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Practicing Headship and Submission

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    Marriage counselors often point to "role conflicts" as a major cause for the breaking up of marriages. Some men insist that the Bible makes them responsible to God for the family. They are boss. Some women believe this is true and try for years to submit to a weak man or a tyrant. But there comes a day, when the woman revolts either by having a nervous breakdown, or by leaving him.

   "Practicing Headship and Submission"
   Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D.,
   Retired Professor of Theology and Church History,
   Andrews University
   Samuele Bacchiocchi: Other writings
   Editorial Comment
   Our study of the first three chapters of Genesis presented in the newsletter no. 176, has shown that the principle of male headship and female submission was established by God at creation, and not after the Fall. In this newsletter we shall reflect on the practical implications and applications of the Biblical principle of headship/submission. Specifically, we shall consider what it means from a practical standpoint for the husband to practice headship and for the wife to practice submission. I look forward to receive your comments.
   The stability of the marriage covenant depends largely upon the way the husband and the wife fulfill their respective roles. Marriage counselors often point to "role conflicts" as a major cause for the breaking up of marriages. "Those of us who do marriage counseling," writes Paul Stevens, "realize that many marriages are struggling desperately at just this point. Some men insist that the Bible makes them responsible to God for the family. They are boss. Some women believe this is true and try for years to submit to a weak man or a tyrant. But there comes a day, almost inevitably, when the woman revolts. She may revolt by having a nervous breakdown, by getting a plane ticket and flying away, or by leaving him for another man."
   At the root of much of the role conflicts within marital relationships, are the different interpretations and applications of the Biblical teaching on husband-headship and wife-submission. The very mention of the terms "headship/submission" is anathema for many who during the last three decades have made the quantum leap from "Adam's rib to women's lib."
   In the face of the "role confusion" existing in our society, it is not difficult to realize why Christian couples are also confused about their roles and often seek greater self-fulfillment by assuming different roles. To resist the societal trend bent on eliminating or reversing roles within marriage, it is imperative for Christian spouses and young people planning for marriage, to study what God has to say in the Scripture regarding the proper roles for the husband and the wife. The Biblical view of marital roles, as we have seen in newsletter 176, derives not from ancient patriarchal culture but from the order established by God at creation. The acceptance of such a view provides the only solid foundation for a marriage covenant.
   Objectives of this Bible Study. This essay examines the meaning and applications of the Biblical principle of husband-headship and wife-submission. The study is divided into two parts. The first part considers the major New Testament passages concerning the roles of husband and wife. An attempt will be made to interpret the Biblical meaning of "headship" and "submission." The second part examines the practical implications and applications of the Biblical principle of headship/submission. Specifically, we shall consider what it means from a practical standpoint for the husband to practice headship and for the wife to practice submission to a caring husband.
   This Bible Study is excerpted from chapter 5 of my book The Marriage Covenant. For the sake of brevity, I have left out much valuable material. If you wish to read the whole chapter or the whole book, we will gladly mail you a copy. Many couples have written saying that this book has strengthen and in some cases saved their marriage. You can order the book online by clicking at this link: If you have a problem, feel free to call us at (269) 471-2915



   The major NT passage affirming the principle of husband-headship and wife-submission, is found in Ephesians 5:21-33. The passage begins with the admonition "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (v. 21). This admonition is followed immediately by Paul's exhortation to wives: "Wives, be subject 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 and is himself its Savior" (vv. 22-23).
   In what sense are wives to be subject or submissive to their husbands? There are different kinds of submission and for different motivations. There is the calculating kind of submission designed to achieve the fulfillment of secret desires through the practice of "feminine wiles." There is the submission of conciliation, which is accepted for the sake of peace. There is the submission of resignation to bitter necessity. There is the submission to the superior wisdom of another person.
   Submission for the Sake of Christ
   Paul rejects the worldly patterns of submission, substituting for them a new definition: "as to the Lord." This does not mean that a wife's submission to her husband must have the same unconditional ultimacy of her commitment to Christ. This would be an idolatrous form of submission. The phrase suggests two possible meanings. First, the manner of a wife's submission to her husband should be similar in quality to her devotion to the Lord. This meaning is supported by the parallel text, Colossians 3:18, which states: "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord."
   Second, the reason for a wife's submission is "because the Lord wants it." This meaning is suggested by the preceding and following verses. In the preceding verse (v. 21) the reason given for being submissive is "out of reverence for Christ." "Reverence" is a soft translation of the Greek phobos which means "fear." The KJV retains the literal meaning: "in the fear of God."
