A wife has a lot to learn as she tackles the daunting assignment of understanding and loving the man in her life. The average woman may be more sensitive to a man’s needs than he is to hers, but she faces some significant challenges. The primary concepts found in God’s Word to direct wives in loving their husbands in the servant-wife role include: a) Respect; b) Trust; c) Support; d) Acceptance; e) Admiration.
One issue that needs to be addressed and properly understood deals with submission. Scripture states, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph 5:22), and “As the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything” (Eph 5:24). It is clear that God calls on wives to submit, to be subject to their husbands. The very sound of the term submission is enough to offend many modern couples who so want to serve as equals on a team, pulling together to build a quality marriage. A thorough examination of the apostle Paul’s concept of submission is essential to understanding God’s unique blueprint to marriage, a design that transcends today’s culture.
Biblical submission is NOT: inferiority, intellectual suicide, without fulfillment, passivity, or silence.
Submission is not inferiority. Wives aren’t the only ones called upon to submit. The Scriptures are clear that even Jesus’ relationship to His Father was one of submission. At the height of His anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed to God, asking to be relieved of the assignment He had been sent to Earth to fulfill. His prayer concluded, however, like this: “Yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) This act of submission typifies Jesus’ relationship with God the Father, but there is never a hint in His words that He was in a position of inferiority. Biblical submission does not place the one submitting in a lesser, or inferior, position.
Submission is not intellectual suicide. Anyone who would suggest that a woman must blindly submit to her husband’s leadership needs to know that to make such an assertion is just as irresponsible as suggesting that Christ calls us to come to Him by blind, unthinking faith. The opposite is the case. Jesus challenged those around Him to think, perhaps more seriously than they’d ever thought before. Submission is a choice that follows serious, informed consideration. It’s not acquiescence to a second-class role in the relationship. It’s a choice to follow another’s leadership with your brain in full gear. Again, Jesus as the Son of God may be our strongest proof that submission has nothing to do with intellectual suicide. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are truly equal in Their divine omniscience. However, each has a role to play and each performs that role in perfect harmony and mutual respect. Likewise, a wife who chooses to honor God and love her husband with a submissive spirit should still be highly valued for her God-given wisdom and abilities.
Submission is not without fulfillment. Nothing promises or delivers a deeper sense of satisfaction than the assurance that you’re doing the will of God. Wives who submit to their husbands according to the command in Ephesians 5:22 can expect no less. The fact is that real fulfillment is found not in the pursuit of our dream but God’s dream. Fulfillment for the Christian man or woman is not being all that you can be; it’s being all that God calls you to be. Pleasing God is priority one. Supporting or encouraging your husband to take responsibility for leadership in the home should never, ever be labeled as boring or unfulfilling. The wife still can, and should, play a vital role in the direction of the family.
Submission is not passivity. The verb rendered “be subject to” in Ephesians 5:22 and “be submissive to” in 1 Peter 3:1 is in the present tense, which suggests a habit pattern. It’s imperative, meaning it’s a command. And it’s in the middle voice, meaning this is not something done to a woman but by her. She’s actively involved in every aspect of marriage, including this one. It’s action oriented with the distinction being that it’s done under another’s authority. God designed women to contribute fully and significantly to every aspect of the marriage and family.
Submission is not silence. One common misconception about submission is that it condemns wives to suffer in silence when their husbands fail to lead and love as Christ leads and loves His church. No man is perfect, and disappointment, frustration, and exasperation are part of every marriage in pursuit of intimacy. Still, the clear challenge to love with a submissive spirit is given to every wife, even to those wed to men who are missing the mark. In 1 Peter 3:1 God calls wives simply to imitate Jesus. To love that difficult, disobedient, even unbelieving husband without preaching to him, without demanding that he change, without threatening to leave if he doesn’t shape up. But does that mean total silence? No! Ephesians 4:25-27 says, “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” Honesty should never be abandoned in the name of submission. Whether leading or following, never stop being open and honest with your spouse. Silence is as dangerous to your marital health as ignoring pain is to your physical health. When it comes to marriage, silence is never golden.
