Recently I was reading in 1 Peter, and noticed a verse I’d never noticed before. This passage in chapter 3 is so well-known:
“Likewise, Wives be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external- the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious…”
This is usually where the quotation of this passage ends, and the rest is often overlooked. But these verses by themselves don’t give a proper picture of the women God created us as wives to be. If you take these verses by themselves, it’s all to easy to confine women to being these quiet modest little mice, “submitting” by doing exactly what they’re told and no more and no less. But I believe that does a wretched injustice to the power that God gives to wives (and women in general). The following verses (5-6) are so necessary:
“…For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.“
I present these verses because I believe that verses 1-4 are an example of the spirit of a Godly wife, and the REAL lesson to us wives is found in verse 6: “…hoping in God..if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”
These are 3 excellent virtues that might define a Godly wife:
Hope in God.
Do not fear.
We live in an age of the world where the concept of submission is entirely repudiated in secular culture, and largely repudiated in Christian culture as well, and I might add, for some good reasons. The past centuries have been filled with an abusive patriarchical society in which wives have been viewed as the lesser, the dumber, the weaker, the slave. That kind of “submission” is a wretched perversion of the true submission God calls His daughters to in marriage.
True submission created by God from a wife towards her husband should not be such a hard pill to swallow. To admit that I submit to my husband, or even to be willing to try submission behind closed doors might be a terrifying thing for the strong and empowered feminist of today’s world, but let me perhaps present an alternative idea of what submission might entail. But before you’ll listen, you’ll have to embrace one of those 3 virtues already: do not fear.
I think, from observation, that some of the repudiation of submission is born out of great fear: fear of abuse, fear of being squelched, losing one’s identity, career, personality, freedom, and so on. Fear of being taken for granted and treated as an object instead of a fierce, unique, and beautiful soul. The first step a modern woman must take towards understanding (and perhaps even embracing) Godly submission is to act in blind faith and choose not to fear that which is frightening.
Before I go on, I want to rabbit trail here a little bit; validation is important, and sometimes overlooked in the church. You’re expected to conquer your fears and failures, you’re expected to rise above the circumstances and do better, and sometimes we forget in the midst of our teaching and “encouragement” to stand right there amidst someone’s tormented heart and say “this sucks.” Jesus validated many: when He was called upon by the blind beggar at the side of the road, Jesus (who knew all) didn’t just give him his sight back in a miraculous act. First, Jesus validated this broken and hurting man and gave him a platform to speak. He said “What is it that you want me to do?”. Jesus knew full well what was desired in this man’s heart, but first He wanted to validate this man’s need to be able to speak and be known right where he was. Jesus validated Mary and Martha’s grief when instead of reprimanding them and telling them to trust God and buck up, He Himself wept right alongside of them in grief for Lazarus. Jesus validated His own mother, when at His death, He called on His friend John to care for His mother in Her need and her sorrow and her loneliness upon losing her beloved Son. I could go on, but there is no need. My reason for bringing these stories up is to say this: Woman of God, the path of submission, the path of wifehood and even motherhood – these paths are scary. 1 Peter 3:6 doesn’t say “if you do good and do not fear.” It validates our hearts and our needs by telling us that what we are facing truly is worth fear. I’ll wrap up my little rabbit trail by saying this: never underestimate the power of love there is in validating a fellow soul’s pain and struggle; in getting down in the muck with them and saying “I’m sorry. This hurts. It’s hard. It’s scary. Let me hurt with you for the brokenness in this world.”
Fear is a very real part of this world, but the Apostle Peter, while validating our fear in saying that what we might fear is actually frightening, he doesn’t leave it there. He DOES call us to be fearless; to NOT fear the frightening. So how do we conquer this fear that holds us back from discovering what Godly submission might be? How do we conquer the every day fears of the “what ifs” in our marriages?
Hope in God. What a virtue this is that we are called to! Hope is a virtue that transcends all fear, all circumstances. With hope in the only all-powerful, all-knowing, deeply loving Creator, we can and must approach every path of life, every calling, every hard pill to swallow, knowing these truths that: “…the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…” (Rom 8:18); “…if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?…” (Rom 8:32); “…nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord…” (Rom 8:39) “…And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom 8:28).
