Submit. That word brings up images of a weak person following the rules of a leader, trying to stay out of the way, without a voice, merely a doormat. The dictionary defines the word submit as “accept or yield to a superior force or to the authority or will of another person; give in, back down, cave in”.
Is that what being a wife is all about? Is that what God intended when He created Eve for Adam, or when He described the Church (after all, isn’t the Church Jesus’ bride)?
No, absolutely not.
But we get all bent out of shape when we hear this term...this biblical term...that wives are supposed to submit to their husbands and that their place in the relationship is a helper.
Because we don't know what it means!
Today, when we use the word submit in our culture, it does mean those seemingly negative words that we denote as inferior, secondary, less than, a servant.
And helper isn’t any better! What is a helper? It’s an assistant, one who is there to serve someone else.
Why would a wife want to merely be a helper? Aren’t we qualified and gifted to do much more with our lives then simply assisting and submitting to our husbands?
Yes, of course we are! And that’s where true understanding of these words makes all the difference.
You see, in the Bible God creates Eve out of Adam’s rib. It’s significant because a rib is the side of the body. It’s not the head, showing that Eve should be head over the man, and it’s not the feet, showing that Eve should be lower than the man. It’s the side. Equal.
But how can they be equal if Eve is called Adam’s helper?
God created man and woman equal, but different.
Equal in the sight of God. Both created in His image. Just as a man and a woman are different in their physical appearances, so a man and a woman were created to have different roles. Neither inferior or better. Different.
The truth about the biblical helper
In our culture, a helper isn’t some glorious position. It’s not a career path that we are eager to pursue. I tell my toddler and preschoolers that they are “mommy’s big helper” when I want them to participate in a task that isn’t necessarily fun and exciting. But God didn’t create Eve for Adam to help with tedious tasks that he just didn’t want to do. No. God’s design for Eve, for all wives, is much more glamorous than that.
Helper is a title of worth. Did you know that other times the word “helper” is used in the Bible, it is God referring to Himself?
Psalm 115:9-11 says:
“O Israel, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.
O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.
You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.”
And Psalm 54:4 says “Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life”
God certainly isn’t subservient to humans, nor is he considered passive or weak. The biblical helper means strength, competence, honor.
When God gives Eve the role of helper, He is giving her a place of honor and filling her life with worth.
A woman is to be a man’s helper and completer in marriage. It is not a trivial or demeaning task. It is of the utmost importance. John Piper says it quite nicely:
“Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts”.
God has given important and crucial roles for the husband and the wife. But those roles are different. A man has been given the responsibility of leadership, of loving and guiding his wife and his children, providing for their needs, protecting them, and serving them.
A woman has been given the responsibility to respect and support her husband, empowering her family to be all that God intended them to be, serving her family, and teaching and training her children.
As a wife we have power over our husbands. We have the power to build him up, enabling him to become the man that God intended for him to be; confident, courageous, filled with purpose and excitement for life. Or we have the power to deflate him and see him become discouraged, beat down and lacking ambition and drive.
Our purpose is greater than we can imagine. God has designed us uniquely to fit our husbands perfectly. It is with our gifting and our encouragement that we can help our husbands fulfill the plans the Lord has for him. For us.
Ladies, we have been given a title and a position of honor and worth. How do you think Jesus views His bride? My guess is with absolute adoration, wanting the very best for her, cherishing her and honoring her. Giving his very life for her.
When husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loves the Church...this is that image. When wives are told to submit to their husbands, it isn’t because we are less than, it isn’t because our voices don’t matter, and it’s not because we are merely doormats to be stepped on and ruled over.
It’s because God has uniquely gifted us to be our husbands biggest advocate, encouraging him to be the best version of himself that he can possibly be, and helping him achieve all that God has laid before him.
But let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture. This verse about wives submitting to their husbands gets a lot of attention. But what about the verse before it? Ephesians 5:21 says to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”. Submit to one another. It is mutual submission. What does that mean? How can two people be mutually submissive to one another?
Again, the term submission does not mean absolute and blind obedience. It is to willingly place yourself second to your spouse, to honor their advice and opinions and desires.
The amazing thing about choosing to submit to and serve your spouse is that it tends to be reciprocal. I wrote about this in my previous post on how to serve your husband. How we treat people usually stirs in them the same response. When I choose to serve my husband, doing kind things for him and speaking to him respectfully, it makes him want to be that person for me. When I act like Christ to my husband, he wants to act like Christ towards me.
Even so, we mess this whole concept up all the time. I think people say this is an archaic idea because it puts self second. And today in our culture we are very much about self preservation. If it doesn’t fulfill our own personal desires, if it doesn’t put our needs before others, we don’t want to take part.
Matt Chandler, in his sermon ‘What is Marriage?’ said it so clearly: “We live in a day and age where the rights of the individual are ultimate. What you want is what you must have, and ultimate freedom and happiness can only be found in your individual desires being fulfilled.” This is devastating. Especially in marriage. It means that our covenant before God and people to stick together NO MATTER WHAT was basically a lie. This is not to be harsh or unloving. It’s simply the truth. And sometimes the truth is difficult to hear.
It’s easy to throw in the towel when we feel that our individual rights have been violated. It’s difficult to try and stick with a person that is flawed and sinful and just as selfish as we are. Marriage isn’t easy. Nobody said it would be sunshine and rainbows and days full of happily ever after. But it IS worth it. The struggle is worth it. The vow you made to stay together for better or worse is worth it.
If you’re in deep marital trouble, seek help. Sometimes outside counsel can be the best option for getting two hurt people back on the right track. Seek professional Christian counsel. This is right and it’s good.
Sometimes all we need is to change our understanding. God created you for your spouse and vice versa. How will you step up to the task that God has laid before you? Don’t worry about how your spouse is measuring up. Let the Holy Spirit be the holy spirit. It’s not your job to change your husband's heart or understanding. That’s God’s job.
But also, remember what 1 Peter 3 says! A husband can be won over by his wife's behavior! How powerful our actions are! Like I said earlier, this type of behavior tends to be reciprocal. If you don’t believe, test it out!
Practical ways to be a submissive and respectful wife:
- Talk respectfully to him and about him in the presence of others
Don’t criticize him
Make it a priority to not put your husband down, even when just chatting with your girlfriends
Teach your children to respect him
Give him helpful suggestions, not sarcastic or demeaning putdowns
Keep him in the loop in matters of the home and the children
Take the time to really listen to him
Take a 30 day challenge- where you choose to not say anything negative or critical to your husband or about him. Rather, when you have something to say that isn’t uplifting or encouraging, choose to not say anything at all. It can be difficult at first, but over time we can build a healthy habit of not being critical, but of showing love and respect (even in disagreement).
*Let me also say that I'm talking specifically about a woman's role as a wife. I'm not stating that our only place is serving and submitting to our husbands. Obviously as women we have various roles and we wear many different hats. Wives are not merely wives, but can and do hold various other positions and titles. This post is specifically about the woman's role as a wife.