What do you think about submission in marriage? As a Marriage Coach / Marriage Mentor, I hear this question often and my answer is always the same. Submission is challenging but rewarding. God doesn’t just say submit to wives. No, submission is the job of every single believer. Today we will unpack that answer for all the Christian wives who want to ask but haven’t.Biblical submission is NOT a bad word. Voluntary submission in marriage places a godly wife lovingly under the headship of Christ. Click To Tweet
What is Submission in Marriage?
To understand the benefits of submission in marriage we first have to define submission. My problem with defining this word is that there are two perspectives and so we have to walk a fine line. A fine line indeed!
The Culture’s Meaning of Submit is Defined:
The action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.
When we begin talking about this in relation to marriage wives have a lot of questions. A Lot.
- What does it mean to submit to your husband?
- What does submitting to your husband mean?
- How do I submit and respect my husband?
- What if my husband is not respectable?
- How do you submit to an ungodly husband?
And no wonder those are the questions when the definition makes us think in terms of prisoners of war more than love birds in unity.
The second way to define submit is Biblical submission in marriage
What is Biblical Submission?
The word submission in the Bible comes from the Greek word hupotassó. The Greek definition of submit is also used as a military term. It means to place or rank under, to subject.
We’re not talking about a rank of importance here, but a hierarchy of accountability as described in Ephesians 5:25- 27.
An Ephesians 5 marriage is a picture of Christ and the church.
Taking into account the full authority of the Bible, the church is to willingly submit, follow, and heed, every command, so that we may be blameless.
Therefore, as godly wives, Biblical submission to our husbands must be voluntary.
Biblical submission is NOT a bad word. Voluntary submission in marriage places a godly wife lovingly under the headship of Christ.
There Is An Enemy Of Your Marriage
The reality is, we have a very real enemy who desires to destroy us, our faith, and anything that represents God in our lives, including our marriage.
Submission is clearly part of God’s design for marriage as it is part of God’s design for Christian living with all believers. That is why the enemy comes at the idea of submission so hard.
If the enemy can distort our understanding of submission he can cause us to refuse submission in marriage or anywhere else for that matter!
Without submission we miss many of the blessings and growth in a marriage that God intended… and the enemy wins.
Better Questions to Ask About Submission
That is why I want us to start asking better questions about many of the topics related to faith and marriage. If we ask better questions we will find Biblical answers and begin to get unstuck in our faith and have healthy successful marriages!
- What is Biblical submission in marriage?
- What does Biblical submission look like?
- Are there Bible verses about submission in marriage?
- What are the benefits of submission in marriage?
A Case Against Submission in Marriage
What I find most interesting about the way the enemy distorts the idea of submission is that he uses the Bible as his weapon.
Every woman I talk to who poses a question about submission in marriage has a Biblical example of a woman not submitting to her husband that God blessed.
Yes, there are examples of:
- Women leading
- Women in authority
- Women judges
- Women leading in the church
- Wives disagreeing with their husbands and acting accordingly
All of that is in the Bible. You can make a case that there are times and situations when a wife is not required to submit to her husband – if you are operating from the submission meaning that culture gave us.
If the submission is about a wife always doing what she is told, the Bible is clear we are not to submit to a husband in that way.
However, that mentality shifts when we operate from the Biblical definition of submission.
Biblical submission looks like a wife choosing to stay in the hierarchy God established (God, husband, wife, Christ) in 1 Corinthians 11:3.
When the submission is about that hierarchy then even in those cases above, the wife is still submitting, when she is submitting to God, rather than her husband in rare cases.
The real issue is not that a wife must always submit to her husband, but that all believers must submit to God.
We call that Mutual submission. When a husband is operating outside of what is clearly BIblical, a wife can submit to God rather than her husband.
To explain, lets’ look at some practical examples of Biblical submission… but first a word of caution.
Abuse and Boundaries in Marriage
If you are in an abusive marriage or an abusive relationship, use caution.
There is NEVER a reason for abuse. Every kind of abuse is wrong.
- Physical abuse is not okay with God.
- Mental abuse is not okay with God.
- Sexual abuse is not okay with God.
- Spiritual abuse is not okay with God.
- Financial abuse is not okay with God.
