Marriage is a Ministry- Part 3

A post on the purpose of submission in a marriage.

In the final post on Marriage is a Ministry, we focus on the unique role of submission in marriage after exploring how to strengthen unity through protection and service for the glory of God.


The concept of submission is a touchy topic. I've heard it discussed most in disrepute concerning wives submitting to their husbands. Historically, it is an idea that has been weaponized to control people, a prime example of what happens when religion overrides Christ-centered relationships. The Bible clearly states the importance of submission as an integral part of walking with Christ and its divine placement between husband and wife. The purpose and function of submission is not to control but to protect.

Examine the scripture Ephesians 5:21

“Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.”

So far, I've not come across a better description of submission than Dietrich Bonhoeffer's quote, “Only he who is obedient believes, and only he who believes is obedient.” As Christians, we recognize the authority of Christ and do what God the Father commands out of love ( John 14:15). Our submission to God's will is for our protection. When we operate outside the covering of His authority, we are made vulnerable to attack. If we believe Christ lived a perfect life, we can't live like him without applying the principle of submission ( Luke 22:42).

Check out the passage Ephesians 5:22-33 in your Bible.

Notice in the passage how the roles of husband and wife work together, how neither is more important than the other, and there's an overarching expectation for both individuals to ”submit to one another”. This concept is essential because the world has abused submission in marriage and with women in particular. There is honor and dignity in submission, and our goals as spouses should be to reflect the love of Christ to each other, not to oppress.

Another scripture that speaks to the mutuality of submission is when Paul describes expectations of the marital bed in 1 Corinthians 7: 3-5. The interchange of responsibility to submit to one another's needs is to protect the relationship. Paul describes how to selflessly serve your spouse so they can experience Christ's love through you. It looks different for men and women because we have different roles and thus needs, but each is damaged when needs go unmet.

In my work with couples, it's common to encounter a dynamic in a marriage where someone withholds a need. Usually, it presents with sex, and it's often (not always) as a wife refusing her husband. After diving deeper, we discover how the husband also withholds from the wife. Thus, the couple is experiencing the natural consequences of brokenness together due to each partner not submitting to Christ and then to their spouse. Each partner begins to engage in behaviors that act out their pain in the relationship. Whether it's emasculating statements from the wife to her husband or the husband not utilizing self-control to honor his wife, the impact causes division and deep wounds of hurt. It doesn't always look like “Big T” trauma in relationships like infidelity, for example. It can be simple decisions of self-interest like, “They don't do that for me, so I'm not going to do this for them,” which erodes a loving partnership.

Consider this. Are you a loving husband? Are you a respectful wife? Answer this not by your standards, but inquire with the Holy Spirit to accurately measure your heart toward your spouse. He might point to areas of continued growth. After all, the goal to strive for a life modeled after Jesus, who embodied submission in his ministry, is a lifelong one.

Be assured that submission is righteous, though the world will have you thinking otherwise. The scriptures tell us God's ways are not ours ( Isaiah 55:8-9). A strong marriage requires submission to one another as a part of your commitment to carrying your cross for Christ. If you're reading this and have a retort like, “My spouse is not deserving of my submission because….”. I'll remind you that your obedience to Christ is not dependent on your spouse's behavior. Even writing this, I still experience the sting of conviction from the Holy Spirit that brought this to remembrance. When I stand before God on judgment day to account for all I did or didn't do, I cannot defer my disobedience to my husband's shortcomings. Because God does not show favoritism, expect the standard of holiness to extend to you also ( Duet 10:17).

In closing, seasons of marriage can feel challenging and desperate, and that's why the Bible says to pray without ceasing ( 1 Thess 5:17). You're not only praying through this season but for the seasons to come. The enemy attacks relationships because they are primary instruments to share the gospel of Christ, and marital relationships specifically can impact generations. Cover your spouse and marriage in prayer. Be dedicated to living righteously. The Word tells us that while we can expect suffering generally ( within marriage as well), we’re encouraged to rejoice because it strengthens our character and our hope in the Lord, who we know doesn't fail the righteous ( Romans 5:3-5).