What Submission is Not

What Submission is not: The Doormat, The Boss, and The Manipulator

A Wives Only Wednesday post

 

In my Wives Only Wednesday post last week, Wives: Strong and Submissive, I explained how strength goes hand in hand with biblical submission. True biblical submission has nothing to do with weakness or subjugation, as it is so often wrongly characterized. In fact, submission actually requires strength.

Submission Misconstrued

Unfortunately, there is a pretty strong cultural push back against God’s design for marriage, and I find it is mainly due to a lack of understanding of what God’s heart really is on this subject.

What does it mean for you to respect and support your husband’s Christlike “headship” with the gift of your submission? It means that your submission to your husband should be a direct corollary of your submission to Christ. Paul describes in Ephesians 5 how God designed marriage to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church, represented by the Bride-like characteristics in the chart below.

Weak & Unsubmissive

I don’t usually like describing something in the negative, but today I want to introduce you to the three wives represented by the other quadrants: labeled above as the Doormat, the Boss and the Manipulator.

The Doormat

This is probably the wife I hear described most often when people protest the notion of submission. “I’m not going to be a doormat for anyone!” The good news is you aren’t supposed to be!

This wife makes the mistake of equating submission with weakness. She is often filled with self-doubt and insecurity. She thinks her opinions don’t matter and that her needs are unimportant, even as the resentment over her presumed “less than” status builds. She thinks she has no voice.

The Doormat can be withdrawn from the relationship with her husband, mistaking passivity for humility. She feels uncertain of her identity in Christ, as co-heir with her husband of the full inheritance that is hers by virtue of her faith in Jesus.

[There are also plenty of “dictator” husbands who treat their wives in this way.  It’s important to realize that Paul never instructs husbands to make their wives submit, but rather to love their wives in a Christlike manner.]

The Boss

This is the wife who feels she must lay submission aside in order to show herself strong and to prove herself capable.

This wife tends to be disrespectful to her husband, her words and tone letting him know of her frequent disapproval. She will put him down to friends and family and broadcast his mistakes in order to “keep him in his place.” She thinks that in order to avoid subjugation she must push for her own way. Her self-interest is front and center of most decisions, and she is easily offended.

The Boss frequently contends for power, thinking that to do otherwise shows her to be weak.

The Manipulator

This wife is neither submissive nor strong, sharing some of the characteristics of both the Boss and the Doormat.

The Manipulator comes across as uncaring toward her husband, from her expressions of disrespect to her self-protective withdrawal from him. She is fearful, distrustful and resentful of any expression of leadership on his part.

She lacks the emotional strength and the integrity to deal with her husband forthrightly. She plays games to get her way. She may try to hide her emotions, but they will eventually bubble up into an outburst of some kind.


To make the point clear, I’ve described the behaviors of these wives in pretty strong terms. Chances are, none of these describes you exactly, but beware of the characteristics they portray. Be vigilant against the mindset that equates submission with weakness. And be vigilant against the world’s prevailing sentiment against submission in any form.

Pursue strength and submission with equal vigor. Glean from your relationship with Jesus the kinds of attitudes and attributes that should attend biblical submission. If you are watchful, you will see lots of parallels between your spiritual walk and your marriage. They are everywhere.

Grace Abounds

To a greater or lesser degree, you are going to fail to be the wife you want to be.

There is good news for those who mess up in their quest to walk out a biblical marriage. It’s called grace!  God is for you and for your marriage. His desire is to see you and your marriage thrive. Pray for the wisdom to love and serve your husband well. Pray for your husband to walk in his full identity as leader and lover. Know that God’s love and approval of you don’t change, even when you slip into weak or unsubmissive actions or attitudes.

God’s grace and love abound, and nothing you do or fail to do can change that. 


A note to any husbands reading this post. The post is intended for your wife. While you can encourage your wife to be strong, it is not your responsibility to make her submit. Work on your end of the marriage partnership, to love and serve your wife as Christ loves the church, giving himself up for her.  Loving your wife well will draw out both her submission and her strength.

Read my corresponding posts for husbands

 

Wives: Strong and Submissive

Submission and strength go hand in hand.

A Wives Only Wednesday Post

 

On Monday I wrote a post for husbands on the way the Bible describes their role in marriage.   In “Strong and Good” I explained how the model for biblical headship is Jesus. Today, I’m addressing wives on their role.

I’ll give you the same two cautions I gave husbands in their post. When it comes to Paul’s instructions on marriage in Ephesians 5:

  1. You should only read the instructions that pertain to your role.
  2. The only valid model for interpreting these instructions is Christ, our Bridegroom, and the church, His bride.

The S Word

Most of you have probably at least heard that there is something about wives and submission in the Bible. Some of you may even know the verses by heart.

Wives, submit to your husbands as 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.

Ephesians 5:22-24 (NIV)

Some may choose to ignore these verses or pass them off as out of date for our modern world.  But my belief is that if it’s in the Bible, especially if it’s in the New Testament, it’s probably something God cares about and something we should try to understand and apply.