Abuse is not your fault. Abuse is not okay with God. God does not, has not, and will not call you to stay and submit in an abusive marriage.
Leave. Get out. Get safe. Seek counseling. Heal. Protect yourself. Protect your children.
Submission is about a hierarchy and Jesus Himself told us that we are to love others as we love ourselves.
It’s okay, it’s godly, it’s Biblical to love yourself and take care of your safety and well being.
None of what follows is meant to tell a wife in an abusive marriage to pray harder, have more faith, and submit to her husband to get him to change. The Bible doesn’t say that.
God Loves You and Values You
You, sweet wife, are loved and cared for by the Creator of the Universe. You are the daughter of the King of kings and no one has the right to abuse you.
Submission and boundaries in marriage go hand in hand.
Boundary: You may not harm your spouse in any way. If you do, you have broken the covenant of the relationship. The abuser chose to end the covenant, but you have to enforce the boundary or it won’t stop.
Walk in God’s love with firm boundaries and find help.
Practical Examples of Biblical Submission
The first wife we see living in Biblical submission in scripture is Sarai. I find it interesting that she is the first, because there had been several opportunities for God to highlight wives, and yet He is silent.
We don’t know the name of Noah’s wife or any of his sons.
God doesn’t tell us that Eve changed or did anything to redeem her mistake in the garden.
No, it isn’t until Abraham and Sarah that God gives us a glimpse of a godly marriage and a godly wife.
Sarai Is A Godly Wife
We are introduced to Sarai (later renamed by God Sarah) in Genesis 12:5.
“Abram took his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the people which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; so they came to the land of Canaan.”
The introduction to the couple is a perfect example of mutual submission. God said go and the couple goes. They both submit to God.
The couple agreed and submitted to God, regardless of how little of the plan He shared or how crazy the plan seemed.
We see in this that Sarai was a godly wife, obeying both her husband and God.
Submission To A Fool
In the same chapter, we see the first instance of submission from Sarai.
“It came about, when he was approaching Egypt, that he said to his wife Sarai, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live.” Genesis 12:11-12 NASB
Abram asks Sarai to lie about being his wife. This puts her in danger in many ways and it is likely she knew the risk going into the situation.
I want to pause here for just a moment because I can relate to the questions you may be asking.
What If My Husband Wants to do Something That Seems Foolish?
Do I have the right to disagree and go in the opposite direction?
I have been there and can relate to your struggle.
My husband once struggled with alcohol. He drank and drank and made the most foolish choices. Choices that affected our lives in negative ways.
My husband currently struggles with gambling. Our family struggles financially in many ways and this is a foolish choice on his part that at one point affected us in harsh ways.
When you have Biblical support for disagreeing with your husband you can choose to submit to God, and respectfully disagree with your husband’s choice. You really can.
BUT, I want you to take a look at how Sarai handled the situation and how God responded.
Protection is a Benefit of Submission
Sarai followed Abram’s leadership even though she must have known how foolish it was. Sarai chose submission to her husband and did not reveal that she was his wife in Egypt.
“But the Lord struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.” Genesis 12:17 NASB
God protected Sarai from Abram’s foolish and fearful choice. God protected her virtue and her safety.
Protection is one of many benefits of submission in marriage. We see in this Biblical character study that god protects wives who submit to their husbands. Yes, even when the husband made an unwise or foolish choice.
Related: How to Do A Biblical Character Study*
God Is A Great Defender
Have you ever seen God stand up over you, your family, and your marriage when one or both of you made an unwise choice?
I have. Recently my husband quit his job, without another job lined up. Of course, we are mid-2020 so jobs were shutting down, laying off and we were stuck in a tough financial spot.
Through the years I’ve learned to pray hard when my husband makes unwise choices. Also, to respect him with my words even when I think he should have learned this lesson already.
God honors wives who submit through prayer!
- The next month I worried about how we would pay the mortgage.
- Our insurance refunded us an overpayment from the last year that covered the shortfall.
- I wondered how we would have enough food to feed our family.
- A friend felt prompted to drop off a bag of fresh fruit and veggies.
God provided for us and protected us from the consequences of my husband’s foolish choice. He does that often because He is our great defender and provider!
