“I believe wives should be submissive to their husbands. And so do you. See? We’re the same.”
My neighbor was mistaken.
Her argument is quite common. Living overseas, we often hear people drawing the same conclusion when they compare the traditionally conservative values of world religions. “See? We’re the same.”
Early on in our time here in Dubai, I was confronted with this question: How can I help my neighbor see a difference in the hope that I have if my submission to my husband seems to her as “the same”?
Instead of agreeing that all of our virtues and conservative values are signposts on different roads going up the same mountain, I see an opportunity to give a defense of my faith with gentleness and respect.
The Bible defines a wife’s submission to her husband in terms that describe its motive, means, and end as distinctly and uniquely Christian. For my own joy as well, I love to share about the cosmic plan of Christ to be exalted as Head over all things and how this shapes the way I view my submission to my husband.
A Wife’s Submission in the Big Picture
The penal substitutionary death of Jesus Christ, his resurrection from the dead, and his subsequent exaltation above every name changes how we view our roles in marriage because, indeed, it changes everything. Neither wives nor husbands can understand our respective callings to submission and leadership in Ephesians 5:21–24 without first submitting to the cosmos-ruling Christ of Ephesians 1:9–10, and 1:20–23.
Andreas J. Köstenberger explained it this way: “To the extent that a married couple sees itself as part of the global eschatological movement toward ‘summing up all things in Christ’ (Ephesians 1:9), it will experience fulfillment and share the perspective on marriage Paul presents in the passage at hand (Ephesians 5:28–32).”
When I consider submission as anything less than my whole-hearted participation in Jesus’ plan to be head over all things, my vision for submission is myopic. In this distorted view, glorifying my husband above all things becomes my goal (and the goal that I fall short of). The motive and end for my submission, when applied in this errant way, are husband-centered. Then my grudging attitude and embittered lip-service to my husband’s leadership demonstrates how quickly I take my eyes off of Christ’s purposes in the world and in my home.
The arguments for submission based on pragmatics and traditionalism stop short of leading me to rely on future grace and fail to infuse joy in its application. I’ve seen how meditating on the big picture theology of God’s cosmic plans fills my heart with hope and wonder and drops right into my apartment.
Considering my submission to my husband as part of the epic plan of God has changed the way I view my life in the home. Because no authority on earth precedes Jesus’ authority, I understand submission does not mean that every decision my husband makes is to be infallibly followed. In fact, a husband’s authority is limited to those areas that please Christ (that is, a wife is not called to follow her husband into sin or to simply endure his sinful behaviors).
I am blessed with a godly husband, but there are still moments when I feel like submission to my husband is difficult, and in those moments I remember my submission (like the church’s submission) is as to Jesus. Jesus’ leadership and rule over me is self-giving and cruciform, so I can trust the Lord in those moments and exalt Jesus as I submit to my husband’s Christ-honoring leadership.
What a grace God has given wives to participate in his plan to reconcile all things to himself (1 Corinthians 15:28)! Meditating on Jesus’ headship over the cosmos also gives weight to my witness of the ultimate worth of Jesus Christ both locally in my home and on the cosmic stage. By grace through faith, my submission is a Christ-exalting endeavor as our children and neighbors look on and (Lord-willing) notice a difference in my submission.
The Distinctly Christian Motive, Means, and End of a Wife’s Submission
As a Christian wife delights herself in the Lord and submits to her husband by faith, she can rest knowing that it is God himself who is working in her, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. God’s good pleasure to exalt Jesus above every name overflows into our own hearts as we make him our treasure. We exult in God’s mercy to sinful husbands and wives as he has put all things under King Jesus’ feet and given him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:22–23).
While many cultures around the world base their belief in a wife’s submission to her husband in their own societal traditions, gender inequality, pragmatism, and religion, the claims of Christianity make our perspective quite different. As we read in God’s word, the motive, means, and end of a wife’s submission to her own husband are distinctly Christian. Distinctly Christian submission is grounded in the eschatological premise of Jesus Christ’s supremacy over all creation. Christ is putting the cosmos back in order and this includes restoring God’s original pre-fall design for marriage.
The means of this submission is exclusively by grace through faith as a Christian wife is led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. And the aim of a wife’s submission to her husband is always to exalt Jesus Christ, the Head, who is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:21).
Jesus sustains and upholds the universe by the word of his power. All created things exist in him and for him and through him. With Jesus as our Chief Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20), we are called out of the world to be the household of God in Christ by the Spirit. By grace we are grafted “into Christ” and called to submit our lives to his kingly reign over all things. All of life becomes a sacrifice of praise to Jesus and his glorious grace for all eternity, including a wife’s submission to her own husband.