The submission of a woman to her own husband in the Lord is considered more and more foreign in our modern world, but it is the clear teaching of Scripture and will be a mark of Christian civilization to the end of the world.
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:22).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
While there is a general submission, a general deference and honor in the fear of God between all Christians, including husbands and wives, there is a particular submission required of wives to their own husbands. This submission of a wife is to her own husband only and not to men in general. Finally, this instruction is given with Christ over it all, limiting it and blessing it.
EQUALITY & HIERARCHY
One of the basic truths that biblically thinking Christians must get their heads and hearts around is the fact that God created the world with both equality and hierarchy at work. These are not contradictions. In fact, this dual reality in the world reflects an analogous dual reality in the Triune God. The Bible clearly teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equally God and equal in glory and power and majesty; this is what theologians call the ontological Trinity. And at the same time, the persons of the Trinity have different roles: The Father begets, and the Son is begotten, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. This difference or hierarchy in God is reflected in what theologians call the economic Trinity, the workings of the persons of the Trinity in history: the Father speaks and sends, the Son is spoken and is sent, and the Spirit hovers, inspires, fills, and enlivens.
In an analogous way, human society reflects both equality and hierarchy. Male and female share the image of God equally, and there is natural hierarchy in different ways: Men are required to use their strength to sacrificially lead, provide, and protect both generally and specifically. And women are to use their strength and wisdom to cultivate life and beauty in return. When men stayed aboard the Titanic, giving women seats on the lifeboats, equality and hierarchy were at work. All bore the image of God equally, and men exercised their glory in laying their lives down, and women exercised their glory by allowing themselves to be protected. The same is true in our manners and customs of standing when a woman walks into a room, holding doors, opening doors, speaking with deference and honor, etc. Therefore, when the Bible commands wives to submit to their own husbands, this is not demeaning in the slightest. An equal is submitting to an equal with joy makes their respective glories shine.
HER OWN HUSBAND
We do not believe in arranged marriages, since the Biblical pattern from earliest times included asking the woman herself if she agreed to the marriage (Gen. 24:58). And so we teach that a woman is free to accept or reject a man’s offer, with no questions asked, since the stakes really are high. Do you want to submit to this man for the rest of your life? The feminists howl and shriek that any woman would agree to this, since they much prefer women submitting to corporate bosses, judges, and politicians. But the Bible teaches that if a woman freely chooses to submit to one man, she certainly may, and she is thereby free of the claims of all others. And this really should be an incredibly freeing thing. A woman may serve her family in many different ways inside the home or outside the home, but she fundamentally answers to one man, not many. In a world of many possible interests, hobbies, vocations, or preferences, a woman’s submission to her own husband means that she is set free to be oriented to that one man. His mission, his vocation, his interests and preferences are to be her big picture plan. This does not at all obliterate her individual interests, gifts, or preferences, but God requires her to submit those to his.
IN THE LORD JESUS
Wherever Scripture requires obedience and submission, it always qualifies the command with “in the Lord” (Eph. 6:1), “as to Christ” (Eph. 6:5), or “as to the Lord” (Col. 3:23), or similar language. This is because Jesus is the only absolute and ultimate Lord. He is Lord of all. And this means that every earthly, human authority (or lord) has a Lord. This is why we call Jesus the Lord of lords (and King of kings) or Master of masters. All true earthly authority is therefore delegated and limited by the Lord Jesus. Civil magistrates have true authority that is delegated to them by the Lord Jesus for a particular task. Pastors and elders must give an account for their care of those entrusted to them (Heb. 13:7, 17). Parents have true authority over their children, but neither is it absolute or exhaustive (Eph. 6:1). And husbands have authority from Jesus to lead and love their wives well (Eph. 5:22ff).
This means that a woman should see Jesus standing behind her husband (and all inferiors can think similarly of their superiors). The specific assignment given by Jesus to husbands is to provide for the spiritual and physical well-being of their wives (Eph. 5:25-29). Under that general command, a wife must gladly submit to that leadership which is directly obedient to Jesus. When a husband leads his wife to go to church, read the Bible, practice confession of sin and forgiveness, tithe, hospitality, etc., a woman must obey. He is merely following orders. You submit to Him in the Lord, because He is submitting to his Lord in that leadership. A wife must also submit to her husband in those areas of Christian freedom and wisdom. There is freedom in where you will live, what job you will take, where/when you will vacation, style of house or car, or favorite foods or colors. A Christian woman should feel free to give her respectful input and feedback and counsel, but she should also be fully prepared to submit gladly to his decisions there. And let us underline gladly, since it is in the Lord. If the Lord has given you this man, and he is not leading you away from Christ, then you must trust the Lord. And of course, if your husband begins attempting to lead you away from Christ or into sexual or financial ruin, biblical submission cheerfully and respectfully confronts, subverts, and refuses, just like the Egyptian midwives with Pharaoh, like Rahab and the spies, and Abigail with Nabal.
It is a glory when a Christian woman submits to her own husband in the Lord. It is a glory to the woman and a glory to her husband, but it is also a glory to Christ. As we see elsewhere, it pictures the submission of Christ, and is therefore altogether lovely (1 Pet. 2:21, 3:1-6).