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Building a Great Marriage

Building a Great Marriage

Life Principle #2:

Humble Submission

Session #3

Great Marriage

Paul and Linda J. Bucknell

Building a Great Marriage Index:
Faith: #1 Hope | #2 Love | #3 Submission | #4 Oneness
Forgiveness: #5 Conflict | #6 Crises | #7 Forgiveness
Friendship: #8 Intimacy | #9 Trust | #10 Love works!

Life Principle #2 | Two Choices | Subtle arguments
Maturing process | Describing submission | Questions
Summary | Action plan

Unconditional Love

Purpose: Great marriages need humble submissiveness. Wives need to subject themselves to their husbands in order to develop a great marriage.The world feeds its lies to women so that they will not subject themselves to their husbands.

God has provided a way to have great marriages. His design is fully trustworthy. Marriage is much like a ship trying to enter the harbor on a stormy night. Everything is guesswork. Mistakes are fatal. We see marriages failing all around us.

Even those with half-decent marriages fear that some unknown flaw will become apparent and devastate their marriage. We must not only resist living in fear but also choose to live by faith in God’s good design for marriage. God’s design is fully trustworthy.

“Where you tend a rose, my lad,
A thistle cannot grow.”

When we trust in God’s design, we are in fact putting our faith in God Himself. This faith is not only sufficient for our own lives but also for the many suffering couples around us that want help. God wants us to live in hope. When that lighthouse shines its beams, suddenly the captain knows to stay to the south of the light to sail into the safety of the harbor. Putting our trust in God’s design for marriage is a safe harbor.

God’s marriage design is fully trustworthy. First we need to learn how it works and then put into operation in our lives. In this lesson we will look at the second life principle of ‘Humble Submission.’ We use this phrase ‘life principle’ to describe something that though specifically applicable to a situation like marriage, is also generally needed for godly living.

The first life principle of Unconditional Love evokes the question: “Why isn’t the wife also commanded to love?” Wives also ought to love their husbands. That is understood. Everyone is accountable to love others. But for husbands, this command to love stands out as the beam from the lighthouse.

Husbands don’t need a lot of lights or commands to bring help to their marriage. Like a technician, God knows what Lighthouse for Wivespart needs fixing or replacement. His counsel is straightforward. Wives don’t need this command to love, but they need to be loving in all they think, say, and do. Women are made differently and relate differently to their spouses. Their beam from the lighthouse says,

“Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22).

This one command helps wives during their many confusing moments. When all the darkness revolves around her soul and all sorts of voices shout what she ought to do, God’s clear light brings the needed direction. Through this simple and straightforward command God brings help to a wife during these times. We need to learn more how this one short direction can help her.

When wives submit themselves to their husbands,
they remember their calling and find rich fulfillment.

A) Understanding the Second Life Principle: Humble Submission

Marriage can seem extremely complicated because of insurmountable marriage problems that people face. God doesn’t want us to be overwhelmed. The solution is within reach. In fact, God has given us a picture lesson so that we can easily access what we need to know even at the most bewildering times.

Loved Chosen Bought Belonging ShareThe design of marriage is modeled after God’s own redemptive plan that is reflected in His own person. The scriptures call the parallel between Christ and the church and the husband and wife a solved mystery. In other words, Christ’s coming and displaying God’s love for His people has unlocked the truths of marriage.Life principle  2

The earthly image of marriage sometimes helps us better understand the spiritual truth. Sometimes though, especially for those that grew up with a poor marriage model, it is the spiritual truth that helps us to better understand how to improve our own marriages.

The gospel mystery was first unfolded when God sent His Son Christ to die for our sins. God loved us, the church, even though we did not love Him. The cross was necessary for our sins to be forgiven so that we could be reconciled to Him. This is God's great love. This unconditional love is the first life principle that must especially shape a husband’s love for his wife. The scriptures speak so clearly of this love in Ephesians chapter one.

"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses,
according to the riches of His grace which He lavished upon us." (Ephesians 1:7-8a)

He loved us, chose us, sacrificially bought us so that we could belong to Him and share in His vast glory throughout all eternity. This is the real love of God that floods and radiates our souls even if we are loved by no one else. His love satisfies all of our deepest longings. We are able to perfectly respond to our mates through His love even when our spouse is unfaithful. But the mystery doesn’t stop there.

While the husband is to imitate God’s love to the church, the wife is to emulate the church’s response to her Lord Jesus Christ. As the church faithfully responds to the Lord’s directions, so the wife is to follow her husband’s directions.

“But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:24).

