This post is intended for wives only. It is not to be used by husbands to try and control or correct their wives.
Part 6 of What I Believe About Marriage
I believe that the biblical order God intends for marriage is best described as an ordered partnership. But what exactly does that mean for wives?
Before we dig into the Bible’s instructions for wives, let me remind you that that biblical marriage is a set of truths in tension. By that I mean you can’t just look at either your husband’s or your role in isolation. A fully functioning, genuinely biblical marriage requires both of you to operate in accordance with what the Word of God says. Examining only a husband’s authority in marriage without coupling it to the fact that he is to emulate Christ in the exercise of that authority is dangerous. Considering a wife’s gift of submission to her husband, without coupling it closely to a husband’s Christ-like love is equally dangerous. Keep the truths in tension.
Love, Honor and Submission
In my What I Believe page for husbands, I explained that your husband is to love, lead and serve you. With that understanding in mind, I believe your counterpart to that is to love, honor and submit to him.
I’m going to take these in reverse order, because truthfully, most people are going to skip to the s-word section anyway.
Submitting to Your Husband
I’ll start with one of several Scriptures that point to this dimension of a wife’s role in a Christian marriage.
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.Ephesians 5:22-24
(I’ll remind any husbands that might be lurking here that this passage is directed to your wife. Nothing about this passage implies that you are to get her to submit to you! Your only instruction is to love her!)
It’s All Greek…
Pardon me while I parse some Greek here.
I’ve read dozens of commentaries, blog posts and articles on this passage, some of which draw vastly different conclusions about the meaning than what I do. Because this is such a critically important marriage passage, the words are important. What I say here is a very brief synopsis of where I come down on the meaning of these words.
Strong’s Concordance defines the Greek word often translated into “submission,” hupotasso, as “to arrange ones self under,” and “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.” I hope you sense the extent to which this is a choice made out of love, not an obligation performed out of duty.
The term translated as “head,” kephale, in the passage above, does not carry the connotation of boss (there is a different Greek word that Paul would have used if that was what he meant). In this context, it means something more like “leading by being out front.” I think of something like the lead goose in a flying formation. This understanding of headship is important for understanding what is meant by submission.
Submission is not enslavement. Submission does not imply not having a voice. Submission is not being a doormat. Submission is not subservience. Submission is not even obedience.
Submission is the attitude of your heart that says, “I respect you as my husband and acknowledge the leadership that God has called you to in our marriage. I want to keep myself arranged behind that leadership, to follow your lead and to partner with you as we move along our marriage journey together. I submit to God first, and he has asked me to submit myself to you. I do so willingly and in much the same manner I do this unto Jesus in my spiritual journey.”
Honoring Your Husband
Your husband probably desires your respect and to be honored by you more than he wants to have sex with you. Yeah, really. That much!
Given a choice between feeling unloved or feeling disrespected, three fourths of men will choose to feel unloved, according to a survey performed by Shaunti Feldhahn for her book For Women Only. My own poll, taken a few years ago, clearly showed respect as the number one need for the most husbands.
The truth is that your husband needs your love for him expressed as respect and admiration in the same way that you need his love expressed through emotional intimacy and feeling cared for.
Dishonoring your husband is a blow to his heart. It says to him, “I don’t love you.”
This is why the Bible says:
However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.Ephesians 5:33
Strong’s defines the Greek word here for respect, phobeo, “to reverence or treat with deference.” Some dictionary definitions include: holding in honor or esteem, to pay proper attention, and to show consideration for.
“But you don’t know my husband!” you say. “He can be such a pig-headed idiot sometimes.”
No, I don’t know your husband or the details of his pig-headedness (or whatever you see as his weaknesses), but I still insist that he deserves and needs your respect.
Loving Your Husband
Submission (remaining under his protective covering and supporting his leadership) is the action that flows from an attitude of honor and respect. This is a powerful principle of giving the gift of your submission to your husband is what it says “I love you” to your husband.
I agree with Dr. Emmerson Eggerichs, who says in his book Love and Respect that just as your husband is to give you unconditional love, you are to give him unconditional respect. To him it’s the same thing.
Unconditional respect does not imply unconditional agreement or endorsement, but it does imply that in all things and at all times you are to maintain an atmosphere of honor in your marriage. It means not putting him down when you disagree. It means not talking badly about him to your friends or family. It means not browbeating him when asking him to do something. It means not assuming he will do the wrong thing.
But more than what you should not do, I want to encourage toward what you should do to show him love through respect and submission.
- Tell him how proud you are of him (about something specific)
- Tell him he is you’re hero
- Ask him about his day, and tell him how much you appreciate how hard he works
- Strive to support and agree with the decisions he makes
- Flirt with him and tell him how attracted you are to him
- Tell him how blessed you feel to have a husband like him, and tell him why
Even better, ask him specifically what you can do to show him more respect or to be more honoring toward him. Keep your eyes open for the things that matter to him, and do them.
If you want your husband to fulfill his biblical role and lead you with love, do your best to let him know you believe in him, that you respect him, and that you honor him as the loving leader God has called him to be.
Whether he is walking in the full maturity in his role right now or not, your attitude of respect and acts of submission will help to draw out of him the loving leader you want him to be – the loving leader God wants him to be.
Women who embrace the biblical notions of love, respect and submission toward their husbands are not repressed, but actually free and full of power. It’s one of the many ways in which the Kingdom of God is upside down from what the worlds says.