Submission in Practice: 10 Steps

There’s always huge potential for misunderstanding when we try to explain the Bible’s teaching that a wife submit to her husband. No matter how much we try, people hear “submission” and think “oppression.” That’s why I thought it would be helpful to give an example of how the principle of submission works out in practice. I hope that will demonstrate how different (and even beautiful) biblical submission is compared to what people often think about it.

Using the example of buying a house, here’s how the husband’s leadership and the wife’s submission interact in the process:

1. Initiative: Having prayerfully considered the family’s needs, the husband says to his wife: “I think we should sell this house and buy another.” Notice, he doesn’t say, “We will…” but, “I think we should…”

2. Explanation: Next the husband says, “Here are my reasons.” He doesn’t just say “We’re doing this!” He explains his reasoning to his wife.

3. Invitation: The husband then invites his wife’s opinion, “What do you think?” This is not a monologue but a dialogue.

4. Gratitude: This is not necessary to say in every situation, but the wife should regularly affirm her husband’s leadership in general and express gratitude for it, especially if she is about to disagree with a specific proposal from her husband.  She might say something like, “I acknowledge your leadership in general, and I appreciate this thoughtful initiative, but…”

5. Listening: If the wife agrees with the proposal, then the decision is made. However, if she disagrees, she should freely state that and the husband must listen carefully and thoughtfully to her reasons.

6. Persuasion: The husband doesn’t listen to his wife’s reasons for objecting and then just go ahead anyway. No, if she disagrees, then the husband interacts with her reasoning and seeks to persuade her.

7. Patience: If his wife still disagrees, then there should be a reasonable period of time – days, weeks, or months – given to prayer, further discussion, consultation, and attempts at compromise.

8. Acceptance: After this time, if his wife is not yet persuaded and no compromise has proven possible, the wife must accept the husband’s leadership and submit to his will.

9. Support: The wife must avoid sulking or subtle opposition. Instead she should say something like, “I respect your leadership and trust your judgment, and will do all I can to make it go well.”

10. Review: When a decent period time has passed, the couple should re-visit the decision. If it turns out well, the wife should praise her husband for his leadership. If it turns out badly, the husband should confess his error and failing.

General points

Let me add a few general points about this process:

1. It’s rarely as neat and tidy as this, but this gives a general structure that can be adapted to different situations.

2. The husband should be extra careful to pay attention to his wife’s opinion in areas where she is more knowledgeable or gifted than he is. He should be extremely reluctant to insist on his will in these areas.

3. The husband should take opportunities to accept his wife’s wisdom whenever possible. If the husband is seen to be flexible and accommodating when he can be in good conscience, it will make it much easier for the wife to submit to her husband’s will on other occasions.

4. The husband may delegate many decisions to his wife, as long as he’s not abdicating responsibility and as long as she is willing to take the responsibility.

5. If the husband is overruling wife all the time, there’s something seriously wrong in that relationship. But if the husband never crosses his wife’s will, there’s something wrong there too.

6. The wife can also initiate, she can come to her husband and say, “Honey, I think we should move house. Would you give some time to thinking, praying, and talking about that?”

7. All this is in the context of the husband’s Christ-like love and Christ-like leadership.

8. The most important question for both husband and wife is not “How do I get my will done?” but “What’s God’s will for us and how do we do it?”

Previous Posts in this Series

Completing not Competing

Five Ways to Lead Your Wife

Two Models of Husband-Wife Love

The “S” Word: Three Models of Submission


The “S” Word: Three Models of Submission

“Wives, submit to your own husbands” (Eph. 5:22).

These words, especially the “S” word, sound horrendous to most modern ears and also to many Christian ears. That’s partly because most people’s idea of marriage comes from Hollywood. But it’s also partly because we may have had awful experiences or seen terrible examples of this biblical principle being abused.

That’s why it’s so important to begin any consideration of submission with the husband’s duty to be a Christ-like leader and a Christ-like lover in a complementary relationship, and also with confession and repentance over our past failures in these areas.

But whatever we do, we can’t get away from the s-word. We not only find it twice in Ephesians 5, but also in Colossians 3:18 and 1 Peter 3:1-6. So, instead of denying its existence or spinning it out of existence, let’s turn away from every worldly model of marriage and every sinful model of submission, and note three biblical models that God provides.