The church is awed that God would ever love her. She was an undesirable outcast. And yet, our majestic Lord purchased His people so that they could take part in His glorious redemptive plan and so that we could share in His eternal riches. As the church focuses on her inherent undesirability and yet her grand position, she is able to recast her life.

She is delighted and eager to be faithful and obedient to her Lord. In the same way a wife should take joy in being chosen by her husband to be his bride and live out her life and commitment in light of this. In her honored position, she delightfully does anything to be with him. She is eager to submit to his every word and whim. She finds fulfillment in that special position of serving her husband. Let’s note one more aspect of this mystery.

God has a purpose in His love. He has a purpose for His people. Oftentimes wives get disillusioned with the housework, caring for crying babies, wiping snotty noses. She needs to think back to God’s purpose for obtaining His bride. We see this in the following verses.

buy marriage book“In order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:7-10).

Husband and wife designGod’s plan for the church is to bring His surpassing riches to His people. But at the same time, He has instructed us that in order to obtain them we must do good works. It isn’t impossible.

God has already planned them out for us. We just need to follow through. What would you say about God’s intention? Is He not more than good? He sure is. So as His people we eagerly do these good works. We get to complete Christ’s good works. We serve Him while we serve others.

Nothing has changed when we think of the wife’s need to subject herself to her husband. This is her calling. This is her opportunity for good works. She just needs to do it. But in a similar way, when she carefully lives out God’s love in her service, she impacts her husband, children and the world.

“Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
“Many daughters have done nobly,
but you excel them all”” (Proverbs 31:28-29).

We see then that God’s plan is liberating for the women. It is her means to expand God’s kingdom of love. Many have questioned the Lord’s intention for calling the woman to submit to her husband. These suggestions breed all sorts of revulsion to Christ’s command. Clearly this is not what the Lord intended. He paved a path of gold and called her to walk on it beside Him. At the end is the castle.

We need to better understand why it is this command that the Lord especially gave to wives. This will help sort out many misunderstandings about function and enable her to further commit herself to it.

You can order the Building a Great Marriage printed seminar materials including handouts at the BFF Resource Center or just get the BFF Marriage Training Library which includes all our marriage articles including powerpoints .

B) The Two Choices

The wife will soon learn that though the pathway is clearly laid out there is a tremendous amount of inner turmoil about walking on that path. She will need to make a clear choice as to what she will do. She will either follow her feelings or follow the scriptures. Actually, in order to do a fine job, she will need to clearly acknowledge several truths:

(1) She will subject herself to her husband in everything. (Ephesians 5:24).

(2) She will seek her husband’s guidance on what and how to do things.

(3) She will find inner satisfaction primarily from God’s own love for her as His child.

(4) She will trust the Lord as her ultimate Protector and Provider.

The secular world has taken hold of the media, and the average wife is hearing much more world than God. She needs to clearly understand that the world has or is attempting to persuade her. The scripture states that true satisfaction comes as she denies her own choices and sets her heart on pleasing her husband.

The more she affirms that this is what she is designed and called to do, the more she will get a wonderful extra zeal and touch from the Lord to help her be that great helpmate. But because of the strong voice of the evil one blasted through the world’s loudspeakers, she will sometimes feel that she is being cheated out of the good life.

Tree of temptationThe wife is being tempted all the time to deny the authority that God has placed over her. This happened in the Garden of Eden when Eve heard a clever voice calling her to ‘freedom’ or ‘independence.’

"When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make [one] wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate." (Genesis 3:6)

Since that temptation had such good effect, Satan still uses it today! Satan first questions God’s good will. The evil one suggests that she is missing out on something better. That God is withholding something good. Then Satan draws her mind away from God to something that pleases her. Lastly, he attempts to snag her by enticing her obey him. This last point is important.

By doing something different than God said, she is actually coming out from under the authority of her husband and placing herself under another authority. The scripture says that she was deceived. In her deceived frame of mind she still believed that her opinion was better than obeying God. Now let me ask, “Is it not true that wives are often tempted, by thoughts and feelings, to do what she feels is right rather than what her husband asks her to do?”

Without being constantly aware of the truths of God, the woman will be caught off guard and begin making decisions according to her own opinion. Because this is so common, perhaps it would be good to face some of the subtle arguments that the world uses to brainwash women.

C) Subtle Arguments

Argument #1: Husband and wife should keep their independence

husband and wifeHusbands and wives today often think of marriage as more like a business contract where they share resources together. These husbands and wives think that it is wise to have independent lifestyles, sometimes because they think things might not work out too well.

