Authority and Submission

by

It is common today to talk in generic terms about “relationships” and “parents.” Our softer language regarding marriage and child rearing reflects a softening of belief in biblical categories. Instead of speaking of husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, manhood and womanhood, we use words that conjure up amorphous human beings performing tasks that anyone could do.

This is not how Scripture speaks. The language of the Bible on the home and on our bodily identity is rugged and aesthetic. Nowhere is this truer than in the Word’s capstone text on marriage, Ephesians 5. In vv. 22–24, the Apostle Paul lays out the roles of husbands and wives. This famous text has come under fire in our time.

We cannot lose the authority-submission structure of marriage. In the biblical mind, covenantal union has a definite texture and shape. The man is called to a leadership role. He is the “head” of his wife, indicating that he bears God-given authority to lead. The pattern of headship is not selfish regency as modeled by some wicked king. It is sacrificial leadership as modeled by the God-man Jesus Christ.

Wives are called to joyfully yield to this leadership. They are to respect and build up their husbands. No man is a perfect leader—not even close. But a humble man married to a godly, loving woman will grow over the years as the Spirit works in his heart. His wife’s gentle spirit and trusting heart will play a key role. Her posture of submission puts on display the core attitude of the church to Christ. The church loves Christ. It does not battle or undermine Him. It celebrates His goodness and finds happiness in His devotion.

The interplay of authority and submission extends even to the Godhead. Christ submits to the will of His Father, His head (1 Cor. 11:3). We see from this and other texts that submission is not damaging, problematic, or unkind. It is the just response to proper authority. This is not how we are encouraged to think today. We are told that to rebel is to live, and to cast off all restraints is to thrive. The opposite is true. Christian faith is nothing other than submitting to God, coming under His rulership, and finding our role in His kingdom. This is true for all believers, married or single.

The words relationship, spouses, and parents are by no means evil. But we should see that biblical words carry precious truths. We do not enter into generic partnerships. Each of us is either a man or a woman. If called to marriage, each of us becomes a husband or a wife. If given the gift of children, each of us becomes a father or a mother. In our marriages, we practice authority and submission.

We do so with joy in God and love for one another. This is not an earthly blueprint, after all. No human mind has invented it. It is a divine call, and it opens the world’s eyes to covenantal love that transcends even the wildest hopes of the human heart. 

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.