Marital Submission

The Bible says that spouses are to submit to one another and that wives are to submit to their husbands as unto the Lord and husbands should love their wives like how Christ loves his church (Ephesians 5:21-24, Colossians 3:18-19). Submission isn’t subservience. Submission means to completely trust the other with your well-being. This means trusting God to lead the husband, and the wife follows.

Think about how Abraham had to trust God to give him a child, and despite nearly giving his wife away twice and having a child in adultery, God still gave him the promised child. Even when tested with the threat of God taking the child in sacrifice, he reached a point where he finally trusted God, believing that God would resurrect Isaac to fulfill the promise (Heb 11:17-19). God’s people are to trust God to the ends of the earth, no matter what it looks like, that is submission. So a wife is to trust that her husband is looking out for her well-being.

Throughout the old testament, the prophets use the analogy of marriage to represent Israel’s covenant relationship with God. Often times it’s used to compare idolatry to adultery. Worshiping idols was cheating on God because they made a covenant to him and him alone. Like Ezekiel 23, where Ezekiel compares Israel and Judah to two adulterous sisters. One notable book that does this is Hosea. In Hosea 1-3, Hosea becomes a living metaphor who marries a promiscuous woman that abandons him for other men. However, instead of divorcing her or having her killed for catching her in adultery, he takes her back and forgives her at God’s request. Then God says just like this he is going to take back Israel after the exile, forgiving them of their idolatry and restoring them as his “wife”. This is where the New Testament picks up the analogy referring to the church (the body of believers in Christ) as the bride of Christ, and Paul says for husbands to love their wives like God loves his wife. While wives are to love and follow their husbands like the church follows God (Ep 5:21-33, Col 3:18-19).

A husband is to love his wife like Christ loves the church. He should submit to and trust God to lead him so that he won’t lead his family astray. He has to be willing to love her no matter how many times she loses faith in him. Just like God doesn’t give up on Abraham, the Israelites, or the Church today. No matter how many times we disobey and resist submission to him. The wife is to trust in God’s grace to help her husband and trust her husband to follow God and love her even when she has doubts. If at least one of them is following God by choosing to love then they can draw the other one back to God (1 Cor 7:12-16).

However, since husbands are human men, they are not perfect. A slightly different analogy to account for this would be: if we the civilians are like the wives, then our governments are like the husbands. Rom 13:1-7 and 1 Tim 2:1-4 are about respecting and praying for government authority. This means Christians shouldn’t be involved in political rebellion and anarchy. We are to submit to those in authority over us unless of course challenged in our faith, then in that case Christians can subvert in love (civil disobedience). This relationship would be like the unequally yoked relationship Paul describes in 1 Cor 7:12-16, or an unbeliever married to a believer. The believer can’t divorce the unbeliever simply because they don’t believe, but instead are to walk in love towards them, and hope they win them over to Christ. However, if the unbeliever initiates a divorce then the believer is free. Christians do not belong to this world according to John 17:14-19. This is echoed in 1 Peter 2:11-12 and Hebrews 3:14. We are not to compromise to sin, or revolt against authority, but to follow the third way, the way of love, the way of the exile, just like the Israelites while exiled in Babylon. The prophets Daniel and Jeremiah give us insight into how were are to live in this world, through the story of the Jewish exiles. Revolting and rebellion against authority purely out of disdain would make them a target (deservedly since they caused chaos), but compromise to sin put them at odds with God, which is what got them into that situation in the first place. However, those that follow the middle path of loving God and resisting sin, while following the laws of the land (unless they explicitly cause compromise), are following the way Daniel and other Jews operated. They served the Babylonian and Persian kings until forced to compromise their faith and then drew the line. God vindicated them by using them as examples to display his power when rescuing them from fire and lions so that the world would know that YHWH is the true God.

The wife takes the Middle Path with her husband. Walking in love by following his leadership, unless the husband sins against God, then she is to subvert with love because God’s leading is superior to her own husband’s leading. As Jesus pointed out in John 7:22-23, some laws of Moses are higher than other laws, thus something like circumcision was allowed on the sabbath because it is a higher command. Women of God were his daughters before they were wives, so it stands to reason following God is more important than submitting to one’s husband, remember this in the case of sin and abuse. In 1 Peter 3:1-4 and 1 Cor 7:12-16, Paul says that when a man or woman is married to an unbeliever or someone in sin, the believer is to live as a light and represent God in the family in hopes of bringing their spouse back under submission to God. The idea is that the believer submits to God and their spouse at the same time unless that person does something specific that breaks their marriage covenant, then divorce is allowed. Furthermore, he says n 1 Corinthians 7 that believers shouldn’t initiate divorce in that situation but are allowed to let the unbelievers leave them. To be clear, submission does not mean a person has to sin with their spouse, submission to God always supersedes submission to a spouse because only God is holy and perfect. In some countries, if a wife renounced Islam, her husband could have her killed. Does she submit to her husband and go back to Islam, or can she subvert at the cost of death for following Jesus? According to the bible, what would Jesus have her do? Submission to a husband is superseded by submission to God because, in the new heaven and earth of the post-resurrection future, there will be no marriage between humans, but there will always be the worship of God. In the end, our marriages are limited to lives on earth, but a covenant with God is forever. Therefore, wives are to submit to their husbands but the line of course is drawn at God’s word. One old testament example of this is Abigail in 1 Samuel 25, who subverted her wicked husband Nabal’s wishes and helped David when he was on the run. God ended up punishing her husband with death, and she ended up marrying David who would later become King.