Husband and wife: One model
This illustration shows better the marriage effect on the couple. They are complements of each other.

This kind of marriage looks intact because the couple lives with each other. That might seem like oneness, but it is not a picture of biblical marriage. In this case one could theoretically have two males or two females.

They both have their own jobs and their own lives. Marriage in these terms is a mere social contract that guides how they conduct their common affairs. Because people have this concept, it is easy for them to divorce. They are only canceling the contract.

We have chosen to use another graphic that portrays the integration or interdependence of the husband and wife. Their identities are distinct and yet intertwined through the covenant before God. They now complement each other. They need each other; together they are one for life. This is the reason Jesus said,

“AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH; consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mark 10:8-9).

Husband and wife: Yin Yang model

The wife is not pictured as an independent unit. The husband and wife are integrated together much like two gears. As the husband ‘turns,’ so the wife ‘turns. Another graphic helps us get another perspective of a biblical marriage.

An ancient Chinese graphic more clearly demonstrates this male-female integration within the marriage. As the dominant (husband) initiates, the female (wife) responds. Both are needed to form a whole. “They are no longer two but one flesh,” No image perfectly represents this union, but each in its own way helps us to better understand it.

The world teaches the wife that the husband is sometimes wrong and oftentimes foolish and selfish. If she has any sense, she ought not let him dictate decisions that affect her. But this counsel is godless. It pays no attention to the design of marriage, the responsibility of the wife before God or what God desires.

Argument #2: Protection for Self and Family

A wayward wife seeks to please another beside her husbandThe reason that many reject the wife's need to submit to her husband is for the protection of both herself and her children. The assumption of this argument is that God does not help or protect the needy wife and children. The wife is expected to protect herself.

The God of the scriptures is righteous. He is very concerned with all sorts of oppression and will judge it in His time. We see this in the scriptures where the true Christian displays his heart by caring about the needs of women and children because they are often oppressed or found in difficult straits.

God, however, also sees the heart. He sees that another issue lies behind a wife’s willingness to excuse her unsubmissiveness by taking things into her own hands. God is not blind to the abuse happening. He is more familiar with it than any of us are. However, if we don't face the real reason women reject God's command, our solutions will lead us off course. Greater problems will occur.

Argument #3: Submissiveness means they are unimportant or unvaluable

buy marriage bookUnfortunately, women have been treated as less than persons in the past. This is certainly not the perspective we get when we look at how God made woman. But when people don’t believe the scriptures, we get all sorts of distorted views. Women are of great importance to God.

From the promise of Genesis 3:15 we find that God uses the woman to bring deliverance into the world. Where would Moses have been without the faith of his mother? Where would Jesus be without the faith of Mary? The whole book of Ruth is built around how the faithfulness of one woman enabled the Messiah’s line to continue on.

As mentioned before, submissiveness is simply the proper thing for a wife to do. This is God’s calling for her. This is not to deny any of her gifts or abilities. She is assigned to the husband because she is gifted in several ways. The Lord has designed her gifts to function best in complement to her husband's leadership.

The world has polluted the word ‘submit’ or ‘be subject to,’ but it is part of everyone’s life. Society couldn’t function without it. Notice a brief look at how the same Greek word is used for “to be subject to.”

All things to Christ  

And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him... (1 Cor 15:28)

Slaves to their masters

Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative. (Tit 2:9)

Younger ones to elders

You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; (1 Pe 5:5)

Churches to Christ

But as the church is subject to Christ. (Eph 5:24)

People to rulers   

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed. (Tit 3:1)

Wives to their husbands

To be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored (Tit 2:5).

Everyone in the end will submit to God. If we choose to humble ourselves now, we are promised a great reward. If we are stubborn and refuse to submit to our authorities, then indeed we are readying ourselves for judgment. Although there is no guarantee that the husband will get better, the wife that subjects herself to him can have full confidence that God is overseeing the situation.

Obedience produces the best situation possible –not the worst as alleged! Fulfillment comes from submission, not from wrestling leadership away from the husband.

Argument #4: Submission is equal to suffering

Some people strongly object to the need of a wife to be submissive to her husband because they assume that it is the same as suffering. Those with bad experiences cannot even think that a marriage could be good.

We can understand the pain that has been borne by women from abusive husbands. It is true, when lusts have ruled over love, a mean selfishness has stepped on the needs of others. Abuse has occurred. This is the result of sin and until the Lord returns, it will unfortunately be present. Wives need to remember that in taking matters into their own hands lies a greater danger. This is all too evident in all the crazy judgments going out from the family courts.

