[18] Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Colossians 3:18

Now, this is a subject that evokes strong opinions from all sides, making me very nervous about writing the blog.

Many think that submission means that the wife must sit passively and endure all kinds of things, even abuse and has no right to stand up for what is right and true. I have known quite a few husbands where they have been a “bully” the assumption being that the wife will be “dutiful.” Scripture does not ask the wife to submit in this way. Biblical submission does not mean the husband can get away with whatever he chooses.

I am very aware that there are some situations where the husband has used submission to control what the wife wears, where the wife goes, even how much money she can or can’t have. I know of circumstances where the husband has controlled and manipulated and suppressed the wife. These situations are wrong and require repentance and change as well as a demonstration of a true biblical understanding and application of what Paul means by submission.

The verb translated “submit” (vs 18) is the Greek word, “hupotasso” which carries the implication of voluntary yieldedness to a recognised authority and is not just confined to marriage. In Ephesians 5:22-24

Wives to husbands, children to parents in Ephesians 6:1, believers to the elders of the church in Hebrews 13:17, people to the state in Romans 13, employees to their employer in 1 Peter 2:18, believers to believers in Ephesians 5:21.

So let’s look at what submission does not mean before looking at what is does mean.

Submission does not mean that the husband is superior and the wife is inferior. The concept of the wife being the “helper” (Genesis 2:18-22)

of the husband in no way implies her inferiority. In fact, the Hebrew word translated “helper” is often used in the Old Testament to refer to God as the “helper” of mankind. Surely he is not inferior to us! Rather, this passage means that: The husband, even before the fall into sin, was incomplete without his wife. The husband will never reach his full potential apart from the input and support of his wife.

Submission does not mean a wife is obligated to follow should her husband lead her into sin. The biblical principle that we owe obedience to God first and foremost applies to Christian wives as well. Likewise if there must be a choice between obedience to God and obedience to the state, God is to be obeyed (Acts 5:29). However the wife’s submission to her husband is qualified by God’s commands, not her own preferences, opinions, and trying to get what she wants.

Submission does not mean the wife must suppress her creative ability, or any other God given ability There is no biblically prescribed “personality” for wives, anymore than there is one for husbands. Husbands who exercise Godly leadership can be introverts and wives who submit can be extroverts.

Submission does not mean silence. Many mistakenly think a wife is unsubmissive if she ever criticises her husband (constructive criticism that is lovingly motivated and desiring the best for her husband is not unsubmissive). It does not mean she won’t make requests of her husband if her husband is lazy or sinful or neglectful. (Make them in private rather than in public or gossiping). It does not mean she won’t hear from God, or be more intelligent or articulate or able. Why would husbands stifle that gift to them?

Submission does not mean that everything a wife does must be directly dependent upon or connected to her husband. Submission does not mean the wife can never do anything for her own benefit or for the benefit of others or that she should never become involved in activities or ministries outside the home or him. It simply means that nothing she does should bring harm to her husband or undermine her primary responsibility to her family.

What does submission actually mean, I can’t cover them all!

Submission is the disposition to honour and affirm a husband’s God given authority and an inclination to follow his leadership.

Submission is fundamentally and primarily an attitude and act of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is clear both from Colossians 3:18 and Ephesians 5:22. This is God’s way, God’s idea.

Submission is a commitment to encourage one’s husband in such a way that he may reach his full potential as a man of God. This in turn brings blessing to the wife as well as security.

But what happens if the husband is not a Christian? Please read 1 Peter 3:1-7. This passage suggests that submission does not mean she must agree with everything her husband says. Verse 1 indicates that she is a believer and he is not.

So she disagrees with him on the most important principle of all: God!

Life, church, everything. The passage clearly understands that it is not required to throw away her faith or commitment to it.

Submission does not mean giving up all efforts to change her husband. The point of the passage is to tell a wife how she might “win” her husband to the Lord. Strangely enough, Peter envisions submission as the most effective strategy in changing the husband.

Submission does not mean putting the will of one’s husband above the will of the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter in no way suggests she should abandon her commitment to Christ simply because her husband is an unbeliever. This wife is a follower of Jesus before and above being a follower of her husband.

Submission to an unbelieving husband does not mean a wife gets her personal, spiritual strength from him. When a husband’s spiritual nurturing and leadership is lacking, a Christian wife is not left helpless. She is to be nurtured and strengthened by her hope in God (vs 5).

Paul uses the words in Colossians 3:18 “is fitting in the Lord” or “for those who belong to the Lord.” This should forever put to rest any suggestion that Godly submission is inherently oppressive or offensive or contrary to the spirit and life and teachings of Jesus.

Obeying any biblical command, whether it be a wife’s submission to her husband or a husband’s love for his wife, is an appropriate, indeed a beautiful thing. It is “fitting” or “proper” not because it conforms to the culture of the day but because that is what God has ordained for our marital relations. In the final analysis, it is the Lord Jesus himself who determines what is and is not “fitting” or “proper” for his people.

It has been difficult to cover every aspect of submission in this blog. I did speak in Church on the subject recently, please do contact me if further notes would help.