HEB 12:2 - looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
when he sits among the elders of the land.” Proverbs 31:23
PRO 31:23 of this acrostic poem starts with the Hebrew letter nun. Nun is the symbol of a fish on its tail and represents concentration.
The virtuous woman has a submissive soul.
Demeaning, ugly, and archaic: this is the world’s view of submission. To many women, just the mention of the word makes the hair on the back of their neck stand up. They liken feminine submission to being a doormat for a man to wipe his dirty boots on. These concepts of submission are so sad because they are so far from the truth of God’s Word. To those who properly understand biblical submission, it is one of the most beautiful concepts that ever flowed from God’s throne of grace. Biblical submission is like a symphony in which different instruments are synchronized with one another to produce harmony with distinction, unity with individuality—a sound pleasing to both man and God. Submission is a soul-response to love.
Our study of the virtuous woman would not be complete without a section covering submission. I have chosen to include it under the nun file because when a woman properly understands the dignity of her submissive role and functions in it, the man is better able to concentrate on his God-given calling in life. PRO 31:23 says that the man is “known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.” In our vernacular, we would say that the man is “well-respected and able to hold a place of leadership.” A submissive and supportive wife helps the man to succeed.
Before we look at the New Testament teaching on submission, I think it is important that we establish some principles from the book of Genesis where marriage, with its blessings and problems, began. In Genesis 2, God first created the man out of the dust of the Earth and called him to a purpose or work: to care for the Garden and to name the animals. As God looked at His wonderful creation, He saw that something wasn’t quite right. The man was alone! And so, He created the woman out of the rib of the man, to be at the man’s side, to be his “suitable” or fitting helper (GEN 2:20).
From creation, God puts man in a place of leadership and assigns him a work to do. God also realizes the man is incapable of fulfilling that work or mission on his own, so he gave the woman an important support role. God’s plan is always relational. The first human relationship started with Adam and Eve in the Garden. From the very beginning, it included leadership and “followship,” or submission.
In GEN 2:24, God said, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” The word “cleave” means “to be united, bonded, fused into one.” In the sexual union between a husband and wife, they cleave to one another and become one flesh. This is a sacred relationship; no other relationship on the face of the Earth involves this “one flesh” concept. Certainly, this is referring to our sexual relationship with our husband, but I think this intimate relationship is also meant to picture our life with our husband. We are to cleave to him in his mission for life, to bond with him in the work God has called him to, to support him in all he does, and to be his helper, companion, and friend. When we fulfill this role, he is more likely to be “known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land.”
In all things, Jesus Christ is our forerunner and example. Submission is an ancient concept, but far from archaic. Submission began at the Throne of God when the heavenly Father purposed in His heart to send His Son—His only Son—to die on the cross for the sins of the world. And the Lord Jesus Christ, being totally one with the Father—holy, righteous, and obedient—submitted to the Father’s decree to come to this Earth as a man, to suffer the pain and shame of crucifixion in order to die for the sins of the world. That is submission and that is beautiful!
Jesus has never asked us to do anything He was not willing to do first.
Too often, submission is narrow-mindedly taught as the wife submitting to the man, as if she were some lesser creature. In some parts of Africa, you will often see the women plowing the field, gathering the firewood, and hauling water from the well, while the men lounge in the shade. When mealtime comes, the wife will serve the husband, often approaching him on her knees with a plate of food. Then she waits outside while he eats; and after he is finished, she is free to eat whatever food is left.
I was sitting around a campfire one evening with two young, African women in the Western Province of Zambia. The conference teaching was over, and we were relaxing together by the fire when one of the young ladies said to me, “Oh, Nancy, please, teach us how to be submissive to our husbands!” I had to bite my tongue because what I really wanted to do was to teach the men how to appreciate and value their wives, but I didn’t have the right or the opportunity to do so. Instead, I shared with these beautiful young ladies the Christ-like nature of submission. They already had the actions down, but I wanted their eyes to be opened to the honor of submission—honor that comes from reflecting the Person and character of Jesus Christ.
In 1CO 11:3, Paul outlines for us a “chain of command” that reaches from Heaven to Earth. Through the inspiration of God, he says:
“But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man,
and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.”
In this divine chain of command, three individuals are “the head,” and three individuals are the ones submitting to the head. God the Father is “the head of Christ”—Christ submits. Christ is “the head of [the] man”—the man submits. “The man is the head of [the] woman”—the woman submits. This puts the woman’s role of submission to her husband in the greater context of the plan of God. We aren’t singled out as the only ones given the command to submit. Submission is found in the Godhead, and submission is designed for the whole human race as well. It’s also important to understand that God the Father and God the Son are co-equal in essence and nature, but they have different roles in the Godhead. In the same way, the man and woman are co-equal in their spiritual standing in Christ, but we are given different roles (GAL 3:28). Submission is not about who is greater, smarter, or more important; submission is about fulfilling your God-given role. Relationships in both the Trinity and the home are family relationships. Submission gives people within a family differing opportunities to “through love serve one another” (GAL 5:13). The woman then supports the man’s mission (GEN 2:18), the man supports Christ’s mission (MAT 28:18-20), and Christ supports the Father’s mission (HEB 10:7).
