Q & A: 10 Important Aspects of Submission and Authority in a Christian Marriage

Image by  Amy Showalter

Image by Amy Showalter

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One reason some biblical topics are increasingly being discussed, dissected, and debated today is because people don’t like all that much what Scripture has to say on the subject. Surely, the Bible doesn’t mean that, does it? 

This is certainly the case when it comes to submission and authority in marriage. However unpopular biblical male headship is today in secular society (and sadly in many churches as well), it is still God-ordained, even though it is often misunderstood and abused. Following are ten questions and answers pertaining to important aspects of submission and authority in a Christian marriage.

1. Does the Bible instruct me to submit to the godly authoritative leadership of my husband?

Yes. The Greek word Paul uses in Ephesians 5:21-24 for “submit” is hypotassó, and it is directly related to respect:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.(Eph. 5:22-24)

Hypotassó refers to a wife’s “recognition of an ordered structure” in which her husband is the person to whom she should show appropriate respect “as to the Lord” (BDAG, 1042); Eph. 5:22); see also Col. 3:18 and 1 Pet. 3:1-6). Respecting one’s husband is not optional for a Christian wife; rather, it is her duty. Christian wives are also instructed to submit to the authority of an unbelieving husband:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. (1 Pet. 3:1)

2. Do I have to tolerate any and all abusive behavior of my husband toward me in order to be a submissive wife?

No. When Paul tells wives to submit to their husbands in Ephesians 5:24, he does not mean that wives must endure abuse, neglect, or mistreatment of any kind by their husbands. Rather, Paul is reminding the church that a wife is under the authoritative headship, not tyrannical rule, of her husband (Eph. 5:23).

Some Christian women have been wrongly taught that they have to tolerate any kind of treatment from their husband in order to be biblically submissive and respectful, and this instruction must be fervently repudiated by the church. If a husband directs his wife to do anything that goes against God’s law or her conscience, she always “must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Because women—and men as well—are vulnerable to abuse in a marriage, they need to be under the proper oversight of faithful church leadership and civil authorities that God has provided for their care and protection.

This is why it is so important for Christians to be members of a local church that upholds God’s word carefully and provides proper oversight over its members. There is no situation where anyone should ever be abused—period.

3. Am I of equal value in the sight of God even though my husband is the head of our family?

Yes. The Bible is clear that God is not a respecter of persons, and both men and women have equal worth in his sight. All who are in Christ are “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise”:

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. (Acts 10:34-35)

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slavenor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (Gal. 3:27-29)

Because God has given men and women different roles in marriage does not mean that one role is more important or valuable than another. The Bible even says that the wife’s “imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” is very precious in God’s sight (1 Pet. 3:4).

4. Do my husband’s needs come before my own needs?

No. Even when times are difficult due to financial, emotional, or physical challenges, a husband’s personal happiness must never take precedence over sacrificially loving his wife:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,  so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph. 5:25-27; see also 1 Cor. 7:1-5)

In loving his wife as Christ loved the church, a husband honors not only his wife but also his Lord. A Christian husband should provide for his wife to the best of his ability, nurture her spiritual growth, be attentive to her needs, and cherish and enjoy her.

Both husbands and wives should always consider their spouse to be more significant than themselves and care for each other sacrificially:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Phil. 2:3)

This is what Christ Jesus did on our behalf when he humbled himself by taking on a human body and dying on the cross for God’s people (Phil. 2:3-8).

5. Should my husband listen to my counsel? 

Yes. Your husband bears great responsibility, and he needs your straightforward input. God never intended for a wife to be a “yes-person.” Faithful headship involves creating an environment of openness and communication in which the husband honors his wife and values her opinions, all the while recognizing her equality before God and the gifts God has given her.

You should be honest with your husband about any concerns you have regarding a particular matter to protect him from potential harmful consequences. You should always seek to grow in knowledge and wisdom in God’s word as well as in all your callings in life, so you can give your husband the best possible counsel in all circumstances (Prov. 31:26).

