A couple months ago I wrote a post entitled The Wisdom of Submission in which I explored the context of Ephesians 5 and its teachings on submission. Marital submission is generally taught as a kind of umbrella formula by which all “good Christian wives” should abide, but that does not appear to be the context of the passage, nor is that a healthy way to think of submission. Were your husband to ask you to sin or to remain in an abusive relationship, it’s important to have a read on Ephesians 5 that would allow you to resist your husband without contradicting God’s Word. That said, it’s helpful to think of submission as a matter of wisdom versus foolishness–when is it wise to submit to your husband, and when is it unwise?
Of course, this manner of thinking about submission might make some people uncomfortable. Isn’t that incredibly subjective? Can’t women abuse it? Well the same could be said about male headship, which is why it’s important to remember that this issue is ultimately between you and God. You will stand before Him in how you have honored or dishonored your spouse, a very sobering thought indeed!
Bearing that in mind, I came up with a few diagnostic questions to assess the motives of your heart in how you respond to your husband. When you are tempted to control, manipulate, or simply be stubborn-headed, these questions can help you search your heart and determine the wisdom or foolishness of your actions:
Is it worth getting your way?
I don’t know about you, but there have been a number of times in my marriage when the win was actually a loss. My husband caved in because I was being so obstinate, and it ultimately wasn’t worth the hurt that it caused. My husband didn’t respect me more because of it, nor were we closer as a result.
Could he be right?
My husband is a very capable, wise and intuitive person, and there have been a number of situations in which I forced my way, or begrudgingly let him get his way, only to find out later that I was totally in the wrong. Even so, I have a short memory and the next time a similar situation arises I am still slow to trust him despite his consistently good judgment. Given that God matches us with mates whose strengths complement our weaknesses, it’s important for me to remember that my husband often has the clearest vision in my greatest blind spots.
Would submission be more effective than force?
Something else I’ve noticed in my own marriage is that when my husband realizes he was wrong, I don’t have to point it out to him. He sees it. In fact, he is most teachable when I am least aggressive about it. Given this reality, God can actually use my submission as a tool to teach and grow my husband. If I let him make a mistake and refuse to gloat about my rightness, he is much more likely to learn from the experience without any residual feelings of bitterness or frustration toward me. Submission gets me out of the way so that God can teach my husband.
Are you acting out of fear, or trust in God?
At the heart of this issue is ultimately your trust in God. Ephesians 5:29 reminds us that God gave us our husbands as a provision of protection and care, which means He will also hold them accountable for how well they did their job. God is in control of this whole set-up, which means that if you’re having trouble trusting your husband, you might also be struggling to trust God.
How does your marriage witness to Christ’s love for His people?
The overall thrust of Ephesians 5 is to draw a parallel between marriage and Christ’s relationship with the Church. In marriage we demonstrate the kind of loving surrender that Christians are to have with God. God loves us so profoundly and unconditionally that we can trust Him with our marriage, family, job, future–everything! But that’s a hard idea for many people to swallow. In a world where people sign pre-nups before they ever get married, this kind of radical trust is foreign. We’re not used to trusting someone else THAT much. Christian marriage, however, demonstrates that this type of love is possible, which provides the world with a small taste of what they can have in Jesus. The question is, does your marriage demonstrate this type of loving relationship. Do you surrender to your husband in a way that echoes the Christian’s surrender to Christ?
These are just a few diagnostic questions to consider when you and your husband are in a gridlock. You may have all the best reasons in the world for standing your ground, but unless your husband has asked you to sell your kids and rob a bank, consider the wisdom of submission from God’s perspective. God’s wisdom is not like the world’s, so live according to the God who can take unusual or difficult circumstances and use them for good. When your heart is first and foremost submitted to God, He can and WILL use your faithfulness!