Reverence & Honor: What the Bible Says about Submission in Marriage
By Betty Miller
Submitting to God First
What is the definition of submission? It is yielding to another’s desires without resistance. Submission to another’s wishes is an attitude of the heart done willingly, while surrender is yielding by being forced to do so. Our first submission should be unto the Lord. “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37). God never forces someone to follow Him nor does He want us to be forced to follow or yield to another human being. He wants us to lovingly submit to Him and to each other. However, because of the evil in some men’s hearts a person under their authority can be abusive and a submissive person can be asked to do things that they do not believe is right. That is why the Bible also gives perimeters to submission. There are Scriptures that give us a guideline as to how far any human being is to submit to another. We need to understand the proper role of submission in marriage so that our homes will be harmonious and free of contention.
The Bible teaches that, in the Spirit, women are equal with men, and each must submit unto Jesus as their spiritual head. In the flesh, in the marriage relationship, women are to be subject to their husband’s headship. The Lord ordained that the man be the one that would make final decisions in the home because in any relationship involving two people one must be the final authority. In the marriage, or fleshly relationship, the man is the head and should guide his home and family. In the spirit, Jesus Christ is the head of His family and He guides each member according to His headship. Men are to love their wives like Jesus loves the church. He laid His life down for her. Men that are demanding that their wives submit to them have not learned the right way to win them and that is to love them with the love of the Lord.
Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. 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 saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. Ephesians 5:21-33
Submission to a husband does not mean a woman is to be a slave in bondage to that man, but rather it is to be a mutual submission in love. The above scripture says we are to submit unto each other. Submission means to yield or “to set yourself under.” From this definition we see we are to yield to one another instead of demanding our own way. Love should be the rule in our homes, and we should “prefer one another.” Not only should this be especially true in our homes, but in our church family as well.
Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another. Romans 12:10
Both husband and wife should be submissive and loving. The love of Christ should be the rule in the home. When wifely submission is over-stressed we find it can lead to many problems that cause the husband-wife relationship to be thrown out of balance. Some even stress it to the degree that a wife must obey every command her husband dictates to her. They arrive at this conclusion because of the Scripture, “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:24). The word “everything” here is not inclusive of evil things. Women are to submit to their husbands as the church is to submit unto Christ. Christ would never ask anything of the church that was not according to God’s Word. Women are never to submit unto things that do not line up with God’s Word.
A perfect example of this is the New Testament account of Ananias and Sapphira. Chapter 5 of Acts records the story of how this couple conspired to hold back what they had agreed to give unto the church. The church had not asked them for anything; it was their own decision to contribute the money from the sale of their land. When the land sold, they conspired to keep back a portion of the money. However, when Ananias gave the money to the apostles, he lied and told them it was the full amount. The Holy Spirit revealed this evil lie to Peter and showed him that Satan had entered Ananias’ heart. Because he lied to God, he instantly fell dead at the apostle’s feet. Sapphira, Ananias’ wife, later came along and upon telling the same lie, also fell dead. If she had not submitted to her husband and agreed to this evil, her life would have been spared. However, she followed in her husband’s evil; thus she suffered the same fate. This should show us clearly that to submit to the evil in a husband’s life will only bring destruction upon the woman.
If any man, husband or otherwise, would ask us to do something that Jesus would not sanction, then we must refuse to do it. We should also do and apply those things that the Holy Spirit would speak to us to do. We must obey Him over what man would say to us. If it is truly the Lord speaking to us, He will deal with the one who is wrong.
And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. Acts 4:18-20
If we are submitted unto the Lord and our husband is requiring things of us that we feel are not of the Lord, we should take the matter to the Lord and ask for His wisdom on how to deal with it. We should pray for our husbands and ask the Lord to speak to them if they are in the wrong. However, we should also be willing to be corrected if we are in the wrong. We should ask the Holy Spirit to resolve the conflict and to deal with the party who is wrong, and both should be willing to change an opinion.