Women have not won when they lose their husband. When a wife chooses not to obey her husband she suffers, her children suffer and society suffers as well.

We have probably all seen a family destroyed by a husband's foolish behavior whether it be alcoholism, drugs, quest for fame or plain immorality. We agree that the husband's love is not perfect on earth. Sometimes we see something totally opposite to what it should be. But this does not mean the wife is excused from submission. In these cases, the wife will need to put her trust in God to care for her and her family's needs.

"In the same way, you wives,
be submissive to your own husbands
so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word,
they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives,
 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior." (1 Peter 3:1-2).

By trusting God and being a faithful wife, she in fact is responding to God's great love and mercy. This hope in God becomes a powerful tool to bring forth extra grace and love from God. The same principle is used in a more general way for those who are being mistreated by others because of righteousness. They are to keep doing right and trust God. (Read the rest of I Peter chapter 3).

Many people hold to unbiblical positions of suffering. These are situations that God’s people can openly serve God and bring testimony to those around them. Jesus said this so clearly,

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

Persecution, insults and false accusation are not light matters. We cannot insist on lives free from suffering. They are opportunities to possess greater virtue on earth and reward in heaven. Both men and woman must find their joy in such suffering. God sees and will richly reward them for their faithfulness in the most stressful and difficult times. Could anything that happens to us be worse than what our Heavenly Father permitted to be done to His only son Jesus Christ? No. We need to eliminate loopholes for our sins.

D) The Importance of Submission to the Maturing Process

Most arguments about the submissiveness of the wife are negative. We must, however, see that God is accomplishing great things through the faithful wife. We will focus on the heart changes.

Those that choose to disobey will grow in their fears. When a person, however, repeatedly takes steps of obedience, that person begins to develop their trust. Let’s look at these two processes.

Kadesh Barnea Crisis and fearFear’s Impact

Everybody needs mature. Fear and doubt destroy the growing process.

Fear strips away the trust that is needed to take steps of faith. If I fear something bad might happen to me when I go to the store, then I probably will not go to the store. I have no faith that the good I want to happen will occur. If a wife has no faith that being subject to her husband will do her any good, then she will not submit to him. The elderly church leader John connects love and fear in this way:

"There is no fear in love;
but perfect love casts out fear,
because fear involves punishment,
and the one who fears is not perfected in love."
(1 John 4:18)

Love cannot exist as long as fear is present. Love requires faith and trust. As long as those worldly arguments heavily influence the mind of the wife, she simply will not subject herself to her husband during the difficult times. They are afraid that worse things will happen.

This is what happened at Kadesh-Barnea (see sidebar). God had every good intention in the world. But they grumbled. One of the arguments in their minds that went something like this, “Because the LORD hates us….” That attitude is fatal. Once we question God’s motive, our faith is paralyzed. We have stepped back to the Garden with Eve. In such cases there is no choice but to retreat to doubt and despair. Rejecting God’s Word and disobedience follow. Eventually, these lead us into horrible consequences. Fear simply doesn’t allow relationships to grow. Fear undermines the trust that is necessary for growth.

Faith’s Impact

On the other hand, when we simply obey, our trust is able to grow. Remember marriage is God’s perfect design. It doesn’t have any flaws. He also is fully trustworthy. So when we put our trust in God, we will be led along a road of blessing, which will strengthen our trust. We must acknowledge that this road is not predictable in where it might take us or how long we might need to travel in one direction or another, but if we hang on tight we will end up at the right place. This is important for wives who must regularly trust God to watch over their heart concerns.

God's Love Cycle: Development of faithThe love of God gives us a special desire to please God. This motivates us to take steps of obedience although they go contrary to what we might feel. This submissiveness, then, actually is a step of faith. Wives don’t know specifically how things will work out. They only know God is faithful who made the promises to be with His obedient children.

The agape love of her husband will also move the wife to a more complete obedience. She wants to please him. She finds she doesn’t need to contest him anymore because she can trust him to make the best judgment. Love melts fears and doubts away. Even if she doesn’t find the perfect love she would like from her husband, she can still find it in God’s love for her. This faith then enables her to take the daring steps of being subject to her husband in love. One can see that if there is any hope for a good relationship, it will need to be restored through steps of trust and love. The wife’s submission is a critical aspect of this growing relationship.

Our ability to love comes from being loved and accepted. There is a great deep security that is brought about when we are perpetually and unconditionally loved. This unconditional acceptance leads to openness and humility in our lives. Fears and doubts can be put aside. As we do this, we are further amazed at His great love for us. We do not need to impress God to gain His favor. Trust is built up. We want to experientially know God more. This seeking of God then brings us to know God and His love more.

