Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)
The word submission tends to trigger all kinds of negative responses. This is due in part to the reality that, as John Stott wrote over 40 years ago, “submission to authority is out of fashion today. It is totally at variance with contemporary attitudes of permissiveness and freedom.” The intervening four decades have only increased submission’s negative reputation, and nowhere more so than within marriage.
Yet the fact remains that, properly understood and rightly applied, submission lies at the heart of relationships as God established them. Children are to submit to their parents (Ephesians 6:1), church members are to submit to their church leaders (Hebrews 13:17), and, here, wives are to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord.” Submission to others, depending on the roles to which we are called in life, is part and parcel of our relationships with each other.
A wife’s submission to her husband reflects God’s divine ordering for marriage, then. But how, specifically, are we to understand this teaching? First of all, the directive for a wife to submit to her husband in no way implies her inferiority. The Bible is very clear that men and women are equal in dignity, as both are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). As believers, we are also equal in redemption—and that equality is seen in the fact that we are heirs together of God’s grace (1 Peter 3:7). Our standing as men and women before God is entirely equal. A difference in role does not mean a difference in value.
Second, women are to submit to their own husbands, not all men in general. Paul isn’t giving a blanket instruction about the place of women in society; he is giving a specific directive concerning the wife’s role in the family. Within that context, a woman’s desire to submit to the Lord is revealed in part by her submission to her husband.
Third, this submission isn’t the same as unconditional obedience. Husbands are not to coerce their wives, nor are they to call them to submit, and certainly not to that which the Lord has not ordained. A wife is not in the hands of one who has the authority to command what he pleases. Rather, a husband is to “love his wife as himself,” to give himself up for her and to lead her in holiness (Ephesians 5:33). If you are a husband, then it needs to be underlined that if at any point you seek to lead your wife away from obedience to Christ rather than deeper into it, your wife is under no biblical obligation to follow your lead.
FOOTNOTES 1The Message of Ephesians:, The Bible Speaks Today (IVP Academic, 1979), p 215.
Devotional material is taken from Truth For Life Daily Devotional by Alistair Begg. Copyright © 2021, The Good Book Company. Used by Truth For Life with written permission.