3 Thoughts About Submission in Marriage
Jim Daly Jim Daly is president and chief executive officer of Focus on the Family, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping families thrive.
- 2014 Jan 13
I was working in my office with the TV on this past Friday when I heard an anchor passionately raising her voice.
It turned out the all-women panel was discussing actress Candace Cameron Bure’s recent comments on HuffPost Live about her decision to live out biblical submission in her 17-year marriage to NHL hockey player Valeri Bure.
In her interview, Bure defined biblical submission as “meekness, not weakness” and “strength under control; bridled strength.” And while in her interview Bure assured she makes her opinions “very clear” to her husband, the anchor wasn’t convinced. In fact, she seemed to define submission as a wife blindly following her husband’s every capricious whim in a humiliating, subservient manner.
To be sure, I can understand how poorly the word “submission” can come across to those not familiar with a Bible-based worldview. The biblical concept of submission is easily lost in modern-day translation. To many outside the Christian faith, the marriage principles which Scripture teaches, and to which Mrs. Bure was alluding are at best outdated and at worst, foolish.
But missing from this latest controversy regarding biblical submission is a very important part of the story: what does the Bible say about the husband’s role in a marriage? The critics seem to take for granted that the Bible gives husbands a free pass at being unfair tyrants.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
There are at least three points about a husband’s role that critics should consider before dismissing what the Bible has to say about marriage.
1. God calls husbands to love, and live a life of continual sacrifice for, their wives.
In Ephesians 5:25-33, Scripture compares the love a husband should have for his wife to the love Christ showed the Church. For the husband, that means dying to self on a daily basis just as Jesus died for the Church. It’s a life of service to his wife, of tending to her needs and putting her in priority above all others.
2. Husbands must submit to God.
Jesus made it clear during His time on earth that He submitted to God the Father (John 5:19; John 6:38; John 14:31). In a similar fashion, husbands aren’t given the authority to unilaterally “rule” over their wives and households. They are to submit to the truths laid out in Scripture, which include principles like meekness, mercy, gentleness and self-denial.
As Paul wrote to the believers at Philippi, Christian husbands must “in humility count others” – starting with our wives – “more significant than yourselves” (2:3b).
3. A husband’s authority over his wife is not absolute.
Just like the husband ultimately submits to God, a wife must make her ultimate allegiance to God, too. This means that whatever leadership her husband extends over the home is limited to what is God-pleasing and good. In other words, if a husband wants his wife to do something that is clearly immoral or unethical, the wife can echo the words of Peter in Acts 5:29 when he said, “We must obey God rather than men.”
I recognize there are various reasons why this is such an explosive topic in the culture, including the fact that many husbands have not modeled the type of servant-leadership that Scripture commands. I hope that Christian husbands, myself included, will take this as something of a challenge. Let us demonstrate the type of self-sacrificial love that Jesus did to such an extent that someday those in the culture won’t automatically bristle at the biblical blueprint for marriage, but rather desire it for themselves.