   In Scripture, the "fear of the Lord" is the response, which produces obedience to His commandments. Thus, submission "in the fear of Christ" means to accept the authority of another (in this case, the husband) out of obedience to Christ who has delegated that authority. This interpretation is supported by the following verse (v. 23), which says, "For the husband is the head of the wife," that is to say, because the Lord has appointed the husband to function as the head. The recognition of this fact leads Paul to conclude his exhortation by urging wives again to fear their husbands: "Let the wife see that she respects [literally "fears"--phobetai] her husband" (Eph 5:33).
   Theological, not Cultural Reasons
   The main point here is that a wife's submission to her husband rests not on cultural but on theological reasons. Wives are asked to submit, not for the sake of social conventions or the superior wisdom of their husbands, but for the sake of Christ. Paul grounds his injunction not on a particular culture, but on the unique relationship of loving mutuality and willing submissiveness existing between Christ and the church.
   Christ has appointed the husband to function as the "head," so that when the wife subordinates herself to him, she is obeying Christ. This does not mean that a wife is to relate to her husband as if he were Christ. Paul's exhortation is "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord," and not "because they are the Lord." Husbands are human beings, but are appointed by the Lord to act as "heads" in the marital relationship. Thus, Paul takes what could be a natural submission and places it within a spiritual order, an order that Christ stands behind.
   The wife's submission to her husband is not based on the husband's superiority or the wife's inferiority but, as we have seen, on the husband's headship role established by God at creation (1 Cor 11:8-9). This order has been established because it affords greater harmony and effectiveness in the marital relationship. The authority to which a wife bows is not so much that of her husband as that of the creational order to which both of them are subject.
   Voluntary Submission
   A wife's submission to her husband is not imposed, but consciously chosen. It is a free, willing and loving submission. It is not subservience, but loving assistance. The voluntary nature of her submission is indicated by two facts: first, by the command to the husband to love his wife rather than to make her obey; second, by the model of the submission of the church to Christ which Paul gives as an example for the wife's submission to her husband. This means that as the church willingly chooses to obey Christ in response to His creative and redeeming love so the wife willingly chooses to obey the husband as a response to his caring and self-sacrificing love. This form of active obedience is not self-demeaning, but self-fulfilling and upbuilding.
   The purpose of this submission is not to suppress the individuality of the wife, but to ensure a deeper and more solid oneness between husband and wife as they function together in the household. Elisabeth Elliot perceptively points out that "To say that submission is synonymous with the stunting of growth, with dullness and colorlessness, spiritlessness, passivity, immaturity, servility, or even the `suicide of personality,' as one feminist who calls herself an evangelical has suggested, is totally to misconstrue the biblical doctrine of authority."
   In the Christian faith, authentic self-realization for men and women is found in the willing submission to the divinely-established roles grounded in creation and clarified by Christ's redemption. This liberating dynamic is exemplified in the life of the Trinity and expressed in the Scriptures.



   The exhortation "Wives, be subject to your husbands" is followed by Paul's admonition to husbands: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Eph 5:25). It is noteworthy that Paul speaks of the headship role of the husband only when exhorting wives and not when addressing the husbands themselves. In other words, the wives are reminded that "the husband is the head of the wife" (Eph 5:23), but that husbands are not exhorted to exercise their headship role by keeping their wives in submission. Instead, Paul chose to confront husbands with the headship model of Christ's sacrificial love (Eph 5:25-27).
   Paul's approach reveals his sensitivity to human abuse of power. He was aware of some men's over-concern with asserting their authority. Consequently, he chose to emphasize not the husband's right to be the head over the wife, but rather his obligation to exercise his headship through care for his wife. Paul acknowledges the headship role of the husband in the marital relationship as an indisputable principle: "the husband is the head of the wife" (Eph 5:23). There was no need to restate this principle when addressing the husbands. What husbands needed to hear was what it means to be the head over their wives.
   Headship Clarified
   Paul clarifies the meaning of headship by calling upon husbands to imitate the sacrificial leadership of Christ Himself: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 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 "(Eph 5:25-27).
   Paul here goes into great detail to explain how Christ exercises His headship role over the church, namely, through the sacrificial giving of Himself for her redemption and restoration. In the same way, the husband's authority is to be expressed in self-giving love for the well-being of his wife. The husband who follows Christ's leadership will exercise his headship, not by forcing his wife into a mold that stifles her initiative, her gifts, her personhood, but rather by encouraging her to develop her mental and spiritual potential.
