Monday, June 21, 2010

The S-Word

Those of you who hang around sites like this one or LAF, for which I am a contributing writer, have come across a little word that crops up several times in Ephesians 5 and which is sometimes disparagingly termed by Feminists and Christians alike as the S-word:


Ephesians 5:22-24 and 33 makes no bones about it: a wife is commanded by her Maker and Redeemer to submit to her husband "in everything." This command is not relegated, as some have claimed, to the rare occasion when push comes to shove. "In everything" does not mean "as a last resort," or "on the off chance that you just can't seem to come to a mutual decision." No, Scripture is plain as day: "Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything" (Eph. 5:24). Period. No qualms. No qualifiers.

The only exception to this rule is when the husband explicitly commands his wife to do something contrary to the law of God. In such cases, the wife would be compelled to follow God's authority, which is greater than her hsuband's. However, even in households where the husband is an unbeliever, this happens a whole lot less frequently than we wives care to admit. We love to throw around that "exception" card. We think it lets us off the hook. We like to get off the hook. But, Scripture doesn't let us off the hook. Wives are commanded to submit the their husbands "in everything," day in, day out, in little things as well as major ones.

Scripture is not relative. Every husband is the head of his wife.

"In truth, headship is a spiritual reality. Like manhood, it's a gift from God...Manhood is an aspect of male adulthood that cannot be taken away.So too headship is an aspect of husbandhood. Manhood can be obscured,and headship can be denied. But neither is elusive, and neither can be taken away. A man is a man plain and simple. And for as long as a man is married, the husband is the head of his wife." (Sarah Sumner, Men and Women in the Church p. 168).

This headship is not dependent on the wife's submission; it is not even dependent on the husband's own understanding or execution of that headship. The husband does not establish his headship. God does. The wife does not bestow or convey headship. God does.

So, a wife's submission is not dependent on her husband's ability to lead, on his spiritual maturity, on his willingness to love her as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25), or even on the status of his salvation. It is dependent on his relationship as her husband.

It is important to note, too, that while submission is required because of the husband's headship, the husband can never force his wife to submit. In a sense, he can't even command his wife to submit, because God has already done that. And, in order for submission to be submission, it must be willed by the one who is submitting, in other words by the wife. Otherwise, it is not submission; it is merely obedience or even subjugation. Submission is a choice. It is the wife's choice alone to make. In this sense, then, her husband cannot lead her, though he is her head; she must lead herself into submission1.

1 I first conceived of it in these terms by reading Men and Women in the Church by Sarah Sumner, which I paraphrase here (p. 170). However, I think Dr. Sumner would be the first to advocate that this concept does not belong to her but to the public domain, since it is, by her own assertion, merely stating that which is expressed in God's Holy Word. This is the reason I cite her contribution only in a footnote, rather than within the text.


  1. i needed this... i actually wrote about this in my last post...

  2. Rosita wanted to leave a comment, but doesn't have an account. Here is what she wrote to me:

    I agree with you that wives are called to submit. My problem with this scripture is that usually when it is talked about and preached on, it begins and ends there - "wives submit". If the whole chapter is read, it talks a lot more about how a husband is to treat a wife. Why isn't that preached on as frequently? I just feel that the teaching of this scripture has been too one sided.

    Rosita- I quite agree. Tune in on Wednesday for precisely this form of follow-up ;-)

  3. I came to this post via Anne@Rosydreamer. So glad I did.

    The very words “authority” and “submission” tend to raise our hackles. But this is only because we have come to accept corrupted images of both, associating authority with tyranny and submission with belittlement and victimization. We fail to see them as a matter of function that has absolutely nothing to do with equality or inequality. Authority and submission are NOT egalitarian issues if seen in light of God, Himself.

    Within God there is both authority and submission. There is also perfect unity! If these qualities could exist within the same being without conflict, competition or insecurity, why do we make it something so complicated? So ugly? Differences of function do not imply inequality.

    Imagine how beautiful it would be if we could look at God as our model and be so comfortable within our own function and purpose at any given time that we could follow the example of Christ, “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Just as Jesus was "in very nature God," all who are in Christ are "in very nature redeemed humanity." Though we serve in different functions within redeemed humanity, we are all co-heirs with Christ. Whether Jesus was operating as servant or as Lord, He navigated it all seamlessly…and all to the glory of the Father (Philippians 2:6-11).

    When THIS (glorifying the Father) is our focus, authority and submission become a simple matter of function and equality becomes a non-issue.

    Another interesting side-note is that prior to the command that wives should submit to their husbands, we all as believers are commanded to be mutally submissive. Whereas headship denotes authority, submission doesn't necessarily do so.

    Thank you again for your posting.

  4. This is an excellent and thought/prayer provoking post! God's blessings to you and yours, Sylvia


Hello! I'm so glad that you have come here to share your heart and thoughts. One quick word from me before you comment:

I ask all visitors to respect this as a place of peace. Disagreements are welcome, but please refrain from posting any ungracious comments. Thank you, and God bless.