Submission is a good word. It’s God’s Word. However, we have made it into a dirty word. Thinking rightly about submission may revolutionize your marriage.
Warning: This is not a “Four Steps to a Successful Marriage” article.
My beloved and I celebrated 30 years of marriage this year! Amazing, right? I am so very thankful to the Lord for giving us these days together to serve Him. But as I write this, I must confess, there was a time early on in our marriage when I knew very little about what Elisabeth Elliot referred to as the “S” word.
There. I said IT.
“The word” that goes against our world’s view of authority, the ever-encroaching agenda of the feminist movement, and the most dangerous opponent of submission of all: our post-Adamic hearts.
Oh, how I cringe when I think of those early years where our relationship looked more like a hideous “two-headed monster” than the gracious, loving, headship and submission roles described in Scripture. My informative years regarding submission reflected anything but what God had intended.
Over the years, I observed submission motivated by fear or “peace-faking” as seen in Edith from All in the Family. I even received counsel (in the loosest sense of the word) to “get a puppy training book” to train my future husband.
Honestly, Genesis 3:16 says it best, and serves as a glaring reminder of the post-Fall condition of the heart condition through our sister, Eve: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband” (now, picture that two-headed monster).
You may want to read
- How to help the domineering husband and doormat wife
- When it’s okay to go against your husband’s wishes
- Are you supposed to submit to your husband in every way?
Time for change
I still remember sitting under godly teaching as a young wife laden with years of my well-practiced sinful habits when the teaching of that “S” word began. God graciously brought a godly older woman to unfold God’s Word before my needy heart.
I knew painfully well my heart’s desires were contrary to my husband’s…but what I was really learning was my desires were ultimately contradictory to someone other than my husband’s: HIS, meaning God.
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. – Ephesians 5:22 (ESV)
Maybe your heart is as weary as my heart was of bearing the burden of this beast of my own making. When it came to “that word” being lived out in my most sacred human relationship, I began to repent of how little I knew about my God and His character. I started looking to Christ and the Gospel as my example. I wasn’t just gritting the teeth of my heart; rather, I saw the bigger picture displayed throughout Scripture.
No doubt, this journey began on a road jam-packed with potholes of my own selfish desires. But by God’s grace, I was under construction as a new creation in Christ.
I was now bypassing my deceitful heart’s desires–moving to the path where the attractiveness of obedience was displayed at every twist and turn with a scenic overlook of the Gospel, God’s glory, and Christ and the Church. It was no longer me versus my beloved. God was for my beloved, my marriage, and me as I came to Him in my brokenness as His new creation.
First thing first
Just the mere discovery of God’s divine placement in Scripture of His kind intentions executed even before man’s fall gave me hope regarding my submission to my husband.
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” – Genesis 2:18 (ESV)
I was beginning to understand that being a helper that was suitable for my husband truly was a part of God’s divine design! God uses the same Hebrew word, “èzer,” (helper) to describe both the role of a wife as well as His very own character. Eve had it all wrong (Genesis 3:5). We are most like God when we fulfill our roles as a “èzer” that is suitable.
I grew in awe of my Lord and repentance as I began to realize the magnitude of God’s love as Creator God. He made me specifically for my beloved, so we could best represent Christ and the church. Furthermore, this was not a negative thing as seen portrayed in current sitcom marriages or modern authority-subversion social movements. Quite the contrary! Actual submission reflects strength!
Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. – 1 Corinthians 11:9 (ESV)
To call a woman a helper is not to emphasize her weakness but her strength, not to label her as superfluous but as essential to Adam’s condition and to God’s purpose in the world. Helper is a position of dignity given to the woman by God Himself. – Sharon Phillips
I truly began to grasp the picture of the Trinity’s influence in my marriage, and it continued to make even more sense:
I and My Father are one. – John 10:30 (ESV)
Jesus and God the Father assume different roles within the Trinity, but in their personhood they are equally God. Because my roles differ from my beloved’s roles in marriage does not make me any less loved by God. I am an equal image-bearer!
I also realized I failed to consider the immediate context of Ephesians 5. I now saw so much more than the act of submission as I observed the verses that came before the “S” verse (Ephesians 5:22).
Here is just a glimpse of what I saw from Ephesians:
- I had been made alive in Christ and now share a new position with my Lord and Savior at His right hand, showing me His surpassing riches.
- The works He had created for me as a believing wife were lovingly prepared beforehand along with my salvation.
- In those works I can obey my Lord in humble confidence through the strength of the Spirit, as I am rooted and grounded in the love of Christ’s forgiveness, enabling me to forgive my beloved.
This text is just a glimpse of the groundwork that God sovereignly laid long before I was ever in this earthly position to submit to my beloved. As I renew my mind with these kind and loving truths of my Savior’s love, it will expose my motives, thoughts, and attitudes when I interact with my beloved as one who is called to IMITATE God.
Gospel heart = Gospel deeds
Unlike the futility of the flesh-driven two-headed monster I referred to in the beginning, I can now imitate the One Whose image I bear, and by His grace, I will continue to look more and more Christ-like as I love and respect my beloved. This change is a sign of genuine strength, not weakness, dear one.
As I journeyed even closer to the “s” verse, I saw practically how I could be sure I was focusing on my heart attitude as I speak to myself in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making a melody in my heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for ALL THINGS.” (Ephesians 5:19)
The put-offs and put-ons were so much more than behavioral change as I looked at the surrounding explanations of Christ’s work on the cross.
You may be saying, “Kimberly, give me a list of dos and don’ts!” My heart is the first to want the check-off list, but marriage was meant for so much more than a list of dos and don’ts. It is a portrait of Christ and the church. I had rather you see the beauty of Gospel displayed uniquely in your marriage.
You see, the way I love, respect, and serve my beloved may look very differently from how you love, respect, and serve your beloved! My husband’s desires, preferences, and needs most likely do not look like the desires, preferences, and needs of your beloved’s.
If you implement prayer, being a godly listener, and a flesh-mortifying, Spirit-controlled wife with the attitudes mentioned in Ephesians 5:18-20, you will know how to best help your husband.
Don’t feel like it? I get that. My heart and flesh fail often, but I must initiate change by first changing my attitude: “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.” (Ephesians 5:20)
My sin ALWAYS goes back to an ungrateful heart. I must confess, repent, and then begin making a Gospel-centered melody in my heart! So, go ahead, be that trustworthy partner, speak well about your husband, and respond to him humbly when sin is in the air and the heart! God gave you everything pertaining to life and godliness, including submission!
Call to Action
Can I challenge you to do what I did above? Read the book of Ephesians and simply begin noting the practical implications of obedience to the Good News.
When I learned there was so much more at stake than my marriage, my ways, and my happiness (note: my, my, my — it’s not exactly about Christ), I was both humbled and invigorated to practically apply the Good News.
I realized others who need Jesus Christ saw something in me that could offer true hope! J.C. Ryle made the following statement, which you can apply to your marriages:
The Gospel was not meant merely to reside in our intellect, memories, and tongues, but to be seen in our lives.
How are you choosing to incorporate Gospel truths into your relationship with your beloved?
Also published on Medium.