Recently I had the opportunity to do to a Priscilla Shirer Bible study on hearing the voice of God. During our last week of study we looked at submitting to God’s plan for our lives, including the authority figures He has placed in our lives. During the discussion with my Bible Study group, I found we all had more questions than answers after a week’s worth of studying the topic.
I decided that since “submit” in its various forms is found over 30 times in the NIV, God was serious about submitting. And since I’m serious about wanting to live a life pleasing to God, I needed to know what submission is, what it’s not and how to do a better job of it in my life.
I began where I so often do, The Holman Bible Dictionary. Here submission is defined as the “voluntary placement of oneself under the authority and leadership of another.”
Then I looked at some other definitions online and found this one: “The action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.” This definition gives a different tone than the Biblical definition and I think that’s where our balking at submission began. The world gives submission a connotation of defeat…being beaten into submission, or of inferiority as in this definition of yielding to a superior force.
And I admit, I’ve bought into that definition, so when I read that I am to submit to leadership, or my husband, or to “one another” as St. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:21, I find myself thinking that I am not inferior, by golly, and I do not need to submit to anyone else’s rules or ideas, including those of my husbands. But as usual, the world has it wrong! Submission as it was intended, Biblical submission, is truly a voluntary act; an act of recognizing the God-given roles we have on this earth and working within our role to bring Him glory.
The Holman Bible Dictionary goes on to say that we must understand that all humans are created in the image of God, and therefore have an equality with one another. Read Genesis 1:27: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
However, He created man first, and created a “suitable helper” for him, namely a woman. This, from the very beginning, implies a leadership role for the man, a helper role for the woman. I’m not a betting woman, but I’ll venture a guess here that Eve was happy in her role as helper…for a time anyway.
During my Bible Study discussion, a friend pointed out verse 16 of the second chapter of Genesis. The curse God places on the woman. We all know about the childbearing pains, if you have delivered a child you aren’t likely to forget! But the second part of the curse is where it gets interesting, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Is this where the happy-to-submit attitude left us women? If so, how do we get back to Eden?
A Beautiful Princess
The first step to regain a right attitude towards submission is to remember you are a beautiful princess, a daughter of the King of Kings.
- He has made everything beautiful in its time. (Ecc 3:11)
- “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor 6:18)
- Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— (John 1:12)
- I have summoned you by name; you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)
When you know who you are and have confidence in your place in God’s kingdom, you can make the decision to submit to your husband’s authority with a willing heart.
Jesus provides a beautiful example of this. In John 13:3-5 we read that Jesus knew the power God had given Him, and that he had come from God and would be returning to God. And secure in that knowledge, He was able to serve, to wash the feet of His disciples.
Likewise, when we are secure in our knowledge that we are loved by God, and given all good things by God’s hand, we can serve and submit to our husbands.
A Beautiful Partnership
The next step is to remember you aren’t competing against your husband, you are in partnership with him.
- The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him…Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.” (Gen 2:18,22)
Women were created to fill a role in God’s creation, and I’m sorry, ladies, it wasn’t to lead the men. Organize them, feed them, clean them up and send them out the door looking good, yes! But always in a helpful way, not demanding or destructive. Again I think our culture cultivates this attitude that women can have it all and do it all. And while I agree that women are indeed capable of running corporations and running households, in our marriage, we are to be the helpmate. This doesn’t diminish the sparkle of our princess crown. In fact, I believe that if we will submit to our husbands our crowns will sparkle all the more.
We can see this idea of roles in relationships in Eph 5 when St. Paul writes that “wives should submit to their husbands as the head of the wife”… and then goes on to say that “husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” Christ had a role, that of savior, we the church have a role to submit to the will of God. Husbands have a role, to lead the family, wives have a role to support their husbands.If we honor one another and take care of the roles we were created for by God, then we can live in harmony with each other.