We’ve been given the ultimate strength and power to stand on when we face things that look scary. We’ve been equipped with the ability and power to hope in God, to trust in His faithfulness such that we no longer need to maintain any control or fear regarding our marriages, our circumstances, our callings. Instead we have one thing we must do, and we must pursue it with all our might:
We must do good. Submission takes a very different light when it’s approached by a woman committed to doing good. What are these good things we must do? We must pursue God; love goodness; proclaim truth; seek justice; show mercy; embrace humility; speak with grace and kindness; build up our husbands and show them respect; exalt our husbands good qualities and spur them towards Christ; strive for the diligence, responsibility, order, cleanliness, and safety that comes with creating a home; keep our eyes on Christ, and underneath that, keep our eyes fixed on our husbands, not on other men, other dreams, other realities that don’t belong to us. We must do good by being the first to love, the first to build up, the first to encourage, and the first to confess. We must do good by humbly counting our husbands as more important than ourselves and by deciding that as their wives it is a PRIVILEGE and not a chore to be the support that they need. We must do good even in the little things, like doing dishes when we don’t want to, reaching out and loving others when we don’t like to, sweeping the floor when it’s too dirty, and once again putting the toilet seat down when they’ve forgotten to. Love (and the goodness that love produces) covers a multitude of sins. We must do good by choosing not to demand perfection, but in compassion and humility forgiving those little wrongs (or perhaps just habits that aren’t wrong!) that annoy us each day. We must do good by being honest and loving towards ourselves in making sure our own souls are nourished and fed by God’s word, and by the good things in life that we love and that individually shape who we are. Above all, we must, regardless of the actions and words of our husbands, parents, siblings, coworkers, friends, we must DO GOOD.
I do not believe that submission means servitude, absolute obedience, or anything of the sort.
I believe that Godly submission is instead a lifestyle and habit of showing an open and vulnerable spirit towards your husband; willing to truly listen to all his ideas, all his convictions; willing to consider humbly and prayerfully every path he deems right; willing to communicate every need, fear, hope, sadness you might have.
Godly submission is a lifestyle and habit of showing honor and respect towards your husband; sure, you might have a husband who is lazy, or has bad habits, or could be better, but our privilege as wives is to see their humanness the good and the bad- and celebrate the good; speak highly of your husband’s good qualities in private and in public; speak highly of your husband’s good qualities to him!; show respect in allowing him to fix things, speak things, provide financially (even if you work too!). Even if you feel as though your husband’s bad qualities outweigh the good, he is still a man created in God’s image, with dignity and honor, and worthy at least of respect for being such.
Godly submission (and this is the pill that’s hardest to swallow and takes the most faith and trust in Jesus [not your husband]) means choosing to say yes to your husband’s decisions (as long as they don’t go against God’s law and force you to sin) even if after prayer and discussion you still don’t agree on the decision, trusting that God is wise and powerful in His will. That is when you give the matter up to Christ and let go of control and trust that the Lord will bless you in your obedience to HIM (not just your husband) by obeying your husband.
Through the Godly submission of verbal (and heart-felt) respect and honor, acting in obedience TO GOD, it is THIS holy conduct that might win your husbands to become more and more like Christ.
It takes hope in God to be able to submit to and love our husbands.
It takes hope in God to battle fear and become strong women, able to stand in confidence when the circumstances may be frightening.
It takes hope in God to give up our pride, our resentment, our hurt, and simply do good.
It takes hope in God to trust His instruction in our lives to be in submission to our husbands.
It takes hope in God to realize that it is in God’s power to grant all good things, to make beauty and peace and love come from hurt and pain and sorrow; that God is always present and always able to listen and validate and love and encourage and provide strength and wisdom; that God is our Father, tender, compassionate, and always dependable.
It takes hope in God to believe His words of blessing towards His daughters who fearlessly confront the social norms of today and stand strongly in their power as fierce and strong women in their ability to choose submission in joy, through hope.
Let me end this post with an encouragement drawn from what I’ve seen in my own marriage, if I may.
I have seen that when I speak praise of my husband in public and in private, he glows with pride in me, his wife, and gratitude towards God.
I have seen that when I overlook those small offenses and do every day goodness towards my husband, he becomes more and more sensitive to how he might serve me and honor my own wishes.
I have seen that when I publicly and privately praise and commend his talents and skills above my own, and honor him as a strong and unique man, he is respected in his community, and he receives greater confidence (and even humility!) in pursuing those talents and glorifying God with them.
