Submission, the Dirty Word

What most people don’t know? It isn’t just for women.

A lot of girls I know would shudder at the mention of this word submit. It’s become like a swear word. Su#@!t. You want us to what?! We, independent women of the 21st century, answer to no one. Least of all a man.

Here’s where one of the biggest misconceptions about submission comes in. The Bible never asks all women to submit to all men. That would be madness. When looking at verses in the bible, they need to be read in context, and as one part of a whole. There are actually four types of submission found in the bible.

  1. To God

This is the most important one. We submit to God because He created us and when we’ve accepted Jesus dying on the cross to take away our sins, we become a part of His kingdom. In James 4:7, the word “submit” can be replaced with the phrase “let God work His will in you” (MSG). Part of this is submitting to God’s Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1 NIV). We can’t think that we are above God’s Word. We don’t change it to suit us, we change ourselves to line up with its unswerving truth. God loves us extravagantly and has plans bigger than we can understand. So we can either be people who go our own way like a stubborn child, maintaining control of our own mediocre (when compared to an omnipotent creator) human plans, or we can allow the King of the universe to work in and through us in a way that changes us forever and impacts those around us. To me, that sounds a whole sight better than fumbling through life with my own faulted plans, wondering if I have a purpose or if I am indeed worth anything.

  1. To leaders and older people

How many times have you heard the phrase yelled, “Respect your elders!”? It is a worn-out cliché that I have to wonder if young people even hear anymore. It’s met with a response something like yeah, yeah … whatever. 1 Peter 5:5 calls young people to “be submissive to those who are older” (NIV), which adults may relish quoting as they waggle their finger at you. But never fear, younger people. A few verses before when addressing leaders, Peter says to lead “not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way” (MSG).

Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account” (NIV). Submission in the right contexts is actually for our protection and is designed to bring us freedom, although the world preaches otherwise. Shepherds (church leaders) are called to protect the sheep, and if you are not submitted to their leadership, they can’t take care of you.

  1. Wives to husbands

Here’s the big one. I can already feel the defensive walls springing up. As I said before, a common mistake to make is in thinking that all women must submit to all men. This is not biblical.

Ephesians 5:22-30 talks about submission in marriage, but in The Message version, Eugene H. Peterson rewords it in a way that gently but deftly dissolves defensiveness. He says, “Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support to Christ” (MSG).

Ladies, because we are to submit to our husbands out of obedience to Christ, it means that we do it whether our man is holding up his end of the bargain or not. In the eyes of God, marriage is not a contract, but a covenant. A contract says, “If you, then I will…” A covenant says, “Even if you never, I still will…” A wife submits to her husband as he in turn submits himself to Christ and a marriage is designed to reflect Christ’s relationship with his bride, the church.

A lot of people misquote and misinterpret this scripture, either conveniently swapping in the word “obey” instead of “submit”, or using the verse speaking to wives in isolation. Women do not have to obey their husbands with unquestioning blindness. Children obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1). There is a distinct difference.

I was once told during my university years that because I plan to submit to my husband someday that I was going to get beaten up by him. I thought, Cheers for that piece of unsolicited advice. Free speech at its best. Yes, it can be dangerous to submit to a man who is not godly or is cruel, but if a man truly loves Jesus, this is the pattern he is following: “The husband provides leadership to his wife … not by domineering but by cherishing … Husbands, go all out for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting” (Ephesians 5:23-25, MSG). I bet that would be news to some people, men and women alike. How much easier (and safer) to submit to a man’s leadership if he is giving his life up for you.

Matthew Henry says, “Submission is the duty of wives. But it is submission, not to a severe lord or stern tyrant, but to her own husband, who is engaged to affectionate duty. And husbands must love their wives with tender and faithful affection.” If the husbands are leading and loving according to God’s pattern, submission works wonderfully. I’ve seen it.

Submitting to a husband does not make you his doormat. Men and women were created equal. God created Eve out of Adam’s rib, after all (as someone smart pointed out to me). Not the head so that she would rule over him, or the foot so that she would be his doormat. They are equal in value and walk beside each other, as he leads. We have unique, exciting roles to play, one no better than the other. And when families come under God’s pattern for living, they flourish. It’s a pattern proven over and over by scripture.

  1. To one another

Paul says, “Submit to one another [or be courteously reverent to one another] “out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21, NIV and MSG in parenthesis). This letter is addressed to the church in Ephesus, and is talking to all Christians.

Let me leave you with this thought: submission is meant to bring freedom. God does not say things to weigh us down, but to allow us to live the way we were designed to. Easy yoke, light burden, remember?

He who the son sets free is free indeed.
(John 8:36)

Sincerely, Lil



The Holy Bible, New International Version (2006) & The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, by Eugene H. Peterson (2002).

Benson, ‘Benson Commentary’, Bible Hub, accessed 10 March 2015, <;.

Henry, M 2004, ‘Matthew Henry’s Commentary: Colossians 3’, Bible Hub, accessed 10 March 2015, <;.

Image: Eakin, S 2013, ‘Soma’, accessed 16 March 2015, <;.


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