   Paul further clarifies the meaning of headship by shifting back to the head/body analogy (vv. 28-30). The husband should care for his wife as he does for his own body. This means that a husband must be dedicated to his wife's welfare by providing for all her needs. This kind of loving and sacrificial leadership eliminates all the evils associated with hierarchical marriage and enables the two to "become one flesh" (Eph 5:31).
   Biblical headship is for the sake of building others and not for one's own benefit. Headship means that the husband assumes a responsibility for the family in a way that is different from that of the wife's. The husband serves as the provider and the wife as the home-builder. The two are not superior or inferior but complementary. Each supplements the special gifts and responsibilities of the other.
   Headship and Submission
   The model of Christ's sacrificial love for the church provides a most eloquent example of how headship and submission can be compatible in marital relationships. Christ's headship over the church is not diminished by his self-sacrificing love for her. By the same token, the church's submission to Christ does not diminish the possibilities for her fullest development, but rather enhances them.
   The comparison between the relationship of Christ-the-church and husband-wife points to the ultimacy of the authority structure in marriage. The latter, however, must always mirror the relation of Christ to the church. "It was not the design of God" writes Ellen White, "that the husband should have control, as head of the house when he himself does not submit to Christ. He must be under the rule of Christ that he may represent the relation of Christ to the church." (The Adventist Home, p. 117).
   Neither headship nor submission must crush or distort the possibilities for self-growth or personal fulfillment. Effective leadership in any organization must encourage the fullest development of the abilities of those under authority. This requires that a leader be aware of the concerns of those under him and that the subordinates respect the wishes of the leader. As Christians we need to maintain the delicate balance between the exercise of authority (headship) and the response to authority (submission).
   Reasons for the Rejection of Husband-Headship
   Why are some feminists so offended by the Biblical principle of husband-headship that they even call for the abolition of marriage? "Marriage," states a feminist declaration, "has existed for the benefit of men and has been a legally sanctioned method of control over women . . . the end of the institution of marriage is a necessary condition for the liberation of women."
   At the root of the rejection of husband-headship, there is a gross misunderstanding of its Biblical meaning. In the Bible, husband-headship relates to function not to value. If male headship in the home and in the church meant that man was innately more valuable than woman, then something would be terribly unjust in the Bible. But male headship in the Bible does not mean that women are inferior or of lesser value than men.
   Human worth in the Scripture is determined not by our office or function but by our status before God by virtue of creation and redemption. By virtue of creation, both men and women are equal before God because both have been created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). Similarly, by virtue of redemption, both men and women are equal before God because, as we read in Galatians 3:28, we "are all one in Christ Jesus."
   Irresponsible Male Headship
   A major reason that husband-headship is hotly contested today is that all too often men demand submission from their wives without in turn submitting themselves to the headship of Christ. With complacency, men will quote the Scripture which says "the head of the woman is man" (1 Cor 11:3, NIV) to assert their authority, forgetting the preceding statement which says: "the head of every man is Christ" (1 Cor 11:3). Before a man can serve as an effective head of his wife and children, he must himself submit to the headship of Christ. "Proper headship operates within a clearly defined chain-of-responsibility. If the chain is broken at any link, authority becomes impaired."
   One can hardly blame wives who resent being under the irresponsible headship of husbands who are not accountable to Christ. That is not only unfair but also unchristian. Biblical husband-headship, however, is patterned after the sacrificial headship of Christ over the church, manifested in the sacrificial giving of Himself for her redemption and restoration (Eph 5:25-30).
   Ephesians 5 presents the headship of the husband and the submission of the wife as an order established by God to ensure unity and harmony in the home. Paul defines and defends headship and submission in marriage on a theological and not on a cultural basis. By utilizing the model of Christ and the church, Paul effectively clarifies the meaning of headship and submission in marriage. The purpose of this clarification, however, was not to do away with role distinctions in marriage, but rather to ensure their proper expression in accordance with God's intended purpose.



   To appreciate more fully the validity and value of the Biblical principles of headship and submission, we shall now reflect on the practical implications and applications of such principles in marital relationships.
   Leadership in Love
   We noticed earlier that Paul clarifies the meaning of headship by exhorting husbands not to exercise authority over their wives, but to love them "as Christ loved the church" (Eph 5:25). Putting it differently, Paul exhorts husbands to exercise not a headship of power, control, competence or domination, but a leadership of love. The model is the headship of Christ over the church manifested in His willingness to sacrifice Himself for her sanctification ("that he might sanctify her"--v.26), purification ("having cleansed her"--v.26), and glorification ("that he might present the church to himself in splendor"--v.27).