In COL 3:18-22, Paul further addresses relationships and order within the home. He admonishes women to be submissive (subject to), men to be loving, children to be obedient, fathers to be understanding, and slaves to be obedient “with sincerity of heart.” In these five admonitions, Paul doesn’t just single out the women and pick on them, but gives instruction to every one in the family so that there might be order and peace within the home. Roles are important in God’s plan; and therefore it’s important that we fulfill our God-given roles with love and grace. But at times, that is hard to do. Sometimes we don’t want to submit to our husbands; sometimes they don’t want to love us. Children don’t like to be obedient; fathers struggle with understanding. And what slave is at peace with his role? Even from the farthest fling of Heaven, God understands the human struggles within your heart and home. And so, the admonishments of COL 3:18-22 are sandwiched in between promises of encouragement. Scripture is so beautiful!
Paul knows that the home is a breeding ground for resentment, not contentment, and so in COL 3:12-15, he encourages us to “put on a [Jesus] heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Paul says we must “bear with one another and forgive one another,” especially within the home. Imagine how your home would change if everyone living in it followed these commands! “Beyond all these things,” he tells us to “put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” The love of Christ is the “duct tape” that holds the family together. Every home has duct tape, but few have the love of Christ!
Then Paul encourages us to “let the word of Christ,” with all of its beauty and power, richly “dwell within” our hearts and within our homes (COL 3:16). We should “let the word of Christ” have a voice and a song within our home that we might have a ministry to those we love the most. If we are doing all of these things, submission will come more easily in the heart of a woman.
And then in COL 3:17 (remember the importance of context—this is the verse right before women are told to be submissive), Paul says, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” This verse encourages us to submit unconditionally as to the Lord, rather than man. In other words, because of God’s understanding of the feminine heart, He acknowledges that sometimes our husbands do not act in a way that deserves submission; in such cases, we submit out of love and obedience to the God who loves us, died for us, rose again, and is sitting at the right hand of God the Father. Jesus Christ is worthy of our submission. Submission is a soul-response to His love!
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from
the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”
These verses again acknowledge the struggle we sometimes have, to fulfill our God-given roles within the home. When our husband is acting in such a way that thoroughly suppresses our desire to submit to him, we must remember that, ultimately, it is the Lord Jesus who we serve through submission. The Lord Jesus is faithful to see submission that comes as a love-response to Him, and His reward is sure! When we struggle with submission, our struggle is tempered by knowing that we are doing it for our perfect Christ—not for our imperfect husband.
Now let’s sum up this Colossians passage with flashing red lights. The world would look at these verses and tend to put the words “wives, be subject to [their] husbands” in bright red, underline it, and say, “See, Paul is a woman hater!” They will zoom in on those words and forget what comes before and after. But if our heart is open to God’s truth, we will understand the context of the passage and the heart of God behind it. Let’s put the flashing red lights where God puts them: on Him, because He is worthy. Notice that we are only told to submit one time in the passage, but five times we are encouraged to consider Jesus in our submission:
“do all [submit] in the name of the Lord Jesus,” COL 3:17
“For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.”
Remember the context of this lesson is PRO 31:23, “her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land.” In other words, he is seen with respect and put into a place of honor. Sometimes, as the man focuses his life on career, or even ministry, he does well at it, and he is praised and promoted for his work. Outside the home, he is seen as successful; while inside the home, the wife and children are embittered due to some area of sin or weakness in the man’s life. Or, perhaps the man is so concentrated on his career or ministry that there is little or no time or energy left for the family. Both of these situations can result in great resentment within the home. If you are living in either of these situations, I would encourage you to consider the above verse.
In the context of family life, God says he who is doing wrong will suffer the consequences of that wrong. In other words, if the man of the house is successful outside the home, but negligent or sinful within the home, God will deal with it. The wife needs to keep on submitting, be patient, and pray. Trust God and His timing to deal with the shortcomings and sin in your husband’s life. God is faithful!
1PE 3:1-6 is one of the most complete passages on submission and one that every Christian woman should know and understand. Along with necessary instruction, it gives valuable encouragement. We will begin with 1PE 3:1-2:
“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.”
This verse starts with “in the same way.” It refers back to the example of Christ in 1PE 2:21-25. He was submissive to God the Father even to the point of death on the cross. As a result of His submission, He was reviled, threatened, suffered, and “bore our sins in His body on the cross.” Through all of this, He did not sin but entrusted Himself to a just and righteous heavenly Father. His attitude of maintaining a submissive spirit in the midst of suffering stands as our example. Peter recognizes that when we are in a marital relationship with a disobedient husband (whether it be an unbeliever or a rebellious believer), we are going to suffer. Therefore, he encourages wives to submit and suffer in the same way that Jesus did, by “entrusting [themselves] to Him [the heavenly Father].”
