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Topic: Marriage

The Evangelistic Potential of Submission in Marriage

January 23, 2015

by Candice Watters

It’s tempting to despise the roles God created for men and women in marriage; to think it’s an unfair distribution of responsibility. I did for a long time. Ephesians 5 is a hard word. Paul doesn’t say, “Wives, submit to and respect your husbands when you feel like it or when they deserve it.” He says,

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. …and the wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:22-24, 33).

Thankfully women aren’t called to submit this way to all men, just the one they marry. That’s why deciding whom to marry is so important. But even when you’re married to a man who daily strives to live out the hard word Paul preaches to him in Ephesians 5 — to love his wife sacrificially, like Christ loves the church and to lead in love — even then, it takes supernatural grace to submit. But that’s the hope of the cross. For women who are hidden in Christ, He sends the Holy Spirit to help them do what the Father requires: to love God by obeying His commands, including the command to submit, and to do so joyfully.

That’s the piece I was missing — a heart willing to submit; glad to submit. For obedience done grudgingly is not truly obedience. True obedience flows from love. Christ said, “…but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:31).

The more I meditate on Christ’s example, the more I see that He wants me to relate to my husband the way He relates to the Father. As Dr. Bruce Ware says, “It is Christlike to submit to rightful authority,” and in Christian marriage, a wife’s glad submission to a husband’s servant leadership, points unbelievers to Christ in a way no other relationship does. When a husband and wife relate to one another according to the model in Ephesians 5, their marriage becomes a ministry for spreading the Gospel. How? By pointing to something beyond their marriage. Paul says,

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31-32).

In order to have that sort of ministry, you have to embrace your part in the picture willingly, gladly, humbly. You have to embrace your role the way Christ embraces His. If Christ treated submission to the Father the way most wives treat submission to their husbands — as outdated, unreasonable, inconvenient, or optional — we’d still be waiting for a savior. It is in Christ’s perfect submission all the way to the cross that we find not only our model for submission in marriage, but the power to do it.

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