“I once had lively discussion with a brother who insisted that in his relationship everything was equal, and that this was the hallmark of their marriage. To him equal meant same and therefore interchangeable. He proudly rejected the idea of male initiation and female response. And what is more, he thought he was serving the cause of women in this.
I responded by saying that in my marriage, my wife and I never think about equality, though if forced to think about it we would affirm our mutual worth before God. Instead, I see my wife as better and more precious than I—of greater worth. And I told him my wife took no offense in this matter. Indeed she gets upset with me precisely at the point when I start treating her as my equal. To her it feels like a step down.”
~John Ensor, Doing Things Right In Matters of the Heart, p. 95
Yet another way we can misapply submission is by assuming it squashes a woman’s gifts. But that is not God’s intent for submission. Remember, “each has received a gift” (1 Pet 4:10). This means every Christian: no exceptions and no reversals. We have each been given talents and spiritual gifts by God and we are called to use them, as it says in this verse “to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”
Submission does not limit a woman’s gifts, but provides a safety zone in which they can flourish. A humble husband will not assume he is the best at everything or exercise his leadership in an arrogant or domineering way. A wise husband will encourage, nourish, and cultivate his wife’s gifts for the good of the family and the church. And a godly wife will welcome that kind of godly leadership.
In some cases, submission means that at we heed our husband’s encouragement to step out and use our gifts, even if we are hesitant or afraid. And at other times, submission means we follow our husband when he thinks we should pull back from serving because we are overextended to the detriment of our spiritual health or family life.
So a submissive wife isn’t on the sidelines—she’s a good steward of God’s varied grace. And a wise and loving husband takes seriously his responsibility to encourage his wife to use her gifts for the glory of God.
A wife’s initiative should always support and strengthen her husband’s leadership; and to that end, she should take lots of initiative!
Our job is to help our husband, care for our children, and manage our home. We must not think it is “unsubmissive” to use our skills, wisdom, and insight for the good of our family. In fact, it would be wrong to neglect them. Scripture and the godly women of church history bear this out.
For example, in 1 Timothy 5:14 Paul urges the young widows to “marry, bear children, [and] manage their households” (emphasis mine). This is a strong phrase, meaning to be the ruler, despot, or master of the house. Clearly Paul expects women to bear significant responsibility for home life.
Katie Luther was a woman who took some serious initiative in her marriage. Her husband Martin famously quipped: “In domestic affairs I defer to Katie. Otherwise I am led by the Holy Ghost.”
The Proverbs 31 woman presided over the entire range of responsibilities in her home. She advised her husband, cared for her children, supervised servants, oversaw land, invested money, bought, sold, and traded goods (just to name a few duties!). No one could accuse her of lacking initiative.
And Sarah Edwards took initiative to create a world where her husband could fulfill his God-given duties without being concerned about domestic tasks. As the story goes, Dr. Edwards emerged from his studies one day and asked his wife: “Isn’t it about time for the hay to be cut?” To which Sarah replied, “It’s been in the barn for two weeks.”
Inspired by these godly ladies, what initiative can you take for the good of your family today?
(adapted from Feminine Appeal)
Q. Do you have any thoughts on how submission works on a day-to-day basis? For example, most of the women I know are more administrative than their husbands, and are more aware of the needs and deficiencies of their families and usually can make more informed decisions on a day to day basis. Even if a woman is bringing things up to her husband in a way that lets the husband make the ultimate decision, if she is the one initiating, then is she the one actually leading (but just in a way that “sounds” submissive)?
A. This is an important question because another way we can misapply submission is by assuming that it means we must wait for our husband to take all the initiative. But in order to understand what submission is (and is not), we must also understand what leadership is.
In an effort to flesh out a biblical definition of leadership, John Piper explains that “Mature masculinity does not have to initiate every action, but feels the responsibility to provide a general pattern of initiative.” He elaborates:
In a family the husband does not do all the thinking and planning. His leadership is to take responsibility in general to initiate and carry through the spiritual and moral planning for family life. I say “in general” because “in specifics” there will be many times and many areas of daily life where the wife will do all kinds of planning and initiating. But there is a general tone and pattern of initiative that should develop which is sustained by the husband.