  • Model 1: The Church’s Submission to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33)
  • Model 2: Christ’s Submission to His Father (1 Peter 3:1-4)
  • Model 3: Old Testament Women’s Submission to Their Husbands (1 Peter 3:5-6)

We don’t have space here to examine each of these, so let’s just explore the second model for the moment.

Christ’s Submission to His Father

Peter called Christian citizens to submit to pagan government (1 Peter 2:13) and Christian servants to submit to pagan masters (1 Peter 2:18), each situation often involving much difficulty and suffering. But he urges Christians to model that submission on Christ’s submission to His Father’s will, which also involved much difficulty and suffering (1 Peter 2:21-25).

With that model in his mind Peter then turned to Christian women who were married to pagan husbands and said:

Wives, likewise [or, "in the same way"], be submissive to your own husbands (1 Peter 3:1).

So, why is Christ’s submission to His Father’s will such a good model of a wife submitting to her husband? Consider the three stages of Christ’s relation to His Father.

Stage 1: Essential Equality

In line with the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, the Westminster Shorter Catechism says: “There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one God, equal in power and glory.” As far as personhood, identity, essence, and value, the Father and the Son are equal. Being equal with God was not an act of robbery but was something the Son was entitled to (Philippians 2:6).

Likewise, the man and the woman are essentially equal; equal in personhood, identity, essence, and value. They are as equal as the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are equal. That means totally equal without a millimeter of difference in elevation. 

Stage 2: Servant Role

Though the Son was equal with the Father, yet for the glory of God and the good of souls, He was willing to take on a servant or submissive role, which also involved much difficulty and suffering (Phil. 2:6-7). Taking on this submissive role was something He delighted to do and spoke of it often, especially in John’s Gospel (e.g. John 6:38). The Son remained essentially equal with the Father throughout His earthly life – at no time did He cease to be God – but for a limited period of time and for a specific purpose, He functioned as a servant obeying His Father’s will.

Just as Christ temporarily submitted to His Father’s will for the glory of God and for the good of sinners, so the wife is called to submit to her husband for a limited period of time, for the glory of God, and for the good of sinners. But at no time does she cease to be essentially equal with her husband.

No one is saying this will always be easy. However, especially if the Lord blesses a woman with a husband who also models Christ-like love and Christ-like leadership, submission should often be as delightful to wives as it was to Christ Himself. There is nothing degrading and plenty that is beautiful about modeling Christ’s submission to His Father.

Stage 3: Exalted to Equality

Just as Christ’s submissive role came to an end with His exaltation to heaven and His being given a name that is above every name (Phil. 2:9), so once a wife’s earthly journey reaches it’s end, she will be exalted to an equally high position with her husband (and all men) in heavenly glory (1 Peter 3:7).

And just as Christ’s heavenly glory shines all the brighter for His willing acceptance of His earthly mission and submission, so will the wife’s glory shine all the brighter insofar as she also accepted Her God given role on the earth. And just as with Christ, the harder the submission, the greater the glory.

Tomorrow we’ll explore what Christ-like submission looks like in practice.


A Puritan on Ebola

Shortly after the great plague and the great fire of London, which between them killed many thousands of people, the Puritan Thomas Vincent wrote a book called God’s Terrible Voice in the City. (You can buy the book here or read it online here). It was based on the text in Micah 6:9: “Listen! The Lord’s voice cries unto the city. The man of wisdom shall see Your name. Hear the rod, and the One who has appointed it!” Among his first words were:

Friends, it is high time for all of you to retire yourselves, and bethink yourselves, and wisely to consider God’s dealings with you; to open your ear, and labor to understand these speaking judgments, lest, if God be provoked by your deafness and incorrigibleness, to speak a third time — it be in your utter ruin and desolation!

He went on to describe how God speaks by His Word and Works, especially His Works of judgment, and his graphic descriptions of the plague sound like a current CNN bulletin!

Descriptions of the plague

1. It is so poisonous a disease: it poisons the blood and spirits, breeds a strange kind of venom in the body, which breaks forth sometimes in boils, and ulcers, and great carbuncles; or else works more dangerously, when it preys upon the vitals more inwardly.

2. It is so repulsive a disease: It results in putrefaction and running sores, giving a most repulsive smell.

3. It is so infectious a disease: It spreads itself worse than the leprosy among the Jews; it infects not only those which are weak, and infirm in body — but also those that are young, strong, healthful, and of the best health.

4. It is so deadly a disease: It kills where it comes without mercy; very few do escape. And it kills suddenly! It gives no warning before it comes…So it gives little time of preparation before it brings to the grave.

The plague is not only terrible to those who have it but also to those who don’t “because of their danger of being infected by it; the fear of which has made such an impression upon some, that it has drained out of their hearts all affections of love and pity to their nearest relations and dearest friends.”

Reasons for the plague

1. Because people do not hearken to the voice of his Word and messengers. God speaks audibly by ministers, and when they are not regarded, he speaks more feelingly by judgments! He speaks first by threatenings, and when they are slighted, he speaks by executions. God first lifts up his voice, and warns by his Word — before he lifts up his arm, and strikes with his rod! When men grow dull of hearing the sweet calls of the Gospel, God is even forced to thunder, that he may pierce their ear! When God speaks to the ears and they are shut — God speaks to the eyes and other senses, that his mind may be known. 

2. Because they do not hearken to the voice of his goodness and mercies. The goodness and forbearance of God, speaks unto men from him, and call upon them to forbear sin for shame; to repent and return to him, Romans 1:4. But when men despise the riches of his goodness, and deafen their ear unto the language of his mercies, and trample his patience under foot, yet sometimes his patience is turned hereby into fury, and his anger breaks forth into a flame, and consumes them by the blow of dreadful temporal judgments!

3. Because they will not hearken to the voice of lesser afflictions. When God’s Word is not heard, he speaks by his rod. When his rod is not heard, he shoots with his arrows and strikes with his sword. And if lesser afflictions are not minded, then God speaks by more dreadful awakening judgments: as the sins of men do precede the judgments of God, so usually lesser judgments do precede greater judgments; and as there are degrees and steps which men usually do make before they arrive to a great height in sin — so there are degrees and steps which God usually takes, in inflicting his judgments for sin.

Vincent used Leviticus 26:15-40 to prove that God sends increasing judgments upon increasingly deaf and unresponsive nations and peoples and warns:

Thus God proceeds by steps and degrees, in the execution of his fierce anger upon a rebellious people; when God speaks by ordinary diseases and is not heard — then sometimes he sends a plague! And if after a plague, people will not return to him who smites them, nor seek to pacify God’s anger which is kindled against them, but walk so much the more contrary unto him — then he will walk contrary to them in fury, and send fire into their cities to devour their habitations! And if the voice of the fire is not heard, he has other judgments in readiness — sword, famine, and the like! And if temporal judgments are not heeded — then he will bring upon them eternal judgments.

I couldn’t help but think that this faithful and courageous pastor sounds like the Al Mohler of his day.


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Mental Health First Aid Training

The Michigan Department of Community Health are offering free Mental Health First Aid training days – one for adults and one for youth. The aim is to train Mental Health “First Responders” throughout Kent County. More details including sign up here.

I’d love to at least one person per church trained to be a mental health “first responder.” This looks like a great way to start.


Top Books on Marriage

This week so far, we’ve looked at marriage and relationships from several different angles:

Today I wanted to share a bibliography on some of the best books on marriage based on (1) personal experience, (2) recommendations from various people over the years, and (3) some of the best-selling lists. I’ve put three and two stars beside some titles that are the most useful. If there are any other good books I’ve missed, please leave a comment with the title and I’ll add it to the list. Many thanks to Esther, our new Faculty Assistant, for all her help in compiling this.

*** Adams, J. E. (1972). Christian Living in the Home. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House. Recommended by Dr. Joel Beeke (and me).

Bancroft, L. (2003). Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. New York: Berkley Books.  This title is specifically on spousal abuse.

** Beeke, J. (2012). Friends and Lovers: Cultivating Companionship and Intimacy in Marriage. Cruciform Press. 

*** Burk, D. (2013). What Is the Meaning of Sex?. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Chapman, G. D. (1982). Hope for the Separated: Wounded Marriages Can Be Healed. Chicago: Moody Press. Recommended by Dr. Joel Beeke.

** Chapman, G. D. (2010). The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. Chicago: Northfield Pub. Dr. Chapman’s 5 Love Languages are often discussed in pre-marital counseling and the book has spun off companion books such as The 5 Love Languages of Children and The 5 Love Languages: Singles Edition

Chapman, G. D. (2010). Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married. Chicago: Northfield Pub.

