This April Greg and I will celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary. I know, that’s a long time—longer than some of you have been alive! But I can still remember those first years of marriage because they were some of the hardest of my life. I went into marriage with such high hopes of having a loving husband, deep emotional intimacy, and a fulfilling partnership. That blissful oneness that the Bible says is the purpose of marriage, I was ready to have it all. But within six months, the honeymoon was over, and I was left with unmet expectations, unresolved conflicts, and a husband who just couldn’t do anything right to please me!
I was confused, disappointed, and deeply hurt. Well, I wasn’t going to give up, so I figured out that the only way to get what I wanted was to let Greg know just how disappointed I was, and then I would help him to do the things that I needed and wanted from him. Let me tell you, I got so good at having him do what I wanted that whenever I was with him in the car, he knew the exact moment I wanted him to change lanes—and I didn’t even have to say a single word! I am embarrassed now to admit it, but at that time I was so proud of myself for that kind of control over Greg.
And that was what I thought would give me the intimate, connected, loving relationship I wanted with my husband.
What about you ladies? What are you doing to get the kind of marriage that you long for? How are you doing in inviting your husband into emotional intimacy and a fulfilling partnership? How are you doing in creating the oneness relationship with your husband?
I hope you are smarter than I was because any man here can tell you that I missed the mark by a very long shot. But just in case you are as hurt, confused, and misguided as I was, we don’t have to try to figure it out on our own.
The Bible, God’s Word for all of us, gives us the secret to having the kind of marriage we want and that God has designed for us.
Today we’re going to look closely at two passages where the Bible speaks directly to wives about how to relate to their husband in their marriage.
The first is Ephesians 5:22-24 & 33:
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.23 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. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything....33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Incidentally, the Apostle Paul gave the same instructions to the believers at the Colossian church saying, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”
The second is 1 Peter 3:1–2, a letter Peter wrote to the Christians scattered throughout the northern areas of Asia Minor:
Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.
Yes, today we’re going to cover that dreaded s-word: submission.
What have you heard about submission? Those of you who have grown up around church or church people may have learned that submission means obedience of wives to their husbands in everything.
I believe that submission has been greatly misunderstood and misused by Christians throughout history and even today.
To understand what submission means, we have to take a look at the Greek word that is used. The Greek word here is hupotassō, which is used in various forms 40 times in the New Testament portion of the Bible. It's from hupó = under + tasso = to set in place or arrange in an orderly manner. In the active voice, hupotasso means to subject, to subordinate, to submit one’s control, to yield to another’s advice; and indirectly it means to obey.
Noteworthy is the fact that hupotasso is NOT the same word Paul used in Ephesians 6:1 or 6:5 where he instructs: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” and “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear…” Paul instructs children to OBEY their parents and slaves to OBEY their earthly masters, using the Greek word hupakouo. If Paul had wanted wives to “obey” their husbands, he would have used this same term. So, although hupotasso can imply and be translated “to obey,” here in Ephesians 5:22, the word "submit" or "subject yourself" is the more accurate translation.
In fact, the instruction to wives cannot be understood without the previous verse. In Ephesians 5:21, Paul writes, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Then he says, “Wives, to your husbands”—without using the word submit but it is implied, as this is a common sentence construction in the Greek and in Paul’s writing.
To truly understand the wife’s submission to her husband in the bonds of marriage, we must understand submission in its fuller context of how believers are to submit to one another. Clearly, Paul was not instructing the believers to “obey” each other but instead to subordinate and yield to one another. It is clear that humble submission is a Christian virtue for all believers--not just wives.
The Apostle Peter gives a similar call to all believers. In 1 Peter 3, in which we read about wives submitting to husbands, Peter then gives instructions for husbands to “be considerate as you live with your wives and treat them with respect…” and he immediately reminds believers in the next verse: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8).
In these texts, rather than child-like or slave-like obedience, submission is presented with three key characteristics:
1. Submission is an attitude of deep respect.
In Ephesians 5, after instructing husbands to love and sacrifice for their wives, the Apostle Paul summarizes the marriage relationship in v. 33 by saying, “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”
Instead of going back to the word “submit,” Paul reminds wives that they are to “respect” their husbands. Other translations use the terms fear or reverence, all with the meaning that the wife is to have an attitude of awe and deep respect for her husband instead of an attitude of superiority and disdain.
This morning’s opening song, “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton has a great line it where the husband says to his wife, “I feel wonderful because I see the love light in your eyes.” All the while she is doing very ordinary things for him. But she is doing them is such a way as to convey her love and deep respect for him.
Emerson Eggerichs makes the point in his book entitled Love and Respect that “the husband needs respect just as he needs air to breathe” (location 639). He then explains that “when men hear negative criticism, it doesn’t take them long to start interpreting that as contempt for who they are as men” (location 656), which is probably why King Solomon from the Old Testament, he who had 700 wives and 300 concubines, wrote these words in Proverbs:
Proverbs 21:9 - "Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife."
Proverbs 21:19 - "Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife."
Proverbs 27:15-16 - "A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm; restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand."
In those early days of marriage, how easy it was for me to go from being in awe of this amazing man whom I did not want to lose to being disappointed and critical of the same man whom I was not afraid to hurt or cut down.