For example, the leadership pattern would be less than Biblical if the wife in general was having to take the initiative in prayer at mealtime, and get the family out of bed for worship on Sunday morning, and gather the family for devotions, and discuss what moral standards will be required of the children, and confer about financial priorities, and talk over some neighborhood ministry possibilities, etc. A wife may initiate the discussion and planning of any one of these, but if she becomes the one who senses the general responsibility for this pattern of initiative while her husband is passive, something contrary to Biblical masculinity and femininity is in the offing.
Before we consider the “many times and many areas” where the wife will do the initiating we must first ask: Does my manner of relating to my husband encourage him to “provide the general pattern of initiative” or does my initiative taking undermine or usurp his leadership?
If you’re not sure, ask your husband. And if you’re really brave, take this question to a godly friend who will give you an honest answer.
One way we can misapply submission is by waiting on our husband to lead before pursuing spiritual growth.
Hopefully our husband does encourage us to pursue a deeper knowledge of God, but we are not dependent on our husband to grow spiritually. We are accountable before God to seek His face and obey His Word. Remember, when it comes to the grace of life, we are heirs with—and not under—our husband (1 Pet. 3:7).
In order to be a gospel wife, we must be rooted in God’s Word.
This means we must be avid students of Scripture, regardless of our husband’s spiritual pursuit. We should daily dig into the Bible, regularly read good books, and eagerly absorb and apply our pastor’s teaching. We shouldn’t assume that deep theological study is only for the men. Neither should we try to hide our own lack of spiritual growth behind our husband’s lack of leadership.
And here’s a self check: If we are truly growing spiritually, our lives will be characterized by humility toward our husband—not self-righteousness or superiority. True knowledge leads to love, not bitterness over our husband’s lack of growth or impatience with his slow growth. Proud “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up (1 Cor. 8:1).
Consider how you can encourage your husband to grow in his knowledge of the Word—whether he is lagging behind or way out in front. Inspire him by your example, graciously sharpen him with your questions, and above all, encourage Him for the many evidences of God’s grace you see in his life.
If we want to have an ideal marriage by God’s standard, then we will strive in God’s strength to be a gospel wife. As our husband’s bride we will be submissive; but no less important, we must also remember that we are our husband’s equal. We must not allow godly submission to slide into subservience.
Let’s look at Genesis 1:27, reading it carefully: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
What do we learn from this verse? Here we find that both male and female are created in the image of God. In this first chapter of the first book of the Bible, God establishes that man and woman are equal in value and dignity in His sight. A conviction of our equal worth is essential to understanding submission in the context of the marriage relationship.
Scripture makes no allowance for male dominance or male superiority. For this reason, theologian Wayne Grudem appeals, ‘To all societies and cultures where these abuses occur, we must proclaim that the very first page of God’s Word bears a fundamental and irrefutable witness against the evil of thinking of men as better than women.”
Neither is submission a position of inferiority or demeaning in its application. For although God has designed men and women to fulfill differing roles, He unequivocally affirms they are equal in worth and importance. As it says in 1 Peter 3:7, husbands and wives are heirs together in the grace of life.
Our equality before God should underpin our thoughts and actions as a gospel wife. If we don’t start here, we’ll quickly get off course. What problems can this cause exactly? More on that question when our series continues.
—adapted from Feminine Appeal
Submission is not a static character quality. It is a powerful, dynamic force that can actually influence an unbelieving husband. Look at 1 Peter 5:1 “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives” (emphasis mine)
And if submission can have such profound sway over an unbelieving husband, imagine the influence it can exert upon a Christian husband who may not be obeying God’s Word. Our submissive conduct actually provokes our husbands to be the leaders God intends for them to be.
For instance, have you ever had someone lean on you with his or her full body weight? What happened? Of course, your natural reaction was to exert the counter-pressure necessary to hold that person (and yourself) up. This is a picture of the effect of submission on our husbands. It places godly pressure on them. It allows them to feel the full weight of their responsibility. More often than not, they rise to the challenge.
As Elizabeth George eloquently expresses it: “Our submission to our husband—whether or not he is a Christian, whether or not he is obeying God—preaches a lovelier and more powerful sermon than our mouth every could!”
That’s what it means to be a gospel wife.
—adapted from Feminine Appeal
If there is one area in which it is both easy and hard for me to help my husband, it’s with our finances. I’ve always had an interest in all things related to math and accounting. I took accounting courses in college and most of the jobs I’ve had have been in bookkeeping. So it is a joy for me to serve Brian by sticking to a budget, frugally managing household resources, and keeping him informed so that he can intelligently oversee our finances. However, at the point where my helping and his leadership intersect, I am sometimes tempted to respond in an unhelpful way.