   This is the way I am to be the head of my wife, by loving her with the sacrificial and unconditional love of Jesus. Jesus so loved the church that He gave up everything for her-- equality with God, heaven's majesty and glory, the right to an earthly family, the understanding and appreciation of his fellows, a fair trial and a humane death. This is a headship of total sacrificial and unconditional love, without rights. As a husband, am I the kind of head who is willing to give up everything for the well-being of my wife and children?
   Christ's love cleanses and improves the church. Through His Spirit, Christ works to "present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle" (Eph 5:27). Jesus loves to make every believer as pure and perfect as He is. "Does my love for my wife wash away her inner wounds and hurts and bring out the best in her character? Do I make it easy or difficult for Jesus to make her radiant and blameless? Jesus does not repress and inhibit my character but enables it to flower and realize its full potential. Is my wife suppressed or enriched through my relationship with her?"
   Should God ask me or you one day, "Did you love your wife unconditionally as I loved you?" What are we going to say? Shall we look for excuses, saying, "Well, Lord, you know that I loved my wife in many areas. I provided for all her material needs and I supported many of her plans and initiatives. But it was difficult to love her completely because she was not always submissive. Sometimes she insisted in doing things her own way, disregarding my feelings or instructions. And remember God, she was not always trustworthy. Sometimes she left me and the kids at home to go out to have fun. How could I love her unconditionally?" The Lord will reply, "I never asked you about your wife's weaknesses. I asked you, Did you love your wife unconditionally as I love you?"
   God knows our spouse's weaknesses as well as our own. Yet He calls us as husbands to exercise a headship of love by loving our wives no matter what their weaknesses might be. He calls us to exercise our headships by being first in forgiving our spouses' mistakes, first in nurturing and building our marital relationship, first in assuming responsibility for the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of our wife and children.
   Exercising a headship of love is not easy. In fact, it is impossible on our own. It can only be done by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. That is why Paul introduces his discussion of the proper relationships between husband and wife, parents and children, and servants and masters by exhorting Christians to "be filled with the Spirit" (Eph 5:18). It is only by the enabling power of His Spirit that a husband can begin to love his wife as Christ loved the church and that a wife can submit herself to her husband as to the Lord.
   Leadership in Service
   The husband-headship of sacrificial love is manifested especially through his willingness to serve his wife and children. This does not mean that he is under the authority of his family members or that he takes orders from them. Rather, it means that he serves his family by giving them a loving, intelligent and sensitive service of leadership.
   Headship in the Scripture presupposes a leadership of service. Christ is the head of the church because He came not to be served by the church, but to serve her (Matt 20:28). There is a radical difference between God's view and the world's view of leadership. "You know," Jesus explained, "that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all" (Mark 10:42-44).
   A husband fulfills the headship of service by leading, encouraging, protecting, providing, and caring for his wife and children. As the wife has a unique role in procreation, so the husband has a unique role in provision and protection. "The Lord," writes Ellen White, "has constituted the husband the head of his wife to be her protector; he is the house-band of the family, binding the members together, even as Christ is the head of the church and the Savior of the mystical body."45 Peter emphasizes this point, saying: "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers" (1 Pet 3:7, NIV).
   The wife is "the weaker partner," not morally, spiritually or intellectually, but physically. The considerate husband will protect her from such heavy tasks as moving furniture, repairing automobiles, transplanting trees, building fences, doing masonry. Sometimes the husband must protect his wife's health by taking over some of her burdens. If the wife works outside the home or if she is not well, the considerate husband will alleviate his wife's burdens by assuming responsibility for some of them.
   Leadership as Management
   An important aspect of the headship of the husband is to provide a caring and competent management to the family. This involves establishing and maintaining directions, setting priorities and delegating responsibilities. In a well-ordered family a husband exercises his headship by delegating and not by abdicating responsibilities. This involves taking into consideration the ideas, the talents and convictions of his wife and children. Wives are expected to "rule their household" (1 Tim 5:14) by properly managing their homes. The wise woman of Proverbs 31 is emotionally and physically able to work creatively and sacrificially.
   "Part of the conflict and confusion which we see in homes today," write Larry and Nordis Christenson, "stems from a too simplistic exercise of headship. To be head of the house means more than a man occupying the captain's quarters and barking out orders. It means learning to shoulder the responsibility for giving informed and intelligent direction to the family."
   "A husband won't have all the good ideas. His wife and children, as well as people from outside the immediate family, may have important things to say about what the family ought to be doing. It is the husband's responsibility to weigh every suggestion, determine what should be done, and see that it happens."
