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Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ,
so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
Have you ever been in a gathering of women when the topic of submission came up? In some women you can almost see the bristles on their neck stand up. Some may flounder around with their comments, but end up concluding, “Surely, God didn’t mean that!” And, of course, you will always hear the age-old “doormat” example brought up as an argument. Sadly, most women respond from their own feelings or from comments of others that they have heard in the past. The responses may vary, but it is certain that few women even understand the Biblical instruction for submission to their own husbands. Fewer still understand the beautiful picture of Christ and the church, a picture that brings much glory to the Lord. As we take up the subject of submission in this meditation, it is our prayer that it will be a truth that you will reflect upon for a lifetime.
Before we can even begin a discussion on submission, it is important that we understand the meaning of the word. Sometimes translated as submit yourselves, sometimes translated as subject yourselves, and sometimes translated as obedience, the Biblical word for submission is hupotasso in the Greek. The literal translation means: to arrange oneself under; to place oneself under in an orderly fashion.
Now, before we speak directly to wives, let’s address this question: Are wives the only ones instructed to be submissive (hupotasso) in the Bible? If there are others that are instructed to be submissive, who are they, and further still, to whom are they instructed to be submissive? One further question will also need to be contemplated: Why are they instructed to be submissive? As we go to the Scriptures for these answers, may we lay aside preconceived thoughts and ideas, and just search for the truth as the Scriptures state it.
In James 4:6, the Scripture says that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. The following verse reads: Submit yourselves (hupotasso) therefore to God. The first truth that we must see is that we are all to submit ourselves to God. Do you know that you will never find submission in a proud heart? It is only the humble that will find the grace needed to submit. And do not miss this important truth – submission is not just for women. It is for all believers – men, women, young, and old. It is the mark of a Christian. We are all to arrange ourselves – to order ourselves – under God. Why is this so? It is so because He is God. He is worthy. He is the ultimate authority over all. However, you will never find unbelievers arranged under the authority of God. They do not acknowledge Him as God, neither do they acknowledge His rightful authority. But in the humble Christian, look closely. There you can view the beauty of gracious submission in action. There you will see a reverence for her God and a loving submission to Him.
Now, let’s look at another group of people to whom the Scriptures instruct submission. Servants, workers, or perhaps we could even say, employees, were instructed to submit to their masters (bosses). Exhort servants to be obedient (hupotasso) unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; not purloining, but showing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things (Titus 2:9-10). Why were these servants to be submissive to their masters? Again, it is because their masters were the rightful authority over them. And by being submissive to them, they reflected the Lord in their lives. The same remains so today. An employee that serves well, without complaint, brings much glory to the Lord. Also, did you know that this is the consistent command given to servants? The Bible never contradicts itself. You will find a truth over and over again, written to different groups of believers, but always the same. To the Colossians Paul wrote: Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God (Colossians 3:22). To the Ephesians, Paul wrote: Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart (Ephesians 6:5-6). The message was always the same. They were to be submissive to the authority over them, as servants of Christ. Even in difficult circumstances the Christian is instructed to submission. Hear the admonition given by Peter: Servants, be subject (hupotasso) to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward (1 Peter 2:18). Now once again, do not lose sight of the truth that submission is not only directed to women. It is for all of those, men and women, who are under someone else’s authority. Why is this so? Once again, it brings honor to the Lord, when someone works humbly and submissively under ordained authority, performed as unto the Lord, as servants of Christ.
In a similar way, the Scriptures address the proper response of children to their parents. Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right (Ephesians 6:1). And: Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well-pleasing unto the Lord (Colossians 3:20). Although the word used is not exactly the same, the same thought prevails. Parents are the ordained authority, therefore, it is proper for children to be obedient to them.
Now let’s turn our attention to another authority to whom we are required to submit. Let every soul be subject (hupotasso) unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God (Romans 13:1). And: Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by Him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well (1 Peter 2:13-14). Here we see a fuller picture – all authority is ordained of God. When we arrange ourselves under authority, we are being submissive to God. On the other hand, when we rebel against God’s ordained authority, we rebel against God.
Although we have addressed relatively few passages, we can see that the subject of submission runs all through the Scriptures. There is no doubt, that God’s people, both men and women, are commanded to be subject to any and all authorities that are over them. And if we really stop and think about it, there would be such confusion without submission. Imagine a world in which no one subjected themselves to God. That is the picture that is portrayed before the Flood (Genesis 6:5-6). What a tragedy! Imagine a job or place of employment where workers refused to be submissive to the bosses. Not only would there be strife and confusion, but it is doubtful that any work would be accomplished. Now imagine a home in which the children refuse to be obedient to the parents. Can you imagine the heartache that those children will bring upon themselves? And what about a nation where each person does what is right in his own eyes, refusing to be subject to laws and governing authorities? What anarchy! We must conclude that submission not only brings glory to our Lord and Savior, but is a necessary ingredient for order! All of this talk of submission, and we have not as yet addressed wives. It is important for a woman to understand that submission is to be evident in the life of every Christian, whether male or female. Every Christian that has ever lived will give an account as to how he responded to the authorities over him. The Word of God is clear – the Christian is to humbly submit to authority, as unto the Lord.