Several nights ago, Brian suggested allocating some of our resources to do something special for me. As grateful as I was for his thoughtfulness, it wasn’t my preference to use our money in this way. I already had other plans for these particular funds. I informed Brian about the money we currently had available, and explained that I thought it would be better to hold off on this expenditure for now.
Brian listened and considered, but after hearing the facts, he still thought that this was the best way to go. So I have an opportunity this week to help Brian—not just by serving him with the administration of the finances, but also by making it easy for him to lead in decisions about our finances.
I am learning that as helpful as I might be to my husband with my aptitude in financial matters, I can help Brian best by trusting God for his leadership. I must trust God that He is the one who has ordained for Brian to lead and me to follow. I must believe that He will work all decisions—even (and often especially) the ones I disagree with—for my good and His glory.
If I exercise faith toward God for Brian’s decisions, I will radiate peace and joy and make it easy for Brian to fulfill his God given role. I am still growing and learning, but I pray that God will continue to give me grace to be a truly helpful helper to my husband!
—from the archives
What does biblical submission look like in decision making—especially if you and your husband disagree? Of course, a wife must never follow her husband into sin; but what about when it isn’t that simple? And let’s face it, there are a lot of times when it isn’t that simple!
The most helpful answer I’ve found on this question comes from Heath Lambert in an excellent article on the CBMW website. Using a real couple as a case study, he offers five helpful guidelines from Scripture.
Particularly helpful is Lambert’s second guideline, where he provides a model for biblical, loving authority and submission in every day decisions. Lambert encourages couples to “distinguish between ‘during the day’ and ‘at the end of the day’”:
My wife and I are committed to a complementarian vision for our home. I want to lovingly lead our home, and Lauren wants to submit to my authority. We believe that my loving leadership involves listening to the thoughts, ideas, and suggestions of my wife. I trust my wife. She is one of the brightest and most insightful people I have ever met in my life. One of the reasons I married her is because of the profound gift of wisdom she has received from the Lord. But sometimes we disagree. Because this is true, we need to talk about those things that we see differently. “During the day” is the phrase we use to refer to the decision making process.“During the day"we talk and listen to one another. We ask questions, express concerns,and push-back on what the other one is thinking.“During the day” is the time when a husband listens to his wife (Jas 1:19), seeks to lovingly serve her (1 Cor 13:5), and live understandably with her (1 Pet 3:7).
“The end of the day” is the phrase we use to refer to the actual decision as it is made. At “the end of the day” I am the one responsible before God to make a decision that suits the best interests of our family. I know that, and Lauren knows that. At “the end of the day” there have been times when Lauren and I have disagreed regardless of what happened “during the day.” At that point, with great sobriety, I exercise authority, and Lauren engages in the act of submission saying, “Honey, the Lord has made you responsible for our home. I think you have listened to me, and understood me. I would make a different choice, but I am happy to support your decision on this matter.”
If things don’t go well ‘during the day’ or ‘at the end of the day’, Lambert encourages a couple to pursue help from their pastor. For more on what this looks like, you can read the entire article here.
Recently, at a book club with some of Janelle’s friends, a young woman asked me: “What does submission look like in every day life?”
That’s a great question, because submission is an every day thing. It’s not an occasional quality, only useful when there’s a big decision to be made. And it isn’t passive either, something we mindlessly acquiesce to, if we must. Biblical submission is active, intelligent, and consistent.
John Piper describes a wife’s submission as “the divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.” That’s a full-time job!
First, we are to honor and affirm our husband’s leadership (even if it leaves something to be desired). This requires heart work—cultivating humility and trust in God which sees our own shortcomings before our husband’s, and sees past our husband’s shortcomings to God’s faithfulness.
But we must not only honor his leadership, we must help carry it through. This means that in every day life we must contribute our suggestions, offer wisdom and insight, pray and encourage, as well as correct. When we serve our husband in humility, we strengthen his leadership.
And we must do this according to our gifts. God has graced us as women generally, and as our husband’s wife particularly, to help support our husband’s leadership. We must determine how we can best use our gifts in service of our marriage to the glory of God instead of for our own selfish agenda.
So, biblical submission in every day life is a tall order. But it is also exciting and fulfilling. Consider, how can you honor, affirm, and help carry through your husband’s leadership today?