We Need to Talk About Submission

Maybe you’ve been there — a personal conversation, a Christian conference, a popular blog — where the mere mention of “submission” is followed by a verbal frenzy:

  • An apology for the mention (“I know, we don’t want to hear it, but . . .”).
  • An apology for God (“He’s not being unfair. . . . I know it may seem that way . . .”).
  • A bow to feminism (“Women are some of the most powerful people on the planet, amen?”).
  • An escape clause (“God understands how hard this is . . .”).
“When we marginalize submission in marriage, we dull the beautiful reflection of Christ and the church.”

I find myself surprised when someone speaks in a straightforward manner of the God-ordained role of a wife to lovingly support and submit to her husband (who has his own God-ordained expectations as he submits to Christ). Increasingly, it seems, the subject is deemed unfit for polite conversation, even among believers — even from the pulpit.

Perhaps as a woman, this should please me. The further we drift from talk of submission, the easier my life becomes. With tacit agreement that this is hard, outdated, and maybe even unfair, I am free to embrace a measure of leadership, assertiveness, and other “natural gifts” in my home.

But as a follower of Christ, my desire is to see Jesus glorified, not my flesh. And submission is tied directly to the glory and honor due to our Lord and his word. The dialogue may not be replete with “amens,” but here are three reasons we need to talk unapologetically about submission.

1. Submission points to the supremacy of Christ.

When I hear a reference to marriage as an illustration of Christ and his church, it is usually the “one flesh” verse that is cited (Ephesians 5:31). There’s nothing hierarchical there. Nothing controversial. The husband and wife become one; Christ is one with the church. It’s a beautiful picture that we embrace.

But there’s another marriage illustration, one that is purely hierarchical: submission. The husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. And as the church is subject to Christ, so is the wife to her husband, in everything (Ephesians 5:22–24). This is a beautiful illustration as well. It reveals that submission in marriage is but a sub-focus, a reflection. It points to a greater glory.

“When we remain silent about submission in marriage, we say something loudly about the word of God.”

When we marginalize submission in marriage, we dull the reflection. If we don’t talk about it — let alone, live it — the whole notion of submission becomes foreign. The world needs to know that there is divine order and authority. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. He is seated at the right hand of the Father, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, with everything in subjection under his feet (Ephesians 1:20–22).

Submission in marriage bears witness to our risen Lord who reigns supreme. Rather than shy away from the topic, we ought to embrace it as an opportunity to point people to the greater glory of Christ.

2. Submission esteems the truth.

When we hear “Titus 2,” we likely think of an older woman and a younger woman. In fact, we may picture a mentor-mentee relationship more than we actually consider what the older woman is to teach the younger. Yet a specific list is given, and among the character qualities and duties is this: The younger woman is to be subject to her own husband (Titus 2:5). There’s a reason given: so that the word of God will not be dishonored.

But what if the older woman decides not to touch the issue? What if the church they attend isn’t affirming it? What if the younger woman concludes that, since no one is talking about it, it must not be for today?

As believers, we don’t want to resemble in the slightest way those who suppress the truth (Romans 1:18). To the contrary, our obligation is to uphold the truth of the word of God, no matter the times we live in, no matter how uncomfortable we may be. And granted, we will feel uncomfortable talking about submission in many circles. The discomfort is by design. The god of this world has waged assault on submission in order to suppress this truth.

As Christians, we would not seek to align ourselves with his mission. Yet, if submission is relegated to the realm of those things we just don’t talk about, truth takes a hit. Conversely, when we embrace the beauty and glory in submission and help others to do the same, the word is glorified.

3. Submission affirms God’s created order.

More and more, we will be called to witness to people from the book of beginnings, Genesis, to illumine God’s will for marriage. That the first married couple was a man and a woman is key, of course. But also key is the order in which they were created — man first, then woman — and the purpose for which the woman was created.

“If ever there were a time to talk about marriage and submission, and all the ways they reflect the gospel, it is now.”

God fashioned Eve from Adam’s rib because Adam needed a suitable helper. Any notion that submission is somehow the product of the fall or of the times in which the New Testament was written is simply untrue. In the garden, where all was declared “very good” (Genesis 1:31), submission was in view. It was central to the divine beauty and perfection that existed in their marital relationship.

To retreat from the topic of submission is to throw aside fundamentals of marriage that God ordained from the beginning. If ever there were a time to dialogue about marriage, submission, and the attendant glory of Christ, it is now.