God Blesses Us Even When We Fail
Throughout the lifetime of Sarai and Abram, we see God bless them, protect them, guide them, talk with them, and cultivate a beautiful relationship with both of them.
God personally speaks a blessing over Sarai, who he renamed Sarah. Her faith is depicted in real ways right alongside Abram who God renamed Abraham.
Something that I love about this Character study is that we see faults in both.
We see Abraham’s fear and make foolish choices out of that place of fear even though he is described as a man of faith.
LOL, we even see that he didn’t learn fast about how to not fear the same situation with his beautiful wife being a temptation to foreign leaders!
Consequences for Not Submitting
We see Sarah submitting repeatedly, trusting God even when her husband’s fear threatened her safety and virtue. But then we see her get tired of waiting for God to step in and be faithful. Yep, she had a moment of not submitting to God.
Note: Sarah’s lack of submission here is not about submission in marriage but submission in faith to God.
She was tired of waiting for her own child, so she gave her maidservant to Abraham to have a stepchild. To this day, those children’s descendants are at war.
We see that when we do not submit to God there are consequences.
People use this passage to say wives should submit to their husbands, but nowhere do we see Abraham against Sarah’s plan. No, this isn’t about submission in marriage, this is about submission in faith to God.
But note here again, that this one mistake on Sarah’s part does not define how she is remembered. Sarah is a godly woman, a godly wife, and a woman of great faith as noted in Hebrews 11.
Boundaries in Marriage Again
Earlier I mentioned that boundaries are important in marriage and in the discussion of submission. There are times a separation is Biblical.
After Abraham (in obedience to God) took Isaac to be a sacrifice we see that this couple separated.
“Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.” Genesis 23:2 NASB
Abraham loved Sarah, mourned for her even, but there was separation as they were living in two different places.
This is a beautiful example of boundaries in marriage. Abraham went too far when he took her son to kill. Abuse is never okay.
Note that this separation did not nullify her faith or change the way Sarah is remembered.
Abuse is a clear cut boundary in a marriage that you have permission to enforce. It is never okay for your spouse to abuse you or your children. If they do, even if they love you, you must get to safety.
The Power of Submission in the Bible
The truth is, submission is for every single Christian. Submission is how we live in unity in the Body of Christ. We submit to each other, we esteem others more than ourselves, we outdo each other in doing good.
Ultimately, we all submit to God. We all trust God. We all obey God. God is at the top of the hierarchy of faith and submission.
Somewhere along the way, the enemy’s propaganda about submission overwrote what we understand as believers. It even infiltrated the church.
We hear wives submit to your husband, over and over again. We hear husbands love your wives, sometimes. It’s tough to shift back to the idea of Biblical mutual submission.
To shift back to Biblical submission, we must see the Bible verses about submission.
Bible Verses About Submission
- Christian, submit to God, Acts 5:29.
- Christians, submit to the authorities God placed in your life, Romans 13:1.
- Wives submit to your husband and to God, Ephesians 5:22.
- Husbands submit to your wives and to God, 1 Corinthians 11:3.
- Youth submit to your elders and parents and God, 1 Peter 5:5.
There is a lot of submitting to be done by Christians. A lot.
Related: Bible Verses About Submission*
The Benefits of Submission
Earlier I shared that God protected Sarai when she submitted to Abram’s foolish and fearful choices. Protection is just one of many benefits of submission, let alone submission in marriage.
Before we get to marriage specific benefits, I want to share some benefits to us personally when we submit to God.
This could be an entire article all by itself. I don’t have time to go into the benefits in-depth as I’d like to here so I will make a note and come back to link in the additional post later. *
The Benefits of Submission in Marriage
It may surprise you to hear that my list for the benefits of submission in marriage is the same.
- Many men have come to the Lord when their wives stop nagging and submit to God and walk in grace and prayer.
- This is your peace. Even when your husband is being foolish, if you are walking in faith, the Peace of God will cover and protect you.
- God will step in to help you and keep you safe.
- God can change your husband when you step out of the role of god and let HIM do the work.
- Often that means letting your husband face the consequences for his foolish actions without your help or rescue.
- God will make you secure even when it seems impossible because of your husband’s foolish choices.
- This is about love from your husband and love from God is felt in a more real way.
