Have you ever been told or heard that husbands are to love their wives and that wives are to submit to their husbands? After hearing this were you left feeling confused or taken aback by this command? Well, you’re not alone.
When Zach and I were getting married, we chose to go through premarital counseling in preparation for our marriage. Each week our pastor led us through a variety of topics and conversations revolving around marriage and setting a biblical foundation for marriage, but no topic challenged me more than the core command of marriage: that wives are to submit to their husbands and that husbands are to love their wives.
It’s not that I hadn’t heard that wives were called to submit and that husbands were meant to love, it’s that when I had heard it over the years, it didn’t apply to me in my stage of life so I never thought too much about it.
But now, confronted with our impending marriage, I was once again taught this command from Ephesians 5 and I was surprised to find how much I struggled with it. With the guidance of my pastor and soon-to-be husband, Zach, we began to dive in and gain a deeper biblical understanding of the roles of a husband and wife.
To lay the foundation of this conversation, I want to include the biblical reference of Ephesians 5:22-33 which states:
‘Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.’
With our marriage just around the corner, for the first time Zach and I had a whole new context around Ephesians 5 and its meaning. We wanted to truly understand what it meant for a wife to submit to her husband and for a husband to love his wife. Through conversation and prayer, we discovered a few different things about ourselves such as preconceived notions and ideas of marriage as well as what God’s design was for marriage.
From my perspective when we were going through our premarital counseling, I was surprised to learn this about myself: that I thought the idea of submission was oppressive and antiquated. That’s when I was corrected on the definition of submission.
Submission means to subject or subordinate yourself; willingness to place yourself under another person; voluntarily yielding yourself to another person. It’s a yielding out of reverence and respect for that individual, therefore it’s not forceful or demanding and definitely not oppressive and antiquated.
Once I realized that this is the correct definition of submission, the purpose of marriage was put into a whole new understanding and light: that marriage is in fact a reflection of Christ and the church.
Marriage is a representation of a relationship between Christ and the church.
So, just as Christ leads and loves the church and the church submits to and respects Christ, husbands are called to love and lead their wives and wives are called to submit to and respect their husbands. God’s design for marriage is to be a physical and earthly representation of Christ and the church.
So, for me to think that submission is oppressive and antiquated, I am not honoring God’s design and desire for marriage. Submission is instead respect and reverence for leadership, so just as the church respects and reveres Christ, I am to do the same for my husband. In addition, if marriage is a representation of Christ and the church, than it is also the most sanctifying earthly relationship.
Each day of marriage you are being called and pushed more and more into Christ’s likeness which in turn gives God glory and honor.
From a husband’s standpoint, loving and leading your wife is more in-depth than it initially appears. Loving and leading your wife is pushing her towards God, it’s modeling your walk with God to her, it’s inquiring how her heart it and how her time with the Lord is — a genuine nourishing and protecting of her that stems from a selfless love. Love is not a singular moment in time; it’s multi-faceted and deep, a continual and ongoing pursuit — a love that is a representation of Christ and the church.
When entering into marriage, the husband takes on the role and responsibility to love and lead their wife, but only by the grace and direction of God and the example that He has portrayed through Jesus Christ and the church.
As a wife, I am called to affirm and respect my husband’s leadership, which in return helps him feel encouraged and empowered to take on this role and responsibility. By my submission, Zach can more fully and confidently lead and love me well just as Christ would. It’s important to remember that a husband is first and foremost submitting to Christ’s leadership, and Christ is speaking through the husband to lead the wife well. Jesus is the perfect example of a trustworthy and faithful leader — He is the model that husbands are to follow.
Considering that husbands are to love as Christ loved the church, you must then also consider that that is the most selfless and sacrificial love ever exemplified. Jesus humbled Himself and laid down His very life for the church, as a result, husbands are in return called to love their wives in the same way.
The Marriage Role Cycle:
- If the wife is loved and lead well, she will in return feel affirmed and secure, which in return allows her to give the husband respect which makes him feel affirmed and encouraged. So, the more a wife submits to her husband, the better he can love and lead. Win-win!
- On the other hand, if the wife is not submitting to her husband, that causes him to feel disrespected, like a fraud, or have lack of confidence. And if the husband feels disrespected, he won’t be able to love and lead well, causing the wife to feel unloved and insecure. This is a toxic cycle!