Fulfillment by a growing trust

In a great marriage, each spouse is looking to God to meet their needs. Every problem is an opportunity to trust God for a solution. Trust enables the wife to put aside her fears one by one. Instead of being rigid and hardened, her face becomes increasingly calm and soft.

Blossomed Flower: A wife subject to her husband.Just as the warm spring sun causes flowers to open wide in their brilliant glory, a husband’s consistent agape love breaks away those reserved fears that hold back her total trust.

Her budding trust enables special growth to occur within that married relationship. The command for wives to subject themselves to their husbands directs them into the best life possible. Obedience leads to trust and love.

“So the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today. And it will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the LORD our God, just as He commanded us” (Deuteronomy 6:24-25).

By shining God’s love on his wife, like the sun blossoms the flowers, she is fulfilled. Furthermore, when her husband devotedly loves her, she becomes a very satisfied woman full of God’s love and glory. Have you ever met such a woman? Would you want to be such a woman? Why not pray and ask God to make you like a radiant flower exuding God’s love.

E) What does Christian submission look like for a wife?

Some wives might desire to get a better picture of what this submission looks like in a marriage. There are numerous illustrations and instructions that help us to do that very thing.

A genuine loving power will blossom in a woman with a quiet and submissive heart. Her roughness will become tenderness. This is what makes women genuinely beautiful. Observe what the apostle says below.

"And let not your adornment be merely external--braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4).

A) A Tender Response

As long as there is competition or contention, the man will naturally struggle to win the argument.

A gentle heart enables the man to retire from his fighting mode and enjoy his wife’s company.

b) A Quiet Response

As long as the wife reproves or openly attempts to correct, the husband will ignore common conversation.

Her quiet spirit encourages the husband who tends to talk less to speak and share his heart.

Numerous questions arise when a wife begins to think about how to practically submit. For some it is a shock. One wife might be thinking of how absolutely evil her husband is. Should she still submit to him? Yes, (unless he tells her to do evil with or for him).

“(Now the man’s name was Nabal, and his wife’s name was Abigai. And the woman was intelligent and beautiful in appearance, but the man was harsh and evil in his dealings, and he was a Calebite)” (1 Samuel 25:3).

Another wife might be wondering if it is possible to subject herself to such an evil husband. God gave us a picture allowing us to see that it is possible and good to do this very thing. An Old Testament figure named Abigail was a faithful wife. She faithfully endured an evil husband. God finally took his life. David then praises her discernment.

A woman’s fulfillment should not be dependent on her husband exercising unconditional love just as a husband’s love should not be dependent upon the wife submissive response. This enables the wife to rise above her circumstances to devotedly serve her husband even when he is a ‘crumb.’

Another key example of this same matter is Sarah. She certainly did not get her motivation to comply with her husband’s wishes from how he treated her! He pawned her off to other men to protect his own skin! Her holy decision to do what he asked made her a wonderful woman. She gave herself to the Lord, and the Lord intervened and protected her the two times Abraham did this.

“For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands. Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear” (1 Peter 3:5-6).

Trust increases fulfillment Ideally, a man would faithfully love his wife and the wife would open her heart to her husband by being submissive to him. They should function as one, fully complementing each other. Our world, however, is not ideal. Our spouses will not be in complete harmony to God’s will. But even in these situations, or even in a worse case scenario, when a husband is not being faithful, the wife who is dependent upon God can still faithfully subject herself to him.

Women are not to be haughty but humble. They should not erroneously think that men can do anything that they want while she is ‘locked up in the home.’ We are all servants of the Almighty God. Men must focus on listening to and obeying God. The man’s position is different than his wife, but the opportunity to obey the Lord is the same. Humility will not presume a position higher than what God has allotted us. Position and calling are closely associated and found in the way God has made us.

Husband and wife communicationThere is no room in a marriage for two lords. If a couple is to harmoniously work together, then one must stand as leader and the other as follower. The church’s blessing increases as she lovingly responds to Jesus Christ her bridegroom. God is just waiting for us to respond in obedience so that His powerful love will more deeply empower us to live as Christ did.

When a couple gets serious about building a great marriage, God will enable the husband and wife to work closely together. They will continually interrelate and thus grow in their relationship. Much of this growth comes from deep conversation with each other. If the husband and wife are not talking and sharing, then there is much less opportunity for growth.

How much have you as a couple shared heart issues? Do you regularly pray together for each other?


