Men and Women in Ministry: The Meaning of Submission
"Submission" (Gk., hupotasso) carries the implication of voluntary yieldedness to a recognized authority. Biblical submission is appropriate in several relational spheres: (1) the wife to her husband (Eph. 5:22-24); (2) children to their parents (Eph. 6:1); (3) believers to the elders of the church (Heb. 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:12); (4) citizens to the state (Rom. 13); (5) servants (employees) to their masters (employers) (1 Pt. 2:18); (6) each believer to every other believer in humble service (Eph. 5:21).
A.Misconceptions about the Nature of Submission
1.Submission is not grounded in any supposed superiority of the husband or inferiority of the wife. See Gal. 3:28; 1 Pt. 3:7.
The concept of the wife being the "helper" (Gen. 2:18-22) of the husband in no way implies her inferiority. In fact, the Hebrew word translated "helper" is often used in the OT to refer to God as the "helper" of mankind. Surely HE is not inferior to us! Rather, this passage means that (1) the husband, even before the fall into sin, was incomplete without his wife; (2) the husband will never reach his full potential apart from the input of his wife.
2.Submission does not mean a wife is obligated to follow should her husband lead her into sin.
The biblical principle that we owe obedience to God first and foremost applies to Christian wives as well. If there must be a choice between obedience to God and obedience to the state, God is to be obeyed (Acts 5:29). The same would apply in a marriage. However, as Susan Foh has pointed out,
"This qualification of the 'traditional' concept of wifely submission does not mean that the wife has an excuse to follow her 'better judgment' when she disagrees with her husband. The wife's submission to her husband is qualified by God's commands, not her own preferences, opinions, or even expertise."
3.Submission does not mean the wife must sacrifice her freedom.
4.Submission does not entail passivity. See Prov. 31. Note especially the emphasis on her initiative, creativity, tireless industry, etc. There is no biblically prescribed “personality” for wives, anymore than there is one for husbands. Husbands who exercise godly leadership can be introverts and wives who submit can be extroverts.
5.Submission does not entail silence.
Many mistakenly think a wife is unsubmissive if she ever:
criticizes her husband (constructive criticism that is lovingly motivated and corrective in nature is not inconsistent with godly submission)
makes requests of her husband (in particular, that her husband and family act responsibly in private and public; submission of the wife is not an excuse for sin or sloth or sloppiness in the husband)
teaches her husband (cf. Prov. 31:26; Acts 18:26; it is not inconsistent with godly submission that a wife be more intelligent or more articulate than her husband; on a personal note, I’ve probably learned more from my wife than from any other living soul)
6.Submission does not mean that everything a wife does must be directly dependent upon or connected to her husband.
Submission does not mean the wife can never do anything for her own benefit or for the benefit of others or that she should never become involved in activities or ministries outside the home. See Prov. 31. "It does mean, however, that she ought never to do anything which would be detrimental or harmful to her husband or that would cause her to neglect her primary ministry of helping her husband [Prov. 31:12]" (Wayne Mack).
B.Identifying the Essence of Submission
1.Submission is the disposition to honor and affirm a husband's authority and an inclination to yield to his leadership. John Piper puts it this way:
"[Submission] is an attitude that says, 'I delight for you to take the initiative in our family. I am glad when you take responsibility for things and lead with love. I don't flourish when you are passive and I have to make sure the family works.' But the attitude of Christian submission also says, 'It grieves me when you venture into sinful acts and want to take me with you. You know I can't do that. I have no desire to resist you. On the contrary, I flourish most when I can respond creatively and joyfully to your lead; but I can't follow you into sin, as much as I love to honor your leadership in our marriage. Christ is my King.'"
2.Submission is fundamentally an attitude and act of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. See Eph. 5:22.
3.Submission is a commitment to support one's husband in such a way that he may reach his full potential as a man of God. This may involve several things:
making the home a safe place, free from the sinful influence of the world
striving to be dependable and trustworthy (Prov. 31:11-12)
providing affirmation and encouragement
building loyalty to him in the children (differences of opinion about discipline should be settled in private, away from the children, lest she be seen as taking sides against her husband)
showing confidence in his decisions
C.Submission when the Husband is an Unbeliever
See 1 Peter 3:1-7.
1.Submission does not mean she must agree with everything her husband says.
1 Pt. 3:1 indicates that she is a believer and he is not. Thus she disagrees with him on the most important principle of all: God! Her interpretation of ultimate reality may well be utterly different from his.
This indicates that submission is perfectly compatible with independent thinking. The woman in this passage has heard the gospel, assessed the claims of Christ, and embraced his atoning work as her only hope. Her husband has likewise heard the gospel and "disobeyed" it. "She thought for herself and she acted. And Peter does not tell her to retreat from that commitment" (Piper).
2.Submission does not mean giving up all efforts to change her husband.
The point of the passage is to tell a wife how she might "win" her husband to the Lord. Strangely enough, Peter envisions submission as the most effective strategy in changing the husband.
3.Submission does not mean putting the will of one's husband above the will of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Peter in no way suggests she should abandon her commitment to Christ simply because her husband is an unbeliever. This wife is a follower of Jesus before and above being a follower of her husband.
4.Submission to an unbelieving husband does not mean a wife gets her personal, spiritual strength from him.
When a husband's spiritual nurturing and leadership is lacking, a Christian wife is not left helpless. She is to be nurtured and strengthened by her hope in God (v. 5).
5.Submission to an unbelieving husband is not to be done in fear but in freedom. See v. 6b.