Back before my recent hiatus, I wrote a post called Are Wives Really to Submit in Everything? It is the first post in a four part series that I am planning to write on this important topic. In part two, I had intended to give some real life situations for submitting in everything; but I’ve realized that might be a bit premature because I haven’t yet laid out what it means to submit in everything. We will take a look at that now in this post.
This post is a little heavier than the others in this series, but please don’t skip it. Maintaining the walk of a godly, submissive wife takes more than practical advice about how to behave. It requires the convictions that come with knowing what the Bible says and having it deeply rooted in us. We need to study God’s word on the topic thoroughly – and keep returning to it. I pray that this series helps your biblical understanding of submission to grow. May we all live it better to the glory of God.
First a Quick Look Back
In my post Are Wives Really to Submit in Everything?, I took a look at Ephesians 5:24 focusing on the last two words in everything.
“But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:24)
I focused on the end of verse 24 in part to counter a belief that I have come across (thankfully not too often) and find troubling, namely that husbands have absolute authority over their wives. This verse is used in the attempt to substantiate that belief. “Everything” is taken quite literally and apart from relative context and verses. If you haven’t yet read my post, please see it for my thoughts on this matter. I hope it successfully demonstrates that the Bible actually teaches that headship is limited and that there is an exception to everything. Headship cannot righteously include leading a wife to anything that is contrary to the word of God. Therefore, a wife’s proper submission ends where direction to sinfulness begins. Without this understanding all sorts of trouble could ensue. I’m concerned for wives who do not recognize this exception. I hope my post plays a part in helping them escape or avoid some spiritual, emotional, and even physical harm.
I set out my thoughts on verse 24 in regards to the extent of the husband’s headship for another reason: I want to be absolutely clear about my position on this. I feel it’s vital that I be clear because I have and am going to unapologetically and enthusiastically promote submission as good and Biblical and encourage Christian wives to pursue it. Doing that without addressing the limits of headship and by extension the limits of submission would be negligent. It gives me peace of mind as I continue discussing submission in more detail, that there is a place on my website that can be referenced for this important matter.
Understanding What it Means to Submit in Everything
Let’s move forward and dig deeper into God’s word now. We are going to stay with Ephesians 5:24, as this verse and the context give us a clear indication of what it means to submit in everything.
“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:22-24)
In these verses we see two relationships that a wife can draw from to understand her submission to her husband. One is her relationship to Jesus and the other is the church’s relationship to Jesus. Both of these relationships involve submission. Let’s look at the church’s relationship to Jesus first since it is in Ephesians 5:24.
First Relationship to Draw From: The Church’s Subjection to Christ
The church’s subjection to Christ, mentioned in verse 24, helps us to understand our submission to our husbands. This is because the church’s subjection to Christ is set out as a model or picture for us to emulate. The church has every reason to be subject to Christ. He is God. He is Savior. He is Lord. That subjection is a serious and beautiful thing. We are greatly blessed to be His people. As Christian women, we understand that Jesus has authority not only over the church but also over everything else. (Matthew 28:18, Colossians 2:10) Ephesians 1:19b-23 speaks about His authority over all and His headship over the church.
The church is in a position of submission to Christ
Whether or not individuals within the church faithfully submit to Christ, the church as a whole is in a position of subjection to Him. That is the order that exists between Christ and His church. And that position covers everything. There is no area that the church is not subject to Christ’s authority, hence Paul’s appropriate use of everything. In drawing on the picture of Christ and His church, I believe that Paul means to teach that wives ought to take a similar position to their husbands as the church has to Christ and that the authority of husbands extends over their wives to the same degree. Why else would he use that powerful picture?
Second Relationship to Draw From: The Wife’s Subjection to Christ
I could present my opinion about what it means to submit in everything solely from the relationship of Christ and His church, but let’s take a look at the second relationship mentioned above first. Ephesians 5:22 says, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” This verse speaks of the relationship between a wife and Jesus, and gives us another indication of what it means to submit in everything. Verse 22 says we are to be subject to our husbands as to the Lord. (Subject is not in the Greek, but the sense is taken from the context.)
The “as to the Lord” is key. It highlights that a wife’s submission to her husband flows out of her submission to Jesus. If He wasn’t her Lord, the one who is her absolute authority, these words would have no meaning. Hopefully, her submission to Jesus is joyfully and respectfully given. Also, if a wive’s submission to her husband is lacking, this verse tells us that this is an indication that her submission to the Lord is lacking. This connection serves as a great motivator for godly submission.
Christian Wives and the Comprehensive Authority of Christ
“As to the Lord” also tells us about how a wife is to submit. Christian wives are subject to their Lord in everything. Again, we may not always walk in that subjection fully, but it is what we are called to. He is our Lord, and we must obey His commandments. His authority over our lives is comprehensive. This means that there is no part of our lives that we can righteously exempt from His authority. We ought to have a mindset and a readiness to obey His word in all situations.
