Why must a wife submit to her husband? In life, a proper authority structure is essential. Whether in the workplace or in the home, it is difficult to get things done if leadership is ambiguous or unspecified because no one knows whom, exactly, to follow. This is why God is clear about who is the head of the family.
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22)
Within the structure of the family, the husband is the head. “For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church…” (Ephesians 5:23a) Yet many women stumble on this verse because they do not really understand what God is saying.
The first thing we must understand is that God isn’t implying that women are inferior to men. Perhaps because in most situations the more competent individual oversees the one less so, the assumption is that God is judging a wife less intelligent than her husband. Yet the authority structure He instituted within the family has nothing to do with mental aptitude; to the contrary, there are many families in which the husband benefits from and is blessed by his wife’s expertise. For example, the Proverbs 31 woman, while merely illustrative, was nonetheless presented as successful in business, and Abigail precluded the annihilation of her husband’s entire household through her skillful diplomacy.
The second thing we need to understand is that this verse applies specifically to a marital situation; God isn’t commanding women everywhere to submit to all men.
The third, and perhaps most important, thing we need to recognize is that a wife is to submit to the leadership of her husband because of his God-appointed position as head, not because of his skill or ability. You don’t submit to your husband because he is a wise and good husband; you submit to him because he is your husband. Let me illustrate.
Some years ago the president of the United States came to an event within fifteen minutes of our home. I could have easily taken our children, but I didn’t. I hadn’t voted for him, didn’t like his policies, and had no desire to hear him speak. Yet, had I been introduced to him, I would have spoken to him with the respect due the position of president of the United States, regardless of how I felt about him as an individual.
It is the same with husbands: some are wiser and better leaders, some less so, but each and every one of them has the God-designated position of being the head of their household and their wives are to submit because of that position.
But to what extent are women to submit to their husbands? The verse clearly says, “…as to the Lord.” Yet, because Scripture interprets Scripture, we must balance this verse against Acts 5:29: “But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.'” (Acts 5:29) Each must remember that there is a Higher Authority to whom they are both accountable.
Help me submit in Christ to those in authority over me, whether parents, husband, spiritual leaders, or government, because You have given them this responsibility. And help me lead wisely those I myself am responsible for before You. In Jesus’ name, amen.