- I have seen firsthand how God will provide for your needs when you are walking in submission. Even when it doesn’t make sense. Even when your husband’s choices threaten that provision.
- God will protect you in many ways as you walk in obedience to submission.
- You will grow and your husband will grow when choosing submission.
- There comes a point in the walk of a submissive wife where you begin to feel content in God even though life isn’t perfect.
You Have To Choose Submission It Can’t Be Forced
When you submit to your husband, even when it doesn’t make sense, even when he is being foolish or unwise, God can work in ways He will not when you refuse.
When you decide you are right, even when you have god’s word on your side, and you let your mouth run lose you miss the benefits of submission.
It’s as if God says, “If you are going to take on the role of god in your husband’s life (which is sin) I (God) will step back.”
If however, you submit, you allow all those benefits to come to your husband. God will teach him and grow him. Trust God, even if it feels slower than you’d like it is happening.
The choice is yours. Submission is a choice you make as a believer and as a wife. You chose to submit or not.
Submission is a heart deep choice. No one can force you to submit to your husband. Many have tried and they may get obedience, but obedience is not the same thing as submission.
Submission Is A Heart Issue
Yes, submission is about obedience to a point, but it does much deeper. Biblical submission is about choosing in your heart to put another higher in the hierarchy of life.
To submit to my boss I choose to believe and operate in the knowledge that she is responsible for the entire business while I am responsible for my part.
It is the same with submitting to God.
- God is responsible for the whole of creation.
- I am responsible for my smaller part of the bigger story of God.
I choose to believe that He is higher, and therefore I obey from my heart whatever He asks of me.
God asks me to submit to my husband. I am submitting to God and believing that what He asks is best so I submit to my husband.
- Even if my husband is not a believer.
- Even if my husband is not as mature a believer as I am.
- When my husband’s fear is driving his choices.
- When my husband makes unwise or foolish choices.
- Even when I disagree with my husband.
I submit because God said so. I submit from the heart.
Sometimes I have to pray over the thing for a long time until I can really submit from the heart, but I am committed to being that kind of a godly wife.
I submit because know what it looks like to not submit. I’ve lived it and it didn’t produce the kind of change in my husband I wanted.
Submission in marriage leads to real change in marriage because it allows God to be God and move in powerful ways.
Books on Submission in Marriage
|The Love & Respect Study Set – Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires, the Respect He Desperately Needs (Book + Workbook)
This is a book that helps us understand each other at a deeper level and see our most basic needs. His needs – Respect. Her needs – Love and security!
|Dancing with the One Your Love: Living Out Submission in the Real World is a good resource if you are struggling with Submission.|
Submission in marriage leads to real change in marriage because it allows God to be God and move in powerful ways. Click To Tweet
Will You Unleash the Power of Submission in Marriage?
The truth is, there is so much untapped power in submission. When you chose to embrace a life of submission in marriage, God steps in to unleash change and growth in both spouses.
Growth spiritually and personally. Change you have been wishing, hoping, and praying for is often on the other side of submission.
How Do You Embrace a Life of Submission in Marriage?
Understand what submission really is and chuck the world’s definition.
Choose to submit to God primarily.
Trust that God is the one really in control.
Lean into God when submitting to others feels impossible.
Pray over the issues you disagree about twice as much as you talk about them.
Surround yourself with other believers who are choosing a life of submission for support, prayer and encouragement!
Remind yourself how God has shown up and shown off in the past to stay the course in the storm.
Put on blinders so you are only focused on your marriage and God and the world’s ideals won’t taint your choice.
A Life of Submission in Marriage is Not Easy
Submission is God’s idea. He commands it from all believers in every single walk of life and relationship. But remember there is a very real enemy who hates God and every idea He has put forward.
Submission in marriage is not easy, but it is so worth it. When you feel like giving up, reach out to others in the battle. Pray more. Spend more time pouring God’s word into your mind.
The battle is hard, but the victory is sweet.
Will you choose submission in marriage today? If so, drop me a comment below so I can stand with you in prayer.
If this post was helpful, you will also like these:
- How to be a Godly Wife to an Ungodly Husband
- How to Fight for My Unequally Yoked Marriage
- Learn How To Keep The Peace of God When Life is Hard