Wives: Respectful Submission
The wife is called upon to respect the loving leadership of her husband. The word “submit,” used by Paul in this context, has at its root the idea of “order.” For any organization to function properly, there must be a place where the “buck stops.” The purpose of this arrangement is not so that the husband can give orders but so that there is order in the home. Primus inter pares is a great Latin phrase that captures this dynamic. It means “first among equals.” Below, we will see the nature of the leadership the husband is called to provide.
But let’s dash some of the caricatures about the wife’s role. First, a wife’s submission to her husband is not an expression of inferiority. There are some who think that when one is called to submit to another, this automatically implies that the one who submits is inferior. This is not the case. The most profound example of this is the Lord Jesus Himself. He existed eternally with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the glory of heaven. But, of the mystery of the incarnation, Paul writes:
Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:6–8)
Jesus came into the world in submission and obedience to the Father, but at no time was He inferior to the Father. His submission was for the purpose of accomplishing our redemption. As the God-man, He perfectly fulfilled the law in our place. As the God-man, He perfectly atoned for our sins on the cross. The voluntary submission of the Savior to the Father in the incarnation was designed for a specific purpose, but at no time was He in a position of inferiority.
Similarly, the wife’s respect of her husband’s leadership is not an expression of inferiority but an acknowledgment of submission to God’s plan for order in the family. It is a grave error for a husband to misconstrue his place of leadership as a position of superiority. Remember that Peter described wives as “heirs with you of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is no slave and free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). With regard to our standing in Christ, there is no difference. Husband and wife are equal partakers in the benefits and standing secured by the work of Christ, but marriage is a partnership in which we are called to different roles.
Second, the wife’s submission to her husband in marriage is voluntary. The responsibility to submit does not mean the submission of every woman to every man. It is a unique dynamic established for the orderly functioning of the family in marriage. Therefore, it is very important for a woman to take this into consideration when she is considering marriage. Is the man you intend to marry someone whose leadership you respect and to whom you can submit? If not, he’s not the right man. All too often, women think they can change a man after they marry him. Don’t count on it.
Third, the submission of a wife to her husband is an expression of her submission to Christ. For a wife, following her husband’s leadership is an important aspect of following Christ. Paul writes, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). This doesn’t mean “as if your husband were the Lord” but rather “as part of your obligation to the Lord.” One way to make a very stubborn and discouraged husband is to fail to respect his leadership. While this is the wife’s obligation in the Lord, as husbands, we must always ask ourselves if we are respectable and if we are leading as the Lord intended. This leads us to examine the role of the husband.