The Submissive Wife

I have seen several comments recently about needing to be a submissive wife to be a good Christian. While I do believe in the Bible, the tone of these comments has truly bothered me. They bother me so much because I firmly believe that God intended husband’s and wives to be equal partners in raising up a righteous family to him. The doctrine presented in Ephesians 5:22-25 does not mean that husbands have the right to complete dominion and control over their wives. It clearly states that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church. Such love is not born of power and control, but caring and compassion and a desire to serve. A woman would be happy to “submit” herself to such a man because he would treat her as an equal partner. When I shared this viewpoint I was stopped in my tracks when one woman commented “Husbands and wives are not equal partners in the eyes of God. The husband is the head. The woman is his helpmeet. There is an ordained hierarchy.”

This viewpoint breaks my heart. Christ showed time and time again that he loved and valued the women in his life. He treated them with respect and dignity in a time when that was not required or expected. In fact it was a woman who was the first to see the resurrected Lord. As it states in “The Family A Proclamation to the World“:

By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

While men and women have been given different roles within marriage this does not demote the wife to submissive servant that must cater to her husband’s every whim.

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When I shared these thoughts with my husband he wrote out a beautiful response. I love his words and his perspective.

This principle of the Gospel is just like many other teachings we are supposed to live and try to understand in that it has different nuances that seem to contradict each other at first. For example–Jesus seemed to eschew riches when he spoke to the young ruler, but it is evident that God loved many other of his servants throughout the Bible who were rich men (Job, Abraham, David). We must learn to understand when to apply the teachings of Jesus and the prophets based on circumstances and a hierarchy of principles. We expect our children to be able to do the same, right? (It’s wonderful to pick roses for your mother, sweetheart, but not when they belong to Chick-fil-A!)

To say “husbands and wives are not equal partners” makes it sound like God wants women to be subservient to men, that they are not as capable, or that their thoughts, wishes, and abilities to contribute are not as important. But that can’t be right, can it? Did God really mean to assign women the role of sexual commodity and physical laborer–to be seen and not heard–to carry out the wishes of the man as ordered without a say in the matter? 

I don’t think so. 

Then what else could it mean? Maybe it means God ordained the family to be an institution in which there is a continual round of responsibility that leads back to God. The man is responsible for the welfare, guidance, and provision of his family and a woman is responsible for nurturing her husband in that role and the children as they grow–and that in this partnership of radically different but equally important roles, the woman grows closer to God through her relationship with both her husband and God, and the husband grows closer to God because of the way he carries out his responsibility and obeys God. Nowhere in any of this should it be understood that a woman shouldn’t get equal say in what happens with her family–and she DEFINITELY does not blindly accept and support anything and everything her husband wants to do if it goes contrary to the will of God. 

Whenever we talk about this subject, let’s not forget to read verses 25-28. For a woman to find God’s will in submitting to her husband, the husband must also be submitting to God’s will in loving her and serving her in return. The scripture states men should love their wives as Christ loves the church–even to the point of sacrificing their lives for their wives. Men should love their wives as their own bodies. “Love” here is not used in the same way it is used to teach against the love of riches or love of things of the world. It means to be aware of the needs of and properly care for something. So clearly God assigns as much importance to the woman’s welfare and salvation as to the man’s. Marriage is not the process of a woman learning how to submit in all things to her husband but the process of a man and a woman cleaving together to become one flesh as was commanded in scripture. Does God really want a man to cleave unto his wife and become one flesh with her if she is not equal to him? If so, that would be an insult to man. For God to yoke a man with a being that was not equal to the man would demean God’s own creation. Yes, marriage is the process of two equal but different children of God becoming one—growing through trial and error, never-ending communication, and individual sacrifice on the part of both the husband and the wife for the good of the partnership and the family.

I think of it not as a ladder in which the man stands on a higher rung but as a triangle in which men and women lean on each other. As each side of the triangle gets closer, they also get higher and closer to God–the apex of the triangle or the point at which all three dwell together. 

The bottom line is really that we probably won’t ever know the full meaning and extent of this teaching until we are on the other side of the veil. But we can understand part of it here and now. We know we understand that everyone–male and female–is a child of God and that we are all loved of God. Think of what we as earthly parents want for our daughters. Do we want them to grow up thinking they are always going to be second fiddle–that their priorities will always be handed to them from someone else? Or do we want them to grow up thinking a man should respect her individuality and support her in her own spiritual growth as she supports the man she loves–that she can and should expect to be able to use her talents and personality on this Earth to do something that will be pleasing both to her and to God–and that in such a relationship she can find the fullest expression of her womanhood and help a young man thrive in the same way? How much more does God want for His daughters that we can’t even understand? I think we would all agree that the tradition all over the world in different times and places that puts women below men as obsequients is wrong–it’s just wrong. God has more in store for His daughters than that. And failing all of that–we just know from thousands of years of experience that two heads are better than one–that nothing great was ever achieved by a single person acting out of his or her own knowledge, experience, and resources. Think of what it means to admit that women are “not equal” to men–it flies in the face of all our experience and knowledge about life on Earth and God’s plan. At some point we have to give up trying to put a round peg in a square hole and take a broader look at what was meant by this passage of scripture.

I am eternally grateful for a husband who loves and honors my calling as a mother and wife. We are truly partners. We aren’t perfect, but through our understanding of the eternal nature and purpose of families we are able to work together to raise our family in righteousness and happiness.

 

5 comments

  1. Nicely said. Yes it is a blessing to have a husband that values us as women and do not seek to lord it over us. The picture presented in Scripture is so much more than that, and we tend to distort it when we do not live it out rightly. True partnership, with difference in roles. I think the love-submission thing targets our tendency to be the opposite.

  2. This can be such a touchy, and often misunderstood, subject. Yes, after the Fall God placed the man in a position over the woman and because of sin we are all subject to someone else’s authority. However, it doesn’t give men license to do whatever they want and treat women poorly; they should serve those whom they lead in whatever capacity God has given them whether it be husband, father, boss, etc. I liked what your husband said about being radically different but equally important!

  3. The “feminist movement” has tainted our worldview on this passage. Look at Proverbs 31. She “rises up” and her family honors her. The term used in Ephesians is a “military” term. Think about how the higher ranking officer is “above” a lower ranking officer. But yet, if the husband loves his wife like Christ loves the church, it would be a loving relationship and not a dictatorship like you see in the military.

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