In the security of God’s love, wives can grow in their trust in Him to help them brave those difficult situations requiring submission. These faith choices foster better marriages in which she finds even great fulfillment from her husband who increasingly considers her a special part of his life.


There are many important questions that are asked. Let’s look at a few of them.

What if the wife is not loved by her husband?

If a wife does not have this perfect love from her husband, she is still responsible to respect and submit to him. This is God’s calling and design for her. How is she able to do this?

She is able to live out a quiet submissive spirit to her husband through the way God meets her deepest needs. When God satisfies the deepest part of the life of a woman, then her most deep and basic needs are cared for. She then has strength to trust God to watch over her in a difficult marriage. She can trust Him for divine love and humility to fill her heart.

Can the wife be overly submissive?

The wife cannot be overly submissive if she properly understands what this means. First, it does not mean that she is a soulless creature delivering a newspaper to her master. Think back to Eve and Adam’s original response to her. The woman is an alive and dynamic creature created to fulfill special needs in a man so God’s greater purposes can be done through man. The woman must see this as her life calling and not just some small part of her life. She must only submit “in the Lord” which should be interpreted to mean that she should not do what would not please the Lord.

Shouldn’t the husband love his wife?

The husband definitely should love his wife. He has covenanted to do this. But whenever the wife demands this love, she has revealed a hardened heart. She is trying to manipulate him into meeting her needs. Isn’t this the opposite of what should be? Shouldn’t she be trying to see his needs and meet them? She only uses this, “If you loved me, then you would …” argument to control him. This is ungodly behavior filled with selfishness.

She needs to meet with God so that He can meet those needs. She then has the reserves to subject herself to her husband. Husbands detest demanding wives. They don’t have the time or energy to meet an unending list of commands. He cannot. Only God can fulfill those needs. A husband is no substitute for God. Such demanding women need to be touched by God’s love.

How should I respond when I feel so strongly about my husband’s “wrong” decision?

We need to remember that your responsibility as wife is to subject yourself to your husband. He needs to make the decision that he deems best.

"Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord" (Colossians 3:18).

It might further help to understand that when the husband is wrong, he usually already knows that. He is just looking for excuses. If a wife contends with her husband, then he normally becomes defensive. If however, she follows God’s pattern, it allows the best situation to occur. In these cases, and I have personally experienced this numerous times, the quiet heart of the wife allows the Spirit of God to work in his heart.  He will often come and ask her about these issues.

At times though, the husband is right and the wife is wrong. The wife needs to trust God through her husband’s decisions. She needs to go by his judgment. God’s command helps her do the best thing possible even when she does not feel like it. Women are often confused by their feelings. They are situational creatures by design. Although she has much to contribute, she needs to learn how to bring that contribution to her family.

The only exception that this verse refers to are those things which are unfitting in the Lord. In other words, if the husband demands his wife to clearly go against God's moral law, the wife ought to refuse to obey 'man' so she can obey God. This is only for areas that are clearcut sin.

Some wives might wonder about abuse. "How did these women like Sarah do it?

We might be tempted to say things like, "Maybe Abraham wasn't as bad as my husband!" Unfortunately, we forget how bad Abraham was. Abraham responded to fear for his own life as he traveled to this foreign land. What did he do? He commanded his wife to tell them she was only his sister. Abraham actually allowed these foreigners to take her into their harem. Sarah faced confusing times when her husband Abraham made these moral compromises in life. I wish I could say this was rare but it isn’t. So how does a wife endure this abuse?

We should first clarify God’s will by asking, "Do you know any wives who have taken control of the home out of their husband's hands that have good marriages and families?" No. Every time a wife demands something or refuses her husband, she is hardened, and a wall is formed between them. There is no way to resolve this unless confession is made and that wall is taken down. If it isn’t, then every aspect of their marriage will be tainted with evil including their sexual intimacies.

There is no doubt that those who suffer under difficult situations need extra grace to endure. In some circumstances the whole financial stability of the home may be lost through the husband’s foolish decisions. God permits such things to happen. He knows brokenness must come one way or the other if they are going to find true help. Obviously, God has a greater purpose: He wants to preserve and restore marriages. We need to accept such matters. A wife must cry out to God when she sees her husband sailing onto the rocks.

How does a wife cry out to God for help?

Crying out to God for help is one of the greatest themes across the pages of the Holy Scriptures. How many times does the scripture speak of help coming to those who cry out to God for help? Page after page record such situations. God specializes in helping people through crises. God created the oppression in Egypt that led to a greater good, that is, the Exodus. The Israelites were set free. God brought them under tremendous difficulties so that they could see His great saving hand. There are many reasons for the unhappy marriages today. But God specializes in restoring them. He restores our marriages by bringing us back through difficult trials.