What does it mean for a woman to submit to her husband as to the Lord? Submission is willingly placing yourself under the leadership of another. This is an “as to the Lord” type of submission. The psalmist was involved in this activity in Psalm 17:8-9 and 61:4. He was hiding, dwelling, taking refuge in the Lord. He was willingly placing his trust in another. He chose to follow his Lord and to trust in Him. That loving, trusting relationship became a place of shelter and refuge. Similarly, the wife’s decision to obey God and submit to her husband’s leadership is the ultimate expression of respect and trust. It is important to notice the extent of submission expressly stated in Ephesians 5:24 covers everything. This is not a part-of-the-way proposition; not 30 percent, 50 percent, or 99 percent. It’s 100 percent. Paul’s commands to the husband demand a similarly wholehearted response. He is to love his wife, sacrifice for her, and nourish and cherish her whether she having a bad day or good – 100 percent of the time. However, for those who would distort Scripture to say that a woman must obey her husband, period, note one significant exception. First Peter 3:1 challenges women to submit to their husbands even if they may be “disobedient to the word.” But, this is a far cry from submitting to a husband who tells you to disobey God. Paul and the apostles put that notion to rest in Acts 5:29 when they responded to the Jewish authorities who told them to quit teaching in Jesus’ Name: “We must obey God rather than men.” Coming under the authority of another is never a call to violate the Word of God.
Scripture continues to say, “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body (Eph 5:23). Indeed, “authority over and responsibility for” is the meaning of head, in God’s definition of marriage. Not the heavy-handed, harsh rule of the world, but the gentle, loving, sacrificial leadership of a savior. A leader who will give anything to care for his wife. One who takes his responsibility seriously, knowing he will give an account to God for the health and well-being not only of his wife, but of his entire family. Some have incorrectly thought that the statement in Ephesians 5:21, “Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ,” negates the following command. This command is actually a consequence of being filled with God’s Spirit and calls all of us, men and women alike, to exhibit a submissive spirit whether leading or following, whether husband or wife, whether parent or child, whether employee or employer. However, in each of these relationships someone is told to exercise loving leadership and someone is encouraged to follow. The concepts of submission and headship are anchored in truths that clearly transcend any culture or time in history. They are as relative today as they were in the culture of the time they were written about.
Christ is the Head of the church and the husband is the head of the wife. Jesus is the church’s Lord and Leader as well as its Source. He takes responsibility for the life and health of the church, just as the husband takes responsibility for the life and health of his wife. It is in light of this challenge for husbands to lead and love by sacrificially caring for every aspect of their wife’s welfare that God then calls the wife to follow. She will someday answer to her Lord in heaven for how she loved and followed her leader on earth.
A Servant-Wife Respects. As important a concept submission is, it is not the only issue or even the main issue contained in Ephesians 5:33 – And the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. Respect is the real issue for men. Submission is not the end; it is only one means to the end. The real target in God’s sights is to see wives shower their husbands with a gentle rain of respect. It is the gift that best says to a man, “I love you.” Just as sacrificial love is only a tool, a means of communicating to wives that we care, so submission is only a tool, a means of communicating respect to a husband. Respect, or reverence, is a gift that can be given to men, even imperfect men or ungodly men. First Peter 3:2 clearly calls on wives to win over their husbands by their “chaste and respectful behavior.” Moreover, these men are described in verse 1 as men who are “disobedient to the word.” That is often taken to refer to husbands outside the faith, unbelievers, but that’s not necessarily the case. All too often, it is the Christian who finds himself or herself with a spouse who is less than an angel. Many wives know the challenge of living with a mate who has little to no interest in spiritual things. It is to that wife that God says, “Give the gift of respect to your husband.”
A very common statement that floats around this subject is “Trust can be given, but respect must be earned.” Is that really true? If by respect we mean a feeling of respect or admiration, then it is true. However, respect used in reference to marriage is not just a feeling; it’s an action. It is something to choose to give whether I feel it or not. We do this all the time. A student may not like a teacher, principal, or coach. A citizen may not feel a lot of respect for a particular president, judge, or policeman. However, he or she had better learn to show those figures respect. How much truer this is in a marriage. A wife’s feelings of respect for her husband (or a husband’s for his wife, for that matter) will grow or diminish as she gets to know him, observing his character and skills. When she feels respect for him, showing it – expressing it – will come easily. However, God isn’t calling us to the easy thing, but the harder thing: showing respect whether it’s deserved or not. It’s the same challenge God gives to husbands. The call to sacrificially love, nourish, cherish, and honor our wives isn’t limited to their good days. It extends to every day!
Respect is not optional. It’s essential in a healthy marriage. What can you do if you don’t have a lot of respect for your husband?
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
1) Focus on the positive. Stop and take time to identify the good instead of the bad. Tell him and others where he excels; talk about things excellent rather than things deficient. Concentrate on the actions worthy of praise, not criticism. Thank God for what is right about this man, not what is wrong. Every man has some areas that are honorable; talk to others about those areas. Dwell on the lovely, not the ugly; the true, not the false. This may seem hard at first, but trust in God’s help to do this, and just do it! Focus on the positive, and see if the negatives don’t begin to diminish. However, this takes time, so commit to the positive and stay there.