The Holy Spirit generally will not ask a woman to do something that would cause her to disobey her husband and thereby cause conflict in her home. Most women who have a problem submitting to their husbands have the same problem submitting to the Lord. Our relationship with the Lord will reflect in our attitudes with not only our husbands and children, but with all others as well. If we please the Lord and obey Him, we will find we will have favor with the people in our lives. And, to those who do not understand us and spitefully use us, we shall have God’s grace to bear their persecution and God’s love toward them to forgive them.
There are several accounts in the Word of God that plainly teach submission to God over submission to husbands. One familiar story is that of Mary, the mother of Christ (Luke 1:26-38; Matthew 1:18-25). She yielded to what God asked her to do without asking Joseph what he thought about it. In fact, he wanted to put her away when he found out she was pregnant. Surely Mary tried to explain to Joseph that this child was conceived by the Holy Ghost, but he could not receive her explanation until the Lord sent an angel to confirm to him that she indeed had heard the Lord. This is a case where a woman submitted to God first, and then the Lord dealt with her husband showing him she had heard the Lord.
All through the Bible we find accounts of God speaking to women before speaking to their husbands. The Apostle Peter speaks of Sarah as a model wife in 1 Peter 3:5-6, “For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.”
Genesis 16:5-6 gives us another side of the picture, for we have here an account of a disagreement between Sarah and Abraham. On this occasion, Abraham conceded and allowed Sarah to have her way. We notice that God justified her for this in Genesis 21:10-12 when the question came up again. God told Abraham to obey Sarah: “…Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac. And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son. And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.”
When the Scripture speaks of wives obeying and submitting to their husbands, it cannot mean that every wife must obey her husband always in everything. She, as well as he, is responsible to obey what the Spirit gives each to do. The husband does not lead the wife into all truth since this is the work of the Holy Spirit. This does not license a wife who has a domineering spirit to do anything she wants simply because she says she is only subject to the Lord. The Lord is displeased with any person who tries to dominate and rule another’s life, whether that person be male or female. There is nothing worse than a domineering, nagging wife. Proverbs 21:9 expresses it this way, “It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.”
Some women preachers have become very overbearing and bossy; thus it is very distasteful to hear them preach. It is not necessarily what they are preaching that is wrong, but their domineering and dictating spirits are wrong. This kind of spirit is not of the Lord, whether it be in a man or woman.
The main thing for women to do in regard to following and obeying what they feel the Lord is telling them to do is to be sure it is the Lord. If it is the Lord, He will justify them as He did Sarah and other women of the Bible. If it is not the Lord, they will create for themselves a lot of problems, not only with their husbands, but with others as well.
Women who are single are not under any earthly man’s headship since they do not have a flesh relationship with a man. Their head is Jesus Christ and it is this union to which they are subject.
Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. Romans 7:4
Most Christian women experience two marriages. They are married to Christ and they are married to their husbands. The first is a spiritual marriage, the other an earthly or fleshly marriage. They are to be obedient to both. If they obey their spiritual head, they will not be disobeying their physical head, even if it is against what their husbands command because God will deal with their husbands. Some women are unequally yoked and have difficulty submitting to the desires of their ungodly husbands. They are to obey them as long as it does not mean disobedience to Christ. They are not to obey them if it would be morally or spiritually wrong.
A Biblical account of this can be found in 1 Samuel 25:4-42. Abigail was a woman who knew God. She was the wife of Nabal, an ungodly husband. She realized her husband’s refusal to give gifts unto David’s men endangered her whole household. On her own initiative she took food and rode to meet David. She was a wise woman–by disobeying her husband, she saved his life, for David would have slain him. She saved not only her husband’s life, but also her own and her household’s lives and possessions. She also found favor with David and with God. Her wicked husband Nabal died shortly after this as his heart was cold toward God. He was a son of Belial (another name for Satan).