Wives, why do we think that rolling our eyes in disgust, sighing in disappointment, and complaining and nagging will make our husband’s change into more thoughtful, loving husbands? What foolishness to think that he would want to cleave to us and be one with us when we tell him in words and actions that he is a failure?
So wives, does your husband see respect for him shining in your eyes? Does he hear respect in the things you say to him or the things you say about him to other people? Or would he say that you are opinionated, quarrelsome, and not open to his input? Would he say that you are critical and disrespectful of him?
2. Submission is a Voluntary Act to Yield Control.
Nowhere in the Bible is a husband instructed to subjugate his wife or make her submit to him. Nowhere! Yet, many Christians (both men and women) have used Paul and Peter’s instructions for the wife to submit herself to her husband as the right of the husband (and even all men) to control women and make them obey. Missing is the recognition that the woman, as a human being of equal worth and capacity, is instructed to willingly put herself under her own husband’s authority, to yield control to him.
A child must obey his or her parents. A slave must obey his master. But a wife has to choose to submit. Submission is a voluntary act of the will of a person to another person of her equal. If she wasn’t an equal, she would not have the right or capability to submit herself.
While there are three passages directly instructing a wife to submit to her husband, which would not have been a surprise to the first-century believers, there are other passages on the marriage relationship that actually went against the social practices of Jewish, Greek, and Roman practices. In 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul responded to questions that the Corinth church had about sexual matters. He explained that a husband and wife should not deprive each other of sexual intimacy. Then he said a very revolutionary thing in v. 4 in the New Living Translation: "The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife."
In a time when a wife was viewed and treated as the property of her husband, Paul says that she has authority or control over her body and must make the decision to give authority over to her husband. AND even more astounding, the husband doesn’t own his body but must give authority over it to his wife! As theologian Johann Albrecht Bengel notes, “The rights of both are equal.”
The point is that only when one has the authority over oneself can there be true submission, the voluntary decision to yield control. But that also means that one has the ability to NOT yield control. And there are certain times when a wife would rightfully choose not to yield control to her husband. In 1 Peter 3, the apostle was addressing Christian women who were married to unbelieving or non-Christian husbands. When he told them to submit to their husbands, he did not mean they should listen to their husbands if their husbands wanted them to abandon the faith or go and follow other gods. And he would not expect them to follow their husband’s commands for them to do sinful acts that are against God’s instructions. Yet, Peter tells them to submit to their husbands through respectful and pure conduct.
Wives, have you voluntarily made the decision to yield control over to your husband? At a minimum, would he say that you consider his ideas and seek his counsel when making a decision? Would he say that you listen to him and cooperate with him when the two of you disagree on an issue? Or would he say that you often do your own thing and disregard what he wants or what he has to say?
At this point, some of you ladies might be getting squeamish that this submission teaching is sounding awfully close to the traditional instruction for wives to obey their husbands. Respecting him you can live with, but yielding control? You might raise some objections. Perhaps you’re thinking:
- It’s not fair that the woman has to submit. Why does she have to lose her equality in the relationship?
- It’s too risky that her submission could be taken advantage of and then she could easily be controlled and abused.
- And what if my husband totally doesn’t deserve my submission?
Honestly, I’ve wrestled with God for most of my life over the issue of submission. My personal journals are full of entries questioning God, often defiantly.
But my marriage didn’t work out well when I tried to do things my way. I tried for the first seven years to control and change Greg. My controlling when he changed lanes was definitely NOT an act of respect of yielding control—even in something as unimportant as getting somewhere.
It’s no surprise that I didn’t get the love I wanted, so for the next three years, I tried to ignore Greg and not care about the relationship. It wasn’t until the 10th year of marriage that I humbled myself, asked God to change me, and entrusted Greg into God’s hands.
3. Submission Comes from Trusting in God
After telling wives to submit to their husbands, the apostle explains in 1 Peter 3:3-6:
3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5 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, 6 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.
It is interesting that Peter would give Sarah as an example of a wife who submitted herself to her husband and even obeyed him, because she was asked to do some hard things. Not once but twice her husband Abraham told her to lie that they were not husband and wife because he was afraid that powerful men would kill him so they could take Sarah as their wife. She was that beautiful and he was that afraid. And sure enough, the rulers took Sarah for themselves. Only God’s drastic intervention protected and returned Sarah back to her rightful husband. Did Sarah have cause to fear that submitting to her husband would cause her harm? Definitely. But the apostle tells us that she put her hope in God, did what was right and submitted to her husband, and did not give way to fear.
How about you? Do you trust God with your life? Your husband? Your marriage?
Ladies, wives, what would it look like if we trusted God with our marriages and our husbands? What if we believed that God, the creator of marriage, knows better than we do how to achieve the unity or oneness of a man and a woman joining together? What if we trusted God, obeyed his will, and submitted in deep respect to our husbands? What would the RiverLife community look like? What would happen to our husbands? What would happen to our marriages?
Once when I asked God what submission really is, he showed me Jesus humbling himself, letting go of his glory and status, and becoming a servant. I was profoundly humbled and silenced. So I will close with the passage from Philippians 2:3-8, which was written to all believers of all time, but is especially salient this morning to us wives who are learning how to submit to our husbands:
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others [your husbands] above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others [your husband].
5 In your relationships with one another [in your marriage], have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!