Two generations ago, women were told to aspire to be a wife and mother. One generation past, women were told they could have it all—marriage, motherhood, and a fulfilling career. Today, women are told to ditch the husband and kids and focus on personal fulfillment. After all, marriage only exists to enslave women. Or so “the experts” tell us.
But if a Christ follower chooses to get married, what is her role and responsibility within marriage? What does Scripture say about these questions?
In Genesis 1:27-28, God gave Adam a task to carry out. He was to do the work of God by the will of God according to the word of God. He was to fill the earth and rule over it. But he couldn’t do it by himself. He needed someone to help him carry out his assignment. According to Genesis 2:18-20, Eve was created to help Adam do the work of God by the will of God according to the word of God.
From the very beginning, it was God’s design for the wife to be her husband’s helper, to actively assist, encourage, and support him in carrying out God’s task. It was God’s design. While men and women are equal in status, they have different roles and functions. The role of the wife is to help her husband accomplish what God has called him to do. (This means, gentlemen, we need to be in tune with God and know what his plan for us is.) The key recipient of her help is her husband. Oftentimes, the greatest competitor to the wife fulfilling her role is her children. While motherhood is important, helping her husband is her primary role.
While we might grudgingly agree that a wife’s primary role is helper to her husband, we balk at the idea that she is to submit to her husband (Colossians 3:18). When we think of submission, we jump to slavery or inferiority. But the primary meaning of submission is to arrange oneself under authority. In marriage, a wife is to arrange her life in an orderly manner underneath her husband.
From a biblical viewpoint, a wife voluntarily submits to her husband by respectfully bringing all areas of her life under his headship. It is a voluntary action. Her husband does not demand or force his wife to submit. She makes a voluntary choice. A woman is not to submit to all men, but only to her husband. Rather than do it grudgingly and resentfully, she coats her actions with the attitude of respect.
A wife submits to her husband “as to the Lord” because it is “fitting in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18). When she places herself under her husband’s authority, she is ultimately submitting to Christ. This is fitting and appropriate because it is God’s design.
A wife submits to her husband “in everything” (Ephesians 5:23-24). If he asks her to do something illegal, immoral, or life-threatening, she should follow God’s instructions. But outside of those exceptions, “everything” means “everything.”
She practices her submission with “a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:1-4). The word “quiet” doesn’t mean a wife doesn’t express her viewpoint and challenge her husband’s thinking. Rather, it means a sense of calmness and peaceableness. She doesn’t strive to take over when she feels her husband is making a mistake. She has a quiet trust that God is still in control.
Here are some principles to help put these ideas into practice:
- Rejoice regularly that God called you to be the Helper of your husbandand as you help, to “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).
- Communicate your submission and respect so your husband feels respected.
- Forgive your husband for any past hurts blocking your submission.
- Depend upon the Holy Spirit to empower you to submit.
- Enlist spiritually mature married women to encourage you regularly for support and accountability.
- Pursue your own spiritual growth and don’t harbor resentment regarding whether or not your husband is the spiritual leader that he should be.
About 300 years ago a man lost his job in a customs house. He went home, broken-hearted, to tell his wife Sophia. To his astonishment she only beamed at him. “Now you can write your book!” He answered, “Yes, and what will we live on while I’m writing?”
Sophia quickly went to a drawer and took out a cache of money. “I’ve always known that you were a man of genius,” she said. “I knew that someday you would write an immortal masterpiece.”
“So every week out of the money you have given me for housekeeping, I have saved something. Here is enough to last us one whole year.”
That amazed husband went to his study and began writing. His name was Nathaniel Hawthorne. His book was The Scarlet Letter.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 10, 2013. It is part of a series on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.