A Word to Wives
The word submission tends to trigger all kinds of negative responses. This is due in part to the reality that, as John Stott wrote over 40 years ago, “submission to authority is out of fashion today. It is totally at variance with contemporary attitudes of permissiveness and freedom.” The intervening four decades have only increased submission’s negative reputation, and nowhere more so than within marriage.
Yet the fact remains that, properly understood and rightly applied, submission lies at the heart of relationships as God established them. Children are to submit to their parents (Ephesians 6:1), church members are to submit to their church leaders (Hebrews 13:17), and, here, wives are to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord.” Submission to others, depending on the roles to which we are called in life, is part and parcel of our relationships with each other.
A wife’s submission to her husband reflects God’s divine ordering for marriage, then. But how, specifically, are we to understand this teaching? First of all, the directive for a wife to submit to her husband in no way implies her inferiority. The Bible is very clear that men and women are equal in dignity, as both are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). As believers, we are also equal in redemption—and that equality is seen in the fact that we are heirs together of God’s grace (1 Peter 3:7). Our standing as men and women before God is entirely equal. A difference in role does not mean a difference in value.
Second, women are to submit to their own husbands, not all men in general. Paul isn’t giving a blanket instruction about the place of women in society; he is giving a specific directive concerning the wife’s role in the family. Within that context, a woman’s desire to submit to the Lord is revealed in part by her submission to her husband.
Third, this submission isn’t the same as unconditional obedience. Husbands are not to coerce their wives, nor are they to call them to submit, and certainly not to that which the Lord has not ordained. A wife is not in the hands of one who has the authority to command what he pleases. Rather, a husband is to “love his wife as himself,” to give himself up for her and to lead her in holiness (Ephesians 5:33). If you are a husband, then it needs to be underlined that if at any point you seek to lead your wife away from obedience to Christ rather than deeper into it, your wife is under no biblical obligation to follow your lead.
If you are a wife, the Bible does not call you to slavish, unthinking obedience. Rather, your submission is to be a joyful loyalty to and commitment to following the lead of your husband as part of a mutual partnership which pursues God’s glory in all things. Wholehearted and without reluctance, this kind of submission is only possible by God’s enabling so that you might do your husband “good, and not harm, all the days of [your] life” (Proverbs 31:12). This biblical submission is certainly not fashionable. It is often not easy. But, in the sight of God and of His people, it is beautiful.
The Woman Who Fears the Lord
104 An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
11The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
12She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
13She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
14She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
15She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
16She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17She dresses herself5 with strength
and makes her arms strong.
18She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
19She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
20She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.6
22She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
24She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
25Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
26She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
30Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.
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