What is Grace-energized Submission?
March 16, 2012
By John Barnett
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Jesus reduced life to one simple goal—seeking God’s rule over each day of my life. Do you remember Christ's simple yet powerful words? Please open there with me:
Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." NKJV
Ever since the Garden of Eden, and mankind’s fall into sin—we humans have wanted our own way. Submission in Biblical terms is when we submit to wanting God’s way.
When sin entered the world, the woman desired to rule over the man; the man desired to rule over the woman, and both departed from their God-ordained roles in life. The fall has impacted every part of life, including marriage--as husbands and wives compete for first place.
Now, instead of being the Christ-like leader of his home, as the biblical head over his wife, the typical man has become either dominant and forceful—or passive and uncaring; in reaction, the typical woman has either resisted his control or had to become the leader she was never designed by God to be. And that whole distortion began
way back in the Garden!
Biblical submission in marriage can only be understood and practiced when seen in the wider context of God’s plan. First and before all other commands--God commands each of us that we first submit to Him (James 4.7). We surrender to God and seek first His rule over our lives on a daily basis (Mt. 6:33).
Then, after submission to Him, God also commands that we each submit to others He has established in His Divine plan:
• Congregations are to submit to their elders (Heb. 13:17);
• Citizens are to submit to their rulers (I Peter 2:13);
• Younger believers are to submit to older (mature) believers (I Peter 5:5; Titus 2), and so on. Because:
Mutual Submission is Part of God’s Plan
The whole “Spirit-filled” life is described in Ephesians 5:1-20. Do you remember how it culminates with the great imperative of Ephesians 5:18?
Ephesians 5:18 "And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit," NKJV
And then, what comes next? God applies this Spirit-filled walk with an explanation how the Holy Spirit graciously fills our hearts with a submission that overflows into every aspect of life.
That means that our topic this morning—grace-energized submission for wives fits as just one piece of a much larger plan.
The clearest statement of submission for a wife comes in the middle of this much larger teaching about Spirit-prompted submission. If you trace the word and concept of submission in Ephesians 5:21-6:9, it is actually stated or implied seven times. Let’s turn there and note these truths.
It is, in other words, a complete (as in the meaning of number 7) guide to the work of God’s Spirit empowering us to be like Jesus. Here is the larger context of a wife’s submission:
• We all are to submit to each other (5:21).
• Wives are to submit to their husbands (5:22).
• Husbands are to submit to the picture of Christ and the church (5:23-33).
• Children are to obey (submit to) their parents (6:1-4).
• Bondservants are to submit to their masters, as in an employee-to-employer relationship today (6:5-8).
• Masters (business owners and managers of today) are to submit to their heavenly Master (6:9a).
• Everyone is to submit to their Master in heaven (6:9b).
Wives Energized By God Will Submit to Their Husbands
God’s final lesson for younger women in the church is submission as we see in Titus 2. Unfortunately, the KJV and NJKV obscure the complete message Paul gave to Titus.
Titus 2:5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. NKJV
Listen to how the NIV and NASB render this word correctly, as it is translated everywhere else it shows up in the New Testament:
Titus 2:5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. NIV
Titus 2:5 to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored. NASB
God’s Spirit led Paul to use a word (hupotassumenas) translated “be subject to” because it does not mean ‘obey’. God does not say wives (like He does to children) “obey your husbands”. Rather it means that a grace-energized woman accepts the relationship of marriage that God has designed, and willingly subjects herself to God’s order for her marriage, because:
Submission is Biblical
No teaching of Christ's church is more disliked within and without than this doctrine. However, God blesses those who honor what He values. Biblical submission is vital for godly living.
Biblical submission is only understood in context of all that God has said. Submission is not just for women, nor just for wives—it is commanded at every level among all believers. Submission is an attitude of humbly living out what God has called us to be and to do. Among believers submission is always a two-way subjection and never one-way.
God has established roles for the church and the home. Men are to fulfill the place of the leader as fathers and husbands. When a wife willingly follows her husband she is acknowledging to God her husband’s role as planned and directed by God's Word.
In the church, the husband to whom v.2 was written was to have repented of any behavior that would be seen as impatient, unfaithful, unloving, or tyrannical. The wife has already been instructed that God expects her to never be rebellious, undermining her husband’s authority or contradicting his leadership. This grace-energized submission is part of spiritual maturity.