When marital harmony is disrupted by disobedience on the part of the husband, whether it be long- or short-term disobedience, the woman is fiercely tempted to whip her husband back into shape! Nagging, complaining, threatening, and arguing is not Peter’s solution for the problem. Silence is. Silence, coupled with submission, shows the husband the respect he longs for and goes a long way to bring him to repentance. Christ won the thief on the cross “without a word.” Instead, His quiet spirit—in the midst of suffering—was a loud witness to the thief and brought him to saving faith. ROM 2:4b says, “the kindness of God leads you to repentance.”
When a husband is disobedient, he doesn’t need to hear a sermon from his wife. He needs to observe a sermon in his wife, as she models the obedience and love of Jesus Christ. Submission is the most powerful tool we have, to bring about change in a disobedient husband. This requires much patience and prayer on the part of the woman, as repentance on the part of the man may be a long time comin’!
“Your adornment must not 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.”
Women are drawn to beauty. I have worked among women in every continent of the Earth, and I have observed that they are not only drawn to beauty, but they desire beauty for themselves. 1PE 3:3-4 teaches us that submission starts in the heart—in the inner person of a woman—and then works out into words and action. This gentle, quiet, and submissive spirit, that Peter encourages us to have, is our source of true beauty—inner beauty. Inner beauty adorns our life in a way that external beauty never can.
I have had the pleasure of meeting a multitude of women who are not physically attractive by the world’s standards, but their eyes and faces glowed with a Christ-like love that made them shine with the beauty of Jesus Christ. This inner beauty is not only precious in the sight of God, but it is imperishable; inner beauty doesn’t wrinkle, sag, or even die! Inner beauty grows with time and lasts into eternity. I want that kind of beauty. We all come to that inevitable moment when we meet time and gravity head on and say, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, I am my mother after all!” I would encourage you younger women to realize such a time is coming in your life. Prepare for it now by developing the inner beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit so that, as your outer person ages, your inner person is made more glorious.
In 1PE 3:5-6, Peter tells us that submission is our spiritual heritage. The “holy women” who lived before us adorned their life with submission, and we are to follow as spiritual daughters in their footsteps:
“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; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have
become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.”
Peter, under the inspiration of God, recognized that the command of submission may be a little bit scary to a woman. And so, he singles out Sarah as our example. In Genesis 12, she willingly followed Abraham out of her homeland to a land she did not know—that could be a bit scary. Some time later, there was a famine in the land and Abraham went down to Egypt. Being concerned about the safety of his little old self, he told Sarah to say she was his sister (she actually was his half-sister), but to leave out the fact that she was his wife. Consequently, the Pharaoh of Egypt took her into his harem—hmmm, maybe a lot scary. But God faithfully intervened on Sarah’s behalf and protected her from harm. In Genesis 20, Abraham repeated the same mistake, and Sarah was taken by Abimelech, the king of Gerar. Once again, God proved Himself faithful and protected Sarah in every way.
1PE 3:5-6 is making the point that submission to our husbands, especially a disobedient husband, sometimes puts us in an uncomfortable or vulnerable position. Even then, we can willingly submit without fear. Where does our peace and calm come from in such situations? If we compare this passage with ROM 8:15, we find that God does not give “a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’” Our peace, our calm, and our confidence come from our relationship with the heavenly Father. We do not need to fear submission because we know the God who ordered us to be submissive. Cry out to Him! The same faithful God who protected Sarah is standing ready to watch over His daughters of today.
We have covered some valuable Scriptures, but these principles may have raised some questions, especially in the minds of younger women. Let’s summarize this section with some points that help us understand what submission does and doesn’t look like.
Submission does not:
take away your right to express your opinion or have input into the decisions of the household. But the husband has the final decision, along with greater accountability before God, for leading the family in the right direction.
require the wife to follow her husband into sin and disobedience to God. In such times, we must “obey God rather than men,”ACT 5:29.
require the wife to be subjected to physical abuse that endangers her body and soul (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-6).
require the woman to submit to other men who are not in a place of authority over her (1PE 3:1).
reflect the Person of Jesus Christ.
adorn the woman’s life.
fulfill her duty to obey Scripture and serve in her God-given role.
help bring harmony and unity to the marriage relationship.
It is my prayer that the Scriptures we have looked at will encourage you to see the Christ-like beauty of submission and the joy of walking in the path of God’s truth. Submission requires humility, but God gives grace to the humble of heart (JAM 4:6).
May His grace bless your soul with a gentle and quiet spirit—one that will bless your marriage and family, and bring eternal glory to Jesus Christ!
I would like to close this lesson with a poem that my husband and I are very fond of: