“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.