Did I get your attention? Over the years I’ve worked with couples who truly get themselves into trouble because of several important verses in the Bible. This is why I do not recommend picking out verses in the Bible and using them carte blanche, especially if you’re just trying to “win” an argument with your spouse. It is important to always get the context of any verse before we apply it to our lives, ensuring the integrity of God’s word.

So what verses am I talking about here? The two verses are from Ephesians 5:22-23 - the infamous "submission verses":

“For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church.”

Throughout the years of Christiandom, these two verses have caused a lot of heartache for marriages - especially when husbands use the verses as their “magical trump card” to get their way in an argument or disagreement with their wives. These husbands, while appearing to be faithful to the Bible, are really using these two verses to further their own selfish desires.

But did you know there is something important, even Biblical, you must learn about these verses? Ephesians 5:21 puts these two verses in context, and comes just before the infamous pair. The problem is that those who abuse Ephesians 5:22-23 rarely read the verse placed literally right before them:

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

What does this verse mean to you? I’ve discovered that it means we are to serve each other, like Christ serves the church, and that no one person can rule the marriage, but rather, both parties in the marriage need to be serving and submitting to each other. This simple concept could be a radical departure for some Christian marriages.

Who's in Charge?

Some might disagree with the idea that there is no ruler of the marriage, claiming two of equal stature would create an eternal tug-of-war between husband and wife. So if husbands do not have a “magical trump card” in their marriage, then how are they supposed to act? Let’s take a look at the bigger picture, and this time we’ll read Ephesians 5:21-28 from The Message:

“Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another. Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands. Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church - a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They're really doing themselves a favor - since they're already 'one' in marriage.”

What an entirely different picture of marriage here! In essence husbands, you are to love your wife like Christ loved the church. How did Christ love the church? He gave His life for the church, ultimately modeling the behavior of being a servant. There’s a statement I like to share at my live events or Marriage Restoration Intensives that truly slam-dunks this point, and I always share this in fun. But when you think about how many wives truly struggle with the idea of submitting to their husbands, especially the wives who’ve been taken advantage of from the two Ephesians verses, I like to say to them, “Who would have a problem submitting to a dead guy?”  Of course there’s a smile on my face but it makes the point quite clear. Who would struggle submitting to a person who has totally submitted themselves to Christ’s example of being a servant, someone who truly “dies to himself” in order to be a better servant to his family?

God desires husbands and wives to become “one flesh.” We cannot accomplish this desire by lording over our wives and ignoring their input. In fact, Dr. John Gottman has discovered through his extensive research that husbands who accept influence from their wives live longer than husbands who do not accept influence.

Getting "You're Way" Is a Fast Way to Lose

Your marriage is not about getting your way. Your marriage is about recognizing areas where you can serve your mate and put her (or his) feelings and needs above your own. We are to be selfless - servants - that die to ourselves so we can meet the needs of those around us (i.e. our spouse).

I may not be a Greek scholar, but it seems that when we take Ephesians 5:22-23 in context, there’s an entirely different message. Which just so happens to be similar to one of Christ’s biggest messages – die to your self and be the biggest servant of all.  When you take this kind of attitude and apply it to your marriage, something beautiful occurs: You will be serving each other.

Often times spouses are resistant to this idea of being a servant because they fear the other spouse taking advantage of them. But this is a lie straight from the evil one himself! Just think back to a time when someone loved you unconditionally. Are you there? How did you respond to that person? Did you take advantage of him?  Probably not, because most people, when served by unconditional love, return the favor! In a healthy marriage, mutual submission feeds on itself and turns your marriage in to something truly special – the kind of marriage God wants. What could be better than that?

Submission is never a scary topic when you are submitting to each other. Submission only becomes a scary word when one mate takes advantage of the other by abusing the gift.


Michael Smalley and his wife Amy both earned a Master's Degree in clinical psychology from Wheaton College in Chicago, Illinois. For the past ten years they have taught millions of people around the world how to better love God, others, and themselves through practical insights and hilarious illustrations. Michael is the founder and Executive Director of The Smalley Marriage and Family Center located in The Woodlands, Texas. His center offers Marriage Restoration Intensives - where couples from around the country fly in for intensive care on their marriage.

Michael and Amy have authored or coauthored relationship advice books like Communicating with Your Teen , the Men's Relational Toolbox, and Don't Date Naked , The DNA of Relationships, and their latest book More than a Match.

The Smalley's have three children, Cole, Reagan, and David.  They have been married for 12 years. Visit Michael's website and blog at www.gosmalley.com.