Submission: A Beautiful Picture of the Gospel
Last weekend I had the privilege of speaking at a women’s retreat. I spoke on my favorite topic: biblical womanhood. Of course, there are many facets to being a biblical woman, and today I want to address one of those. Submission.
Depending on your background, just reading the word “submission” brings either comfort or fear. For many years I hated that word. I remember telling my college roommate that I would never submit to a man. I didn’t mind getting married, but we were going to have a 50/50 relationship. He married a strong, independent woman who delighted to speak her mind, and he would have to deal with it.
I had one major problem: I totally misunderstood the biblical definition and picture of godly submission.
I had bought into the cultural lie that submission was in tandem with weakness. If this is where you are, my prayer is God would use these next few moments to speak His truth over you.
Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives are to submit to their husbands in everything (Eph. 5:22-24).
Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord (Col. 3:18).
First, let’s look at the biblical definition of submission.
In both passages, the Greek verb used for “submit” is the word hupotassō. In its simplest definition, hupotassō means to “place or arrange under, to submit one’s control, to yield to one’s admonition or advice.”[i] Look at this definition. Notice that biblical submission does not mean forced submission—abuse—or give the one in authority the right to humiliate the one in submission.[ii] Instead, hupotassō is best described as a military term used to describe a private who voluntarily comes under the authority of his superior officer.[iii]
I’ve never served in the military, so I don’t claim to understand the life of a soldier. But I have friends who have served, and I’ve seen movies that try to capture what they go through day in and day out. In any military branch, an officer gives the commands and the soldiers carry out the mission. However, the officer needs the solider to do his duty, and the same is true for the soldier.
Ladies, this example, in a way, depicts the marriage relationship. Both the husband and the wife are given certain commands, but they need each other to make it work. A wife must choose to give up her desire to lead and come under her husband’s authority. And, a husband must control his desire to rule over his wife and respond to her with love and servant leadership. (See Eph. 5:25-32)
Secondly, let’s look at whom exactly a woman is to submit under.
A woman is not responsible to submit to every man in every situation. She is to submit to her own husband. That means, unless your husband is my boss or pastor, I don’t have to submit to him. (Even submission to your employer and/or pastor is different from submission to your husband.) We are asked to respect all men in the same way that God asks us to respect all people, but we don’t have to submit to them.
So please don’t buy into the lie that the Bible teaches that all women are under the authority of all men. That just isn’t the case.
Now, let’s consider the appeal of submission.
Paul said that wives are to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22b). First, let me explain what this phrase does not mean. It does not mean a woman is to submit to her husband in the same way she would submit to Christ. If your husband asks you to do something immoral or illegal, then don’t do it. Your first responsibility is to obey the commands of God.
However, this phrase “as to the Lord” does mean that a wife must submit to her husband even when she does not like or agree with his choices. A year ago, my husband decided to buy a dog to protect the family and the house from intruders. He also thought it would be a good pet to help our girls learn responsibility. I don’t really like dogs, so this was not an attractive idea to me. However, he was pretty persistent.
At that point, I had a decision to make. Would I submit under his leadership and what he thought was best for the family? Or would I put my foot down and get nasty? (At some point, we’ve all done this.) I decided to submit to his judgment. We began looking for dogs. We finally came across this sweet puppy (big puppy), and we had a family outing to meet him. He was sweet, but after an afternoon with him, Chris decided it was not the right timing for us. (For the record, I inwardly did a little praise dance.)
I realize the above example is trivial, but it holds a great truth. We are so tempted to fight our husbands over decisions that are non-issues and refuse to allow them to lead our family. I am not saying that women do not have a right to be heard in the marriage relationship—we do. However, when our husbands make a decision, and it doesn’t go against God’s Word, then we must show them the respect they deserve. This is a hard truth, but I’m going to say it anyway: It is preposterous for a woman to boast in her love and submission to God’s authority, yet to demonstrate, by her attitude and actions, a blatant disregard for her husband’s leadership and authority in their marriage.
Finally, let’s determine the purpose behind a wife’s submission.
God has given Christian women a high calling when it comes to submission in marriage, and it goes beyond keeping marital unity. If marriage is a picture of Christ and His church—and it is—as a wife submits to her husband, she is representing and modeling to a spiritually lost person how they are to come to God. She is also demonstrating how the church, Christ’s bride, should respond to Him with submission. Though Jesus is the perfect Bridegroom and my husband is not, when I practice submitting to Christ, then I can more easily submit to my husband. Ladies, we have an opportunity to hold up our marriage as a picture of the gospel. (What an exciting thought!) Do you want your life to proclaim the gospel of Jesus? Then accept the leadership of your husband as the head of your family.
There is so much more that can be said on this topic. And, my prayer is God has used this abbreviated article to show you His great love towards you and His desire that you do marriage His way. If you are struggling with submission, ask God to soften your heart. Remember, it will be impossible for you to submit to your husband if you are not first submitted to your God.
Begin there. Then, allow God to give you the ability and desire to submit to your husband. I’m praying for you!
[i] Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew–Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, 1998), Strong’s number 5293.
[ii] Patterson and Kelley, Women’s Evangelical Commentary: New Testament, 561.
[iii] Robert G. Bratcher and Eugene Albert Nida, A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (New York: United Bible Societies, 1993), 139.