   The husband bears a heavy responsibility of the outcome of his decisions. If the family does not gather for worship or does not attend church, God holds the father responsible. If the children are disobedient and rebellious, the father is primarily to blame. It was Eli and not his wife, who came under God's condemnation for raising two evil sons (1 Sam 3:13).
   A family without the competent and dedicated leadership of a father is like a corporation without a capable president. In both instances the organization disintegrates very quickly. One of the greatest needs of America today is for husbands and fathers who provide to their families not only financial support but also moral and spiritual leadership.
   Leadership as Provider
   An important part of the husband's leadership of service is his responsibility to provide his wife and children with food, clothing, shelter and educational opportunities. This is a sacred obligation placed upon the husband by God. "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tim 5:8, NIV).
   Providing only a living, however, is not enough. A common misconception husbands have goes something like this: "I work hard to provide my wife and children for all their needs. What more could they ask of me?" Or, "My wife has no reasons to complain because she has much more than most women have."
   Providing a living for our wives and children is not a valid substitute for sharing our personal lives with them. Our wives marry us, not our paychecks. What many wives miss most is not the paycheck, but the personal attention, presence, and fellowship of their husbands. They wait to be noticed, appreciated, and given time. It is the feeling of being neglected that often will tempt a wife to look for another man willing to give her time and attention.
   Peter's counsel to husbands is clear: "Be considerate as you live with your wives" (1 Pet 3:7). The Greek verb translated "live" (sunoikountes), literally means "being at home with." Just "being at home with" the wife instead of going out with friends, however, is not enough. A husband may be home and yet ignore his wife by being totally absorbed in reading the newspaper or watching a game on television. As the head of his home, a husband must learn to exercise leadership in self-sharing. He must learn to set aside a block of time each day to give undivided attention to his wife and children. The benefits that will accrue from such a practice are beyond estimation.
   Leadership in Discipline and Instruction
   As the head of the home, the husband must take responsibility for the moral and spiritual development of his family. In the Old Testament, God instructs fathers to be diligent in teaching His commandments to their children: "These words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise" (Deut 4:7). A similar exhortation is given to fathers in the New Testament: "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph 6:4).
   The two areas in which a husband must take "first responsibility" is "discipline and instruction." The enforcement of proper discipline is fundamental to the character development of a child. All too often husbands abdicate their responsibility as the moral and spiritual leaders of the home, expecting their wives to fulfill these functions. The result is that more and more wives have to serve as the moral and spiritual heads of the home. When this happens, the children suffer and the marital relationship is strained. The children suffer because they are deprived of the important role model of father as the authority figure and leader of the home. The marital relationship is strained because the wife may resent her husband's inability to function as the moral and spiritual head of the family, and the husband may react to his failure by seeking fulfillment outside the home.
   Despite all the anti-male-headship propaganda of the women's libbers, "it is precisely the absence of male authority." as Larry and Nordis Christianson point out, "which plagues American families." We are fast becoming a matriarchal society where women are primarily responsible for teaching and disciplining children, for supporting the family, for maintaining the house, for leading out in worship, and for participating in church and civic affairs."
   "The problem," as aptly stated by the Christiansons, "is mass abdication on the part of husbands. The need in American families today is not some kind of manufactured `equality' between husband and wife. The equality is already there--God-given, waiting to be discovered. The need is for headship. Let men accept the responsibility of being head of the family, and wives will find under their authority a freedom, a liberation, such as no constitutional amendment could ever guarantee."
   Leadership as Lawmaker and Priest
   A Christian father must not betray his sacred trust to be the lawmaker and priest of the home. Ellen White emphasizes this important function, saying: "All members of the family center in the father. He is the lawmaker, illustrating in his own manly bearing the sterner virtues: energy, integrity, honesty, patience, courage, diligence, and practical usefulness. The father is in one sense the priest of the household, laying upon the altar of God the morning and evening sacrifice. . . he is a laborer together with God, carrying out the gracious designs of God and establishing in his children upright principles, enabling them to form pure and virtuous characters, because he has preoccupied the soul with that which will enable his children to render obedience not only to their earthly parent but also to their heavenly Father." (The Adventist Home, p. 212.).
   As husbands we are ultimately responsible for the moral and spiritual development of our families. Children naturally look to their father for moral directions. The larger size, greater strength, and deeper voice of the father bespeak to them of authority and leadership. This is why mothers need the involvement of their husbands in enforcing discipline. Fathers serve as a basis upon which parental authority is constructed.
