“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22) That’s an unpopular sentence for today’s world. I wonder if it’s not because we don’t really understand submission.
We have this image of the browbeaten bride trembling before her chest-thumping husband. That may be what the world means by submission, but it’s not what the Bible is talking about.
- The concept of wives submitting to their husbands arises from the concept of mutual submission that is to be practiced by all Christians. We put others’ interests first, we sacrifice for them, we count them as better than ourselves.
- The concept of submission by wives is tied to the concept of sacrificial love by the husband. Both need to be present for the system to work. If the husband constantly sacrifices without the woman respecting him for it, the man is taken advantage of. If the woman submits to a selfish or unloving husband, she is dominated and subjugated.
- The relationship of the husband to the wife is compared to the relationship between the church and Christ. Paul presents this as a theological concept, not a concession to culture.
- In Corinthians, Paul compares the relationship between man and woman to the relationship between Christ and God. (1 Corinthians 11:3) The submissive relationship is a reflection of the godhead. Christ isn’t presented as inferior to his Father, but he is presented as being in submission to his Father. According to Paul, the submission of Christ to the Father will be a key point in the final triumph of the Kingdom. (1 Corinthians 15:24–28)
As we explore gender roles in the church, we need to remember that male leadership is a consistent biblical theme. It’s not about domination or authoritarianism; it’s about men loving their wives as Christ loves the church and doing their best to lead their families closer to God.