This grace-energized wife fulfills the responsibilities in her marriage and home that God gave her, in God’s power, for God’s glory—and only in God’s gracious power. This submission described in God's Word never means or implies any inferiority (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 5:24; Col. 3:18; I Peter 3:1, 5), because:
Submission is Mutual
God designed marriage so that husbands and wives see their roles in the context of a spiritual partnership, godly love, and a Biblical covenant. In God’s plan husbands are not to make every decision in the marriage, nor does the role as leader make every decision a correct one.
Thus in mutual submission a husband should always consider his wife’s opinion or he is foolish. Paul wrote to husbands in Eph. 5:26, and described a leadership that involved sacrificial love for the ones being led. A husband who misuses his role as leader is just as sinful as a wife who refuses to follow.
Believers who consider marriage should always come to an understanding of the implications of Biblical submission for their lives together. It is impossible for a man and woman to marry and remain independent. There are some decisions that a couple will eventually face that no matter how long they discuss them—they will not agree. It is at that point that the godly wife submits to her husband’s role—and he leads as best he can with his understanding of God’s will.
This means that a godly woman must come to the place of practical submission as revealed by the following questions. You may wish to answer these silently in your mind if you are married to see how you are doing in the realm of Biblical submission as a husband and wife. Biblical submission means a positive response should be made by both husbands and wives on these two questions.
• Husband: Am I ready to answer to the Lord for the decisions I make in which I have overruled my wife’s opinions and gone forward with what I thought best in the situation?
• Wife: Can I voluntarily submit to my husband’s decision after I have shared my heart, and yet we still differ on this decision?
When both marriage partners are believers and want to honor the Lord, submission is not a problem.
• Biblical husbands energized by grace are servant-leaders who lead and serve in Christ's love as we see in John 13:1-7 as Jesus washed His dispels feet.
• Biblical wives are energized by grace to submit and resist fearing or despising their husbands as they lead by loving servanthood. Paul describes this amazing partnership in I Cor. 7:1-40 and Eph. 5:22-33.
But why is this grace-energized submission so important? Because Paul said when grace-energized submission or any of the other six elements of Titus 2:4-5 are lacking God is not glorified and His Word is discredited. Look back at those words that conclude v. 5.
Titus 2:5 …"that the word of God may not be blasphemed." NKJV
As we live out our marriages and personal lives before a watching world we either point them to an Awesome God or we give them ammunition to use against us and God.
When we don’t live the way God asks us to live we are denying not only God's Word but also Him who gave us His Word to live for the glory of our Redeemer and Savior who died to purchase us.
For the world to be convinced that God can save them from sin they need to see people who live holy lives. God is mocked when we do not live what His Word commands us to live (Mat. 5:16; I Pet. 2:9).
The idea of wifely submission is therefore not a very popular topic in our day. Some resistance to submission is simply sinful rebellion against the will of God; but sometimes it reflects a wrong understanding of what the biblical wife’s submission really involves. Therefore, to clarify a wife’s role in biblical submission, we need to correct common misconceptions, and then discuss what Scripture really says about submission.
What Biblical Submission Is Not
God says, in the second chapter of Genesis, “[It is] not good for man to be alone: I will make a help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18, KJV). The key word in that verse is the word “for.” God made the woman for Adam—to complete him by adding a quality of life that previously did not exist.
Eve was a precious gift to Adam—to fulfill him as a person. And the Lord said that this was “very good.” (Genesis 1:26-27, 2:23), and Galatians 3:28 all assert the spiritual, mental, and physical equalitarian status and dignity of women and men. However, in spite of this, there are still five common misconceptions about submission:
• Misconception #1: Submission is only for women. Actually, we are all commanded to submit to one another in Christ’s body. So this is a universal responsibility, not merely for wives. (Eph. 5.21; Phil. 2.3-4; I Pet. 5.5; Rom. 13.1; Heb. 13.17)
• Misconception #2: Submission is bondage. Wrong. Jesus said that submission to obey what God has commanded is actually a tremendous picture of love. (Jn. 14.21)
• Misconception #3: Submission means muting. Never. The Scriptures which describe godly wives never state or imply that she may not speak. Rather, she is to become the treasured confidant, advisor, and completer for her man who stands in front protecting her—not silencing her. (Pr. 31.26; Ac. 18.26; Judges 13.21-23)
• Misconception #4: Submission means invisibility. Actually, a submissive wife opens the doors to endless opportunities because by obedience she frees God to give all that He in His plan wants to give to her. It is rebellion which hides anyone’s true potential for God. (Proverbs 31 woman)
• Misconception #5: Submission means inferiority. God has ordained gender-specific roles for men and women within the church and home. The Scriptures never imply that a woman is anything less than equal with a man. In history many women have excelled men in many areas. But to excel with God, submission equals obedience to a God-given role. Jesus said, “I can do nothing on my own initiative, as I hear I judge; … I do not seek my own will but the will of Him who sent me” (John 5:30, NASB).
