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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






14 May 2006

Submission in Marriage


Q: What is submission in today’s terms regarding husband and wife? Does this have anything to do with today’s life among Christians?

A: When we read Ephesians 5, we see what true submission is all about. Paul first asks all Christians to be “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (v. 21; emphasis added)” Only then does he say, “Wives, submit to your own husbands. (v. 22)”

Martin and Katy LutherTrue submission is not the abandonment of self as much as it is the realization of self in the person and life of another. The wife to her husband — as the Church to Christ — submits in obedience — not blindly, but with eyes wide open. The Church knows that heeding and obeying her Savior’s words is the greatest love she can return to Him. So also the Christian wife knows that her greatest gift of love to her husband is to allow him to occupy the divinely ordained headship of the family. In her submission, she models the relationship that the Church has with Jesus.

The husband also is told to submit, for He is commanded to love his wife “as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. (v. 25)” The husband’s very life is secondary to the good of his beloved. Note that this is not romantic love, although that may be part of the marriage relationship. Rather, Paul emphasizes divine love (agape), even when (imperfectly) practiced by humans. Agape gives without counting the cost and always places the good of the other above good for self.

Even in these latter and “liberated” days, wives submit more enthusiastically and joyfully when their husbands practice truly Christlike love in all they say and do. Likewise, husbands give of themselves much more willingly and completely when their headship isn’t constantly challenged by their wives.

While this submission is modeled in Christian marriages, it isn’t restricted to the relationship between husbands and wives. All believers need to remember that Christ-like submission, unlike desire, isn’t “you first” but “me first.” True love seeks to serve, not to be served, to give, not to take — this we see clearly and completely in Jesus’ entire life of serving and suffering on our behalf.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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10 Comments:

Blogger xianchick said...

I like your reflections here.

I hope you welcome comments from quakers? (if not, just ignore me :) )

I am a very rebellious, free spirit who tries really really hard to submit to my husband.

He is a wonderful man. He tries so hard to be a good husband, like I try to be a good wife.

Unfortunately, we sometimes fall on our faces.

Simply put, christian ideals are flat-out impossible without dependence on God.

So often, we hear members of clergy just plain ordering us to submit to our spouses, 'cuz the Lord says so. Having been grafted into the church though, we are never just isolated branches who have to do it alone.

It seems to me, that 100% dependence on a loving God, along with pure submission to Him, gives us the super-human strength we need to be the innocent sheep who follow his commands.


Submission in marriage can be a highly controversial topic these days... like honoring your mother and father.

Thanks for bringing this up... it's been on my mind a lot lately.

14 May, 2006 21:05  
Blogger Frank said...

Good post Pastor Snyder. I get to teach Ephesians 5 this Sunday to my high school class. Your post will definitely help me prepare my lesson, especially your thought that submission is "not the abandonment of self".

15 May, 2006 09:13  
Blogger Genevieve said...

I read a commentary on this Scripture passage by a lady who pointed out that we are not asked to submit to all men whom we encounter in our lives -- just to our husbands.

15 May, 2006 23:36  
Blogger Xrysostom said...

Quote: We are not asked to submit to all men whom we encounter in our lives — just to our husbands.

Truly, men are not allowed usurp control over all the women in their lives. At the same time, especially in matters spiritual, Scripture clearly places headship (including the pastorate) upon men. However, Christ's pastors should truly seek to emulate His love for the Bride in their relationships with their individual congregations.

15 May, 2006 23:44  
Blogger Genevieve said...

I think she was referring to the men who are her peers at work, for example. She did not think she was instructed by the Scriptures to be in submission to them simply because she was the woman. (Nor do I think so.)

As I read it, submission is a sacrifice that a woman makes to her husband, and yes, to male Christian leaders whom God has raised up, to promote and sustain Christian harmony -- and it is concurrent with the husband and church leaders acting in selfless love and not abusing their power.

I don't think any Christian should ever give up the ability to discern and simply submit to everything they're told without another thought of their own. That is how people get sucked into abusive situations and cults.

16 May, 2006 18:16  
Blogger Kelly Klages said...

I don't think that anyone at all would say that a Christian should give up the ability to discern and thoughtlessly submit to anything they're told. Nor do I think that was even slightly hinted at here. I think that the rankling with the concept of submission goes hand-in-hand with the notion of power, and fear of abuse. But husbands and pastors aren't described in those terms-- they're described in terms of authority, but also of servanthood. As was posted originally, all Christians are to submit to one another in love, not engage in endless power struggles. A person can have conviction and also be meek.

17 May, 2006 02:05  
Blogger Favorite Apron said...

Really, I welcome this submission because it takes a load off me. Taking such a role keeps me off too many church commitees and from other things I'd really rather not do anyway. Whether it's parenting decisions or too many commitments, my burden becomes our burden. And when you look at it that way, it's really a mirror of Christ and his bride, The Church.

22 May, 2006 17:14  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ladies, if you actually believe you have to "submit" to your husband, your brainwashed. And guys who actually think this is true, well....your disgusting.

04 March, 2007 19:09  
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04 March, 2008 00:43  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TWENTY YEARS AGO I WAS THE CLASSIC EXAMPLE OF A WOMAN WHO WOULD HAVE NEVER VOWED TO SUBMIT NOR OBEY, NOR WOULD I HAVE DEMONSTRATED THOSE INTENTIONS TOWARD ANY MAN, BUT NOW AT FORTY-SIX I FIND IT'S A NEW DAY AND A NEW LEVEL OF UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE'S TEACHINGS ON SUBMISSION AND JUST HOW CHRIST INTENDED FOR MARRIAGES TO FUNCTION. I WOULD HAVE NO PROBLEM VOWING TO OBEY AND SUBMIT TO THE MAN I LOVE TODAY AND WHEN WE MARRY I WILL HUMBLY AND SINCERELY GIVE THE VOWS TO HIME AND TO GOD AND MEAN THEM WHOLEHEARTEDLY. IT'S ABOUT FINDING YOURSELF AND UNDERSTANDING GOD'S WISHES AND PERFECT DESIGN FOR US TO HAVE A JOYOUS AND ORDERLY LIFE AS HUSBAND AND WIFE. GOD KNOWS WHAT SUSTAINS ORDER AND AS HIS CHILDREN WE SHOULD KNOW HE NEVER WOULD CREATE ANYTHING THAT WOULD HURT OR DEMEAN OR DESTROY US. IT IS MAN WHO HAS TWISTED AND PERVERTED THE GIFT AND THE BLUEPRINT BY WHICH HE GAVE US TO LIVE THE BEST POSSIBLE LIVES. GIVING YOURSELF TOTALLY IN LOVE TO GOD AND TO YOUR SPOUSE IS THE ULTIMATE GIFT.

22 May, 2011 11:14  

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