God’s Favor Toward His and Her Submission, Part 1: God’s Favor to Wives
Let’s address this controversial topic of submission in marriage. In Ephesians 5:21 we read of mutual submission: "be subject to one another." Paul then goes on to instruct wives to submit to their husbands (5:22-24) and husbands to love their wives (5:25-29). He then summarizes the passage on marriage in 5:33 with the command for husbands to love their wives and wives to respect their husbands.
If a wife’s submission is central, why does Paul say nothing of submission in his summary verse, calling wives instead to respect their husbands? Simple. A wife submits by meeting her husband’s need for respect. A husband submits to—or is “subject to”—his wife’s need for love.
Don’t worry, ladies. In part 2, we will deal directly with husbands and God’s call on them to submit as well. But right here, let’s address the controversial and sometimes uncomfortable topic of the wife’s submission.
The Power of Submitting to Your Husband’s Need for Respect: One Wife’s Story
The apostle Peter concurs with Paul on this teaching. In I Peter 3:1-2, Peter instructs wives to submit to their husbands by meeting a husband’s need to feel respected. He adds the encouragement that her "respectful behavior" (3:2) can win a disobedient husband. Is there any greater favor? Yes, submission is hard; but, as Peter declares, it always finds “favor” with God. He writes, “be submissive” for “when you do what is right and suffer for it” and “patiently endure it, this finds favor with God” (1 Peter 2:18-20).
Listen to this story of a wife who learned the power of submitting to her husband’s need for respect. She testifies:
Two and half years ago I went from nominal Christian to a full-time lover of Jesus. However, my marriage was falling apart. My husband disliked being around me. He didn't talk to me for days on end. He said numerous times that we were too different and that once the kids (four and six at the time) were grown we would need to separate.
Since my marriage was in tatters, I read what God had to say. Being schooled in the feminist camp, I found the words submissive and submit in 1 Peter 3:1 and Ephesians 5:22 very difficult to swallow.
However, I knew that I could not argue with the first real Love that I was experiencing, so I gave over to 1 Peter 3:1. I had not been putting my husband, Raj, first. I had to start focusing on home more. When Raj said something, I tried to honor his words.
Over time, the difference in this wife’s submissive attitude became apparent to her husband. Though he initially harbored a skeptical attitude about the genuineness of her faith and changes in attitude, God’s work in her began to win his favor. She explains:
The love of Jesus was so full in me that I really was completely fine. I was in a euphoric place for about six months after I became a Christian, and Raj was watching me and wondering when it would end. I had a reason to submit: to win him, as 1 Peter 3:1 said.
After a while his demeanor changed towards me—he started to like me, said kind things to me, wanted to be around me. Then I heard a piece of your conference on the radio and it blew me away. I was flabbergasted. It was God's amazing timing.
The whole submit thing became easier to swallow once you described it as meeting a man’s need for respect. Then it all started to make sense. I was no longer doing it without knowing. I started to use the word respect around him, and it solidified his turnaround. Respect was the huge key to him letting down his guard to trusting me and thereby trusting Jesus and letting Him in.
Though she admits “Raj's path to Jesus took awhile,” she describes a moment when she needed to draw the line with him on his habitual pornography viewing. Since submission and respect never mean giving license for a spouse to do evil, this wife confronted her husband respectfully, saying she could not continue in the relationship with him if he stayed connected to this form of adultery. Eventually, she says, “he broke and let God in. Raj is now completely changed and won over.” God’s favor to her for her submission is so apparent that she confesses:
I don't even recognize the man I married. Raj is completely different. After thirteen years I can finally say our marriage is truly like a dream. It is unbelievable how tender and fun and honest and caring and loving and joyful and playful and kind and intimate and generous and forgiving and sincere and giving and wonderful our marriage is. It is a miracle. My husband has embraced Jesus I truly believe as a direct result of Ephesians 5:22 and 1 Peter 3:1. (Note: She gave permission to use the story).
Don't miss the foundational point here. In this wife’s time of marital crisis and suffering, she opened her heart totally to the Lord and found his favor. The power of her encounter with God released her to submit to her husband and triggered great change in their marriage. Notice again how she describes his power with the joyful words: “the first real Love I was experiencing,” “the love of Jesus was full in me,” “I was in a euphoric state,” “and God’s timing was amazing.” Submission is less about the horizontal and more about the vertical. Each of us must let Christ have His way in our hearts and when we do, He favors us in the midst of our suffering. Again, submission to God’s universal will leads to unique blessings in each individual life.
Questions to Consider
- In his understanding of Ephesians 5, Emerson wrote, “A wife submits by meeting her husband’s need for respect.” Do you agree? How does this provide a different picture of a wife’s submission to her husband than what you may have thought previously?
- Why would “patiently enduring” and respecting one’s husband “find favor” with God? What does this imply about how God feels about a husband and wife submitting to each other?
- One of the first things the woman who wrote Emerson tried in helping her marriage was that when her husband spoke, she “tried to honor his words.” Why do you think this worked as well as it did? What did this simple action say to her husband that encouraged him to make changes himself?
- This wife “respectfully” confronted her husband about his problem with pornography, still trying to maintain the submissive attitude God calls for her to have. How do you typically approach a problem specific to your spouse? Do you do it respectfully? If not, how might doing so have better results?