As Christ is the Head of the Church

For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
[Ephesians 5:23]

So why is it that God has called one-half of all the people in the world to go against their rebellious natures and put themselves under the authority of the other half of the world? Does God think women can’t make good decisions on their own? Are women just not emotionally stable enough to lead? Are we stupider than men? Or, conversely, does the idea of women being in control just bother men so much that God knew they couldn’t handle it?

I’ve heard these sorts of arguments, and I think that many times when we’re struggling with submission–when we know we should and just find the desire lacking–these questions come to our minds. Submission doesn’t always seem fair. It’s easy to be resentful and think that joyfully submitting must be like asking a slave to be patriotic. And the world doesn’t help. They think we’re nuts. I went to a secular university, and let me tell you, my non-feminism didn’t always go over too well! I’m very sure that it cost me a few grades and made me a few enemies amongst the professors, especially in the English department. This is the world in which we live. “Women can do anything men can do–and do it better,” they insist.

Then there’s the standard legalistic reaction to the world’s errant philosophy, which takes a dollop of true misogyny and mixes it with broad generalizations, missing the beauty of femininity in an attempt to avoid feminism. Women were made in the image of God (Genesis 5:1-2 ): rational, emotional, soul-imbibed human beings. God didn’t decree that we would be the submitters because we’re dumb, irresponsible, and over-emotional! There are so many women in the Bible and throughout history that completely disprove that notion.

So why submission? Because God had a bigger, beautiful purpose to accomplish.

Paul equates the husband to Christ, and the wife to the Church. That’s the “for,” the ultimate reason why we are to submit. In creating marriage, God made sure that His divine love for us would be obvious everywhere we turn, lost or saved. We see marriages around us, and we see how God loves us faithfully! We see marriages, and we see what our relationship with Him is supposed to be! As wives, we have a solemn and joyful duty to illustrate in our daily lives the way that the Church adores and serves and is faithful to her divine Husband. As husbands, they have an equally solemn and joyful duty to illustrate in their daily lives the way Christ unrelentingly and selflessly loves and protects the church–a taller order than submission, if you ask me!

We are called to submit to our husbands specifically as a witness of the submission of the Church to Christ. Wives all around the world at this very moment are displaying in the universal language of action the way that the Bride of Christ submits to her Bridegroom! By His grace, God has written all over the world a great display of redemption and obedience, and this is our part to play. It’s exciting, not inhibiting. It’s part of our created purpose, not a millstone around our necks! God has planned this from the foundation of the world.

There is nothing less dehumanizing than godly submission. Submission is a very real part of what our humanity is at its very essence! God could have created us all to be alike, and left the world to flounder with no idea of how He works amongst humanity, but instead, out of grace alone, He made an illustration and put it in the middle of marriage–the world’s oldest and most abiding human bond–and then, adding grace to grace, He gave us the privilege and duty of carrying it out!

Every time we joyfully submit to our husbands, it becomes a little clearer in our hearts how the Church is designed to submit to Christ. And every time a non-believer sees us being submissive, they see beautiful truths in action that they haven’t seen firsthand. Our submission should be a continual lesson for us as well as a witness to the world!

The beauty in this transcends the merely theological: it affects our day-to-day living and gives us hope and encouragement. At times when submission “stings”–when I totally disagree with Seth–I can take comfort in the fact that even if the particular instance of submitting seems useless from my point of view, it is still serving the primary goal of teaching the Gospel to my heart, to Seth’s heart, and to the world.

Wifely submission is a beautiful illustration of an even more beautiful example of God’s grace. May we live it with thankfulness, not resentment!

“Submit” to Your Own Husbands

Now, the question of a dictionary-like definition of submission. We could just look it up in an actual dictionary, but that would just tell us what G. & C. Merriam and Noah Webster think it means, not what God says it means!

The word here is hupotasso (plus some funny characters I can’t get to show up). Hupo is a preposition meaning “under” or “beneath,” and tasso means “to arrange in an orderly manner, that is to assign or dispose (to a certain position or lot)” (via Strong’s). Or to paraphrase and be verbose, the word literally means to deliberately and carefully arrange beneath.

The word is the same one used to describe Jesus’s relationship to his parents in Luke 2:51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. (ESV) And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. (ESV) (imagine being a completely perfect being submitting to imperfect parents!); in Luke 10:20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (ESV) Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (ESV) Jesus uses the word to describe how the demons are subject to the seventy sent-out; in Romans 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope (ESV) For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope (ESV) Paul uses the word to describe how creation is subject to depravity; in Romans 13:1 [13:1]Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (ESV) [13:1]Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (ESV), he uses the word to describe how we are to submit to our government; in 1 Corinthians 14:34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. (ESV) the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. (ESV) the word is used in telling women to keep silent in the church; in 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (ESV) For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (ESV) we learn that God subjected all creation under Christ’s feet and that Christ shall be subjected to God; Titus 2:9 Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, (ESV) Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, (ESV) exhorts servants to be subjected to their masters; in James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (ESV) Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (ESV) we are to submit ourselves to God; in 1 Peter 5:5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (ESV) Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (ESV) we are to be subject to our elders. All the same Greek word.

It’s worth noting that the word used to describe the relationship of children to parents is hupakouo, which means “to hear under… to listen attentively… to heed or conform.” The word is used in many of the same contexts as hupotasso (including in relation to the spirits obeying Christ, servants obeying their masters, the Christian’s relationship to God, and Sarah’s relationship to Abraham), but is never used to describe the “submit to one another” relationship of Christians, nor (except for Sarah) to describe the relationship of a wife to a husband.

Conclusively, then, we are to “submit” to our husbands in the same sense that:

  • we submit to the government
  • we submit to our masters
  • we submit to our elders
  • we submit to God
  • we behave in church
  • Christ submitted to his parents
  • Christ is submitted to God
  • demons submitted to those Christ sent
  • creation submitted to depravity
  • creation is submitted under Christ’s feet
The word for submit is transitive; it requires an object. Submit yourselves. Place yourselves in subjection to your husband. Here’s some other English synonyms from the Greek-English dictionary for hupotasso: arrange under, subordinate, submit to one’s control, yield to one’s admonition, obey, be under obedience; subdue unto. The sense I get is that wifely submission is, at its essence, appointing oneself below, which reminds me of nothing so much as Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (ESV) Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (ESV).

To summarize: we are called to subject ourselves to the government, our masters, elders, our husbands, and God. All the same word, and all emphasized multiple times throughout scripture.

So what does submission actually mean, practically speaking? It’s active: submission is continually bringing ourselves under the authority of our husbands. It’s orderly: submission is joyfully recognizing that we are “outranked,” in a sense. It’s illustrated: we have countless examples of “submission” described in the Bible; wives aren’t the only ones called to submit. It’s selfless: the very nature of submission requires us to put someone else first, and regard their counsel and wishes as higher than our own.
It’s easy at this point to wonder if wives are some kind of second-class citizens: why did God decree that our husbands would be over us? Are we just not as good? More on that… in the next entry. 😉

“Submit “As to the Lord.”

Sidenote: It has been suggested in a comment that I might define “submission” before I continue. So I’m going to do that in the next two posts. First, in this post, I want to define the depth of submission (how much do we submit?) and in the next post, I’ll be more grammatical about it and look at the meaning of the word in Greek, other uses of it, etc. The next post is already half-written and will, Lord willing, be posted sometime tomorrow. Now for today’s post…

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
[Ephesians 5:22]

As to the Lord. Wow. Intense.

If there is one thing in the whole topic of submission that I find both most insightful and most terrifying, it’s those four little words. I know to what extent I’m to submit to the Lord: totally and completely and unquestioningly.

This is the same sort of command qualification as “love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s just so far out there–so extreme–that it’s really hard to wrap my head around it. It’s one of those instances where it becomes plain that it’s impossible to live Christianity as a simple rulebook… it’s too far-reaching… it’s who we are. They way we submit to God invades every aspect of our life, from sleeping and breathing all the way to decision-making. In the same way, Paul is telling us, we are to submit to our husbands.

When I think about submitting to God, I think about total, unquestioning, unwavering obedience. While I’m not perfect at achieving that level of submission, I do know very clearly what I should do. I don’t imagine myself talking back to God, or arguing with Him. I mean, if God were standing in my living room telling me that we are not going to buy a new coffee table, I think I’d probably give a frightened squeak and nod obliquely; end of discussion.

Of course, part of the reason for that is because God is scary, and also because He’s always right. Husbands, on the other hand, are neither! And the real question is, how does one submit to an imperfect husband in the same spirit as one submits to a perfect God?

I mentioned yesterday that I tend to endeavor to do whatever I think is right. I don’t mean morally (although that too!) but pragmatically. I do a lot of careful research before I make decisions, and I’m the sort of person who applies for scholarships and compares insurance companies. And sometimes, I know that I’m “right,” objectively speaking, but Seth doesn’t agree. And sometimes doing what he wants to do has negative consequences that I want to avoid for the good of both of us.

God doesn’t make bad decisions. Husbands do. And, unless it’s a moral issue, we’ve got to go along with those bad decisions. That’s our calling. That’s where the rubber meets the road! It isn’t just blind trust. It isn’t being brainless and not thinking for ourselves. Sometimes it’s doing something that goes against every fiber of your being! Sometimes it’s doing things that we know are stupid! And doing them cheerfully!

I remember when I was in junior high or high school youth group, and we’d go on retreats. And there’d be all sorts of really silly rules. No hairdryers. No going from point A to point B without an adult. The buddy system. As an adult, I understand the reason we put such things on teenagers, but as a teenager I thought, hmm, I wandered all around the camp by myself before the rest of the kids got here, but now that they’re here, I have to follow this stupid rule, like I’ve suddenly lost my sense of direction. It didn’t make sense. But I followed the rules anyway, because they were the rules, and being obedient to them was the right thing to do.

