Submission is at the very heart of Christianity, because if it weren’t for Christ’s submission to death, we would not know salvation. Like Christ, once we submit and are willing to die to ourselves, we are resurrected to new life in him.
Before I was married, I thought fulfilling biblical roles in marriage would look like a paint-by-number picture. My husband and I would both know exactly what to do, and our marriage would take off in the right direction on its own.
Now I see roles in marriage more like an inspired work of art: It takes time, thought, practice, some messy spills, and mental roadblocks. But with each brushstroke applied to the canvas, a picture of colorful beauty begins to take shape. Unlike the hard and clear-cut lines of a paint-by-number picture, the colors on this canvas bleed together in a way where distinction isn’t always obvious, but a glorious harmony emerges.
Before marriage, I also viewed the submissive wife as a shadow which loomed over me as Scrooge’s ghost of Christmas future. In my misconceptions, Ephesians 5 sounded like the rattling of Jacob Marley’s chains. Yet, three things helped me to dispel the fear of submission.
1. Submission should not be isolated.
We tend to emphasize Ephesians 5:22 in isolation, which makes submission appear scarier than it really is. Yes, we can obey this verse as a literal truth, but we must be careful to not over-simplify it. God gives us freedom in these good boundary lines according to our differing personalities in our marriages and the wider culture in which we live.
We have to make room for nuance. When we see this verse in light of all of Scripture, we’ll know that a wife is not called to submit to her husband if he asks her to break God’s law. She does not need to submit to any type of abuse from her husband or patterns of sinful behavior. Biblical submission is a pathway for righteousness, not a cloak for sin.
In the Old Testament, women like Esther and Abigail don’t appear to be submissive in the narrowest conception — they look as if they are defying their husbands. Abigail goes behind her husband’s back by giving King David and his men the supplies her husband denied them. Esther breaks all royal protocol and enters the king’s court without his prior consent.
Both Abigail’s and Esther’s husbands were not part of God’s chosen people, so the parameter of submission for these two women looked different. Esther and Abigail were submissive first and foremost to God. They were courageous in their actions, which appeared like insubordination to their husbands. Sometimes a submissive wife looks like Esther and Abigail.