When we think about God’s Word, we have to remember that it reflects his character. Therefore, the Word of God is good because God is good (Psalm 19:7-11, 119:68). God would never command his people to do anything that would harm them. Instead, he prescribes what is best for us. He loves us and wants what would lead to his glory and our flourishing.
This does not change when we begin to talk about the role of husbands and wives. Loving leadership and submission reflect God’s good plan for his people. In Ephesians 5:22-33, there are instructions to husbands and wives. I wrote last week on how a husband can love his wife as Christ loves the church. And here, I want to include some considerations about submission in the marriage. Here are five quick thoughts for thinking biblically about submission.
1. Submission Is Positive
Right away, we should note that the Bible does not present submission in negative terms. It’s considered positive. In any relationship that we’re subordinate, it is an opportunity to remember Christ himself. This very word was used for Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:28, showing Jesus’s submission to his Father.
Learning from Jesus, then, we can understand a type of subordination or submission that does not imply inferiority. Submission is not about losing honor but rather about giving it. Jesus, in his submission, helps us to see how positive it is.
Submission is not about losing honor but rather about giving it.
But not only is it not negative, but it’s also positive. It’s good. Remember, God does not command his people to do anything that would do them harm or make them less human. He is all-wise and commands what is best for our good. When he made the first husband and wife, he pronounced them good. That husbands are given a leadership role within the context of the family does not in any way mean that women are somehow inferior to men. God’s creative design is good. It’s positive.
2. Submission Has a Priority
We understand that all authority is created by and comes from God. Therefore, all authority is a derived authority. This means that whenever a wife submits to her husband, she is first submitting to God.
Just as we read in verse 21 that submission is to be done with a motive of reverence or fear of Christ, it is also to be done here with the priority of first being to God. Submission is first about a heart of worship to God. It’s not merely a mechanical duty of submission to a man. It is the worship of God. That’s the priority.
3. Submission Has Parameters
What are the parameters of this submission? We read in verse 24 that it includes everything, does that mean that a Christian wife must do whatever her husband says?
I don’t think so. We only have to read chapters 4 and 5 in Ephesians to find that Christians are commanded to do and not do all kinds of things. The husband can’t simply line-item veto God’s Word in favor of what he wants to do.
A Christian wife must not submit to her husband if he is insisting on doing something that God forbids, or he is saying she shouldn’t do something God commands. Remember, God is the authority.
What does Paul mean then? He means that this submission is not limited to one area of life; instead, it’s comprehensive.
One other note, this should be fairly obvious, but to make it clear, the prescription is to submit to their own husbands. This is not a command for a wife to submit to every man (this would imply there is something inherently less valuable in women than men). No, it’s specific to the relationship between the husband and wife. The submission corresponds to the leadership; it’s unique to the family.
4. Submission Has a Pattern
The pattern of submission reflects Christ and his church, “even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (Eph. 5:21). This pulls the freight for the commands in the passage: the marriage is to reflect Jesus and his church.
The church yields herself to the bridegroom, Christ, in trusting, loving, joyful submission. This is the model for a Christian wife. As she yields her heart, mind, and will to God’s Word—declaring it to be good and right—she reflects the body of Christ’s submission to Jesus. In this way, wives have the privilege of not only declaring the gospel but also demonstrating it through submission to their husbands.
5. Submission Has a Purpose
Finally, submission has a purpose. Ephesians teaches us that God’s purpose is to put everything in subjection to Jesus, the resurrected King. In chapter 1:9-10, we read: “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
This is God’s purpose in Christ. This is what he is doing right now. The church is privileged to sprout the first buds of blessing in the kingdom of God. We reflect that God is tying up all loose ends in their subjection to Jesus. Therefore all submission to God’s authority, in various relationships, reflects the truth that Christ’s kingdom has come.