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[God's Design for Building Your Marriage 4] God's Design for Submission

Wisdom from the Word

Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.

Ephesians 5:22 (NET)

Understanding God’s Design

Here we are at the dreaded lesson on submission, or the “S Word”! It is the lesson that fills every woman with dismay. I agree that it is not an easy principle, but it really may be the most freeing principle that you learn to implement in your marriage. Before you begin looking at God’s Word on this subject, voice a prayer asking for God’s heart and His mind on this issue. Let Him know that you are open to build your home upon His design, rather than thinking you know better than He does (or your husband does). Ask for the grace to obey what you learn.

Two weeks ago we studied the “helper” role that God has given us as wives. Remember that the helper is the assistant; therefore, from the beginning God designed the husband to lead in a relationship of equals. His leadership was to be sacrificial rather than authoritative (Eph. 5: 25, 28-30). In God’s perfect creation that relationship worked in complete harmony. Sin changed everything, and now we no longer operate as one in marriage. Two heads do not work on a body, in a home, or in a business.

Reread Gen. 1:1-2:25 and review God’s creation order.

God’s original order established the man and woman as united partners over the rest of creation (1:26-28). Yet, within that structure the husband led and the wife was his strong assistant.

Read Gen. 3:1-19.

    1. The fractured relationship between husband and wife is first seen in Gen. 3:12. How do you see this change in Adam’s attitude toward his wife?

After sin came into Adam and Eve’s lives, God gave what has been called “the curse”; however, notice that only two things were cursed, the serpent (v14) and the ground (v.17). God dealt with the husband/wife relationship in Gen. 3:16. He told the woman, “Your desire shall be for your husband” (NASB).

What does it mean the wife’s desire is for her husband? Some have suggested that it is sexual desire. (I don’t often see this driving women!) Some say that women desire an intimacy with their husbands, which is true, but that does not mean that these verses teach that. It is extremely important to note that the word “desire” is used in the very next chapter of Genesis. Its meaning there should be considered as we attempt to understand this verse. The best way to interpret a word is to look in the near context of the verse. That is what we do when we look at Gen. 4.

Read Gen. 4:7.

Sin is trying to overtake and master Cain. Using that same understanding of the word “desire”, God is saying in Gen. 3:16 that because of sin, women will attempt to usurp leadership from the husband. Basically, we wives want to take over. If you are like me, you see this every day, in your own life and in the lives of others. God’s original design was for the husband and the wife to work in complete unity as the husband led and the wife assisted in all they did. Sin marred that, and we women no longer accept our God-given role. In fact, the NET Bible translates 3:16d this way: “You will want to control your husband.”

    2. Do you sense that desire in yourself? It is a consequence of sin. Write a prayer asking God to help you recognize this and give you the grace and power to overcome it.

In Gen. 3:16 God also tells Adam that he will “rule over” (NASB) his wife. There has been disagreement about the interpretation of the “rule” of the husband in Gen. 3:16. Some believe this suggests that because of sin he will be a despot in the home and lord it over his wife. The NET Bible translates it “dominate”. It is obvious that the self-centeredness of sin does lead to this type of sinful behavior, but the verse does not necessarily imply that rule must be this way. The word for rule here is also used of God (Ps. 22:28) and of the sun and moon (Gen. 1:16, 18). This leads to the possibility that God is simply reaffirming the creation order of the home in which the husband leads in a relationship of equals. It is a reminder to Eve that she is to follow her husband’s leadership. Here is my loose paraphrase of what God is saying to Adam and Eve, “You got out of My design for order in your home, and you made a mess. Even though you, Eve, want to run things, remember that your husband is the leader and you are to work with him rather than apart from him.”

Read Eph. 5:22-33.

The New Testament reaffirms the same order we just saw in Genesis as God’s original design. The word “submit” or “be subject” is hupotasso in the Greek. It means “to subject oneself, place oneself in submission.”7 As Dr. Zodhiates explains, “In society all humans, all men and women in various positions of leadership or following and dependence, are equal, yet their functions vary and their responsibilities are diverse.”8

God has ordained unity, but the wife is to willingly follow the lead of her husband. Memorize v.22 as your Word of Wisdom for this week.

We wives are commanded to do two things in these verses in Ephesians.

    3. Write down the first command from v. 22, 24 and the second from v. 33.

    4. How are we to submit according to v.22? How can that help you submit?

    5. In what areas are we to submit according to v. 24?

    6. Married women: How can you better fulfill the second command that you found in v.33 than you are at present? Single women: Think of a specific way in which a wife obeys this.