   As fathers we need to be involved in the discipline of our children, watching for power struggles between our wives and children. We must take responsibility for any of our children's behavioral problems that cause emotional stress to our wives. We must take time to communicate with our children in order to find out their moral and spiritual needs. We must serve as the priests of the home by leading the family in a daily worship experience and renewed commitment to Christ. Family worship is the symbolic center of a family's spiritual commitment. By bringing the family together for worship, the husband teaches his family members to look up to God for wisdom and strength and to make God first and supreme in their lives.
   Practicing headship, as we have seen, means not to lord over the family by barking out orders to the wife and children but rather to shoulder the responsibility of providing them with a caring and intelligent leadership. This includes a leadership in loving, shown by loving our wives with the unconditional and sacrificial love of Jesus; a leadership in service manifested in our willingness to give intelligent and sensitive service to our wives and children; a leadership in the management of the home shown by our setting priorities and delegating authority; a leadership in providing our wives and children not only with food, clothing , and shelter, but also with our personal attention, presence and fellowship; a leadership in discipline and instruction, shown by our taking first responsibility in enforcing proper discipline and in providing instruction to the children; a leadership as lawmaker and priest manifested in taking responsibility for the moral and spiritual development of our family members. In a word, practicing headship means being willing to serve the family by providing for the physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual needs of our wives and children. This is the kind of headship exemplified by Christ, the model of the husband's headship.



   Few Biblical injunctions can stir up as much emotion and controversy as the command for the wife to submit to her husband (Eph 5:22, 24; Col 3:18, 1 Pet 3:1). Both liberal and evangelical feminists are shocked and offended by this command. They view this command as a basic denial of women's rights to equality with men. To correct this alleged evil, the women's liberation movement is promoting marriages where roleless partners match their career goals. The very titles "husband" or "wife" are obsolete in such marriages. Each spouse has a right to terminate the relationship when it is no longer beneficial to his or her self-fulfillment.
   The traditional roles of wife, mother, and homemaker are being deliberately and systematically dismantled, especially through the influence of the Women's Liberation Movement on the public media. A fundamental problem with the Women's Liberation Movement is that it assumes to liberate women by doing away with divine plan for successful marital relationships. The plan consists, as we have seen, of a relationship based on loving leadership and loving submission. Women's libbers reject this divine plan, promoting instead a contractual inter-relationship where each partner is free to come or to go, to live in or to live out.
   In their struggle for women's rights, women's libbers, including some evangelical Christians, have made the mistake of absolutizing their own freedom. They have failed to realize that real freedom is to be found, not by becoming centers of absolute will, but by living according to the order of relationships established by God.
   The result of the women's liberation movement has been not a greater liberation for women, but a rise in women's frustration, juvenile delinquency, and divorce rate. Militant feminists have forgotten Christ's counsel that we find our lives by losing them (Mark 8:35); we find a "better relationship" not by fighting for our rights but by assuming our God-given responsibilities. Biblical faith is concerned not with rights but with responsibilities. A woman who insists on fighting for her rights may eventually end up losing protection, sympathy, love, security, and even her husband.
   From a Biblical perspective, we have no rights. All that we have--life, love, forgiveness, freedom, companionship, and salvation--are precious gifts offered to us by our gracious Savior so that we may use them to bless others. This applies to God's command, "Husbands, love your wives" and "Wives, be subject to your husbands" (Eph 5:21, 25). They were given not to secure our rights, but to ensure a harmonious, happy relationship.
   The Model of Submission
   Christ is the perfect model of both loving headship and loving submission. Both of these roles function in Christ not as limitations but as opportunities for greater service and blessings. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul exhorts us to follow the example of Christ's submissive attitude to find oneness with God and others: "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on the cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil 2:5-11, NIV).
   Christ's submissive mental attitude enabled Him not to question his Father's headship or to grasp for equal authority, even though He shared the same divinity of the Father. He did not question the right of His Father to function as His head, nor did He attempt to redefine the notion of headship and submission through a "careful exegesis." Instead, he submitted Himself to the Father by being obedient to the point of death on the cross. The result of Christ's obedience is that the Father exalted Him to the highest honor. Christ's example teaches us that in God's order, submission is the way to glorification. The submission of Christ to the headship of His Father provides us a model to understand the nature and manner of a wife's submission to her husband.
   Submission as Loving Response
   The headship of a husband consists, as noted earlier, in providing a sacrificial and loving leadership to his family members. Such a leadership provides the basis for a loving and joyful submission on the part of the wife. The common abuse by men of their headship as a "club" over their wives has led many women to see God's command to submit as irrational and discriminatory. Some women will submit to their husbands half-heartedly; that is, as a necessary divine requirement rather than as a loving response. They hope that God will reward their unwilling submission. Such legalistic submission is joyless, frustrating, and often results in the dissolution of marriage.
