What Biblical Submission in Marriage Really Means

You’re not alone in wondering how to interpret biblical submission in marriage. It’s a touchy subject, not least because it’s often misunderstood as being sexist or no-matter-what obedience.


What is going on with husbands, wives, Jesus, and submission?


A closer look at Scripture, though, shows the full picture of marriage: a relationship that mirrors the love between Christ and His Church. The Bible says we are to submit to one another, wives submit to their husbands, wives, and husbands submit to the Lord.


God knows how beautiful marriage can be when husbands and wives act according to his good purposes. When a husband submits to the Lord, leading his wife with a servant’s heart and nurturing her God-given talents, she can confidently submit to him — lean on him and trust his covering.

Understanding Submission Through Ephesians 5

bible with a black bookmark

St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5 that husbands are to love their wives like Christ loves the church, and specifically mentions Christ gave himself up for the church. The relationship isn’t of master to servant; it’s of lover and beloved.


So guys, like it or not, this is one more step in seeing yourself as crucified with Christ. Godly husbands are to put the needs and safety of their wives ahead of their own. No, they are not to be treated like a “princess” or a doormat either, for that matter. 


As a family does life together, many decisions have to be made. Most of the time, the right choice is obvious to all concerned, and there is nothing to fight over. We do what needs to be done. 


But, when there is conflict and disagreement, the Bible says it is the husband’s responsibility (not his right) to make the decision. The pressure is on him; he is responsible to God to lead his home and be the head of his household. To do it well so that all in his home are led forward in the kingdom of God and closer to God and Jesus. 

Women and men have equal worth & are inherently different

Ephesians 5:15-33 was written to encourage unity in marriage. With that in mind, Paul’s instruction to wives can’t be separated from his teaching to men and his overarching advice to both sexes.


So, when one of these tough decisions has to be made, a godly husband will seek every bit of advice from his wife before making it. She should be involved integrally in the process, praying for this issue, as they go through this. As a couple, they also will trust in God to lead, guide, and direct. 


Sometimes husbands will blow it. We don’t always get it right. A loving wife that understands how to respect her husband will not say “told you so” as a sarcastic means of comforting her husband. The enemy of your marriage is real. Don’t hold the door open for him to come in and kill, steal, and destroy. Choose to do life together with your spouse, to have each other’s back–your spouse is not your enemy.

Submission vs. Control

Godly headship and submission are not the same as control. Control is a carnal attempt to avoid pain and hurt triggered by events or circumstances we are trying to keep from occurring again. That’s why we want to control them. Control is NOT healthy. 


We need to get help for these things in our life, not make life unbearable for those around us.

“Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ” Ephesians 5:21

Christ Is the Ultimate Head

kneeling at the cross

If Jesus was anything, he was love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. When we are in a relationship with others and love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness are flowing freely between us, we are submitting to one another–out of reverence to Christ.  


This chapter of Ephesians finishes with, “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” 


This command to us from God makes no mention of any qualifying circumstances. It doesn’t say to love and respect when the spouse deserves it, is lovely, or is respectable. It just says do it. We don’t always want to do it. We want our spouse to live by our rules. Then we will love or respect them.  


When we become a Christian, we are to assume the behavior that goes with it. We can no longer pick and choose how we are going to do life or what parts of the Bible do we agree with and are willing to follow. Our “rules” have nothing to do with it. 


We are supposed to be all in, and as Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commands.” Getting to this point is part of the process of sanctification. We don’t have 100% Christian knowledge and understanding the moment we give ourselves to the Lord. We learn as we go along. 


Emerson Eggerichs says marriage is a tool and a test to deepen and demonstrate our love and reverence for Jesus. When we love or respect our spouse unconditionally, regardless of their performance, we are submitting to one another out of reverence to Christ.  


God has extended love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness to us through Jesus Christ, we are to do the same for our spouse, even when we don’t feel like it. 


Doing this consistently will turn a difficult marriage around. And if the timing of that turnaround seems too slow for you, rest in knowing you are doing what God has called you to do.  We are all to submit to Jesus.


“If you love me, you will obey what I command” John 14:15


Ultimately, we are to give up our rights to ourselves and submit to and follow Jesus. Here again, there are no qualifying statements to go along with this verse–we’re just supposed to do it.

See “One Another” for many of the commands we are to follow.

Many of these are directly applicable to the marriage relationship. And that is why it is said we don’t have a marriage problem. We have a Jesus problem–we don’t want to do what He says to do. Self is a tough thing to give up. 

Jesus as Savior & Lord

Jesus submitted to God by coming to earth, leading a perfect life, and dying an incredibly difficult death so that we could be made righteous in God’s sight and acceptable to Him in heaven. If we understand, accept, and believe this, we are said to be saved. We know Jesus as our Savior.

When Jesus rose from the grave, He overcame death and sin that leads to death. It wasn’t His sin that led to His death. He was perfect. It was the sin of the world, yours and mine, that He took upon himself. It was God’s plan to redeem us all. When we understand, accept, and believe this, we know Jesus as Lord. And all those One Another commands are no longer so hard to do for our spouse. We are not doing it for them anymore. We’re doing it for Jesus because “if you love me, you will keep my commands.” And another verse that fits well here; Matthew 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

We each have to give up “our rules” and learn and submit to God. In life, especially in marriage, “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Colossians 3:23, 24