** Chediak, A., & Chediak, M. (2006). With One Voice: Singleness, Dating & Marriage to the Glory of God. Fearn, Ross-Shire, Scotland: Christian Focus. Recommended by Dr. Beeke.

Dunn, A. (2009). Gospel Intimacy in a Godly Marriage. North Bergen, NJ: Pillar and Ground Publications. This one is Dr. Beeke’s favorite to give as a wedding present.

Eggerichs, E. (2004). Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs. Nashville, TN: Integrity Publishers.  Eggerichs clearly lays out the differences between the needs of men and women.

Evans, J. (1994). Marriage on the Rock. New York: McCracken Press. The book outlines four foundational laws of marriage (priority, pursuit, possession, purity) and then describes how to build a solid marriage on top of that foundation.

Gouge, W. (2006). Of Domestical Duties. Edinburgh, IN: Puritan Reprints. Because what’s a bibliography without at least one Puritan? Also see Kindle edition here or Building a Godly Home, Volume 2: A Holy Vision for a Happy Marriage for a shorter, easier-to-read version.

Harley, W. F. (1986). His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage. Old Tappan, N.J: F.H. Revell Co. A best-seller on Amazon and a modern classic.  Dr. Harley comes from a Christian background, but his books and his organization Marriage Builders do not limit themselves to only serving a Christian audience.

*** Harvey, D. T. (2007). When Sinners Say “I Do”. Wapwallopen, Pa: Shepherd Press. Also, currently only $1.99 on Amazon (as of the date of this post’s publishing).

Hiestand, G., & Thomas, J. (2012). Sex, Dating, and Relationships: A Fresh Approach. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway.

*** Keller, T. J., & Keller, K. (2011). The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton. Recommended all around.  An absolute must-read. I wrote an unofficial study guide to go along with the book for one couple I was counseling prior to their marriage.

Kendrick, S., Kendrick, A., & Kimbrough, L. (2008). The Love Dare. Nashville, Tenn: B & H Publishing Group. Lays out very practical ways to show love in marriage. This book was a companion to Fireproofreleased a few years back.

LaHaye, T. F., & LaHaye, B. (1976). The Act of Marriage: The Beauty of Sexual Love. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House.

Mahaney, C. (2004). Feminine Appeal. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books.

Mahaney, C. J., & Mahaney, C. (2004). Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books.

Maken, D. (2006). Getting Serious About Getting Married: Rethinking the Gift of Singleness. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Munroe, M. (2002). The Purpose and Power of Love & Marriage. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image. Recommended by Dr. Beeke.

Parrott, L., & Parrott, L. L. (2006). Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts: Seven Questions to Ask Before—and After—You Marry. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondevan.

Peace, M. (1993). The Excellent Wife: A Biblical Perspective. Peachtree City, GA: Bible Data Services. Recommended by Dr. Beeke.

** Piper, J., & Taylor, J. (2005). Sex and the Supremacy of Christ. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books. 

** Piper, J. (2012). This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Rhodes, R. (2012). The Marriage Bed. Dawsonville, GA: Books that Nourish. Includes a seven day plan for cultivating intimacy in your marriage.

Sande, K., & Raabe, T. (2002). Peacemaking for Families. Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale House Publishers. Recommended by Dr. Beeke.  The book is in four sections.  One of the four is specific to marriage, the others to other parts of family life.

Schaumburg, H. (2009). Undefiled: Redemption From Sexual Sin, Restoration for Broken Relationships. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers. 

*** Sproul, R. C. (2003). The Intimate Marriage: A Practical Guide to Building a Great Marriage. Phillipsburg, N.J: P & R Pub.

** Thomas D., & R. (2007). A Biblical Guide to Love, Sex, and Marriage. Darlington, UK: EP Books.

Thomas, G. (2000). Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House. This title discusses marriage as a spiritual discipline.

Tripp, P. D. (2010). What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books.  

Watters, C. (2007). Get Married: What Women Can do to Help it Happen. Wheaton, IL: Moody.

Winner, L. F. (2005). 5 Paths to the Love of Your Life: Defining Your Dating Style. Colorado Springs, CO: THINK Books.

See other Top Books posts for different subjects here.