Submission in Marriage

By Mark D. Roberts

November 12, 2019

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Ephesians 5:22-24 (NIV)


I expect readers of this devotion will respond in a wide variety of ways to its title, “Submission in Marriage.” Some will be curious. Some will be hopeful. Others might be upset or worried because this topic has been the source of much pain for many people. Few verses in Scripture elicit such powerful and diverse responses as Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.”

Black and white image of a husband's arms around his wife's shouldersIn today’s devotion and those that follow, I cannot begin to sort out all of the issues stemming from this verse and those that follow. That’s not really the purpose of Life for Leaders, as you know. If you’re interested in how I understand all that Ephesians teaches about marriage, you can find it in my commentary. What I’ll share here is only a small portion of what I’ve written there.

One of the surprising things about Ephesians 5:22 when you read it in Greek is that this sentence doesn’t actually have its own verb. This verse borrows the verb from verse 21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives, to your own husbands . . . .” The grammar makes it crystal clear that verse 22 is an application of the general principle in verse 21. All Christians are to submit to each other in their relationships in the body of Christ. One expression of this mutual submission occurs when Christian wives submit to their husbands, who are also their brothers in Christ. (This passage does not address mixed marriages explicitly.)

Because the language of submission can feel strange to us, and because of instances in which this language has been used to defend mistreatment of wives by husbands, people can feel understandably squeamish about it. Moreover, Ephesians doesn’t address distressing situations—such as when a husband wants his wife to do something clearly wrong or when he uses his authority to mistreat his wife. (We should note that nothing in this passage denies the responsibility of a Christian husband to practice mutual submission in marriage as well as in other relationships.)

If we follow the paraphrase I have suggested for “submit,” namely, “follow the leadership of,” this verse may seem less troubling. Surely it would be good for wives to follow the leadership of their husbands, especially when that leadership exemplifies the Christ-like love to which husbands will be called later in this passage. And wise husbands often follow the leadership of their wives in many things. Moreover, if submission is more than just “yielding in love,” if it also involves imitating the humble servanthood of Christ, then wives are being given a high calling indeed. They are to serve their husbands in the way Christ has served them. (Tomorrow we’ll see that husbands are also to relate to their wives in the way of Christ.)

If this teaching for wives seems incomplete, it’s because we haven’t come to the specific instructions for husbands. For now, I’d recommend that we consider whether we’re living out the call to submit to each other in our relationships by reflecting on the following questions.

Something to Think About:

If you’re a wife, do you follow the leadership of your husband? If so, what helps you to do this? If not, why not?

Moreover, if you’re a wife, do you seek to imitate Christ’s servanthood in the way you treat your husband?

If you’re a husband, are you living in such a way that it would be right for your wife to follow your leadership?

No matter your gender or marital status, do you submit to your brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you seek to serve them following the model of Christ?

Something to Do:

Today, pay attention to times when you choose to follow the leadership of others.


Gracious God, you call us to a way of relating to each other that can feel strange, even risky. Submitting to others may be natural to some of us. But others of us push back against this idea, fearing that we might lose ourselves in the process. Yet your call to submit to one another is clear.

Help us, Lord, to live out this call in tangible ways in our day-to-day relationships. In particular, we ask today that wives may be empowered by your grace to follow the leadership of their husbands. Moreover, may they seek to serve their husbands, even as you have served us. For husbands, we pray that they might be worthy of being followed as they live for your purposes and glory.

Grant us all the grace, Lord, to be each day the people you have called us to be. Amen.

Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Boundaries in the Workplace

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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