It may be wise to spend some time looking at the roles you have in your marriage. If you keep track of the budget, it makes sense that you would have an opinion about a large purchase your husband wants to make. If you are the one who cleans the house, it makes sense that you would have an opinion on what items can be left on the living room floor. But we shouldn’t spend time thinking that “if I am right, then he is wrong” or vice-versa. A loving husband will consider his wife’s opinions, concerns and needs, but in the end he needs to be the one to make the decision and the wife needs to stand by him in that decision. If this is difficult for you, you may need to pray that the Lord would work in your heart so that you can honor your husband in this way.
We can see this “dialogue” in action in the ultimate submission by Jesus. He went to the garden to pray, bringing his feelings and concerns to God. Jesus knew God heard Him and loved Him, but the decision had to be made and Jesus had to submit to that decision. And He did so voluntarily. In light of this, can it really be that difficult for us to submit to our husbands?
Let me stop right here and say that this essay is for those of us with a penchant towards control issues. It is not for those who are asking, “What if my husband isn’t godly? What if he is leading me in a direction that God wouldn’t approve of?” Well, of course every situation is different, but if you aren’t being harmed, then prayer is a powerful ally. Ask God to work in your husband’s heart; ask that it would soften towards God and His ways. Also ask God to bring to light ways that you can uplift your husband so that he would desire to be a good and godly leader.
If this is not possible, if you are in harms way, then you must take the stance that Peter and John took in Acts 4: 19 “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.” Our first priority is always to obey God and if your spouse is asking you to do something that goes against God’s word, or is acting in a harmful way towards you, then you have to stand up for yourself, even so far as removing yourself from the situation if you have to.
So when we know that we are a beautiful princess in a beautiful partnership with our husbands we can step back and see how God’s design for man and woman is still the best design for a happy marriage. We can also see that submission isn’t a blind obedience where we are trampled on or watch our husbands make choices that will hurt us and our future. We are intelligent creatures created in the image of God. He doesn’t want us to be walked upon. So what does submission look like? How can we submit to our husbands while not losing ourselves? Here’s a scenario to look at.
Your husband decides to buy a boat with his bonus check from work. He’s excited because the kids are old enough to learn to water-ski and he pictures lazy days on the lake, just like when he was growing up. You are concerned about this purchase because of the ongoing expenses of upkeep, fuel, and the “toys” that will be purchased to go along with the boat. Additionally, you know that you really don’t have many free weekends during the summer with the kids’ sports and church activities.
What does submission look like here?
- “Well, it’s your money, I guess you can do whatever you want with it.”
- “You go right ahead and buy yourself a boat and see how it all works out…about as well as the last hair-brained idea you had I’d bet.”
- “A boat does sound like a lot of fun for the family. Before we start looking and getting our hearts set, do you think we could look at how the upkeep and fuel will fit into our budget? And can we look to see how often we’d be able to take it out to the lake? I don’t want you to be disappointed if we can’t go every weekend.”
The first choice may look like submission, but it doesn’t sound very voluntary. This answer lets the husband have his way, but the wife will most likely be resentful for years, hardly contributing to a beautiful partnership.
The second answer again gives the husband what he wants, but not in a truly submissive way, nor does he get any respect which doesn’t make for a beautiful partnership either.
The last answer doesn’t even look like submission on the surface, but the wife uses her role in the family as budget-and calendar-keeper to keep the family from making a large financial mistake that the husband may regret down the road and inwardly berate himself for. Of course with this answer they may work together to find that it is indeed within their budget, or that the schedule isn’t as tight as mom first thought. Then a decision to buy the boat can be make with everyone on board. But no matter what the outcome of the discussion, if the husband decides to buy the boat, the wife needs to submit, and pray until she can do so voluntarily.
Is submission easy? Probably not always, but nothing good in life is, right? So spend some time praying; ask God to open your eyes to times when you should have submitted. Pray that you will seek guidance and strength from the Holy Spirit the next time an issue comes up that requires your submission. Pray that you would honor God’s plan for your marriage by submitting to your husband.