Let me begin by answering the question in this title with an “absolutely yes!” Good husbands will submit to their wives early and often. They will do it as a habit of life. They will become so good at it, they’ll do it without hesitating, without thinking twice, and without any regret. I’m ashamed to say, I’m not there yet. But after a year of marriage, I do think I’m growing in the area of submitting to my wife and I hope by God’s grace to continue to grow in this area for as long as my wife and I draw breath.
Shocking, you think, Pursuing the Pursuer has gone off the deep end. They finally fell for all that exciting, new, and dangerous theology and are full blown egalitarians. Actually we haven’t. I haven’t. I’m as committed to complementarianism as any sane, biblically-informed person who claims the title (there are some who call themselves complementarians that I want nothing to do with, but more on that later). I believe the role of a husband is to lovingly lead, and the role of the wife is to sweetly submit. I also believe that a husband who doesn’t do a whole lot of submitting to his wife is a husband who hasn’t really figured out what it truly means to love or to lead. So what does leading and loving look like from a biblical perspective?
Servant Leaders Practice a Lifestyle of Submission
The paradox of Christian leadership is that the leaders don’t get whatever they want. Christ made this point repeatedly in his interaction with his disciples (Matthew 20:20-28; 23:10; Mark 10:35-45; John 13:1-20) and acknowledged that this is the opposite of the way most people think. Most people think that the CEO doesn’t have to live by the same rules as everyone else. People bring him coffee, he doesn’t get it for them. When there’s dirty work to do, it goes to the lowest guy on the totem pole, not the chief. So if the husband gets to lead and the wife has to submit, then he lounges around reading the paper (or, to put it in modern lingo, playing video games) while she cooks, cleans, and does the house chores.
But that’s not what Christ teaches. Christ teaches that if a husband is to lead, it means he cleans the toilet, not her. He does the dishes after dinner, not her. He takes out the trash, mows the lawn, and helps with the kids every chance he gets. Why? Because he’s her leader, and that makes him her servant. This doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t ever cook or clean, especially if they want to or are good at it. It doesn’t mean that if he works for 40 hours a week and she is a stay at home mom she does nothing around the house. It doesn’t mean a wife should never sacrifice for her husband. A healthy marriage is a partnership, with both husband and wife looking to give and serve, rather than to take or be served.
But it does mean that when he comes home, his focus ought to be on how he can please her, not how she can please him. It does mean he loves his wife as Christ loved the church: by sacrificing for her. There will be times when he makes a decision with which his wife disagrees, but those decisions should be rare and based on principle, not personal pleasure. Played out in real life, Christ-like leadership means choosing to serve her rather than be served by her every chance he gets.
Every Believer Should Submit?
Okay, so by “submit” you mean give up what you want for what she wants. That makes sense I guess. But should we really use the word submit? Doesn’t that confuse things a little? After all, does the Bible ever describe the role of a husband as submitting? Great question, glad you asked. To my knowledge, no, the Bible never tells a husband to submit. But I’ve got one better. The Bible actually tells every believer to submit to every other believer.
It’s interesting that Ephesians 5:22 comes right after Ephesians 5:21. Ephesians 5:22 reads “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” But the verse that comes right before it says, “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” That verse is addressed to all Christians. Husbands are supposed to submit to their wives because they are supposed to submit to every other believer. They are supposed to forgo what they want so that someone else’s needs and wishes can be met. If this is true for everyone, it ought to begin where it’s often hardest: the home.
This means a husband should submit to his wife’s preferences, goals, and desires. Practically, that might mean watching what she wants to watch, not just what he wants to watch. It might mean forgoing a night with the guys when she’s had a hard day at work and needs to someone to talk to. It means dying to your own agenda, plans, and loves so that you can devote yourself to cherishing, loving, and serving the wife God gave you. It means you submit in a hundred little ways, making it so much easier for her when she is called upon to submit in bigger ways.
The Damage of a Domineering Husband
Hopefully, this is a no-brainer post. I hope, as I write this, that godly Christian men everywhere are puzzled over why I even felt the need to bring this up, just as they would be puzzled if I told them that cheese is a dairy product or that rough wood can give you splinters. But I fear that this perspective may not always be so obvious. And I fear that what I hope is the exception is viewed as the norm. So let me finish by making a few strong statements on husbands who equate their role of headship with getting what they want.
The only thing worse than holding on to wrong doctrine is using right doctrine as a cover for sin. When the stench of selfishness seeps through the facade of Bible verses, a watching world plugs its nose and turns away from Christ in disgust. The husband who sacrificially and submissively leads as Christ leads is a beautiful picture of the love of God, whereas the husband who leads so that he can get what he wants is a horrifying picture of the twisted way that Satan grabs the good things God has for us and warps them into something ugly. God has called husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and so the husband who glibly reminds his wife that he’s her leader to make her serve him has committed an egregious error and has shamed the name of Christ.
Satan hates submission. He got Adam and Eve to hate submission. And now, thanks to our sin nature, there is planted within everyone is a desire to be his own king, rather than to submit to someone—anyone—else. Which is why, if we are going to hold to the right position (within a marriage, the husband should lead and the wife should submit), we have to be so, so careful that we display the beauty of that submission—and of mutual submission—to a watching world. Because after all, God himself was the one who said our marriages are supposed to be reflections of his love for us. So husbands, let me leave you with this convicting thought: If unsaved people saw the way you treat your wife day in and day out, would they be more or less likely to submit to Christ?
Ben Hicks went to Bob Jones University for college and stayed on for grad work, recently graduating with his Master of Divinity. Ben is the Young Adults Pastor and oversees the Single Focus ministry at Colonial Hills Baptist Church. Follow him on Twitter @HicksBen
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