God's love to His vulnerable people is similar to the vulnerability the wife has before an oppressive husband. The oppression of God's people by the world is parallel to that of a wife by her husband. Perhaps by carefully observing how God works with His people in desperate situations will help wives understand how He will help them in most difficult circumstances as they trust in Him.

God's love or power is not diminished when a wife is being emotionally or otherwise hurt by a senseless husband. Right now there are many such hurting wives. Nor is God's love or power at all diminished when God allows His own people, His bride, to suffer from oppression. Right now I know of two Christian villages in one country that were invaded and taken possession of by a larger Moslem group. They lost everything including many lives. They are in a very desperate situation.

We assume God would not allow such things to occur, but He does for a time. Justice will come though. These times of oppression are allowed for special activities of God to occur. We are not trying to say God does the evil itself. God is not that cruel husband. However, He does allow it to happen and works through its difficulties. God notices very carefully all His people who suffer and will take proper action and revenge. God is greater than evil by incorporating it into His glorious eternal plan. Notice the way God tolerates suffering in His people.

"How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging
our blood on those who dwell on the earth?
And there was given to each of them a white robe;
and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer,
until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, should be completed also." (Revelation 6:9-11)

Actual examples of suffering from the Bible include Jesus and the early church. Our immature concept of suffering is compounded by our love for ease and pleasure. Obedience sometimes has a high price tag. Wives need to be willing to endure suffering and shame in obedience to God.

Why do modern day women have an increased problem with submission?

The church and wives suffer a common ailment. When she gets wealthy, she forgets how dependent she is. She begins to resent her position and wants more say in how things go. This is the heart that leads to an independent spirit and isolation. The lack of good prayer meetings to seek the Lord’s direction reveals this problem just as a wife independently makes decisions without first consulting her husband.

These problems increase when a wife has a career of her own. What are her temptations? Why are these difficult? The trouble is not just in the job that takes the wife away from her husband’s service (e.g. make your own meal) but also results in interpersonal problems.

There is no time for discussion. The wife forgets God’s first calling to be a wife and instead follows her own ‘more rewarding’ independent lifestyle. She will not find fulfillment in that though. She will often look for a relationship that fulfills her usually outside her marriage that leads to immorality. Wealth leads to a distorted perception of one’s position, which causes great stress in the relationship.             

Is it okay to discuss differences with a pastor or government workers?

The husband is the wife’s authority. But there are other authorities that will at times see inappropriate action and will try to correct it including God Himself. These are very difficult situations and cannot completely be discussed here. Let me make a few suggestions. Do not bring your husband’s sin to the attention of a government’s authority but let God do it in His own way, if indeed it needs to come to that.

A wife should, only if needed, carefully mention her general need to the elders or pastors so that they can pray for them. She should refrain from revealing specifics. If God so leads, let Him work through the elders by careful observation of him.  The husband’s sins might be against her, the children or in another context. A wife must refuse to stand as his accuser and be there when he is broken.

Allow God to handle the case. Cry out to Him. Pray for mercy for him and that God would intervene.

“Thou hast placed our iniquities before Thee, Our secret sins in the light of Thy presence” (Proverbs 90:8).

We realize that there is a great deal of differing advice in what one should to do in such situations. Our general comments are made in light of her chief calling and recognition of her authorities. We do not in any way imply that the husband is innocent or should be free from judgment. The wife, however, is called to support him rather than pull him down. She must be careful to avoid the adversarial position so that if by God’s grace he is broken, their marriage can be restored.


Are you filled with zeal in serving your husband? Have you made those heart-rendering decisions where you no longer serve yourself but the living God?

When a wife has made these decisions, she becomes full of mysterious wonder. Her husband cannot but take notice. This does not mean he will tell the wife of his observations, but he will notice. Her selfless love is too ravishing not to pay close attention. He is absolutely blessed by her.

“An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels” (Proverbs 31:10).

When the wife responds first to the Lord and then from the abundance of that relationship serves her husband, she is ready and able to meet her husband’s spoken and unspoken requests. As she responds to the Lord Christ, so she responds to her husband.

Vulnerability and abuse are not times to give up on God's love. God's love and power never stops even in the midst of persecution. God works through the crisis to display His great power. He enables His people to bear up under great pain and love when being hated or tested. This is the greatness of those who respond to His love in difficult circumstances. We are filled when we trust Him.

