Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

We have a lot of young listeners who are heading into marriage without a lot of examples in their lives to learn from, and they’re asking good questions about marriage basics. One such listener is Kasie, who asks: “Hello, Pastor John! I’m engaged and need practical advice: What does it mean and look like to submit to my husband?”

God loves his people. God loves Kasie and does not command us things that are bad for us. That is just so basic in this issue. God is a good Father. He knows manhood. He knows womanhood. He knows them deeply and he knows how deeply life can be beautiful together when these things are lived out according to his good purposes. He has given us, he has given to you, Kasie, amazing gifts of sexuality and amazing gifts of differences between manhood and womanhood that go deeper than sexual organs. We are male and female all the way down.

God knows how beautiful marriage can be when husbands and wives act according to his good purposes.

And this is so great and so precious and so pervasive and so profound and so powerful that I think we would be foolish to experiment with it from generation to generation the way the world does. Like, let’s just make something new out of what women are. Let’s just make something new out of what men are. We would be wise with only one life to live to listen to our Maker, our Designer, our Father, our Friend, our Redeemer, and then bring our manhood and womanhood into line with what he has revealed.

So, we only have time here for a few comments. But I have written a whole book on marriage that I would point you to and I have written What’s the Difference? Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible and I have edited a big blue book on this issue. If this response feels inadequate, it is because it is inadequate.

Never ever stop learning and growing. I am not going to do any exegesis, for example, any Bible interpretation on this. I am just going to apply things I have studied, but if you want to study, I am taking it almost all from Genesis 1–3, Ephesians 5:21–33, 1 Peter 3:1–7, 1 Timothy 2:8–15, 1 Corinthians 11:1–16, and the way the New Testament shows Christ and his church interacting. So, here are two or three things I wrote down.

Biblical Submission Flourishes from Biblical Headship

1) The first is this about the meaning of a wife’s biblical submission; namely, it is a happy response to a husband’s biblical leadership or, as Ephesians 5:23 calls it, headship. And the point of starting here is that, when men are doing what God calls men to do in a relationship and they are doing it rightly, biblically, most women love it and are happy to respond to it supportively. My main effort in ministry is to help your fiancé. But you didn’t ask about him. You asked about you. So, I will try to say something directly to you.

Marry a man who understands biblical headship and has the maturity and the humility to grow in it.

But really this is so important. Be sure you marry a man who understands his role and has the maturity and the humility to grow in the rest of his life into this role, into this leadership and headship. It will be very difficult for you to live out your life of godly submissiveness if he is not a godly leader. It is not impossible and the Bible talks about that, but it will be harder and you don’t want to choose that at the front end of your relationship.

Headship Initiates, Submission Supports

2) Here is the second thing. I would say that submission means an intelligent, happy, wise support for the leadership of your husband and that means a few key things from him. This simply means you love it when he leads. And by leading — here comes the qualification so you know what you are aiming at — by leading, I don’t mean he makes unilateral decisions without talking to you and caring about what you think. That would contradict your role as a fellow heir “of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). It would contradict his role as a fallible follower of Jesus. He is not Jesus. He is not your ultimate Lord. Jesus is and he knows that, and he wants to honor that and encourage you in your personal submission to and following of Jesus. He doesn’t put himself in the place of your all-controlling Lord. He knows Jesus alone holds that.

So, what I mean by “his leadership” is that he takes initiative. He says, “Let’s” most often. That is sometimes a little thing I say to a couple. I ask: Who says, “Let’s” most often in this relationship? And if she is the one who has to constantly say: Let’s do this and let’s do this and let’s do this. And he is just as slough off, then that is a problem. He should be taking initiative in family devotions. He should be taking initiative in the discipline of the children. He should be taking initiative in financial responsibility. He should be taking initiative in the moral standards of the home, in patterns of giving, in church life, and on and on and on. When I say he takes initiative, I don’t mean that he takes charge in any detailed way as if he should run everything. He shouldn’t run everything.

Here is an example. Let me try to make it concrete. If I say, “take initiative in finances, man, don’t drag your feet with regard to how the money is made, how the money is saved, how the money is invested, how the money is spent, how the money is given,” don’t drag your feet here and expect your wife to solve all these problems. You are the one that should take initiative. And what I mean by initiative is he says things like: Can we talk about our finances to make sure that we are living in our means and honoring the Lord with our money? And then he might say: I am not very good with these numbers and you were a math major. So, how about you keep the checkbook and write the checks for the utilities and so on?

Submission is mainly a wife’s intelligent, happy, wise support for her husband’s leadership.

Leadership doesn’t mean doing it all. Leadership means sitting down at the table and taking the initiative to put things in motion that solve problems. Women love to have their husbands take initiative to put things in motion to get problems solved. Of course, they want to be part of the solution and ought to be a part of the solution. But oh, how sad it is when they have to drag their husbands to the table to get something going like that.

In other words, a good wife, a submissive wife, may have more competency than her husband in lots of areas. She might. They both recognize that and they set up the management of the home in various ways that show that. Leadership doesn’t mean superior competencies. Good night. You know, I am a pastor. I was surrounded by people with superior competencies than I was, but I was the leader. It was my job: maximize those competencies. Figure out a way to solve the problems here and set the tone here and cast a vision here that releases those competencies. So, submission wants a husband to lead. She wants him to make things happen, put things in motion, take initiative.

Christ Is the Ultimate Head

3) Here is the last thing. I would say that, besides being an intelligent, happy, wise support for the leadership of the husband that way, submission means that in principle, in the rare cases where the two of you, after arguing for days about what should be done, it is a draw — and you haven’t persuaded him and he hasn’t persuaded you — the submissive wife says to the husband: I am going to trust you to do what is right here. And she may disagree with which way he is going. And I think they are very rare. Those situations are probably very rare. But she is going to yield in principle to whatever he says.

And the reason I say “in principle” is because a good husband at that moment might use that privilege to go her way. He may love her. He may want to be gracious to her. He may not want to take that authority here and wield it in a direction she doesn’t want to go because he loves her, and so he may just say: No, we will do it your way. But she has sent the message loud and clear to him: I will not put my foot down and say that you must do it my way. We are going to go your way, and I am going to trust you to do what is right.

And I would just end by qualifying that two ways. One, a good husband will sometimes yield even though she has given him the privilege, so she yields. And the second qualification is a wife never follows her husband into sin. So, the headship of the husband is not ultimate headship. Christ is the ultimate head, and she will always seek to do the right thing and not sin if her husband calls her to follow him into sin.

“The headship of the husband is not ultimate headship. Christ is the ultimate head.”

So, here is my summary for Kasie:

  1. God knows what is best for us and his way of submission and headship is the path of joy.
  2. Be sure to marry a man mature enough and humble enough to lead biblically.
  3. Submission is mainly an intelligent, happy, wise support for that leadership.
  4. Which means that submission is a responsiveness to his initiative taking, which is not comprehensive control, but involves you in the planning of the family life.
  5. Submission means that in a draw you say: I trust you to do what is best.
  6. Submission means ultimately submission to Jesus so that you never follow your husband into sin.