    7. We saw last week that the husband/wife relationship pictures the relationship of Christ and His church for the world (Eph. 5:25, 29, 32). So what are you as a believing woman doing when you submit to your husband?

These verses reveal God’s purpose for marriage as missional. As we lovingly relate in unity as husband and wife, we not only grow more like Christ personally but we also become missionaries to a world starving to see relationships work.

Submission does not imply inferiority or subordination.

    8. How does Phil. 2:3-8 prove this statement? What attitudes are necessary in order to overcome selfishness according to this passage?

Men and women are equal in the sight of God (Gal. 3:26-29). In a section of the letter to the Ephesians dealing with the congregation at large (Eph. 5:15-21), we are instructed to submit to one another within the church (Eph. 5:21). Then from Eph. 5:22-6:10 Paul gives specific instructions as to how these general commands work out in each situation. Mutual submission is lived out through sacrificial, unconditional love on the part of the husband and through the submission of the wife. The picture of marriage is that of unity, just as the body is one unit and each part works in harmony with the rest.

Interestingly, we women want to eliminate the directive to be submissive to our husbands by suggesting equal submission. Yet, we don’t think that the command to submit to one another cancels out the child’s responsibility to obey her parents (Eph. 6:1-3) or to the slave to obey his master (Eph. 6:5-9). Susan Foh says:9

The submission of the wife to her husband is not that of an inferior to a superior. The woman is joint heir (with the man) of God’s promises; she, like the man, bears the image of God and as a Christian will be conformed to Christ’s image. The different roles husband and wife have are by God’s appointment and design. That the woman and man are equal in being is re-enforced by the command to wives. Wives are to submit themselves (reflexive); their submission is voluntary, self-imposed. It is part of their obedience to the Lord; the Lord is the one who commands it, not the husband.

Remember that everyone is to submit to God. As your husband leads your home, it is God to whom he is ultimately responsible. He will have to give an account some day, just as you will have to account for your submission. It is quite liberating to know that God will hold your husband accountable for his decisions, not you. If you are arguing with him over decisions for your family, your root problem is failure to trust God. I would recommend that you do a study of the power and character of God in order to increase your faith in Him.

Building Your Marriage with God’s Design

    9. According to Eph. 5:22, our Word of Wisdom this week, how does God say we are to submit? What is our attitude to be? Who is the ultimate authority behind our submission? How can this key make a difference in your submission to your husband?

When I needed a new car several years ago, my husband and I could not agree about it. Yet, it was to be MY car, not his. I didn’t and still don’t understand why I can’t have the car I want unless it costs too much! However, I submitted to my husband. I remember talking to my daughter, who was then in college, about the car situation. She told me to go buy what I wanted since it was my car. I asked her if she understood submission. She said that she thought submission was fine, and she would be happy to submit to her future husband when he was right. Well, there is the rub, isn’t it? It is easy to submit when he is right. The question is whether we submit even when we think his decision is a bad one. I am not talking here about an immoral decision but just a different decision that we would make—therefore, wrong!

    10. Be honest before God. In what areas are you unwilling to submit to your husband? Are there areas where you feel that it is only your business? Finances? Employment? Discipline of the children? Your shopping? What you do with your own time? What you do with money you have earned? Married women: Think of areas where you feel your husband’s judgment is wrong or unfair. Single women: Consider how you will feel about the above areas.

Where do we draw the line in submitting to authority?

Read Acts 5:28-29.

    11. Copy Peter’s response to the governmental authorities.

We submit until we cross the line when our submission violates a clear command in God’s Word. Because we do have a clear command to submit, it is the overriding principle in our home-building relationship with our husband. We are to obey this clear command unless it violates another clear command. We will discuss submitting to a husband who disobeys God in a later lesson.

Does submission mean that you cannot share wisdom with your husband before he makes a mistake? Does it mean that you cannot ask him to change his decision? No. In that lesson, we will also look more closely at how to appeal a bad decision. Right now, just think of yourself as a member of a board of directors. It is your job to point out alternatives and reasoning. The best decisions are unanimous ones. Your input is essential to a well thought-out and healthy decision-making process, even if the final decision is not the one you like.

There is one more reminder that we need to consider before we move on. Submission does not involve manipulation. We women are quite good at knowing how to manipulate our husbands to get them to do whatever we desire. That is not submission. If you are guilty of this, you need to confess it to God and to your husband and put this sin behind you, never to go there again!