A man would rather feel respected than loved and a woman would rather feel loved than respected.
If you’re hearing this for the first time, you might be like what?! But actually, it makes sense: a man equates respect to love. If you’re respecting your husband, than he assumes you love him. If a woman is loved, she equates that to being respected in the marriage and that her opinions and decisions matter.
Wanna know something amazing? God knew that! He never called wives to love their husbands and for husbands to respect their wives. He called wives to respect their husbands and for husbands to love their wives. He knew that women needed love and that husbands needed respect (refer back to Ephesians 5).
So at this point, you might be asking: what does this look like practically in my marriage?
Respecting Your Husband:
- Respect Him Through Judgement: assuming that he always has his wife’s best interest at heart and always assuming the best of him. If there is a situation or decision in your life that is not a make-it-or-break-it, defer to the husband and let him make the call. By deferring to his judgment, the wife is submitting to him, and that empowers him to be a good leader and take steps to love his wife well.
- Respect him through Communication, both privately and publicly: make sure the husbands feels affirmed and is not being torn down in conversation. Be careful to not undermine his confidence. In private, once again, always assume the best and don’t jump to conclusions. Also, first affirm him and build him up and when talking make sure you aren’t being rude or condescending through your words or tone of voice. Be intentional with the phrasing of your questions or statements. Publicly, when with friends or co-workers (his or yours), always make sure you are respectful in what you say about him — you don’t want to undermine anything in the relationship. Don’t make fun or poke fun at him, make him feel dumb, or bring up a potentially embarrassing moment.
Loving Your Wife:
- Love Her Through Affirmation: women have a deeply rooted insecurity: ‘would my husband choose me all over again?’ You might be thinking, of course I would, I married her! But marriage isn’t this closed deal for women. They need a constant reminder and affirmation that you love them as much as the day you said ‘I do’.* You can affirm her of your love by continually pursuing her, nourishing her, and caring for her just as much as you did when dating. Need someplace to start? Learn her love language! Click here to read alllll about The Importance in Knowing Your Spouses Love Language and the benefit of it in your marriage.
- Approach Her in an Understanding Way: her emotions, reactions, and words are not random. Women are meant to be loved and understood. Your wife deeply desires for you to fully know her, but she doesn’t always know how to communicate that so instead you see tears, hear the ‘I’m fine’ response, or notice the withdrawal. However, these responses are all a visible sign of an invisible need of your wife: pursue me and know me more!* Your wife has a reason behind every. single. reaction. but she wants you to pursue her for understanding. When you begin to see your wife as Christ sees the church, you realize that you are called to nurture and guide her, as well as grow in understanding of her. Don’t be afraid to approach her and coax her to open up with you — I can bet you she really wants to be vulnerable with you, and the more vulnerable she is, the better opportunity for you to pour into her and lead her back to Christ.
Now, I do want to be sensitive to and understanding that sometimes the wife is hard to love and the husband may not seem deemed worthy of respect. If you are in a marriage like that or know someone who has a marriage like that, here is practical application for you:
As a husband, give her your best energy and your best time. God gives you the grace and capacity to spend your life for your wife to lead her towards spiritual maturity. Your leadership and sanctifying love will change your wife. Continue to model your walk with God and encourage her through prayer and conversation.
As a wife, continue to respect him, even when it is difficult. There is not a situation that will arise in which disrespect is ever the correct response. By continuing to defer to him in judgement and communication, the husband will be sanctified by the conduct of his wife.
I do want to mention the extent of submission and love, which is that as a wife or husband, you are called to submit to no one or love no one above God. Wives, first and foremost you submit to and obey God. Husbands, first and foremost you love and obey God.
If there is a situation that arises in which the husband is leading the wife in an unbiblical manner or leading the wife into sin, this is not a time to follow the husband blindly. The wife can respectfully disagree and have a respectful disposition. And by declining, that will hopefully and prayerfully change the heart of the husband.
If there is a situation that arises in which the wife asking the husband to love her in an unbiblical way or that would cause the husband to sin, this is not a time to love the wife blindly. The husband can gently disagree and have a loving, but gentle disposition. And by declining, that too will hopeful and prayerfully change the heart of the wife.
* These concepts are credited to the writings and teachings of Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn and their book, For Men Only. We highly recommend this book to all dating, engaged, and married couples.