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Am I supposed to be a submissive wife?

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Thank you for contacting us and asking this question, which is of concern to many women. I have been married for 47 years and have really wrestled with this issue, because there are a number of different points of view on the subject.

As you may well know, the most extensive Bible passage which deals with family relationships is Ephesians chapters 5 and 6. It deals with the roles of husbands, wives and children. Here is part of what it says:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “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. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.(Ephesians 5:22-33)

The Bible gives many general commands to love one another, but nowhere does it tell wives to love their husbands! Yet, as Christians, everything we do should be motivated by love. So if a wife does as her husband desires, it isn't because there is a law telling her to lay down her own will and behave as if she has no mind of her own. If she does as he wants, it is because she loves and honours him.

This Bible passage also tells husbands to love their wives, in the same way as Christ loves the church; this means that he should love her enough to serve her and even to die for her. He - like Christ - is a servant leader, who makes loving sacrifices for his wife.

Both husband and wife are adults - they each have thoughts and wisdom to contribute to a decision. A woman's submission is different from a child's obedience to its parents, simply because she is not a child. The wife can feel free to share her ideas with her husband, because God gave her to him as a support and helper, as a life partner and friend. If she disagrees with him, her role is lovingly to explain her reasons, supporting his wisdom and judgement with hers. If, despite the disagreement, he insists that his way is the way that needs to progress, she is free to say that she still disagrees, but because she loves and honours him, she will do as he wishes. The husband should never do anything that will cause harm or negativity to his wife as he is to love her and sacrifice himself for her.

Both husbands and wives play their part in marriage imperfectly, because we are sinners and because we make mistakes. The great aim, however, is to reflect in their marriage the relationship between Christ and the church - one of mutual love and service, where the husband is a true leader and the wife is the loving, responsive follower because she trusts him and knows how much she is loved. If our partner fails to fulfil their role perfectly, we need wisdom to deal with that. A person does not have to be perfect to have a God-given role, but he or she won't succeed unless they are, at least, learning and growing.

Every person who believes in Jesus is, in the Bible's terms, one of a kingdom of priests (Revelation 5:9). This means that we all have direct access to God by the Holy Spirit's power, because Jesus died and rose again for us. Our primary submission is to God. We should seek to do His will first and foremost, so that if my husband were to want me to do something which is contrary to the Bible, I should refuse. One day, I will answer to God for the choices I have made, and 'my husband told me to do it' will not be much of an excuse! We are each responsible before God, male or female. Of course, the best decisions are the ones where a couple is truly united in making, rather than ones where one partner gets his or her own way at the expense of the other.

Some people translate the word 'submit' in the above Bible passage as 'adapt to' so that the passage reads 'Wives, adapt yourselves to your husbands.' This makes a lot of sense, because a marriage succeeds when both partners adapt their behaviour and attitudes to love and serve the interests of the other. Ephesians 5:21 says, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Both husband and wife need an attitude of serving the other, as do all Christians.

In summary, the Bible teaches mutual love and submission, where both men and women find fulfilment and security and are freed to be themselves and fulfil God's plan for them. Do not allow yourself to feel anxious or condemned about whether you are submitting in everything, but ask God for wisdom - and keep loving.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1)

I hope this answer helps you to find peace with God through Jesus Christ. If you want to know more about what Jesus has done for you please watch the video on the main part of our site: Watch the video

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*All Scripture references are taken From The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise

*If anything in this answer affects you directly, then please feel free to call our confidential prayer line in the UK on 0845 4567729, where trained Christian volunteers will take your call and pray both for you and with you. If you are outside of the UK then you may submit your request for prayer on line at www.ucb.co.uk/prayerline


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