I think submission to our husbands is kind of like that. Sometimes the “rules” are stupid. Truly, objectively stupid. Our husbands are wrong sometimes. And sometimes the we don’t understand the reason for “rules,” because sometimes our husbands see things that we don’t see. (Hopefully that happens more often!) But either way, sometimes we don’t get what our husbands are trying to do, and we don’t agree with them. And what we have to do at that point is recognize that just like our camp counselors, our parents, our government–whomever–we are under their authority, and we follow that authority because to do otherwise is to sin and to displease God.

When God commands us to do something, we have to follow it and trust Him even if we don’t see the reason in it. Similarly, we must submit to our husbands’ leadership and decision-making even if when we don’t see the reason in it! And by submitting to our husbands “as to the Lord,” we also submit to God. To return to the child metaphor, we obeyed our babysitters because our parents left them in charge, and in a sense, to obey the babysitter was to obey our parents. In the same way, the authority our husbands hold over us, the source of our submission, is ultimately from God.

Submit “As is Fitting in the Lord.”

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



[Colossians 3:18]




Colossians doesn’t have much to say about submission. Paul doesn’t expound here on what submission is, or to what extent we are called to submit–he just commands it, and calls it fitting . That little word “fitting,” though, is an excellent place to begin talking about submission, because it answers a crucial question: why should we submit?

It’s not in my nature to be submissive. Even when I was a child, there were few times when I felt compelled by peer pressure to do anything. I remember very coherently in junior high wearing clothes that I knew were not in style, and I think I rather revelled in nonconformity. I’ve also tried to do whatever I thought was best regardless of what others thought. I don’t think I’m an overly domineering or bossy person, exactly, but I can be a know-it-all and I can also be pretty unyielding when I think I’m right.

So, bringing this into the sphere of marriage–I do quite well at being submissive, as long as Seth wants me to do what I want to do! But stray off that happy path and… well, there’s a reason I’ve picked submission as my topic du jour!

There do seem to be a few women out there who are more naturally submissive, stemming from anything from an internalized need to please or being “good-natured.” But I suspect that for most of us, we’re born rebellious and submission is continually a matter of internal conflict. So… we might think that being submissive is a virtue. We might think we’re doing pretty well. Conversely, if we’re not doing so hot on the submissiveness score, we might think we’re still okay, because, after all, it’s awfully difficult and so few women get it down pat. Maybe we’re not as virtuous as we could be, but it’s not like we’re living in sin, either, right?

But then Paul uses that little word, “fitting.” Not “submit as is a beautiful expression of love,” not “submit to earn rewards in heaven,” not “submit so others may see and learn from you,” but submit because it’s fitting.

I think that’s a bit of an archaic word in English, but the Greek is quite clear. The word is aneko (with macrons that I can’t get to show up), which carries the idea of attaining. In other words, do exactly what you’re supposed to do. Submission isn’t anything “extra,” it’s par for the course. If you’re submissive, you’re being what a wife is expected to be. Describing a Christian wife as “submissive” should be no more spectacular than describing a banana as “yellow.” Do green bananas exist? Sure, but nobody wants them. And when someone asks what color a banana is, the only answer that comes to mind is “yellow.” Similarly, “submissive wife” should be redunant; when we think “wife,” we should think “submissive;” and when we think of unsubmissiveness and wife in the same breath we should be appalled. It’s impossible to be a good wife without being a submissive wife.

Another thing worth noting from this passage: Paul doesn’t say “submit to your good husbands” or “submit to your husbands because they love you and deserve it.” He specifically sets the command in a very different context altogether: it’s fitting in the Lord . Our submission is unconditional, in the sense that it doesn’t depend on the character or actions of the man we’re married to. If we find it easier to submit to our husbands when they’re being nice and wonderful, then we’ve got to check that our submissiveness isn’t stemming from the wrong motivations! We submit because we are commanded and created to do so. And while it takes more endurance and strength to submit to bad husbands, or even to good husbands when they’re being unkind, God promises us the grace to do so.

There’s a reward that comes out of submitting when it’s difficult, too, but I’ll save it for a later entry. 🙂

On the Subject of Submission

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
[Colossians 3:18]

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands….let the wife see that she respects her husband.
[Ephesians 5:22-24,33]

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be externalâ┚¬Ã¢â‚¬the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wearâ┚¬Ã¢â‚¬ but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
[1 Peter 3:1-6]

Wifely submission is a complicated topic. I once posted an open query to a group of my friends, asking what, practically, submission “looks like.” I wanted a mental picture. I wasn’t married yet–I’m not sure Seth and I were even dating–but I figured there had to be some underlying attitude that characterized submissive wives: something I could emulate in my future marriage. I received no substantive response. We know we’re supposed to “submit,” but articulating exactly what that means on a day-to-day basis can be much more difficult!

I want, over the next few weeks (or perhaps a month and a half or so!) to do similarly to what I did with the cultivating heavenwardness “series”, by writing another set of posts focusing on submission. I’m a bit more organized going into this one, because I’ve been working on it for a while, and also because I want to focus on the important things moreso than just the things that I “like”. I’m not writing to cultivate a desire for something I already know is good (e.g. heaven) so much as writing to sear my own heart and conscience to better serve my husband and glorify God.

I’ll try to write the first entry tomorrow. 🙂