lawn and decide the china pattern.
WHAT ABOUT THE PROVERBS 31 WOMAN? ISN’T THAT A LIST?
Yes, it is a list. No, not necessarily a list for everyone. If you believe that ANY WOMAN on the earth could accomplish all that is listed there, you will be let down. First, it is acknowledged by scholars that the Proverbs 31 Woman was not an actual living, breathing woman. Instead, it was an idea. King Lemuel’s mother wrote him a letter detailing out what he should be looking for in a wife. There is really nothing amongst that list of duties she accomplished that isn’t noble or good. A Professor I once had, who was also a Pastor, told me that in scripture when you see a “therefore” or a “but” you need to stop and see what they are there for. In other words, when you see a list like this and it is capped off with a “but”… that is when you are finally going to see the point of the scripture.
In the case of Proverbs 31 after the “but” you read “a woman who fears the Lord is worthy to be praised”. The point of the scripture is that while all of this attributes, character, skills and abilities are great and desirable in a wife…. THE MOST IMPORTANT is that she is a woman who fears the Lord. We know that if we are communing with the holy spirit, there will be fruit that we produce. All of her attributes and skills and her very character are a result of her fear of the Lord. They are her fruit. Different women, wives, will produce different fruit. Just as some fruit trees produce oranges and other apples. We are the body of Christ, we can’t all be hands. We must also be feet, eyes, ears, etc. If we all were to bear the same fruit, the world would lack & our service would be limited.
SO HOW DOES THIS ANSWER THE ARGUMENT AGAINST SUBMISSION?
To answer that, we have to go right to the scripture itself. In Proverbs 31:11 we are told that “her husband has full confidence in her, and lacks nothing”. This means that the Proverbs 31 Woman is trusted by her husband. He can trust her to make good decisions in his absence, because they are of one mind. She is not making these decisions based on her own desires or wants. She is a woman who is of “one flesh” with her husband, her thinking is in accord with his.
Sometimes in our society we can find that a household could have two sets of rules. Either because the parents are in disagreement, or even divorced. So there are “mom’s rules” and “dad’s rules”. I have seen women who, for example, will disagree with their husband about whether or not the kids can watch a certain tv show. So, when dad is at work the kids are allowed to secretly watch it, but when dad gets home the rules change. Or, at mom’s house the kids are allowed to dress one way, but when at their dad’s house they can’t. There is a LOT wrong with this thinking. First, it illustrates that mom and dad are not a team. Kids will learn who to ask, in order to get what they want. Second, it creates confusion for kids because there are not clear cut rules and can create division between the parents. Third, the children are being taught at an early age that they can manipulate or bend rules not just when home with mom & dad, but also in their future relationships.
The Proverbs 31 Woman has a husband that knows that when he is away, she will make the same decisions as if he was home. He can TRUST her.
WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH SUBMISSION?
The Proverbs 31 Woman’s husband can trust her BECAUSE she is a woman who submits to her husband as the head of the home. Over time, she has proven herself to be wise, to make good decisions, to be a good steward with the money, to make decisions as he would, and so on. Over time, he has learned that she can be trusted because she was submitting to his headship. The more she has earned his trust, the more he feels she is capable of making decisions in her absence. When you are an Eph 5 Submissive Wife, the better you get at it, you become the Proverbs 31 Woman who has a husband that has confidence and trust in her.
When we as wives are doing things behind our husband’s backs, they learn that they can’t trust us. If we have a different set of rules for when our husband’s are away, we are untrustworthy. When we make purchases that we know he wouldn’t agree with, or do not consult him over the cost, we are untrustworthy. Scripture says that those who can be trusted with much are given much, and those who are untrustworthy with little are given little. This isn’t just applicable to God’s blessings, but also to how our husbands will respond to us.
A husband who wants total control of his home is due to one of three things. He s either an authoritarian, married to an untrustworthy woman, or has a history with untrustworthy women (his mother, ex-wife). The first, that is an issue with him & something we can pray for God’s hand in changing. The second, that is an issue with us & something we can change through confession (to God, to our husband), prayer & becoming more trustworthy. The third, is a combination of the two. We must pray for his heart to soften and his ability to trust us be strengthened, but we also must continually prove ourselves to be trustworthy. We must also have the understanding that patience will be required during this time.
TAKE AN HONEST LOOK AT YOURSELF
If you find that your husband wants total control in your home, you have to start the process of change by taking an honest look at yourself first. Before you pointing the finger at him, you need to examine yourself. Have you been honest and trustworthy? Have your decisions been consistent with his? Have you respected his headship of the home, or are you fighting to get your way? Do you manipulate him to sway him to come to your conclusions or do you submit to his? Submission is not about giving up control. It’s about establishing trust. The reward is that the more he can trust you, the more control you will have in your home. Because not only will be in accord with him, but you will desire to be in agreement with him vs. your own ways. In other words, you won’t do it just because God wants you to… YOU will want to.
TAKE A KNEE FOR HIM
If after your own self examination you find that the trust issues lie within him, take a knee. The greatest gift we give our marriage, and honor we can show God, is by praying over our husbands and our marriage. We can pray for the changes that need to take place in him, we can pray for our own strength and patience during the this time, and we can ask God to reveal to us any ways in which we may be showing ourselves as untrustworthy and not even see it. In the interim, we still remain submissive & trustworthy wives…even when we don’t agree with him. God will honor your obedience and bless your marriage.
A QUICK NOTE TO HUSBANDS
I’d like to address a point regarding trust with the husbands, please do not ever give your wife a reason to be untrustworthy. What I mean by that statement is that you need to always remain approachable, understanding and compassionate. If you tend to overreact to certain situations, your wife may avoid coming to you in order to not upset you.
Finances are one of the most touchy subjects in my house. I have a set budget, and any time I have to come to my husband because that budget isn’t enough for that time period … he gets unhinged. Finally, I told him that I would rather sell my own possessions at a pawn shop than ask for more money. That shocked him. He had come to a place where money had become such an issue to him, that he had become unapproachable. Do not be unapproachable. If you wife comes to you over a subject that is your hot button, learn to: hear her, ask her for some time to think about it, take a step away until you are clear headed and then talk with her/give her your decision. Don’t let her see you get unhinged. If you let her know she can come to you with ANYTHING, at ANY TIME… she will.
ABOUT THOSE BAD APPLES
I can’t walk away from this entry without addressing those bad apples, the ones who give us a bad name. We can’t deny that there exists groups who utilize submission in an unbiblcal way. Wives and children are abused under the notion that this is something God has ordained. As a body of believers we can pray for these families. We can pray that the eyes of the husband are opened to his sin. We can pray for the safety of the women and the children. We can offer aid and shelter to those who are fleeing to safety.
If you are reading this, and you are in an abusive marriage…. THIS IS NOT WHAT GOD WANTS FOR YOU! Please, seek help.