Chuck Swindoll gives us a good word about this:10

Webster says that manipulation means “to control or play upon by unfair or insidious means, especially to one’s own advantage or to serve one’s own purpose.” In other words, secret manipulation is an unfair, insidious technique that results in getting what one wants. When handled cleverly, a wife can substitute secret manipulation for a quiet, submissive spirit.

Along those same lines I see many situations where the husband is reluctant to forbid his wife from doing something and yet, he does not really support it. The woman justifies her participation in whatever it is by saying that her husband did not forbid her to do it; however, in her heart she knows her spouse is not supportive.

Trust God. If He truly desires you to do something, whether a job or a ministry or a volunteer activity, He will turn your husband’s heart to support you. Perhaps God has called you to that place, but it is not His timing. Trust that He will use your husband to lead you at the right time. One way that a wife can know the will of God in her life is to trust that God will bring a unity of mind between her and her husband if it is His will for her.

Parenting with God’s Design

Different homes of origin and different parenting styles will likely lead to differences of opinion in how to deal with your children. My husband’s parents’ rules were far more lax than those in my home. It often took a great deal of faith to accept decisions that permitted our kids to participate in things that my parents would never have allowed. My dad was scared to death that my sister and I would be hurt; thus, many of his rules involved protection from physical harm. We never got to buy fireworks or shoot off firecrackers. I was horrified when my husband let our son do so!! I still think it is a bad idea, and I told him so. However, I did accept his judgment without a bad attitude!

    12. Married women: Is there an area of child training where you insist on your way rather than following your husband’s lead if you cannot agree? Do not justify yourself by saying that he won’t take the lead. If you back off, you force him to deal with it. If you find that you are guilty of this, write a prayer asking God for the grace to follow and trust in Him by obeying His design for the home. Single moms: When you marry, will you be willing to come to decisions about your children with your husband?

Wisdom from a Mentor (Betsy)

I was a schoolteacher, married three years. Milton and I had "planned" for me to teach three years, try to get pregnant, resign from teaching to have babies and raise them. We got pregnant after the first try. Milton was stunned! In a bad way! He wasn't prepared for the feeling of responsibility of a child, etc.

I was delighted and excited that I no longer had to work and could stay at home and be a mommy. But he took the position that I needed to work up until a few weeks before delivery, take a few weeks off after birth, and then go back to work! I was the one stunned this time!

Prior to our wedding, we had been through marriage counseling with our pastor and both agreed that I would stay at home with baby. So I cried, pleaded and then showed him the Titus 2:5 weapon: “Younger mothers to love their husbands...and be workers in the home." I thought that would do the trick; he couldn't argue with God's Word. He then countered with another scripture: "Wives, submit to your husbands." I prayed, "God, who is right?" (meaning Milton or me.) God revealed to me that He is right. After several days or maybe weeks of anger, God showed me that my responsibility was to submit to my husband because he was the leader in our home. He was to make the decision about whether I worked or not. God also let me know He would hold Milton accountable for the results of his decisions, so I didn't have to worry about doing the wrong thing. The right thing for ME to do was to submit to my husband.

So...since I had already resigned from my teaching job, I found a part-time job working in a doctor's office. They were flexible with my pregnancy, agreeing to a few weeks’ leave of absence for the birth, etc. As time went on, I began having severe back pain and eventually had to leave this job. The office hired a temp to fill my spot and then decided to hire her full time so they didn't need me after baby was born.

I was thrilled, but Milton said I needed to line up another job to have after baby was born. (And I still needed to be submissive.) I interviewed for a teaching position with a private Christian school. During the interview I told the principal that I didn't want to work, that I wanted to stay at home with my baby, but that I was there at the interview just to please my husband. The principal hired me!!! Rats!! My baby was due in April and I would be able to be at home with her until school started in late August. It was all set. I had submitted to my husband and to God's Word.

We had the baby. She was beautiful and life was grand! Then my husband was transferred to California with a promotion! Of course it was with great regret that I called the principal and told him the sad news that I would not be able to teach after all!

We settled in Los Angeles and for some "unknown" reason, my husband didn't broach the subject of me working professionally until sixteen years later when he began his own business and needed me to help him get started. Of course by then, our three children were teenagers!

Summing It Up

    13. Write down an explanation of why you plan to become a submissive wife.


7 Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1992), 1428.

8 Ibid., 1428.

9 Susan T. Foh, Women and the Word of God: A Response to Biblical Feminism (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1979), 186.

10 Charles R. Swindoll, Strike the Original Match (Portland, Ore: Multnomah Press, 1980), 57.

Related Topics: Marriage, Curriculum