What an unlikely topic for a series meant for men, right? I know! It’s always the women who are taught about submitting to their husbands, yielding to the man’s authority and decisions, not pushing issues too hard lest they injure that delicate male ego, catering to their husbands’ needs, etcetera. Yet it is for this very reason that I feel it’s important to have a discussion with the men about godly submission in marriage. Because for a marriage to successfully meet the needs of both spouses, it is imperative that we understand the definition, scope, and role of submission in marriage as designed by the Creator and Founder of the institution – our Father, God.
In many patriarchal societies today, the principle of submission has been largely misunderstood and abused to serve the proud, selfish, and egotistical desires of ungodly men while suppressing the freedom and expression of the women. For example, it’s a common saying in many traditional African societies that women are to be seen but not to be heard. Some are even so bold as to say that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, implying that women are only supposed to engage in activities that cater to the man’s domestic needs; that women’s contributions to decision-making processes are not only unsolicited, but are indeed unwelcome and disdained.
The Woman as a Helper
However, from our previous studies on leadership and gender-specific roles in marriage as established by the Creator, it’s evident that God gives women a very strong voice in marriage. In Genesis 2, God steps back to look at the creation He has made: the Garden of Eden is exquisite in stature; the animals are wandering about gleefully enjoying each other’s company; but the man He has created, though magnificent in his resemblance to his Father, isn’t quite all there yet. “And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” (Genesis 2:18 – KJV)
The Hebrew word (Hebrew is the original language in which the Old Testament was written) translated here as ‘help meet’ is `ezer. It means aid or help. It’s a noun that comes from the verb `azar, which means “to surround, i.e. protect or aid.” The King James Version also interprets `ezer as succour, which, as a noun, means “assistance and support in times of hardship and distress”; and as a verb means “to give assistance or aid to.” Note that there are no restrictions on the type of aid to be provided.
Eve was created to help Adam in every aspect, not just in cleaning the house or preparing meals. In fact, in the Garden of Eden, there was little need for food preparation as fruits, vegetables, herbs, and nuts grew all around them. They were also both naked, so there was no need for washing of clothes. Furthermore, at this point, work was not a tiresome or laborious affair that would wear Adam out hence the need for a helper. On the contrary, Adam’s prime assignment, for which God gave him help in the form of a woman, was the management of God’s creation.
The Role of the Woman in Marriage
In business jargon, the woman’s role in marriage is similar to that of Company Vice-president, not cleaner, cook, secretary, or receptionist. Can she perform all these other roles? Of course, yes. But is she limited to them? Absolutely not. She has a powerful voice in the boardroom – the place where decisions are made. She helps carry the weight of responsibility: she provides critical guidance and opinions on HR matters, financial decisions, design and aesthetics, and every other aspect of building and expanding the company’s reach and product. She has a voice, but she ultimately submits to the President and together, they both submit to the Founder or Owner of the company. This is what God’s organogram for marriage looks like.
The wife helps shoulder the weight of responsibility over the family. God has uniquely positioned her in the man’s life to help him make decisions concerning the governance of the family in a way that propels them all to accomplish God’s specific purpose for their individual and collective responsibilities. She is innately and divinely equipped by the Almighty God to provide wisdom that guides the man in making decisions such as whom to employ to work in the home, whom to include in the inner circle of the family, how to discipline the children, drawing up budgets and making investments, and even the location, architecture and design of the family house.
God has empowered the wife with a clear, strong, and necessary voice in marriage, but this voice is submitted to the man who is the head of the family; and together, the husband and wife submit to God through Christ, who is the Head over all things (Ephesians 1:22). This submission to Christ is the key to a successful marriage; we shall discuss this in more details shortly.
The Wife Gods Helper in Battle
According to Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee lexicon (a lexicon is like a very detailed dictionary that explains the linguistics or vocabulary of a given language), the primary idea of the verb `azar “lies in girding or surrounding, hence, defending.” In fact, the noun `ezer (other than its use as a proper noun, Ezer – the name of a person) is only used in scripture to describe Eve’s purpose in Adam’s life (Genesis 2:18 and 20) and to describe God’s help to the children of Israel in battle (Psalm 33:20; Psalm 70:6; Psalm 115:9).