I have seen that when I choose to obey his choice after respectful (and I don’t mean well-mannered, or quiet hushed tones – I mean the kind of respect that allows each of us to be the reasoning, Godly, mature humans with dignity and validation that God created us to be) conversation and prayer, even though I still disagree with him, it drives him all the more intensely to seek God and His kingdom so that he might lead me in the right and best ways. And sometimes, after time and reflection he may even change his mind, if the Lord leads him to do so. And if not, then I have seen that my trust in God’s will and calling of me to be an obedient and loving wife spurs him to honor and respect and admire me, loving me as he’d never loved me before.
I have seen that through gracious and loving language, never harsh or sarcastic or passive aggressive, but open, vulnerable, honest and gentle speech he is more open than ever to hear my loving criticisms and suggestions.
I have seen that through my desire to be a truly submissive and Godly wife, my husband’s top priority has become passionately to provide care for me, for my heart, for my needs, for my convictions, and for my desires. His love and respect for me abounds more and more every day, week, month, and year as I seek to love and respect him. This type of marriage that can only be cultivated in a mutual desire to hope in God, seek His truth, love His nature, and live for His glory.
I say all this to say: ladies, far from the mousey subdued slave-like wives that the culture makes “submission” out to be, true Godly submission means that we are equipped with a power like no other – a power to woo and tame our husbands; a power to make warriors and leaders of our husbands in their communities and workplaces; a power to fuel our husbands to greatness and positions of honor; a power to build such safety and good around them that they have no other desire than to rest in our loving embraces at the end of a long day, safe from harm, safe from harsh hurt, safe from the battlefield that they fight in all day long.
The power we as wives hold can do all these things and more, but it can also be a deadly weapon! It can tear down our husbands through public shaming and criticism; it can ruin their reputations; it can undermine their very identities; it can destroy the love they have for us through our own pride and stubborn selfishness; and through all of these things it can enable satan’s will for evil by separating the tapestry of unity that God designed for the beauty of marriage.
You can choose what to do with your power. You can be the Godly woman in whom your husband finds strength, shelter, confidence, tender love and compassion. Or you can be the woman who openly critiques and shames, who in the privacy of their own relationship tears down her husband with selfishness, pride and legalism, more prone to tearing down than building up. You can also be a woman who through fear of the frightening simply allows your marriage to stagnate with neither hatred nor love, because fear of submission towards God (and so your husband) keeps you from proactively creating a beautiful marriage.
It’s a heavy responsibility being a wife, and not one to take lightly. But know this: while our eyes must be kept on doing good, being fearless, and above all hoping in God, it is for God to lead our husbands. And our husbands will answer to God for the directions in which they lead us, and the love with which they treat us. It is ours as wives to lovingly counsel and advise our husbands, but it is not for us to act out revenge or discipline on our husbands should they whether in truth, or in our hazy vision, fail.
Are we fueling our husbands to succeed? Or are we fueling our husbands to fail?
This is the essence of true Godly submission – that we respect our husbands, show them Christ, and be their place of safety and good; listening to all they have to say, counseling them with any wisdom God might give us, praying for them, and sheltering their hearts and minds in our loving embrace. But above all, true Godly submission means trusting our Heavenly Father to lead our husbands in His paths, and trusting that when we don’t understand and can’t see clearly through our trials and sufferings in marriage and outside of marriage, that these present sufferings CANNOT be compared with the weight of glory being stored up for us; that God NEVER gives us what we cannot handle; that we are tools in God’s hands, not weapons in the enemy’s; that God is in control and will do only goodness and love and justice towards us, even if sometimes the means don’t make sense in our sight.
So, woman of this post-modern era – don’t be afraid of embracing Godly submission. Instead of demeaning you, it will only empower you. Instead of taking your place in this world away from you, it will put you in a place of honor. Instead of giving your husband a way to abuse you, it will give him a way to admire and love you.
THIS is true, Godly, submission and wifehood.
[I would add a note that if any wife reading this is in a place of abuse already, there are resources to help you – pastors and counselors – who can reach into your life and lend a helping hand to guide, advise, and promote healing, whatever path that might be. Godly submission does NOT mean lying down and taking sinful abuse from your husband, and God has provided a recourse for women in these broken circumstances through His church so that there is on this side of eternity accountability, discipline, and consequences for those husbands who without repentance hurt and abuse the precious souls given to them in marriage.]