2) Focus on the position. God calls us to respect the fact that leaders may not always be right, but they are always responsible. God will hold the husband accountable for the condition of the home, so respect that position of responsibility. It is not so much an issue of authority as it is an issue of accountability and responsibility. Respect that position of responsibility and his calling as the leader in your home. Permit me to paraphrase another passage – one written to call the church to respect its leaders – and apply it to marriage.
Obey your leaders (husbands) and (respectfully) submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls (and your homes) as those who will give an account (to God). Let them do this (lead out in your marriage) with joy (sensing your support and respect) and not with grief (as you nag them about their shortcomings and poor decisions), for this (type of disrespectful relationship) would be unprofitable for you (and all those in your family). (Hebrews 13:17)
3) Focus on the Lord. Ultimately, our calling is to the lordship of Christ, not to any human being. We must not focus on a husband’s worthiness, but on Christ’s worthiness. It is our Redeemer, the Lamb of God, whom we serve. It is out of respect and worship to our Sovereign God that we give respect to those He places over us in life. Remember that fulfillment is not about being all I want to be, but about being all God calls me to be. What a difference it makes when my desire for holiness is greater than my desire for happiness. In the end, the desire for holiness is the key to real joy through all the days of my life and my marriage. God wants us to understand that giving a husband respect is not just about trying to please a man. It’s about trying to please the One who has showered us all with more respect than we could ever deserve.
A Servant-Wife Trusts. Trust means so much to a man. As a wife encourages and follows the leadership of her husband, that expression of trust becomes a powerful act of love. It says to him, “I believe in you.” Again, do not misunderstand the point. Women certainly need to receive trust from their husbands. Everyone, man or woman, yearns to be trusted. But for men that desire is much more intense. Remember, we are different by design. Just as the woman’s greater need is to feel that her husband truly cares about her, so the man’s greater need is to know that he is trusted by his wife.
A question many women ask is, “How do I trust when trusting isn’t easy?” That’s a legitimate question. Just as trust is a component of respect, so the solutions for repairing a lack of trust are similar to the solutions that apply to building up a spirit of respect. Just as in that circumstance, you need to focus on the positive, the position, and the Lord.
1) Focus on the positive. Begin by focusing on your husband’s strengths. Every man has areas in which he excels. Trust comes easier when you let your mind dwell on those things.
2) Focus on the position. God has called the husband to lead. Remember that God’s desire is not to enslave but to bless. The leadership envisioned is one modeled after Christ’s sacrificial love at the Cross. It is important that the wife remember that God has called her husband to a position of responsibility and accountability for his family. Just as church leaders will someday give an account for the souls under their care, so husbands will someday stand before God and be accountable for the health and well-being of their family. A wife must trust her husband, let him lead, and encourage him to grow as a leader, for he will someday stand in the presence of God and be held accountable for the decisions and direction of his home. He may not always be right, but he is always responsible.
What if you don’t agree with the direction or decision of your husband? Communicate! Share your input and observations. Every man needs help as he leads. Every wise leader seeks to utilize the strengths of his team, especially his number one assistant. Even the best of leaders blows it sometimes, but God still calls us to follow those leaders.
3) Focus on the Lord. It is only possible to trust your husband if your ultimate trust is in the Lord. God never expects a wife to follow a husband into sin. The highest authority and accountability in all our relationships is to our Lord and our God. But when decisions are not a matter of obeying or disobeying our God, that very God calls wives to respect and follow the lead of the man He as brought into their lives. The only way for any woman to do this is to recognize that her hope, ultimately, is not in her husband but in her God. To trust and follow a mere man is only possible as a wife deepens her trust in God. She must believe that God will be her true Source of security and hope. It is only then that she will be able to risk trusting the man in her life.
A Servant-Wife Supports. Another effective tool for loving your husband is to back him up. Every man loves to know that his wife not only believes in him and wants to see him succeed but is also willing to help make it happen. She supports him. She is proud to serve with him and be at his side. The Lord knew men need helpers. A man feels loved when his wife says, “Wherever you go and whatever you do, I’m in. I’m with you. You can count on me.” However, there is a fine line between supporting and mothering. Men love to sense support, but often pull away from unsolicited assistance. If you act like a mother, often telling your husband how to do it or how to do it the right way, he will withdraw and feel resentment. If you just can’t hold back, then at least give the advice as a suggestion, respectfully. Don’t act irritated that he’s approaching life or some challenge big or small from a direction different than the one you would have picked. Men do need to honor and listen to the wisdom of their wives. However, every man needs just one mother in his life. When we get married, we need a friend, a lover, a fan who believes in us, one who sticks closer than a brother, a soul mate, a helper who believes in us and loves us just the way we are. Men feel loved when they are supported.
