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.
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?”