Let’s be clear on the outset:
- I’m a complementarian. That is, I believe we have separate but equally important roles as husband and wife.
- I believe wholeheartedly in submission to your husband.
- I don’t believe women should be doormats or slaves…that’s dangerous.
- This is easy for me to say because my husband isn’t a jerk. For wives with unbelieving and douche-baggy husbands, I still hold to submission but I realize that it is WAY different for you than for me.
But submission has me asking questions:
- How far does godly submission go?
- Do a wife’s desires matter when they are direct opposition from the husband’s desires?
- When is it okay to stand up for yourself as a wife?
Submissive: A Popular Unpopular View
Depending on which church you go to, how you were raised and how much you believe our left-leaning media. Submissiveness can have a whole host of connotations.
In general, Christians understand the Bible does call a wife to be submissive to her husband…but are quick to remind the husband he is supposed to love her like the Christ loved the church — that is, he loved us so much that he died for us.
If you want to read the verses (or refresh and just skim them) here they are from Ephesians 5:22-33.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might [a]sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:22-33
For argument’s sake, let’s generalize that there are three types of Christian wives.
- Super-submissive: A wife who never questions her husband’s authority.
- Submissive: A wife who follows the lead of her husband but is allowed to steer the husband with his consent and respect.
- Unsubmissive: A wife who rules the home, everyone does what she says.
From these definitions, we can easily see that the middle ground (aka ‘Submissive’) is generally the healthiest place to land according to Scriptures.
Of course, real life isn’t so easily defined because we know that people aren’t that black and white. We also know that situations aren’t that black and white. There might be times and seasons where, as a wife, you fall into some sort of gray area of super/submissive/unsubmissive. But, in the place where we can help it…it’s best to aim for the middle ground.
Increasingly I see that even the church holds submission as the popular practice…practical application of what it means to truly submit is growing less and less popular.
While I love the idea of a woman being submissive to her husband, there is a place where submission can take a nasty turn into dangerous ground.
I believe CHOICE is the KEY TERM to be concerned with here.
For example, I am a head covering Christian woman. I love to cover. I’m not forced. As a head covering woman, I often run into blogs/videos/photos of Muslim women who CHOOSE to wear the niquab (the face cover). Despite my moral oppositions to Islam, I think CHOICE is a beautiful thing (except in the case of abortion where I’m PRO-LIFE without exception). If a woman wants to wear a face cover as a sign of her submission, so be it. Let her wear it without fear or condemnation.
But if she’s forced..this is not love. This is not beautiful.
Christ died for us, giving us a choice to accept his free gift. God didn’t force Adam and Eve to obey (even though sometimes I wish He did). God doesn’t force us to join Him in Heaven. He allows us freedom.
So…what I mean is that if a wife CHOOSES to never question her husband’s authority and be super-submissive that’s fine. It becomes dangerous if the husband is abusive or she requires it of her children to an unhealthy degree.
A submissive wife understands the balance between her obligation to obey and respect her husband, but recognizes her true worth and value. She understands that her opinions DO matter but willingly accepts to lay them down if faced with enough opposition from her husband.
True submission from a wife works best when the husband DOES, in fact, value his wife’s opinion.
There is a natural push and pull between a husband and a wife. We balance each other out. Sometimes the wife gets her way, and sometimes not.
But in the case of conflict, a balanced and healthy submissive wife understands that just as Christ did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped (Philippians 2:6), she will lay her own desires down to serve the greater good of her head (aka husband according to 1 Co. 11).
In simple terms: she does what her husband wants if it starts to be an issue.
Does this hurt our feelings sometimes? Yes. You better believe it.
Is that okay? Yes. Because if we continue to read the verse in Philippians, we know that in the end God exalted Jesus to the highest place. When we are like Christ, we too, as wives, will be exalted to a high place.
Women who are comfortable (and not combative) about their submissive role, understand the “first shall be last” concept applies to them as well. Adam was created first, and Eve second. Eve was literally THE LAST thing created, after all creation, after all the animals, and after Adam. Do not think for a second that Eve plays some subservient or demeaning role.
And, as my brother-in-law always says: The woman is the crown. Kings have lived, fought and died to preserve a crown!
An unsubmissive woman is one who disrupts the divine order set by the standards of Scriptures.
