The Beauty of Submission in Marriage
“For I also am … under authority.”
When we hear these words, especially if we know who first spoke them, we probably don’t think: “Doormat, pushover, victim.”
This submissive individual was a Roman centurion living in Palestine during the time of Christ (Luke 7:8). A centurion was a professional solider who earned more than ten times the pay of typical soldiers. And most centurions were worth every denarius. Centurions were fearless leaders in battle; their rank typically suffered disproportionally high numbers of war casualties. This particular centurion was also a courageous follower of Christ. He recognized the matchless authority of Jesus and submitted to him the life of one of his dear servants, who was deathly ill. Of him, Jesus told the crowd, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” (Luke 7:9).
The centurion wore submission well.
Tragically, many people miss the beauty and strength of marital submission. God says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (Col. 3:18; Cf. 1 Peter 3:1, Eph. 5:22, Gen. 3:16, 1 Cor. 14:34). Admittedly, God’s command of submission is difficult. Partly because of painful examples of male leadership (and female acquiescence) some wives feel that submission is degrading, unfair, and unhealthy. In reality, biblical submission (namely, a willing and appropriate response to proper authority) is humbling but not demoralizing. Where God has placed us under proper authorities, our submission can glorify God and foster true joy. As the author of order, God requires that something of his own Trinitarian harmony be reflected in the families that he is renewing by the gospel. In a well-yoked marriage, the husband also senses his duty to love (Col. 3:19), nourish (Eph. 5:29), and faithfully respect (Mal. 2:15) his wife. Submission recognizes that God orders the family authority structure and that he has placed wives next after their husbands.
But with this difficult command, God provides a remarkable stimulus for faithfulness. Biblical submission is “fitting in the Lord” (Col. 3:18).
1. Submission is a fitting way to please the Lord. In Ephesians 5, Paul lists a half-dozen sins which are “not fitting for saints” (v. 3). Like fornication and filthy talk, non-submission is a great vice which reflects natural man’s hostility to God (Rom. 8:7; 10:3). By contrast, marital submission is the proper apparel for a woman who has been saved by grace and is submitting to the Lord Jesus Christ. Submission is a great virtue that pleases God and is precious in his sight (1 Peter 3:4). God loves to see his daughters flourishing according to his design. When a husband loves, and a wife submits, the two live for God’s glory as one.
2. Submission is a fitting way to save your husband. Some wives do not yet enjoy spiritual unanimity; some are married to non-Christian men. Even in this case, God’s expectation is the same: “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1). Unbelieving husbands need to see their wives’ quiet trust in God as a witness to the gospel. Even believing husbands need this example. “For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands” (3:5). Abraham’s spiritual legacy is a testimony to his marital companion (Heb. 11:11-12). Please note too that the Bible does not call wives to submission at all costs, such as in a relationship with an abusive husband or when a husband demands his wife commit sin.
3. Submission is a fitting way to grow in contentment. The apostle Peter links marital submission with the possession of the “incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4). Such a spirit is not merely a posture toward which wives strive, but also a reality which submissive wives possess. Countless women have traded hostility and agitation for true peace and spiritual composure through submission. They have learned to say, “I am ultimately submitting to God, and I trust him. He is good. He is kind. He loves me. He will work all things together for my good.”
4. Submission is a fitting way to experience solidarity with Christ. The Roman centurion who amazed Jesus with his humility serves a stunning example of the glory of submission. But the most shocking example is found in the captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10). Jesus knew what it was to submit to God (Phil. 2:5-11). But more startlingly, Jesus submitted to his imperfect and misunderstanding parents (Luke 2:50-51). In fact, the very first time New Testament uses the Greek word for submission, it speaks of Jesus. The biblically submissive wife arms herself with the same mind as Christ (1 Peter. 4:1). Christ’s submission was costly, but he deemed it worthwhile (Heb. 12:2).
Submission is not easy. But it is possible, and it is rewarding. Those who make progress in the art of submission usually have several traits in common. First, they make submission central to their prayer life. We rarely progress spiritually apart from struggling before the face of God in prayer. Second, they learn from women who are succeeding. They receive the admonitions of older women to love and obey their husbands, “that the word of God may not be blasphemed” (Titus 2:3-5). They ask questions and share their struggles. Third, they seek help from the church. Increasingly godly women may need the church to minister–sometimes through discipline–to husbands who are failing to model biblical leadership.
Most importantly, godly wives firmly believe that submission is fitting in the Lord, and they actually begin to experience the peace that comes from living within God’s revealed will.