Submission: In Attitude and ACTION

What do headship and submission in marriage look like in practice? How do you define such a thing? For every marriage it is different: submission has “as many expressions as the relationships it finds itself in”.* It’s even harder to describe what submission looks like when we see it so infrequently.

What I can tell you, after only 1 year of learning how to be married, is that my TRUTH is that headship and submission can be beautiful, like a dance where the dancers know their places.

I can’t imagine a relationship more lovely than that of Christ and the church. What could be more beautiful than a lover who finds a woman lying in her filth, washes her, adorns her, and lays down his life to win her (Ezek 16:1-14)? Or a woman who, having been loved with such devotion, gives herself freely and willingly to the one who died to win her? The parallel is not exact, but if human marriage is anything, it is a faint and pale copy of this everlasting marriage.

From before eternity, God planned men and women to mirror forth this divine love affair. And so he made man to work, to plant, to build and to tend, and woman to help, to bear children, to nurture and to care (Gen 1-3). He made husbands to love their wives with a self-sacrificial devotion which honors, cherishes and protects, and women to support their husbands with a love which honors, helps, reverences and yes, submits, gladly and willingly, every day and in everything (Eph 5:1-7).

You might hear people saying “The husband’s job is harder”. Yes, it is hard – it is desperately hard! – to sacrifice your own preferences and goals and desires for your wife. But it’s equally hard to submit, for it goes against not only our culture, but also our sinful desire to run life our own way, and our familiarity with our husband’s sins and failings. Submission has been hard since the day the first man and woman fell into sin, and swapped peace for a relationship where each would seek to dominate the other (Gen 3:16).

So what do headship and submission look like in practice? I’m not going to say a lot about headship, except that it demands that husbands care for their wives’ needs before their own, treat them with respect and consideration, and enable them to become all they were meant to be. God never tells men, as you might expect, to rule, to command, or to demand submission from their wives. In a culture where this would have been normal, he instead turns to wives, as free and equal partners, and tells them to willingly and graciously submit.

It’s easier to say what submission doesn’t look like than what it does look like. It doesn’t mean “mutual submission”, as if sacrifice and submission are two sides of the one coin, for God demands quite different things from husbands and wives. Nor does it mean you’ll pack up your brain and put it away, obey your husband when he asks you to cheat or act immorally, or never advise or influence him. Or how could women married to unbelievers freely put their trust in Christ, serve God with reverence and purity, or win their husbands for Christ (1 Pet 3:22-33)?

When you ask people what submission looks like, they’ll often say “It means that if you have to make a big decision, and your husband and you disagree, he gets to make the decision.” Whatever submission means, it means more than that. Submission affects everything, every moment of every day (Eph 5:24). “Submission is an attitude, but it’s an attitude which has to be expressed.”

Submission affects the way we think, feel, speak and behave. It’s an inner quality of the heart – a state of trust, reverence, honor, gentleness, quietness, purity, and respect – which is beautiful to God (1 Pet 3:1-6). But it doesn’t stop with the heart. Like all true attitudes, submission is an attitude which leads to action.

Whatever else submission is, it’s not easy. Our husbands are imperfect, and so are we. Even in a loving marriage, submission will go against every fiber of independence in our being. Submission is only possible because God’s Spirit works in us moment by moment, making us more like Christ, filling us with his humility, gentleness, quietness, and trust.

I’m sorry to leave you hanging, just when I’m about to get to the nitty-gritty of the practice of submission, but this post is too long already. In the meantime, perhaps you’d like to share with us what you think submission looks like in practice. As usual, there will be far more wisdom if we all share what we think than if I just tell you what I think!


© 2011 The GOoD Life. Courtesy of Right The Vision. All Rights Reserved.


14 thoughts on “Submission: In Attitude and ACTION

  1. I agree with your blog: Submission: In Attitude and Action. You put some valid material in your blog that I hadn’t considered relatable to marriage (the role of husband and wife), but once I read the scripture I agree whole heartedly.
    I believe that submissin is a must in a marriage. Since there is no blue print and all marriages are the same, however the husband is the head. I have some many thoughts swirling through my mind at this time I am going to try to give my points and these are merely my opinions.

    If the wife is better at balancing the check book, making sure the bills are paid timely, cleaning the house and taking care of the children and the husband is better at cooking, laudry, and juggling the schedule for everyone in the house. Should thos task be completed based on what area each partner excells in or should they be completed based on the sex?
    I was married and I wanted to be submissive however my ex-husband had a drinking, substance abuse, and gambling problem if I hadn’t taken the money out of his hands only God knows where I would be probably incarcerated. But there are some saved women and men who are married to ppl that may be weak in some areas and if that’s the case is it alright for example for the wife to be in charge of the finances as long as it is discussed with the husband.
    Being submisive is something in a marriage is important and something that I look forward to when God decides it is in His will for me to remarry. I just wished if the teachings on submission could include touch on the areas I gave my opinion about.

  2. This was a great blog…and it teaches me about submission when my day of marriage arrives. I’ve countless conversations with others regarding submission, and I’ve found many do not know the meaning of submission or how to be submissive to their husbands…I see that this is a challenge yet a command from God. In opinion, many people (that includes me) think their independence is being taken away yet it’s not as well as not knowing what submission really maybe when becoming married…

    Great blog post…so many need this information!

  3. This is great && even useful practice NOW for singles. We need to learn && know the strengths/weaknesses now that we’ll bring to a union/covenant.

  4. BEAUTIFUL entry! So many women run away from “submission” What they need to and simply MUST realize is that your protection and your blessing is in submission. I’ve been married almost 15 years and I didn’t realize this until MUCH later in my marriage. God bless YOU for realizing it so soon. I really enjoyed this entry! I love your truths on twitter also!

  5. I agree with the post as well as the comments. My take on submission is that the man (husband) is the head of the household. The wife should automatically submit to her husband. It’s not intended to be hard or complicating. The Love of God, righteousness and divine order makes this easy if we are living according to the word of God in our daily lives. It means trusting your Husband in and with all things. Of course we as women have a great mind and intuition about things so we are needed as a help-mate to our husbands. But not to give orders and place demands on our husbands. Submission means we have to be humble in our spirit at all times. Guide and nuture the children in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. There is a place for the Women and that place is inside the home. Now of course we have things going on outside of home, but it is important that we keep our priorities in order. Submission comes with respect. We as women can’t have that independent way of thinking, we have to learn to lean more on our husbands and seek his approval as in whats best for the family before we take on social activities outside the home or decisions concerning the kids. Those are just some of my examples on what submission means to me. Thank You for expanding on this topic today. It is very important, especially for me… soon to be happily married. I’d better get a head start although we are still in seperate households.

  6. Great blog, I enjoyed it and I like how you wrap it up with “submission is only possible with God spiritual works in us….”, that was the statement that hit home for me, that statement speaks to married & unmarried to me, if the holy spirit is not operating in a person, its probably going to be difficult for them to submit.

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