   Legalistic submission fails to see that headship and submission were given by God not to deprive us of something but to ensure a happy and harmonious marital relationship. Without loving leadership and loving submission, no successful relationship can be maintained. The fundamental cause of legalistic headship or submission is self-centered, unyielding wills clashing with God's commands. When by God's grace the battle of the wills is dissolved, then we are able to accept and experience God's command to love and submit, not as a source of strife, but of joy, order, blessing, and security. The conflict over roles in marriage is caused not by a mistake in God's job description of husbands and wives, but by sin, manifested in self-centered, unyielding dispositions.
   God's plan for husbands to be loving, sacrificial heads and for wives to be loving, respectful helpmates is designed to promote not competition and conflicts, but completion and harmony. The two roles can be compared to the lock and the key. If the lock wants to be the key or the key wants to be the lock because either or both of them are unhappy with their assigned roles, both of them become useless. It is only when the lock and the key function as designed that they work properly. In the same way, it is only when husband and wife function as loving head and responsive helpmate, that their marital union will work properly in accordance with God's design. Each spouse is unfulfilled alone, but together they make a whole.
   Submission as Respect
   The submission of a wife to her husband is manifested especially through her respect for him. Paul summarizes his exhortation to husbands and wives, saying: "Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband" (Eph 5:33). Respect is something that must be gained through proper conduct. When a Christian husband exercises a loving, sacrificial headship, his wife finds him worthy of trust, honor, and respect.
   Respect is an essential quality of love. If love is to grow through the years, it must be based on mutual respect. In his epistle to Titus, Paul encourages older women to teach younger wives "to love their husbands" (Titus 2:4). The fact that Paul exhorts wives "to respect" their husbands in Ephesians and "to love" them in Titus shows that in the apostle's mind, love and respect go hand in hand.
   A wife can show respect toward her husband in different ways: by accepting and affirming his moral and spiritual leadership in the home; by deferring to him certain decisions, questions, or problems; by admiring and praising him for his achievements; by putting him first when planning activities; by supporting his financial plans. When a man knows that his wife respects, supports, and admires him, no sacrifice will be too great for him.
   Submission as Acceptance
   The submissive wife accepts her husband the way he is, without conditioning her love to changes in his behavior. We learn to accept and love unconditionally our husbands or our wives by realizing how God accepts us: "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8).
   At times a wife may feel that it is impossible for her to accept her husband the way he is. Humanly speaking this may well be true, but as she accepts and experiences God's unconditional love, she is empowered to accept and love her husband unconditionally.
   As a plant needs good soil, water, and sun to grow healthy, so a man needs the unconditional love and acceptance of his wife to live a healthy, happy, and satisfying life. When a husband feels that he is constantly on trial, that he has to constantly prove himself worthy to his wife, he becomes discouraged and tempted to look for another woman who will accept him the way he is.
   It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict a person of his or her wrongdoings (John 16:8-11). When we take upon ourselves the job of convicting our spouses of their mistakes, we get in God's way and hinder the work of His Spirit. This does not mean that a wife should ignore her husband's wrongdoing. To do so would be morally irresponsible. The submissive wife can and must express her concerns and views freely. In fact, a mature husband will want her to do so. But once a wife has told her husband in what way she thinks he is wrong, she should not continue to nag him on that matter. Instead, she should place her trust in God's ability to convict and change her husband.
   Submission as Putting Husband First
   As believers, we submit ourselves to Christ by placing Him first in our lives. Our submission to Christ is presented in Ephesians 5:24 as the model of the wife's submission to her husband. When Jesus is first in a woman's life, He will enable her to place her husband first in her thoughts and actions. A man who has the assurance of being first in his wife's life will be able to face challenges with greater courage and self-confidence.
   Placing your husband first means avoiding certain negative attitudes and actions. One of these is criticism of your husband's character or performance, especially in front of others. This can hurt him even more than a slap on the face. True "love does not delight in evil but rejoices with truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1 Cor 13:6-7).
   Another negative attitude to avoid is selfishness. A submissive wife will consider her husband's likes or dislikes when purchasing clothes, planning a meal, accepting or rejecting an invitation to a program or social function. She will plan her activities so she can stop and visit with him if he should need to talk when he gets home from work.
   A submissive wife will also avoid jealousy and possessiveness. She will not deny her husband some legitimate pleasures that could draw him away from her. A wife who resents the time consuming career or activities of her husband may be loving herself more than her husband.