God's love is so awesome that it is sufficient for our every circumstance. We might be perplexed and sometimes hurt, but the Lord is carefully watching over us. When we can submit to His love in these situations, a great testimony goes forth. This is the response to His sacrificial love.

These statements should never be seen to excuse a man's irresponsible treatment of his wife or the world's oppression of a weak people. But just as a husband's love must endure a mean wife, so a wife must endure her foolish husband. A wife can not say she will be responsive at certain times and hardened at other times depending on how her husband treats her. No. God's command to submit to her husband in everything shines as a beacon of light from His holy lighthouse in this dark world, even if it means terrible circumstances such as financial losses.


When we are responsive to God's love, our whole orientation toward life changes. When God's love is on our mind, we are thinking about others. If a wife is consumed with God's love, she will not insist or even ask her husband to follow her opinions. Instead, being deeply satisfied in her heart and trusting herself to God, she submits to her husband. As she trusts God, her heart swells with God’s love and overflows to those around her. Fullness of God’s love chases away the emptiness.

The picture that comes to my mind is the ocean with its rising tide filling the once dry cove. As the water rises, it begins to fill all the empty spaces. There was rock and sand, but now as the water fills it, the water is swirling all around, filling every little cavity. Then the life, the crabs, the fish begin to fill the place that not long ago was barren and dry. God's love is now seeking to fill our empty lives. The waves of God's love must push out the emptiness of self-pursuit to fill our lives with the much more glorious waves of pleasing and delighting others.

A Wife’s Action Plan

Right now, God is asking that every wife put away her selfishness. She needs to first respond to God’s love by agreeing with Him. She needs to acknowledge how she has turned away from His loving plan and desire Him and His love now.

Tell Him that you want forgiveness for all your unsubmissiveness including poor attitudes. Confess how you didn’t trust Him in those difficult circumstances. Through Jesus Christ you can find forgiveness for your sins, restoration, and a fresh new start that never has an end. Acknowledge that He knows the best plan for your life and that you will trust Him to lead you to fulfill this plan even when it includes submitting to a selfish husband.

Walking in humility,
Accepting my womanhood,

Gentle, quiet and kind.

Let me seek the welfare of others,
Allow me the privilege of faithfully serving my husband and family.

May my heart be content in fully pleasing my Lord.

A Wife’s Prayer

Dear Lord, it is time for me to change. I have avoided my responsibilities. I have pursued my own desires and gone my own ways. All I got was emptiness and a void. I have not paid attention to you and your purposes. I have been too insistent on getting what I think I need. Here you have this great design for my life, and I have hardened myself to it.

I no longer want to be part of the problem, but with your love flowing through me, to be part of the solution. Lord, through Jesus Christ, please forgive me for my selfish ways and restore me to You. Forgive me for my  unsubmissiveness shown in both my attitudes and acts against my husband. I have let him down so much.

Grant me no greater passion than to respond fully and warmly to You and your plans. Help me. My faith is so small. There will be times I will not understand your ways, but I do desire them. Now may Your waves of love overflow and refresh my heart that Your love in me may splash over into the lives of those around me.

Lord, I pray that you would help me be your faithful representative to my husband. I have made it rough for him. I have not been sweet, lovely and taking up every good desire of his. I have been selfish in my thinking; I have demanded my own time. I now affirm that I die to my self, O Lord. Let me serve You by faithfully serving him. Even if I might suffer, please help me to be faithful like Sarah.

Someday, may it be said of me that I have the “imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” Let me be one of the holy women of the present times who in their hope in God, adorn themselves by being submissive to their own husbands. May you see my love for you as you see my faithful service to my husband. In Christ Jesus I pray, Amen.

Study Questions

Footnotes, study questions and our new revised edition can be found in the BFF Store.

Other resources:

For further study on suffering we suggest the following web pages: Sufferings of Christ, Humility.

A good small book is "Me? Obey Him?"


Continue reading => Fourth session of Building a Great Marriage

This Building a Great Marriage is a long series. We have printed or download ebook editions which make it easier to read and are available with BFF's other great books in our store.

Read more exciting and practical articles on marriage. Just click on a link or graphic below.

You can order the Building a Great Marriage printed seminar materials including handouts at the BFF Resource Center or just get the BFF Marriage Training Library which includes all our marriage articles including powerpoints, audios and videos.

Developing Love in Your Marriage
Strengthening Godly Marriages: The Marriage Navigator
Renewing Affections between Husband and Wife
God's Sexual Design for Our Lives and Marriages
Goal and Design of Marriage: Intimacy
Helping Solve Marital Problems

Scriptures typically quoted from the New American Standard Bible unless noted: (C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1988

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