Have you ever noticed that many perfectly good words are maligned in our society? Words such as humble, meek, or servant evoke negative emotions in the minds of those who have been imbued with this world’s carnal values. Yet Jesus Christ said that we are to humble ourselves (James 4:10) and that the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). He also said that to be truly great, one must learn to be a servant (Matthew 20:26).
The words submit, submission, and submissive are treated with disdain in our modern world. God clearly has a different opinion—but what about us as women in God’s Church? Especially when we see it used to describe a wife’s relationship with her husband, what goes through our minds? Do we as women cringe a bit when we hear “the ‘s’ word”?
Let’s be clear: Submission is not a bad word—it is a good word. To submit means “to defer to someone else.” This is exactly what Paul was telling us when he admonished Christians to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21). Everyone submits to someone. Businesses defer to their customers. Employees submit to their employers. Christians are admonished to submit to civil authorities (Romans 13:1). Children submit to their parents (Ephesians 6:1). Husbands submit to the authority of Jesus Christ, and even Christ has a head—God the Father (1 Corinthians 11:3). Submission is a universal concept; it is how we all get along. Without deferring to one another, there can be no peace. So, why is it problematic for wives to submit to their husbands? Why do even some Christian women find the subject difficult, or even offensive?
I must admit that, initially, it did not set well with me when I first heard marriage sermons explaining that wives are to submit to their husbands. I did not grow up in the Church, and I had been taught that women are capable of doing and should do their own thing. Just hearing the word “submit” was like someone running their fingernails over a blackboard (if you are old enough to remember what those are). I assumed “submission” must be like a master/slave relationship—with the woman as a slave catering to every whim of her master. Perhaps some women among us still feel this way. In my case, I did not understand how God expects family relationships to work, and what submission really looks like when practiced properly.
Choose Your Team Captain Wisely
God places one man and one woman together in marriage to be a team, to work jointly to accomplish family goals. Every team needs a captain, and God has preordained that the husband is the captain of the family team—the head of the family. When a woman accepts a man’s marriage proposal, she is promising to acknowledge that man as her head; she gives up the “right” to be her own head. In the Living Church of God marriage ceremony, the bride promises God that she will obey—submit to—her husband. When we think of it from this perspective, we see how much care and prayerful consideration should go into a woman’s selection of a man to be her leader. Does her potential husband exhibit the fruit of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23)? Does he put God first (Matthew 6:33)? Is he of good reputation (Ecclesiastes 7:1)? What is his vision for your future together (Proverbs 29:18)? Can you see his vision as your own? The more you have in common, the easier it will be to work together as a team (Amos 3:3). You can see why it is so beneficial to receive counseling from God’s ministry before making such an important decision.
However, even the best teams must deal with disagreements at times. We can all attest to the fact that if two or more people are trying to accomplish a task, there will most likely be two or more opinions about how it should be done. Being submissive does not mean that you give up your right to an opinion. If your husband is amenable to it, let him know how you feel. Husbands should understand that, as women, we are helpers, and thus can often provide a different perspective on a situation.
Share, Then Defer
Of course, your husband may or may not be persuaded by your advice. And, as God says, the husband gets to make the final call. If your husband decides to stick with his original plan, the wife is expected to defer to his decision. This is submission in action, as God planned and intended it. A Christian woman should not engage in nagging, complaining, browbeating, manipulation, or sulking to get her own way.
Like submission, changing how we react begins in the mind. Only the wife can decide whether she will obey God and defer to her husband; submission should not be forced on her. God desires each woman to have a meek spirit and to voluntarily submit to her husband’s leadership (1 Peter 3:3–5).
What if your husband did not seek your advice and would not consider your opinion? What if you are absolutely convinced that your husband’s plan will not work? Should you, a Christian wife, just stand by and watch the plan fail so that you can say “I told you so”? Should you work at your husband’s plan in a half-hearted manner because you did not agree with the plan in the first place? This is the juncture where godly women put God’s Spirit into action; here is where real Christian character shows up.
First of all, you should pray and ask God to help the plan to succeed, to give your husband the wisdom needed to implement it, to show him favor, and to give you the ability to defer to your husband’s decision and to be an exceedingly great helper in this matter. Then you should do everything you can to make it work (Ecclesiastes 9:10)! It is not easy to work hard at something you think will fail, but with God’s help, you can do it.
I can look back on my own experience and tell you that there were times when I thought something my husband wanted to do was doomed to failure. Nonetheless, I asked God to help me to assist my husband in making the plan succeed—and He did! It happened so often that I began to see that God was blessing us because we were working together as a team; this was only possible because I asked God to help me to submit to my husband’s decision.
There Is Hope and Help for an Unconverted Mate
What if your husband is not in the Church and does not understand godly roles in the marriage? Even so, your responsibilities as his wife are the same. Godly women are to submit to their husbands in all things—except, of course, when God’s statutes and laws are violated (Acts 5:29). Some men may not know how to be a godly husband, but there is still hope. God wants the converted wife to set a good example for her husband. If your husband is unconverted, God says that your conduct, including submission, may win him over (1 Peter 3:1–2). This is very encouraging!
Again, let us remember that submission is not bad; it is good. It is often hard to do because of our human nature and the influence of the society around us. For a wife, it may be difficult, but her responsibility is to submit—to defer—to her husband’s decision even when she does not agree with it. And although submitting seems difficult at first, it is like most things—the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Practice makes perfect—and the more you do it, the more you appreciate the good fruits that come of it. As godly women, we should understand the role of family government in our homes, and we can learn to appreciate it. When we see the husband as the head of the household, and submit to him accordingly, we set for him an example that should influence his own submission to God, who is the head of the man in guiding his family.
We must trust God to direct our husbands as they lead and guide their families, and we must accept the roles that God has given us as companions, counselors, advisors, helpers, and more. And we know that we are part of a team, a family. God is wise, and He has ordained that husbands be in charge of their families and that wives should submit to their husbands (Colossians 3:18). Submission is a character trait that all godly women should cultivate—and you can, with God’s help!