Now therefore know and consider what thou wilt do; for evil is determined against our master, and against all his household: for he is such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him. Then Abigail made haste, and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and an hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses. And she said unto her servants, Go on before me; behold, I come after you. But she told not her husband Nabal… So David received of her hand that which she had brought him, and said unto her, Go up in peace to thine house; see, I have hearkened to thy voice, and have accepted thy person. And Abigail came to Nabal; and behold, he held a feast in his house, like the feast of a king; and Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken: wherefore she told him nothing, less or more, until the morning light. But it came to pass in the morning, when the wine was gone out of Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and be became as a stone. 1 Samuel 25:17-19, 35-37
Another account of a woman who moved in faith and was responsible for the salvation of her whole household was the harlot Rahab in chapters 2 and 6 of Joshua. There were men in her household but none of them had the faith and boldness to seek deliverance. “And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father’s household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho” (Joshua 6:25).
Women today who move in faith and obedience to God can be responsible for the salvation of their households. Prayer can bring whole families to the Lord, even if at first the family members object to spiritual things. Later, they will be eternally grateful that someone stood and believed for their souls. It would be quite a revelation to take an inventory of how many men came to know the Lord Jesus as a result of the faith of some woman. We’ve heard thousands of testimonies of men who were saved as the direct result of a praying mother, grandmother, wife or girlfriend. The first woman, Eve, may have led her man astray, but since then God has used many women to bring men back to Him. What a privilege to believe for our entire families. Allegiance and submission to the Lord bring miracles of deliverance.
Submission Out of Balance
Submission has been out of balance in both directions, thereby causing much confusion in the body of Christ. Those who refuse to submit to any authority are just as out of balance as those who submit to every dictate of those who they feel are their superiors, regardless of the mandates. We must have the leadership of the Holy Spirit in all areas of our lives. Legalistic approaches to the Word of God always bring bondage. Paul’s letter to the Galatians was a reprimand to the people who were leaving the simplicity of the gospel and reverting back to strict rules and regulations.
We have the same problem today within the church as some are becoming hard and dogmatic in dealing with the truth and with people. Submission is required of God’s people, but never to the point that men begin ruling other men’s or women’s lives. This has been abused greatly in regard to church authority. Some pastors have become dictators, while others have become so permissive (all in the name of love) that order is lost in the church. With no order in the body of Christ there is chaos. There has to be respect for the pastor and the other offices in the body of Christ. Any legalistic approach to this, however, brings bondage and does not carry out God’s wishes. God’s true pastors lead His flock in love and by example.
Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 1 Peter 5:3
These kind of church leaders and pastors are the ones the Lord has chosen to guide His people.
If you are in an area where this kind of ministry does not exist, you can pray for the Lord to send someone who will have a heart like His heart. In the meantime, He can furnish you with good books and taped teachings that can bring life to your spirit. He can bring the five-fold ministry to you as you sit under these teachings and learn through them. We are blessed in the hour we live to have the availability of books written by ministers throughout the ages. We can learn much through their writings. Of course, our greatest teaching tool is the Word of God, and the greatest teacher is the Holy Spirit.
God’s plan is for all of His people to be part of a local body. If your heart is truly crying for a good shepherd, the Lord will move you to one or raise up one where you are. It may be a small group, but size is not the issue with God; the issue is relationships and submission. Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Submission to True Elders
God’s true ministers are the ones to which we are to submit as the Scripture says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account…” (Hebrews 13:17).
Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. 1 Peter 5:5
The command here to submit unto the elder is not referring to what we generally term as elders in the church, but rather to those who are older and more knowledgeable in the Lord. Elder women are used of the Lord to help guide young Christians, male or female, as it certainly does not make sense for a young male convert to instruct a woman who has walked with the Lord for many years, simply because he is of male sex. The Word of God demands respect for the elders, male and female.
Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity. 1 Timothy 5:1-2
It is the economy of God to use those vessels who have matured in Him to help others come to maturity, regardless of their sex–or even their age.
The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. 1 Peter 5:1-2
Excerpt from the book Neither Male Nor Female by Betty Miller.
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Title: What the Bible Says about Submission in Marriage
Related Topics: What the Bible Says about Sex Before Marriage; Scriptural Prayer for Marriages; Duties of a Christian Wife; Divorce; Choosing a Mate