Seeking Understanding

Most of those who have a problem with biblical submission have wrong ideas of what it actually is. What is needed is a clear understanding of the Bible’s perspective. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of explanation in the scriptures about submission, so people seek out understanding from a lot of different sources. For example:

  • Feminism – says women don’t need men in the first place and calling a wife to submission is like calling her to a life of slavery.
  • The culture at large – says 50/50 is the best way to run a marriage. Equality is the goal. Submission is unfair.
  • Wrong paradigms – use models like captain/first mate, pilot/co-pilot, CEO/VP, etc.

None of these perspectives provide useful insight into God’s design for marriage.

What we should focus on instead is the only clear model of marriage found in the Bible: Christ and the church. Specifically, submission is best understood through the lens of your relationship to Jesus. No, I’m absolutely not saying that husbands are gods or equal to Christ. I’m simply saying that the Bible clearly intends that you should glean lessons for your marriage from the way in which you submit to Christ.

Submission and Strength

Many mistakenly think that, as a wife, you cannot be both strong and submissive. But submission and strength are both essential to your role as a wife; they are not mutually exclusive.

Here is how I frame it up:

Strong & Submissive Bridelike

 

The upper right quadrant, the one labeled “Bride-like,” is what I think the Bible calls you to as a wife: to be both strong and submissive.

Forget the notion that submission means you are to be a slave or a doormat or a so-called “Stepford wife.” No, the bride-like imperative means you are to be empowered by your husband, secure and confident in his love, with a sure sense of God-given identity and purpose. This is how we relate to Jesus. This is how you should relate to your husband.

Don’t confuse submission with silence. You are to have a voice, a strong, clear voice in your marriage. But your strength does not conflict at all with the call for you to honor your husband with your respect, to follow and support him in humility, or to be selfless in giving your husband your love and devotion.

The fact is that true biblical submission requires real strength.

  • It requires you to have the mental strength to do battle with the lies you hear all around you about worldly marriage paradigms that say you must to look out for yourself and stand up for your rights. It can be a real challenge to keep your mind in agreement with the way God wants you to live your marriage.
  • It requires the emotional strength to face your doubts and fears and to trust in your husband’s love. It requires that you work on your self and on becoming the wife God wants you to be rather than trying to change your husband.
  • And it requires the strength of will to let go of your need to control, to follow God’s design for your marriage and to follow your husband’s lead, to partner with him and to lovingly support him, even when he missteps.

Yes, you can and should be both strong and submissive in your marriage. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise. Your submission actually makes you powerful. True submission is a gift you give to your husband. The choice is wholly yours, because submission that is demanded or coerced isn’t biblical submission at all.

In your marriage, do you struggle with submission or with being strong? Share your story, leave a comment.

Be sure to come back next week when I explain “What Submission is Not.”


You might want to check out what some other wives have to say about what submission means to them:

You can also read my post “Respect, Submission and Trust” or Part 6 of What I Believe About Marriage, “Love, Respect, and Submission

What Does Love Look Like?

 

Discover the love found within the Bridal Paradigm

 

Love Like ThatThe Bridal Paradigm, where Jesus and the church are our model for marriage, offers us a beautiful picture of God’s heart for marriage, and it holds the promise of power to transform your relationship with your spouse.

That’s a pretty big promise. But it’s a promise I believe God is eager to deliver on, if we will endeavor to take hold of it.

Love Lives In You

Paul begins his instructions on marriage in Ephesians 5 with this preface.

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

Ephesians 5:1-2 (MSG)

The amazing truth is, as I said in my recent post, Unstoppable Love , love “like that” is not some ideal – out there and yet to be attained. It’s a living love that actually indwells you, because Jesus indwells you.You just need to discover it for yourself and then let it out on your spouse.

A lot of people get all knotted up over what the Bible says about roles of husbands and wives in marriage. I believe that most of it would dissolve away if we would simply focus on the love that is the foundation of the Bridal Paradigm

His Role Looks Like Christ

What wife would not want to be loved by her husband like this?

  • He loves his wife unselfishly, not using his position to control her or to push her into conformance, but to bless her.
  • He may never be required to literally lay down my life for her, but he must be willing to sacrifice himself (physically, emotionally, financially, etc) for what is in her best.
  • He will pursue her relentlessly and fiercely with his love, understanding what pursuit means to her.
  • He cherishes her by surrounding her with care and concern for her well-being – clearly demonstrating that he is for her.
  • He is consistent in speaking the truth of the Word over her in a way that encourages and edifies her and reminds her who God says she is.
  • He provides for her faithfully – which means applying himself diligently, but not to the extent that he neglects her need for time and attention.
  • He will do all in his power to establish and maintain a deep connection with her and protect the intimacy of the relationship. Staying connected is more important than being right or asserting his rights.
  • He beautifies his bride, as Jesus does, seeing her the way God sees her, perfect and beautiful, through the eyes of grace.
  • Above all, he partners with Christ, encouraging her to walk in the fullness of her true identity, toward the goal of fulfilling the destiny God has for her life.

