What Submission Means In A Marriage

I have to admit, Ephesians 5:22-23 freaks me out a little bit:

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

I read those verses and can’t help but picture myself bowing down before my husband, Eric, wearing a brown sack dress and holding freshly baked bread. I know very few women who can read those verses without feeling like a slave, less than, unworthy. But if we keep reading through verse 28 we see that there is more:

 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

Husbands and wives are both called to commit to each other, to love each other, and to serve each other.

So let’s back up a little bit shall we? Because the idea of submission is, a little odd, like I mentioned above. We tend to see submission as negative; something one is forced to do. It almost feels as if submitting to someone gives them ownership over us.

But submission is actually an ongoing theme in the Bible. As Christians we are to submit to each other (Ephesians 5:21), to government (Romans 13:1), and to God (James 4:7). This isn’t just some scary rule set in place for marriage, this is the way of life that Jesus has called us all to. Submission is not a representation of ones value, rather it is a choice to live a self-sacrificial life.

So what does that look like in a marriage? How can we submit to our spouses without laying ourselves out flat like a doormat?

First things first, we all need a healthy dose of humility. Marriage isn’t about being in control or being right, it’s about treating each other with love and respect, and working together as a team. The sooner we can learn to live in humility, the better it will be for all involved. Let me just be honest here, it’s not easy! Humility in marriage is a whole different level of getting over myself that I’m not always ready to do. I never seem to have the humility I need, but if my ego and I step aside, God is always willing to provide.

Once we can humble ourselves before God and our spouse, we can start to work together as a team. I trust Eric’s judgment because I have seen how he carries us through hard stuff, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a say in how we live our lives, spend our money, or fill our time. My thoughts, opinions, and feelings are just as important as his and vis-a-versa. We are navigating life together, hand in hand, learning to have grace for each other. And even though it usually looks a little bit like the two of us army crawling through barbed wire in a thunderstorm, we stick together, and that is what makes the difference.

There are many different interpretations of what submission in marriage should look like, and how it should play out. But the main idea remains the same. We are called to live self-sacrificial lives. Every aspect of our lives should sing to this theme, and our marriages should be no different. When we learn to love others as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31), we are moving in the right direction. Let’s choose to live self sacrificially; in our marriages and in every aspect of our lives.

Check out our other article on submission.