“No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.” Psalm 33:20
This means that the wife’s role towards her husband is similar or comparable to God’s help in battle: without it, one would surely be overcome. And we are in battle; Satan is always working to prevent us from living out God’s plan for our lives. The bible says that he comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). Therefore, those for whom God has ordained marriage do themselves a great disservice by despising the help of their divinely appointed wives. It’s not your wife you despise, but God’s divine strategy to help you win the battle of your life.
How important it is to choose your wife carefully and with God’s guidance! For whom God calls, He also equips. Consider the honor God places on the woman: that she should model to her husband the kind of help He gives to mankind. To borrow from David’s words in the verse above, this should be the right and proper confession of men concerning their divinely appointed wives: “I turn and look to my wife; she is my help (from God) in every battle.” How foolish it would be to relegate a fine soldier meant to fight by your side, watching your back, to only shining your shoes and grooming your horse.
Unfortunately, in response to the misuse and abuse of the principle of submission by ungodly men, many women have rebelled against this concept, throwing out the baby with the bath water. Today’s so-called modern woman often believes that because she has enough money to take care of her children, she is not required to submit to her husband. The submissive wife is viewed as weak, illiterate, desperate, or even bewitched. But two wrongs don’t make a right. Submission is God’s provision for two human beings to live together in harmony, building a successful marriage. So, let’s study God’s perspective on the subject.
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21
The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines the verb submit as follows:
submit (verb) [intransitive, transitive] to accept the authority, control, or greater strength of someone or something; to agree to something because of this
SYNONYM: give in (to somebody/something), YIELD
- submit (to somebody/something) She refused to submit to threats.
- submit yourself (to somebody/something) He submitted himself to a search by the guards.
Even without going into the deeper meaning of the word in its original language, it’s evident that submission is an act of humility, honor and respect. Submitting to someone is placing them above yourself – looking to their needs and wants before yours, yielding to their desires, vision, and instructions. This is in line with what is written in Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Submission one to Another
God instructs us to live in submission to one another. Not only should the wife submit to the husband, but the husband also should submit to his wife. The husband should value his wife’s interests above his own and the wife should value her husband’s interests above her own. When we are driven by the desire to serve our spouse more than the desire to satisfy our own selfish or self-centered needs, wants, and desires, we will inevitably end up with a happy, fulfilling, and peaceful marriage; edifying one another in all that we do.
What if my spouse is not submitting to me? Well, that why Apostle Paul teaches us to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Our submission should be unconditional, not in response to our spouse’s actions. This is why we covered the topic of identity in so much depth a few weeks back and why I had to belabor the point on the woman’s divine position in marriage at the beginning of this article. We respect our spouse, not because of what they do or how the world defines them, but because of the One to whom they belong and how precious they are in His sight. A husband should, therefore, submit to his wife because she is God’s divine help for him.
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Ephesians 5:22-24
These verses, which immediately follow the one with the command to submit to one another, do not disqualify the former; rather they qualify the instruction. There are times when the interests of the man and his wife are such polar opposites that it is impossible to satisfy both at the same time. In such cases, the wife is to submit to her husband’s authority. This way, the wife submits to her husband in all things.
Submission and the Flow of Authority
Let’s dig a little deeper into the Greek. The word translated as submit in these verses is the Greek word hypotassō, which means ‘to subordinate, to obey, to be under obedience, to put under, to subdue unto, to be subject, to be in subjection to, to submit self unto.’ It comes from two other words: hypo (which means ‘under’) and tassō (which means ‘to arrange in an orderly manner, i.e. assign or dispose – to a certain position or lot – : appoint, determine, ordain, or set’). Literally, the word hypotassō means to set under. Therefore, for the marriage institution to work as God designed it, each spouse must set themselves under (be subordinate to) the other and not above.