Her Role Looks Like the Church

Before giving you some practical implications for a wife looking like the church, let me preface it by saying that we are all being transformed into the image of Jesus. So in a very real sense, wives are to also emulate Christ.

In light of the Christ-like love bestowed upon her, a wife returns his love in this way:

  • She believes in and trusts him.
  • She offers her full surrender, to hold nothing back from him, bringing the fullness of her genuine self to the marriage.
  • She best honors and enables his leadership by willingly remaining under his covering and protection.
  • She honors and respects him by listening to him and knowing his heart, giving importance to things that are important to him.
  • She knows that his desire is for her and believes that his intentions toward her are always be good.
  • She can come to him with anything and trusts that he will respond with love and grace.
  • She puts him first, above all other relationships.
  • She comes to him, fully unashamed, taking him as her only intimate lover.

Clarifications and Limitations

Of course, in comparing Christ and the church to the marriage relationship, Paul was not implying that husbands are in any way superior nor wives in any way inferior. Husbands are certainly not diety and have imperfections we will never find in Christ.

However, the truth is that the closer a husband comes to emulating Christ, the easier it will be for his wife to emulate the church.

 

Surrender, Respect, Submission and Trust

Understanding what the Bible says about these touchy words can help move you from a knee-jerk reaction to a godly response. 

A Wives Only Wednesday post

WIfe's Gifts

Words inherently carry with them the baggage we have gained over our personal history, providing us with innate emotional responses. Today I’d like us to examine some emotion-triggering words to see if we can find biblical insights that might calm our emotions.

Surrender

I use the term surrender, which applies equally to husbands and wives, to convey the paradigm shift of turning from self-focused living to a life focused on your spouse. It means bringing the fullness of who you are into your marriage partnership and choosing to focus yourself and abilities to bless your spouse and your marriage. A wife’s surrender takes the form of submission to her husband; a husband’s surrender takes the form of sacrificial, servant-hearted leadership.

Surrender comes from two old French words “sur,” which means over and above, and “render.” which means to give over. Putting them together in the marriage context, it means to go over and above in giving to your spouse, especially in giving yourself over.

Respect

The Apostle Paul ends his instructions on marriage in Ephesians 5 with this summary:

However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Though he begins this text with instructions to wives on submission, he ends with the need for them to respect their husband. But are these really the same thing? Let’s look more closely.

Strong’s defines the Greek word Phobeo, in this context, as “to reverence or treat with deference.” Some dictionary definitions I’d like to include here are: holding in honor or esteem, to pay proper attention, and to show consideration for.

I have mentioned before the survey results that clearly show the highest stated need for husbands is the need to feel respected, in contrast to wives’ highest need, which is for love and affection. Interestingly, these are the very two things that Paul includes in his summary, quoted above.

Submission

In contrast, Strong’s defines the Greek word for submission, hupotasso, as “to arrange one’s self under,” and “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.”

So what’s the difference between submission and respect? The way I see it, respect is the attitude and submission is the action that flows out of the attitude.

Emmerson Eggerichs, in his book “Love and Respect,” makes a pretty strong case that a wife’s respect should be unconditional in the same manner that a husband’s love should be unconditional. By this, he does not mean unconditional admiration, agreement or approval. What I think he is getting at is the idea that if respect and honor is not the primary expression of your unconditional love for your husband, he will not feel loved. Again, this doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with or approve of his actions. It means you approach him with respect out of reverence for that fact that he is your husband. See the difference?

At the same time I also believe that without respect, marital submission is really hard. A husband who requires grace from his wife in order for her to act with respect toward him will make her job of submission much more difficult. So although I tend to agree with Eggerich’s call for unconditional respect, a husband who works to earn that respect will add grace to his wife rather than require it from her, and in so doing further enable her to walk in submission to him.

Trust

Submission is the act of preferring another above your self – a strongly biblical principle. In the marital context, it means a wife yields her self in deference to her husband. Respect is the attitude that enables such submission.

Trust, on the other hand, is a separate dimension of the marital equation.

While there is no biblical reference that I have found that directly calls for a wife to trust her husband (or vice-versa), trust should be a central principle of any marriage that strives to be a reflection of the love relationship between Jesus and his bride, the church (what I call a “bridal paradigm” marriage).

Whereas respect should be shown without condition, and submission should be the default position in most cases, trust must be earned by a husband.

Trust grows out of consistent demonstration by a husband that he desires the best for his wife and their marriage and that his intention is to cherish and nurture her and help her to be all God intends her to be. He must earn her trust through the demonstration of caring and godly leadership, through consistent attention to her needs and desires, and through the fair exercise of his authority.

By earning his wife’s trust, a husband can propel her past the issues of respect and submission and into the joyous place where she willingly joins herself to her husband, where two truly become one.

When husband and wife are living as one, then when either person wins, the other wins by definition.

What do you think of my definitions? Do you buy into Eggerich’s idea of unconditional respect? Does the establishment of a deep level of trust help lessen the issues of respect and submission?

See also: Love, Respect, and Submission from my “What I Believe About Marriage” series