So, if those are the errors, what is the truth?
When Energized by Grace—We Obey
A wife’s proper relationship to her husband is as a lovely act of worship of Christ in our heavenly Father’s eyes. Submission “as to the Lord” provides daily opportunities for the wife to show the Lord’s “worth ship” through service to her husband. The Lord has prescribed for women, wives, and mothers, a gender-specific role within three realms: the church, the marriage, and the family. This wonderful act of worship is reflected in the following truths:
Truth #1: Submission is a choice. Believing wives are asked by God to submit as an obedient response to God. God never makes us obey—He asks us to obey. Husbands are not commanded to demand submission, but to win it by love (Eph. 5.22; I Pet. 3.1).
The Holy Spirit applies submission for a godly woman by the structure of Scripture. Submission was inspired as a present tense (that means “ongoing”) imperative (that means “non-optional”). So submission is a not a choice of whether to obey or disobey a husband, but a choice to obey or disobey the Lord.
Truth #2: Submission is unto the Lord. Submission is really between a woman and her Lord God Almighty. It is a choice to do what He says, whether it is agreeable, understandable, or even possible.
It is also only presented in a positive way (what she should do), and never negatively (what she should not do). It is “as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). The same One who said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, NASB) goes on to say, “[Be subject] to your own husbands …” (Ephesians 5:22).
Truth #3: Submission multiplies the blessings of our marriage. When Genesis 2:24 says that two become one, this merging is a public declaration that all the gifts, talents, strengths, goals, dreams, hopes, and desires of two lives are poured into one vessel. That results in a multiplication. Each is doubled.
And contra wise, any weaknesses, cares, concerns, and deficits which are lacking are all poured into that larger sphere, and are now reduced greatly.
Truth #4: Submission draws us closer as a couple. A unity candle is often used in weddings to symbolize two becoming one. First, the two outside candles are lit to indicate that the bride and groom were two individual lives, just like the two individual candles.
Then they merge their two individual lights into a single center candle, and once it is lit, they extinguish their individual candles. That is the precious truth that unifies a couple as they share all of life.
Truth #5: Submission liberates us to be what God made us to be. When we see submission as God designed it to be, we are amazed. It is not a dungeon, but a delight. It is not bondage, but liberty. It is not a bitter pill to swallow, but a lifelong meal prepared for our enjoyment by our Creator: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34, NASB).
Did Jesus just dutifully obey? No, He delighted in obeying His Father. When we truly submit, we shall also delight.
Truth #6: Submission opens all of our lives to each other. A godly wife gets to share every part of the life of the one she loves most on earth. That is what Paul said in Ephesians 5:24, NASB: “Wives ought to be [subject] to their husbands in everything.” Of course, wives are still first of all believers, so God would never ask them to sin or dishonor Him to fulfill their husband’s wishes (Ac. 5.28-29).
But any wife who loves God, offers herself in every possible way to willingly be her husband’s helper, completer, and companion—one who delights him at all times.
What Happens When a Wife Submits to Her Husband?
A grace-energized wife will lovingly and respectfully submit to her husband’s direction. Just like the Proverbs 31 woman, she will evidence a servant’s heart toward her life partner. What are some ways that a wife can display a servant’s heart? What are the characteristics of such a woman?
1. A grace-energized woman of submission draws her husband. A Grace-energized wife realizes how hard it is for her husband to live and work in the world. Temptations swirl around him all day long. Weariness and discouragement come at him from all sides. So a wise wife decides that home will be a magnet for him—a shining beacon on a hill that beckons her husband to come. It should be the place he would rather be when he is at work and at play.
