Biblical Submission

It is very important for Godís people to be in submission. God wants His people to be in submission to Him (Hebrews 12:9; James 4:7; Psalm 81:11). Just as Jesus submitted Himself to the Father (Hebrews 5:7), the church is to submit to Christ (Ephesians 5:24). And the Bible says that ALL believers are to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21).

Paul and Peter provided special instructions for the type of submission wives are to have toward their husbands. We can look to these scriptures for an explanation of godly submission in marriage:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church--for we are members of his body.   (Ephesians 5:21-30, NIV)

For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.   (1 Peter 3:5-7, NIV)

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
(Colossians 3:18-19 NIV)

One thing that is interesting to note about each of these scriptures is that following the instructions to wives, there is as much, or more, instruction to husbands about how they should treat their wives. Review the instructions to husbands again. These verses apparently link a wife's submission to nurturing behavior on the husband's part: behavior that is self-sacrificing, respectful, loving, not harsh or blaming.

The verses above point out that a wife's submission is to be "as to the Lord," and "as is fitting in the Lord." The Lord does not abuse. In fact, Ephesians 5 paints a very beautiful picture of the Lord's love and care for His bride. Abuse is sin, and submitting to sin would not be submitting as to the Lord. That kind of submission would be encouraging or enabling an abusive man to sin. Instead, 1 Peter 3 exhorts wives to "do what is right." As we have seen in a previous lesson, doing right can include taking firm action to end the abuse.

Ephesians 5 commands husbands to love their wives. In abusive relationships, love can become confusing. An abuser may tell his partner he loves her even as he is physically assaulting her. Being abused or manipulated by those we loved while we were growing up may also cause us to confuse love with abuse. But Godís Word is clear on the definition of love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NIV)

These verses describe love by its behaviors. Jesus used the illustration of telling a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:16) to say that a personís heart is revealed by the way he treats others. Words or actions that cause pain, confusion, disrespect, or fear are not loving.


Discussion Questions:

  1. Many people assume that submission means obedience. However, careful examination of the Greek word for submission used in these verses shows that it does not mean obedience, but rather, a voluntary act of allegiance, support, and response to another. Ephesians 5:22-32 says our relationship to God is similar. In what ways is it similar to this definition?
  2. Have you ever been confused by someoneís claims of love? What confused you?
Copyright 2005   Judy Kennedy