Now, let us address wives specifically. First, we must really be sure of what the Word of God commands. Wives, submit yourselves (hupotasso) unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord (Ephesians 5:22). Therefore as the church is subject (hupotasso) unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing (Ephesians 5:24). Wives, submit yourselves (hupotasso) unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord (Colossians 3:18). The older women are instructed to teach the younger women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient (hupotasso) to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed (Titus 2:4-5). And finally:
Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection (hupotasso) to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives (1 Peter 3:1). Over and over again, the command is given – a wife is to arrange herself and order herself under one person – her own husband. Any woman that comes to the Scriptures apart from preconceived ideas must honestly agree that the Scripture does require submission of a woman to her own husband.
Why is the submission of a wife to her husband resisted so strongly? Often, even the person who would agree that we are to be subject to God, that we are to be subject to governmental authorities, that we are to be subject to employers, that children are to be subject to parents, will flatly deny that wives are to be subject to their husbands. Why is this so? When we return to the Fall of mankind (Genesis 3), a part of the consequences that was decreed toward the woman was: thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee (Genesis 3:16). The woman would desire to overtake the man, and he would, in turn, rule over her. So in the fallen nature of the woman there is always that desire present to overtake the man. For the unbelieving woman, this remains in her heart, and in a society that cultivates and propagates this thought, that fallen heart only grows in its ways. But what of the Christian woman? God says that He has made her a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). Why does she not submit herself to her own husband? First, most Christian women really do not believe what the Scripture says about their husbands. God almost always explains why He gives a command. Listen carefully: Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife … (Ephesians 5:22-23). Look closely: did you see the reason? Because the husband is the head of the wife. We know little or nothing of headship in our culture, therefore, we simply do not understand what the Word of God is saying. The husband is the head of the wife. The husband is the God-ordained authority over the wife.
Until a wife believes and accepts that her husband is given to her by the Lord as her head, she will never successfully arrange herself under his leadership. Each and every day, in prayer before the Lord, a wife must be reminded that her husband is her head and that she is to arrange herself and to orderly place herself under him because the Lord requires this of her.
If you still feel yourself resisting, it is probably because you do not realize that you need a head. If God has ordained authority over you, it is for your good, and it is because you truly need it. Think for a moment about children. They do not understand that they need parents. They want to be their own authority. What a disastrous thought! Think for a moment about workers that see no need for a boss or supervisor. What type of work would this produce? And think of all the millions of people that see no need for God as an authority in their lives. They essentially want to be their own gods!
Now to be sure, they may not see the need for authority, but the need is there, and the need is real. And for the woman, realize it or not, she needs a head, and the Lord has provided one for her – her own husband! Still doubting? Remember, the Scriptures teach that Adam was not deceived. It was Eve that was deceived (1 Timothy 2:14). Yes, the woman needs a head. But, even apart from this, the Scriptures teach that God actually established this headship before the Fall, by His order of creation. He was establishing that authority when He created Adam first (1 Timothy 2:13). Take time to meditate upon these truths until you see your need for a head.
Another reason that a Christian woman may refuse this truth is that she looks at her husband’s faults and weaknesses and determines that God does not intend to use this man as her head. She has forgotten that she, too, has faults and weaknesses, yet God does use her. When a Christian woman lovingly submits to her husband, as her head, it is amazing how the Lord will work in that life! God’s Word is true, and He blesses His Word.
And finally, as God directs the woman to be subject to her husband, He paints a beautiful portrait for the world that looks on. Why does this woman behave so? She does it unto her Lord, and in that submission, the Lord is glorified. She shows the humility and submission of her Lord, as he lived and walked upon this earth, being subject to the Father in all things. Additionally, she shows how the church is to be subject to the Lord in all things, giving Him that place of honor which He so rightly deserves!
Remember, God always opposes the proud, but how He gives grace to the humble!
Lord, help us understand submission. Help us understand that all of Your people are called to submission, sometimes in very difficult circumstances. Help each of us truly receive the truth that our own husband is our head because You have declared it to be so. And help each of us submit from our heart that it may bring much honor and glory to Your name. Amen.