Like Eve, she assume she knows best. Sometimes this comes in subtle forms. Sometimes not. She’s assertive but not in a positive way. She demands her own way. She dismisses Scriptures and redefines her role based on her own feelings and knowledge.
In today’s society, many men have been brainwashed to believe women should dominate the home, they support her rights because they don’t understand (or aren’t allowed to understand) the beauty of divine order. God-forbid they assert they have the rightful role as leader of the family.
In the book For Men Only, a group of men were polled whether they would rather feel loved or respected. An overwhelming majority of them raised their hands for “Respected.” But in a household where the the wife is generally unsubmissive, he does not feel respected. Roles have been reversed and he feels dominated. Many men might defend their wives’ unsubmissive behavior, but that does not negate the fact that their roles are biblically unsound.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, in Christian circles, the growing popularity of redefining the word “ezer” as warrior instead of helpmeet stinks grossly of a woman not understanding the beauty of this divine order.
It would be remiss to believe that somehow every woman falls squarely into a specific category of super-submissive/balanced-submissive/unsubmissive.
To say you are always perfectly submissive makes you a liar. No one is perfect.
Given the right day, time of month, situation or whatever, all wives have had their ugly moment of unsubmissiveness. Therefore, it behooves us all to extend grace to everyone. Likewise, it’s important to remember (like I stated above) that not all of us are married to knights in shining armor. If you are, you are blessed. If not, you have your work cut out for you…and there might be more bumps in the road for you!
Readers of my blog know that I like Created to Be His Helpmeet because I found it practically applicable. But I am aware of the controversy, so I’ll recommend Love & Respect which upholds the same basic concepts without all the controversy.
The aim is for healthy submission.
Personally, if I’m going to err on one side or the other of submission, I’d take the super-submissive role because I truly believe that the rise of Christian feminism in the church is dangerous.
But that’s another post.
How far does godly submission go?
A husband should recognize a wife’s need for space and dreaming. He should recognize her needs and decide what’s best for everyone not just him.
The wife’s job isn’t to force him to do these things. She can express her desires, but not force her will on him.
Practically speaking, this would really look different in every family. Husbands and wives should talk and strike a balance they both enjoy. But if no middle ground can be found, the wife should put off her desires This is not a popular stance, but #sorrynotsorry.
Do a wife’s desires matter when they are direct opposition from the husband’s desires?
Of course they matter!
But the husband’s will is supreme and a wife should trust that he has been given the authority over her. Just like the law of the land states we shouldn’t speed, obeying that law (whether or not we like it) is, in the end, in our best interest…and the best interest of those around us.
Unity should always trump self.
When is it okay to stand up for yourself as a wife?
I think women should lean into their roles and allow the man to take the lead 95% of the time.
There are a few times when a woman should stand up for herself including:
- Abuse of any kind, though I would caution against liberal definitions of abuse. Many women seek divorce because a man is being “verbally abusive” when in fact she’s being JUST as abusive in her tone/words. Verbal abuse would be more profound that common bickering.
- Illegal Behavior
- Safety of herself or children
Personally, I think most women don’t fall into the above categories. If you do, please please please understand that this post is NOT intended for you.
Many people might read this post and think “but what about [insert exception to the rule].” But let’s not worry about theoretical random exceptions, ‘mkay…Let’s think about normal marital situations.
I think it’s okay for a woman to express her opinion to her husband, and hopefully he’s not a jerk and they find a middle ground for their marriage.
If he’s a little bit of jerk, the wife submits. Sometimes he might be LOT of a jerk, and she submits. The more a husband acts a like a jerk, the more a wife might feel like being unsubmissive. A good husband should recognize and realign himself to scriptures that call him to LOVE like Christ loved the church and put his wife’s needs first because if he doesn’t he’s partly to blame for the vicious cycle that will ensue of:
He’s a jerk > She doesn’t want to submit > So, he’s more of a jerk > She submits even less (etc).
But unfortunately, if this cycle is already in place, and a wife knows her husband isn’t going to make the first move (yes, it happens)…then, for the sake of the marriage, she must break the cycle by submitting when it’s the last thing in the world she wants to do.
Unsubmissive behavior usually isn’t going to inspire a man to change his tune. It’s just not like that.
Feel free to try it the other way, but in 15 years of marriage, I’ve found that most of the time when I submit, he realizes his “jerk-ness” and things return to a healthy push-and-pull of normal marital bliss/discord.