However, the wife is instructed to set herself under her husband in the same way that she sets herself under the Lord; that is, to obey her husband as she obeys the Lord. In the Greek, that word ‘as’ means ‘like, even as, in the same manner as.’ To me, this paints a picture of honoring my husband in the very same way that I honor the Lord. My attitude towards my husband should be the same as my attitude towards Christ – he should sit in an elevated and exalted position in my life. This does not mean that the husband should take God’s place in the woman’s life; rather that he has authority over her – he is her master, her lord, in submission to the Lord.
“For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.” 1 Peter 3:5-6
The Greek word translated as Lord and lord in the New Testament is the word kyrios: it means, ‘supremacy; supreme in authority, i.e. controller; by implication, Master (as a respectful title): — God, Lord, master, Sir.’ It refers to one to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he has power of deciding. A master is the possessor and disposer of a thing or person – the owner; one who has control of the person.
Submission out of Reverence and not Duty
As Christ leads, directs, and commands the church (which belongs to Him), so has the husband been given divine authority by God to direct and command the wife who belongs to him. And as the church obeys Christ and surrenders her will to him, so must the wife obey her husband and lay aside her own desires and will in favor of his. And, as we established in some of the earlier posts, leadership in God’s kingdom is never forceful or practiced with selfish and egotistical intent, but in love and gentleness, with the view augmenting that which is entrusted to the leader.
Therefore, a woman’s decision to place her husband in an elevated position out of reverence to Christ does not entitle the man to pride and egocentrism. The word of God is very clear on this:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” … However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Ephesians 5:25-33, emphasis mine.
Love As Christ Loved the Church
A man MUST love his wife in the same manner that Christ loves the church. This is a command from the Lord. Everything that Christ did and continues to do for the church, the man must be able to do for his wife. He must be willing to lay down his own life – not just his lustful desires, so called delicate ego, raging temper, or need for control; no, he must love his wife so much that on top of these, he will also lay down his very own life to save his wife.
Your wife is your body and it’s your divinely assigned responsibility to care for her as you care for your own physical body. As we saw last week, part of this care is feeding her, not just physically but spiritually as well by teaching her the word of God (studying the bible together) and speaking God’s word consistently over her life. A simple but key principle in marriage is recorded in Matthew 7:12: “… do to others what you would have them do to you…” Before you say or do anything to your wife, ask yourself, “How would I feel if someone did or said this to me? Would it help me? Would it build me up and make me a better person? Or would it crush my spirit and destroy me?”
Consider also how Christ dealt with His disciples: never once did He utter an unkind word to them. Even when they hurt Him deeply, for example, when they fell asleep instead of interceding for Him as He was about to be crucified, or when Peter denied him openly when He was arrested, or when Thomas doubted that He really was the same Jesus that had been crucified three days earlier. Christ’s response was always to draw them nearer to Him and restore the broken relationship. This is how a man is supposed to deal with his wife.
Christ confessed, “I only do what I see my Father doing” (John 5:19), and in Ephesians 5:10, the Apostle encourages us to “find out what pleases the Lord.” This means that a man should only speak to and concerning his wife the very words that God is saying to and about her. It also means that a man should inquire from the Lord to find out how to treat his wife in a way that will please Him. Another (even more important) guiding principle in every decision a husband takes should be, “If I say or do this thing to or for my wife, will it please Jesus? Will it please the Lord?”
Submission and Unconditional Love
Again, the instruction to love your wife as Christ loves the church is not based on her level of submission to you. Christ’s love to the church is unconditional; so should yours be towards your wife. The bible records in Romans 8:5, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s love – which is the only true form of love – is not dependent on our failures or successes, but on His very nature of love (1 John 4:7-12). In fact, God’s love is proved in His ability to love us at our worst.
Let’s take our own bodies, for example: when they submit to us (i.e. when we’re healthy and our bodies are functioning as they should), we love and take care of them by washing regularly, dressing well, feeding them, et cetera. However, we also mistreat them by taking junk food, denying them rest, indulging in too much alcohol, and so on… But when we’re unwell and our bodies are not submitting to us as they should, do we hate them and beat them back into health? No. Never! That is when we care for them the most. We eat lots of fruit and vegetables, we abstain from alcohol and other recreational drugs, we put everything aside to rest, and we spend a lot of money to get to a good hospital where we will be appropriately treated, well cared for, and nursed back to wholeness. This is exactly how a man should treat his wife (who is his very own flesh body) when she’s being unsubmissive.