6. If my husband is truly loving me sacrificially, does that mean he won’t do anything with which I disagree?

No. While a healthy marriage includes consideration of each spouse’s thoughts and feelings as much as possible, sometimes a decision must be made where there is not complete agreement—and the husband has the final say. As long as the decision does not go against Scripture, it is important to remember to pray for your husband, give your input respectfully, and then rest in God’s sovereignty regarding the outcome.

If your husband goes against your advice or preferences and his decision is a poor one in retrospect, you should resist the urge to say, “I told you so.” Hopefully, he will be more likely to consider your respectfully given counsel in the future.

7. Do I need my husband’s blessing when it comes to pursuing personal goals that are important to me?

Yes. If you want to do a certain kind of work inside or outside of the home or pursue a certain interest or education, your husband must be supportive of your endeavor. This is another reason why it is so vitally important for a Christian woman to be careful to marry a man who will be committed throughout life to nourishing and cherishing her, just as Christ does the church (Eph. 5:30).

It is important to note that this goes both ways. If your husband doesn’t have your blessing in pursuing a goal, he should carefully and prayerfully reconsider proceeding forward on that path as you want the very best for him as well.

It is a great sorrow to be in a marriage where a woman’s husband doesn’t care about what is important for her flourishing. A Christian woman should always take sufficient time to evaluate the character of a potential future husband to see whether he is truly devoted to loving his wife as he does himself (Eph. 5:25-29). He should do his best to “nurture and cherish” his wife in the love of Christ as he would his own flesh and tend to her spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical needs (Eph. 5:29; Col. 3:19).

8. Does the Bible verse about “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21) mean that my husband has to submit to me as well?

No. “Submitting to one another” means Christians are to submit “out of reverence to Christ” to various forms of God-ordained authority, such as children to parents and wives to husbands and employees to those over them. Paul goes into detail about what he means in Ephesian 5:21 regarding the relationship between husbands and wives in his subsequent instructions in Ephesians 5:22-33.

All Christian submission is done in love, but not all Christians submit in the same ways to each other. For example, parents do not submit to their children; employers do not submit to their employees; and husbands do not submit to their wives.

9. Should I ever feel demeaned as a Christian wife or be okay with being disrespected in any way?

No. Having a difference of opinion is one thing. Being mistreated in any way is another. There is no excuse for a husband to ever harm his wife physically or emotionally; rather, he is to love her as his own body. Paul is clear on this matter:

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. (Eph. 5:28-29)

And the apostle Peter writes,

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Pet. 3:7)

A Christian husband must always show his wife honor, both publicly and privately, and protect her dignity and reputation from any and all slander. A Christian wife honors her husband when she expects him to treat her respectfully in all circumstances and holds steadfastly to standards that help him to be a godly man.

10. Should I view godly authoritative male headship in marriage as a blessing?

Yes. Husbands have particular responsibilities that wives do not, and they will have to give account to God for how they have managed and provided for their household. It can be of great comfort to know a major decision is ultimately your husband’s duty to make—and his weight to bear—especially when you may not sure what is the right or best course to take.

It could be the case that you have greater competence in a certain area than your husband does, and a wise man will greatly value his wife’s input in such situations. Your husband may delegate most household decisions to you because he trusts in and has such high regard for your knowledge and wisdom.

It is very discouraging for men when they take on so much responsibility as Christian husbands and then don’t receive appropriate respect from their wives. Because of our sinful natures, a husband will not fulfill his duties perfectly in this life, but his wife should always seek to honor, appreciate, value, and encourage him as much as possible. A husband and wife should have grace for each other as they seek to grow in holiness in their marriage.

Single Christian women should earnestly seek to only marry a godly Christian man (2 Cor. 6:14) whose judgment they can respect, because he is the authoritative head of the family who is called to faithfully lead his wife and children lovingly, sacrificially, and devotedly to the glory of God in all things.

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Le Ann Trees is managing editor of Beautiful Christian Life.