   Putting your husband first means also centering all your activities around the husband. Good things such as children, homemaking, in-laws, appearance, church or civic functions can easily get out of balance, controlling the time and interest of a wife. It is therefore essential for a wife to learn to balance her activities in such a way that they are the spokes circling the hub, which is the husband, and not vice versa. If the spokes are well-proportioned and balanced, the wheel, that is, marital life, will roll smoothly. On the contrary, if the spokes are out of adjustment and unbalanced, the wheel will wobble and eventually will smash in pieces.
   Putting your husband first means also supporting his financial plans. This may require making the dollar stretch by being thrifty, as described in Proverbs 31:13-14: "She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and tasks for her maidens."
   Submission as Role-Acceptance
   Headship and submission are roles established by God to ensure order, peace, and harmony in the home. The submissive wife accepts her role as homemaker and mother, finding joy in fulfilling such roles creatively, efficiently, and lovingly.
   Radical feminists belittle the role of homemaker and mother, promoting instead the male's roles. For them, the only life worth living is a man's life. To be successful, a woman must strive to achieve the attributes, goals, and performances of a man. In their striving to be like men, women are in danger of losing their feminine qualities which make them attractive to men. Women who become hard and aggressive in competing with men often discover to their sorrow that they are treated as if they were men. Competition damages something which is basic and precious to a right relationship between men and women.
   Our families, churches, and societies need women who are willing to accept their vital role as wives, homemakers, and mothers. God has equipped women with unique biological and spiritual resources needed for the survival and growth of the home. Biologically, God has endowed every woman with the marvelous capacity to conceive and nourish human life in her womb. Spiritually, God has endowed every woman who becomes a mother with the unique power to mold her children's characters for time and eternity.
   A woman who willingly and joyfully accepts her role of wife, mother, and homemaker, can experience greater reward and fulfillment than any academic or business career can provide. No greater joy and satisfaction can come to a woman than to have her children rising up and calling her "blessed" and her husband praising her, saying: "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all" (Prov 31:28-29).
   Submission as Acceptance of the Husband's Leadership
   God's order for the home is for the husband to serve as a loving leader and for the wife to accept his leadership (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:23). This order has been divinely established to ensure harmony, happiness, and protection. A home with two heads or with the wife as the head is an abnormality because it distorts the distinctive male-female roles.
   The wife who accepts and responds to her husband's leadership finds protection and satisfaction in the role God designed for her. She enjoys freedom from pressures and problems she is not supposed to carry. A major concern of my wife when I am away from home is that she may have to deal with some unexpected problems that I usually handle: a burned water pump, a stalled furnace, malfunctioning air-conditioning, leaking faucets or roofs, flat tires, disciplining children. It is reassuring for her to know that "I am around" to take care of such unexpected problems. This gives her peace of mind and freedom to pursue her various activities which do not conflict with her role of wife and mother. By accepting my leadership in the home, my wife is relieved of many worries while I am challenged to develop my God-given strengths and abilities.
   Submission Is Not Slavery
   A Christian woman, who by God's enabling grace submits to her husband, is not in danger of becoming a slave. On the contrary, she may discover that her submissive attitude inspires her husband to be more thoughtful and kind toward her. Usually, a submissive wife enjoys a happier relationship with her husband than does a dominating wife. She will certainly enjoy a closer walk with God when she knows that she obeys God's command by being submissive to her husband than when she disobeys God by dominating her husband.
   Domineering wives have caused great misery to themselves and to their partners. A woman who is aggressive and dominates her husband in the early years of marriage may discover to her disappointment that later in life, she will loathe the man she has trained to be submissive to her because she has no one to lean upon.


   The rejection of the Biblical view of role distinction within marriages is a major cause of marriage break ups today. Scripture clearly presents the headship of the husband and the submission of the wife as an order established by God to ensure unity and harmony in the home. Practicing headship does not mean lording over the wife or family members but rather providing a caring leadership which ensures the physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual needs of our wives and children. Similarly, practicing submission does not mean serving the husband as a slave but rather willingly and joyfully to accept the husband's loving leadership.
   The fact that God has given a different roles for husbands and wives to fulfill does not mean that one is inferior to the other. Each role is equal in importance though different in function. The role of a husband complements that of a wife as a key complements a lock. Either is incomplete without the other. Respecting the husband/wife role distinctions is essential to ensuring the stability of the marriage covenant.
      This article is taken from S. Bacchiocchi's newsletter. The full text of this newsletter is available at

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