man and woman sitting on bench
Photo by Andre Furtado on

In my last post I mentioned how I tried so hard to be a “good wife.” While that may have been a good desire, the problem was I had no idea what that really looked like.  Where was my idea coming from and was it really biblical and what God wanted? Before I continue with the rest of my story, I feel like it is critical to share with you what I now believe to be a good wife.

I grew up in the church and was not a stranger to the word “submissive” or “submission.” The problem was, I did not have a biblical understanding of submission at all. I’ve heard from so many women who have been hurt because of the submission issue. I, too, was one of those women. Because of the way Ephesians 5 was misunderstood, submission became abusive and extremely hurtful in my marriage relationship. I became angry with God and resented that He would set up such a system. It seemed as though God was not an advocate for women, but rather a Father that didn’t care. This became so confusing to me. How could God do this? Why would God do this? I eventually understood that it wasn’t God that had misled so many of us, rather people that misinterpreted Scripture for their own benefit. For me, it was coming from an angry, legalistic culture.

Maybe you can relate because you, too, have been harmed and shut down in the name of submission. Why are we so misled, confused, and angry at the mention of this word? I believe that God created submission to be a good and orderly thing. The problem arises when sinners begin to create their own rules by misquoting and misunderstanding God’s words.

What does Scripture say about submission? I’m sure that many of us have heard or been raised on Ephesians 5:22 – “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body.” The problem comes when we take Scripture out of context to fit our needs. This one verse has been used to be abusive and hurtful to women, and to put us down as lower than men. God created both man and woman in His image and He does not see one as better than the other. Actually, without God we are both nothing.

Paul is writing to the Christians in the church at Ephesus and starting with chapter three speaks to the Gentiles or the outsiders. Earlier in chapter two Paul tells the Ephesians that “Christ brought all together through His death on the cross. That through Christ they share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.” (The Message) The “mystery” of God is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of Him all their lives stand on the same ground before God. The Message is available to everyone!

Paul encourages everyone to know that God can do anything – far more than we could ever imagine or guess or request in our wildest dreams! He does this not by pushing us around but by working within us, His Spirit deeply and gently within us. (The Message) Then Paul goes on in chapter 4 and encourages us to be mature and to do the work that God has called us to, and to do it with humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, and quick to keep unity of the Spirit among us.

In verses 17-32 Paul encourages us to live the new life. We are to put away or change our old way of thinking and doing and speak the truth, be angry and not sin, build up one another, remove bitterness, anger, wrath and slander. And we are to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgive one another quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.  Now, here’s the big key!   Starting in chapter five, Scripture tells us to “be imitators of Christ.”  In other words, watch what God does, and then do it. Most importantly God loves you! So, we are to learn to live a life of love, to live our lives in a way that reflects Christ, and to walk in wisdom. Paul then goes on to tell us how to imitate God’s love. In Ephesians 5:21 Scripture says, “submitting to one another in the fear of Christ (or reverence for Christ).” This is the idea of considering other’s needs above ourselves and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

The idea of submitting in Ephesians is not about the order of authority, but the manner in which the operation of authority is governed.  God is not a God of chaos, but of order.  Submission is for the purpose of having order in our homes and lives. As in the military, we each have things we are responsible for, not because one is better, but for the sake of order and accomplishing things in a respectable manner.

One of my favorite authors is Leslie Vernick. In her book, “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage,” she talks about what submission is and is not. Because she has written about headship and submission so beautifully, I do not see any reason to “rewrite” anything on this topic. The following instruction is taken from pages 96-99 of her book.

“Godly headship is seen in the life of Jesus towards His disciples. He did not show headship by using His mighty power and rightful authority over them. Instead, He washed each of the disciples’ dirty feet. Jesus showed His disciples that biblical headship meant sacrificial servanthood. Scripture never describes biblical headship or leadership as entitlement to do what you want, demanding that others do what you want, or permission to get your own way. The correct biblical terms for those characteristics are selfishness and misuse of one’s power and authority.

In John 13:14-15 Jesus instructs His disciples to do as He has done for them. Paul picked up Jesus’s heart on the subject of headship in marriage when he wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for Her” (Ephesians 5:25). The essence of biblical teaching on headship is that if you are the leader, your responsibility is to initiate and model servanthood before anyone else in the family does. As the leader, you’re to show the way. Paul wrote in Colossians 3:19 for “husbands to never treat their wives harshly”, and in 1 Corinthians 13:5 he says, “love does not demand its own way.”

Jesus also modeled submission for us. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed and asked God to take His crucifixion from Him. Jesus dreaded the cross; He wanted God to find an alternate way to save mankind (p. 97). Yet, Jesus submitted Himself when he prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus always wanted to do what God wanted, yet in this moment He felt differently. This was the first time Jesus did not want to do what God wanted, but He chose submission to God’s will and His Father’s perfect plan. Jesus was not forced to submit, He chose to.

Biblical submission, therefore, cannot be forced. It can only be done by the one who chooses to submit her (or his) will to another. When we voluntarily give our will to another or to God, it’s called submission; when someone forces our will to be given, it is not biblical submission. The correct terms are intimidation, coercion, and bullying. Submission isn’t necessarily agreement; it’s yielding your will to another for a greater good. The good might be unity in the family (or body of Christ) or honoring and pleasing God. (pg. 98)

Jesus modeled both headship and submission in volunteering for the servant’s place and yielding His will to God. This describes the working together of headship and submission; the husband sacrificially leads his wife in servanthood (through example), and the wife sacrificially yields her will in servanthood (through example). Both are servants of the other and of God. When only one is the servant or the other is the master or god, the marriage isn’t working as God intended.

Since the fall of Adam and Eve, human beings have been vying for power and control over one another (Genesis 3:16). This was not God’s original plan, but rather the result of sin. Biblical headship doesn’t mean you get your way all the time, and submission doesn’t mean you have no voice or choice in the matter. The Scriptures validate the mutuality of marriage and the dignity and value of each individual, no matter who they are. Mutuality of servanthood, submission, and sacrifice is the biblical model for the Trinity and for godly relationships, including marriage. (pg. 99)” (Leslie Vernick, “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage”)

I’m sure you can understand why I respect Leslie Vernick and her writings. She bases everything in Scripture and it makes so much sense and speaks to the heart of God and how He wants us to live. He does not see one person better than another and does not love one over another. We are all sinners in need of a Savior and because of His great love, He provided a perfect Savior. When we abuse and mistreat God’s Word for our benefit, it grieves His heart. He gave us His Son as our example so we would know how to love one another. I pray that we honestly inspect our own hearts and see where we need to allow God to do His work.