This reality informs our submission to our husbands because if we’re going to submit to our husbands as to the Lord, then it should look something like that. It should never be exactly the same; however, because only Jesus has absolute authority.
Submitting in Everything Means: Taking a Position of Subjection, Having a Mindset and a Readiness for Comprehensive Submission, and Performing the Action of Submitting as Needed
Taking all these things together, I believe that submitting in everything means that a Christian wife is to take a position of subjection to her husband’s God given authority and from that position have the mindset to follow her husband’s leadership. This mindset sets up a readiness for comprehensive submission (as opposed to sometimes submission or never submission), which makes possible the actual action of submitting as needed.
It’s important to have that mindset because, working again from the picture we have of the church’s subjection to Christ and our subjection to Him, there is no area of a wife’s life that she can righteously exempt from her husband’s leadership. Therefore, she may be called to submit in a number of different areas. Could it be matters regarding the children? Yes. Money issues? Yes. Sexual desires? Yes. Decisions about work? Yes. How she spends her time? Yes. Anything and everything, except of course that which is against God’s word. Can you see why I wanted to be absolutely clear about the exception to “everything” that I covered in part one of this series?
Comprehensive Submission in Marriage
Comprehensive submission to Christ makes sense. He’s God. He’s perfect. Being ready to comprehensively submit to our husbands? That’s harder for us to accept. They’re sinful human beings. I get that. For a long time I didn’t even pursue it. Submission in my mind only involved really big decisions. My submission was only sometimes submission. Medium and small, everyday matters were not under the umbrella of my husband’s leadership. It wasn’t until I got in touch with the word everything and really thought about how the church and I are subject to Christ that I began to align myself fully under my husband’s authority and with God’s will. I have come to see how important understanding those things are if one desires to enter into biblical submission. Leaving them out weakens the system of headship and submission.
I know there are many difficulties and even fears with the idea of submission in general, never mind submitting in everything. These are things I fully intend to write about, so hang in there. Hopefully, we can work through them. In the meantime, may we grow in our obedience to God’s word. And that really is what this is about. How do we respond to the words of Scripture? How fully do we wish to submit all our ways to the Lord?
Submission is No Small Thing
I don’t think it is helpful or wise to minimize what is being said in these verses. Doing so would not help us to grow in our obedience to the Lord. So, let’s be real. The submission we are called to give our husbands is pretty amazing. It is to mirror the church’s subjection to Christ in everything and the submission we are called to give Him, which also includes everything. That’s no small thing and is not easy for many of us, including me. It runs contrary to our natural impulses. Is there any wonder it is resisted and flat out rejected by many Christian wives? There are all sorts of reasons why we would not want to pursue it. Our husbands are far from the goodness of our glorious Savior. We don’t want to be taken advantage of or hurt or lose our say. We live in the 21st century. We don’t want to be considered weird, oppressed, stupid, or weak. I’m sure we could come up with many more reasons too.
My encouragement to you is to endeavor earnestly to listen to God above all others, even yourself. Read and reread His word. Study all the verses that deal with submission in marriage. Study the position the church holds in relation to the authority of Jesus. What kind of submission does the church give Christ? What are you called to give Him? Ask yourself, do you demonstrate the same in your marriage? I know how difficult it can be to obey God in this way. It took me time to change my thinking and behavior, and today I still fall short. In the hardest moments, I am motivated by a desire to be pleasing to God. (2 Corinthians 5:9) I both love Him and fear Him. (2 Corinthians 7:1) My heart leans heavy towards His will. I strive to move forward; and I invite you to as well, laying aside all objections for Him and for His glory. As we work towards obedience, let us find encouragement in this: He is at work in us “both to will and to work for His good pleasure”. (Philippians 2:13)
In this post, I have intentionally not addressed some topics that often show up in the discussion of submission; so we can consider this issue in an undiluted way. I am referring to things like discussions between a husband and wife in regards to decision-making, the beauty that a marriage can picture as it mirrors Christ and His church, the misnomer that submission is easy as long as the husband lives his role, and how to respond to ungodly requests. I have been attempting to build towards a body of material that somewhat systematically deals with the subject of submission. These topics and others will be addressed in time, Lord willing.
Posts in this Series
Part One: Are Wives Really to Submit in Everything?
Part Two: What Does it Mean to Submit in Everything? (This post)
Part Three: Real Life Situations For Submitting in Everything
Part Four: How to Begin Submitting in Everything
See Also: Submission Verses: Quick Reference
Additional Resource: Domestic Abuse in Marriage
Excerpt: “Though I have consistently affirmed submission in my ministry work, I have also repeatedly stressed that wives should not submit to anything that is contrary to God’s word. The Bible does not teach that wives should submit to domestic abuse. I do not believe that wives default settings should be to suffer in silence even in small things, never mind serious abuse.”