What does a submissive wife in a Christian marriage look like?
James F. Pope
While Scripture provides the definitive answer, I also will be passing along excerpts—in quotation marks—from wives who gave me real-world insights. These wives had ties to courses I taught at Martin Luther College last summer.
“I don’t really think of myself as ‘submissive’ because today’s society puts a bad spin on being submissive. I like to think of myself as a ‘suitable helper.’ I need to support my husband as the Christian leader of our family.”
To many people today, “submissive” means “a willingness to be controlled by other people” (The Cambridge Dictionary). Many view any form of submissiveness in a strictly negative sense that pits one person in authority against another who merely yields to the authoritarian.
That is not the Bible’s meaning of submissiveness. When the Bible instructs Christian women to “submit yourselves to your own husbands” (Ephesians 5:22), there is a context that removes anything that might be demeaning, degrading, or insulting to women. That instruction follows this command that God gave to Christian men and women: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Also, Christian women are to “submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. . . . Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:22,24). How the Christian church submits to Christ is the pattern for Christian women interacting with their husbands
Christian wives explained what that pattern looks like in their marriages:
- “Look for ways to encourage your husband, in private and in public, and build him up.”
- “A submissive wife in a Christian marriage is a supportive wife. You work together with your spouse, and respect and support him in your marriage.”
- “Within a Christian marriage, a wife freely expresses her thoughts, trusting her husband’s response will lovingly support her and look out after her best interests.”
- “A Christian wife happily submits to her Christian husband because she knows every decision he makes will be done selflessly for her happiness and the good of their marriage.”
To provide balance, I also asked husbands who were on campus for courses last summer for their responses to your question:
- “She serves the Lord before she serves me.”
- “Because people are different,that submission on the part of wives will look different from one marriage to another.”
- “1 Corinthians 13 describes the kind of love husbands are to have for their wives.”
That last comment puts the instruction of wives submitting to their husbands in the proper context. While wives are to submit to their husbands “as the church submits to Christ” (Ephesians 5:24), husbands are to love their wives “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Just as Christ is the pattern for a wife’s relationship to her husband, so Christ is the pattern for the husband’s relationship with his wife. Husbands are to love their wives with self-sacrificial love. It is to a loving leader (Ephesians 5:33) that a Christian wife submits.
A wife like that said: “Although my sinful pride can get in the way at times, it is not hard to agree with the authority of my husband as he demonstrates love for me in everyday life.” That wife describes Christian submission and Christian love well.
Author: James F. Pope
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019