It should be his place to refocus, be refreshed, and be renewed. She is the guardian of that place. When activities and the urgent overrun this priority, all must be stopped and the home reset to be the place of refuge her husband needs: “The heart of her husband safely trusts her; So he will have no lack of gain” (Proverbs 31:11).
2. A grace-energized woman of submission pleases and honors her husband. What man can ever resist this kind of a woman? She has a lifelong desire to do what pleases him: “She does him good and not evil all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:12). She also honors him in her words, attitudes, and actions: “Let the wife [see] that she respects [her] husband” (Ephesians 5:33b).
Only the Lord has a higher place for this Grace-energized wife. No house, no job, no child, no ministry can hold her; she wants to please and honor the man God made for her. That is her calling and role given by the Lord himself.
3. A grace-energized woman of submission serves her husband. The Lord designed the men to be out “sweating” to provide, and the women to be inside making his entire world ready for his homecoming. A grace-energized wife directs the house, the children, the schedule, and the meals to all make her husband’s life a joy:
“She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue [is] the law of kindness. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband [also], and he praises her: ‘Many daughters have done well, But you excel them all’ ” (Proverbs 31:26-29).
The reason the Proverbs 31 woman is so amazing is that her marriage was at the center of all she did. It was her primary ministry!
4. A grace-energized woman of submission blesses her husband. The Lord said that our words flow from our heart. That means a godly wife, full of the Holy Spirit, would never speak wickedly about her husband or to him. She gives her mouth to God and meditates upon:
“She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness” (Proverbs 31:26).
“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers… And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:29, 32).
5. A grace-energized woman of submission trusts her husband. If you are married, it is God’s will. And since it is His will, you need to trust God with the details. The Lord can get your husband to shape up in an infinitely greater way than you ever could. All the Lord asks is this: “Trust Me with your husband.” So what should you do? Trust your husband as God’s man for you—for life!
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
6. A grace-energized woman of submission waits for her husband. Many wives are miles ahead of their husbands and can get so frustrated at their plodding. Don’t discourage your husband; don’t push him—wait for him.
“Walk worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1b-3).
7. A grace-energized woman of submission challenges her husband. Husbands can’t resist godly wives. That is what Peter said. So, maintain a spiritual life full of devotion to God. A dynamic ongoing relationship with Christ is the key to being enabled to lovingly and respectfully submit to your husband’s leadership.
“Wives, likewise, [be] submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct [accompanied] by fear” (1 Peter 3:1-2).
8. A grace-energized woman of submission forgives her husband. Christ’s love causes a Grace-energized wife to forgive her husband’s failures, weaknesses, and struggles. God’s grace allows her to look at him with eyes of love and to think the truth. Love him as Christ loves you is her motto.
“Love suffers long [and] is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails …” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a).
Submission is a Divine Calling
Wives, you are called by God to be in submission to your husband— to be his unique and suitable helper. In this section we have seen what that means. But knowing what it means is of little value unless it is applied to your relationship with your husband. Knowing these facts will not promote oneness in marriage. Performing them will. I therefore ask you to examine your relationship to your husband in the light of these truths. Are you really practicing submission with a servant’s heart? Are you really practicing being your husband’s helper?
Marriage is God’s training ground to prepare husbands and wives for greater service for Christ. Ever changing, each unique personality is used by the Lord as heavenly sandpaper on the other. It is in the nitty-gritty events of daily living that our true character comes out—not the one we present to others, but the real us.
Learning how to biblically handle that day-in-day-out give and take is essential if we are to have a successful marriage. I suggest that where you find yourself to be failing, prayerfully consider this checklist:
• Confess those failures to one another (James 5:16).
• Accept the washing and cleansing that Jesus wants to bring to us through His precious blood, as Revelation 1:5 reminds us.
• Ask the Holy Spirit for power to be different (Galatians 5:16, 22-23).
A Grace-energized wife genuinely believes that her primary ministry is her marriage. She willingly moves out in obedience to the Word of God, making any necessary changes the Holy Spirit brings to mind (Phil. 2.12-13; Js. 1:19-24). A Grace-energized marriage is a small snapshot of the delights of heaven—a living portrait of the perfect love of Jesus!