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One of the most misunderstood, debated and controversial parts of marriage outlined in the Bible is the concept of “submission.” Just to clarify, some people use the word “submission” to refer to sexual acts that involve bondage, but that is NOT what this blog post is about (sorry to disappoint you). It’s important to tackle this issue of Biblical submission in a straightforward way, because too many people have avoided the issue altogether in an attempt to avoid controversy, but by avoiding, we miss out on a beautiful and powerful picture of what God intended marriage to be.

For starters, let’s go straight to the Bible to the “controversial” passage in question. Here’s Ephesians 5:21-25 from the New Living Translation (NLT): ”

“And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her.”

The reason why this passage rubs so many people the wrong way is that, on the surface, many have misinterpreted these words to allow men to take a place of dictator-like authoritarian rule over their wives. The word “submission” has become synonymous with weakness and has been seen by many a regressive and dangerous doctrine to hold women back and perpetuate chauvinistic behaviors. This misinterpretation misses the whole point of this important, God-given portrait of a harmonious marriage.

Here are the main points for us to consider:

1. It all begins with MUTUAL submission to Christ.

For a marriage to truly thrive the way God intended, it must be built on a foundation of faith. As a husband and wife both follow Christ and willingly lay down their own rights for cause of Christ and the benefit of the other spouse, they’ll simultaneously grow closer to God and closer together in marriage. Most marriages are self-focused and when we allow our own selfishness and demand for our own rights to take center stage, we sabotage the peace and health that can only come through selfless, mutual submission and trust in God’s plan.

2. Men and Women each have UNIQUE GIFTS and responsibilities.

Our culture is waging a war against the very idea that there is any difference between the genders. We’ve made the tragic error of believing that equality means there are no distinctions. Clearly men and women are equal in every way. We are all created in God’s image with equal value BUT God created men and women with some distinct gifts, roles and responsibilities that are especially important within the context of marriage.

3. The goal of submission is always UNITY.

When we submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, and both spouses willingly lay down some rights and preferences for the sake of unity, in almost every situation, a husband and wife can reach a mutual decision. In these harmonious marriages, both spouses have discovered the powerful truth that disagreements in marriage don’t have a “winner” and a “loser.” Since a husband and wife are united as one, they’ll either win together or lose together which causes them to work hard to always find a unified solution where they can both win.

4. In God’s plan of submission, MEN are actually called to submit MORE than women. (Read this WHOLE description, because this is exactly how “submission” can work in practical daily application.)

How this harmonious submission should look in practice is that wives should submit to husbands in areas of PRINCIPLE and husband should submit to wives in areas of PREFERENCE. At least 90% of life’s decisions are a matter of preference and not principle. This point is huge and we miss it so often. God has placed a unique responsibility and sacred burden on the shoulders of men. When men are called to “lead” in the example of Christ, it means selflessly serving to the point of laying down his life for his family. The husband will give an account for how he led his family, and the wife will give an account for how she encouraged and supported him in this unique role. Since the man carries this unique burden of accountability in areas of principle which impact the family safety, faith and legacy, when a unified decision cannot be met someone has to be the tie-breaker and women are called to support the husband’s decision in these principle-based decisions. Wives, when you submit to your husband in this way (even when you don’t agree with his decision) you’re giving honor to your husband and ultimately giving honor to Christ (as outlined in the Bible passage above). In ALL other matters, for a husband to selflessly serve and love his wife the way Christ loved the church, when a unified decision can’t be reached in matters of preference (which house to buy, which color to paint the walls, what to eat for dinner, what to watch on TV, where to go on vacation, and a million other things) husbands should be willing to support and serve their wives by willingly submitting to her preferences. His willingness to submit to her in areas of preference will make it much easier for her to submit to his decisions in the areas of principle.

For more tools to help you build a rock-solid marriage, check out our book Marriage Minute: Quick & Simple Ways to Build a Divorce-Proof Relationship and our online video course on sex and intimacy in marriage.

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