Therefore, the louder we shout to the women about submission, the louder we should shout to the men about unconditional, sacrificial love for their wives. For without this kind of love, the level of submission the Lord requires wives to accord to their husbands will puff them up with pride and cause them to lose the way. As it has been said, man was not created to receive worship; that is God’s privilege.
Submission is NOT Worship
Submission should never be mistaken for worship (of man). Yes, it’s an act of reverence to the Lord and respect and honor to the husband, but it is not driven by a wife’s desire to manipulate, her fear of punishment or retaliation from her husband, or the husband’s need for an ego massage. Godly submission springs out of an understanding of who God is and how precious mankind is to Him. With this understanding, a man will not abuse the honor and elevation his wife accords him, but will seek to love, care, and do what is best for her in submission to the Lord to whom she also belongs.
Let’s look at another portion of scripture that emphasizes the balance of submission within marriage:
“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” 1 Corinthians 11:3 (King James Version)
Just as the wife is required to submit to her husband because he is her head, and as Christ submits Himself fully to the Father because He is His head, so must a husband submit to Christ – his head; his Master. A man is not the ultimate authority in marriage. He has authority over his wife, but this authority is given to him by God, to whom He must submit. His authority is subject to the authority of Christ. I pray you get this clearly: Christ and the husband are NOT on the same level. The man is put in the hands of Christ, the Lord.
Submission in Obedience to God
Back to our analogy of the business empire: the manager is employed by the owner of the company or business and assigned certain tasks or duties. However, he is under the employ of the owner and must submit to his instructions to maintain his job. Similarly, in marriage, the husband is given authority over his wife to accomplish the purposes of God for the family. The family belongs to God and the husband is only a steward of these precious souls (the wife and children) of God. Therefore, the husband is not given the right and permission to do as he pleases with his wife and children, but is limited and restricted in the exercise of his authority by the terms of reference set out by God in His word as we have studied above.
Should a man choose to disobey the Lord, dire consequences await. 1 Peter 3:7 says, “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” (KJV, emphasis mine)
In the Greek, the word translated here as ‘hindered’ is the word ekkoptō, which means ‘to cut down, cut off, or cut out.’ It carries the connotation of hacking and is often used to describe a branch of a tree that has been cut off from the vine. At the same time, the word translated as ‘prayers’ is the Greek proseuchē: not only does it mean prayer, but it also refers to “a place set apart or suited for the offering of prayer” like a synagogue or a place outside the city (without a synagogue) where the Jews went to pray, usually on the bank of a stream or by the sea shore – in modern-day language, the prayer closet.
In essence, therefore, Apostle Peter is admonishing the men to give their wives the utmost esteem, value, and dignity (honor) lest their prayer closet be hacked off from God like a branch from the vine.
Summary and Conclusion
This is the 5th item on my wish list: I wish for men to grasp the true meaning of submission. I want them to know that submission does not mean silence or desperation. I wish for them to understand and appreciate the woman’s voice in marriage – that it is God’s help to them in the pursuit of their divine destinies. I pray that they will learn to submit to their wives as God’s precious belongings and co-heirs of His grace, and to the Lord Jesus Christ who is their head.
It is my hope and desire that men will choose to love their wives unconditionally, regardless of the dictates of culture and societal expectations and norms. May God strengthen you, my brothers, and meet you readily as you seek Him to find out what pleases Him. May the precious Holy Spirit work in you daily to produce the fruit of love, gentleness, kindness, goodness, perseverance, and self-control in your interactions with your wives. And above all, may He guide you in choosing a godly wife who will submit to you in all things.
And to my sisters reading this, may we practice submitting to the Lord that we should not struggle to submit to our husbands.
May the good Lord bless you all. Amen.
*All Hebrew and Greek definitions are taken from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance unless otherwise stated