A Servant-Wife Accepts. Acceptance flows from the gift of unconditional love. One of the most common complaints from men is “She keeps trying to change me.” The problem is, trying to “fix” a man begins to trigger resistance, even anger. A word that fits perfectly here is: nagging.
It is better to live in a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman. (Proverbs 25:24)
A nagging wife is as annoying as the constant dripping on a rainy day. (Proverbs 27:15 NLT)
The nagging spouse is never happy, constantly complaining. A man feels like no matter what is done, he can never make her happy. Does this mean a wife can never mention a concern or a frustration or offer a suggestion for change to her husband? Submission is NOT silence. Submission is NOT passivity. God wants to use our spouses to help us grow. A man needs to know when his wife’s needs or expectations are going unmet. The key is communicate, but don’t nag. Share your ideas, concerns, fears, or expectations, but then leave it alone. Give God a chance to work and your husband time to change. Don’t bring it up time and time again. And always communicate acceptance. When the marital atmosphere is full of acceptance, approval, and affirmation, feedback will fall on receptive ears. But when a man feels he can never be good enough to please you, he will soon quit trying. Ultimately, the secret to giving such unconditional acceptance is not found in a wife’s relationship with her husband but in her relationship with God. As long as God is left out of the formula, she will think the responsibility to change her husband falls to her. Without acceptance and the respect that comes with it, the husband will most likely withdraw into passivity or flee to another woman who gives him that respect.
Again, what if the man is far from perfect. Scripture in 1 Peter 3:1-2 shows how God has it figured out. Nagging a man never gets the best result. It never draws him to you or to your faith. But a respectful spirit, full of loving acceptance, can draw the unbeliever or disobedient husband like a magnet toward his wife and her faith.
A Servant-Wife Admires, Appreciates, and is Affectionate. Admiration, appreciation, and affection. Men yearn for all three and love to know someone thinks they are special. This in no way minimizes the need for women to be and feel “cherished” by their husbands. But somehow, these qualities seem to mean even more to men than to women. And when it comes from their wives, the impact of receiving these qualities goes up dramatically. Keep the following unique differences concerning men in mind:
1) Men are turned on by praise. Praise is a powerful tool that means much to a man.
2) Men appreciate attention to physical beauty. Men are drawn to the physical far more than women are. When a man’s wife takes the time to make herself look good, it is an expression of love.
3) Men highly value physical affection. For men, affection begins with respectful admiration and builds with sincere appreciation. But it is the sexual relationship with his wife that best says, “I love you.” It is crucial for the wife to understand that most husbands value this physical act of love more highly than their wives do. God speaks to the importance of the physical relationship in marriage:
But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (I Cor 7:2-5)
Sex is a responsibility, not a right. It is about giving, not getting; about pleasing more than pleasure. Of course, the beauty of this mysterious act of love is that the more you give, the more you’re likely to receive. According to God’s blueprint, your body belongs to your spouse. Therefore, work at saying yes to one another. Focus on giving pleasure to your husband.
Does this mean you should do whatever he wants, not matter how you feel? Not necessarily. The application of this text must be keep in mind the rest of God’s directives for husbands and wives, such as:
1) “[Speak] the truth in love” (Eph 4:15);
2) “Be angry, and yet to not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26);
3) “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit” (Phil 2:3);
4) “Do not [just] look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:4).
Keep in mind that just as the wife’s body is under the authority of her husband, so also the husband’s body is under the authority of the wife. God always provides for balance. God, knowing our differences, calls both, men and women, to be givers, not takers, in the sexual relationship. This may call the average husband to focus on greater patience and sensitivity and the average wife to take seriously the sexual needs of her husband. God’s advice to wives is “just say yes” as often as possible. Make your sexual relationship a priority. Don’t ignore the fact that in 1 Cor 7:5 Paul placed your sexual relationship right after your prayer life in importance. God says that if we really need to “just say no,” then we should follow these four guidelines from that verse:
1) “Stop depriving one another” – don’t say no often;
2) “Except by agreement” – talk about it;
3) “For a time” – make it the exception, not the rule;
4) “Come together again” – plan and keep it a priority.
||HE FEELS LOVED
||SHE FEELS LOVED
||He gives more care
||She gives more respect