“Wives, submit to your husbands (Colossians 3:18),” is likely one of the most misunderstood and abused passages in the Bible. It might be tempting to write it off completely as culturally irrelevant for American families today. However, that would say more about our tendency to submit Scripture to our tendencies, rather than submitting ourselves to God’s revealed Word. This exhortation has roots in the overarching Biblical account of God’s reconciling work in the world.
In Genesis 3, after the fall of humankind, God says to the woman, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you (Genesis 3:16).” Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve would have always known how to resolve a conflict harmoniously, if ever one were to arise. Their singular God-built-in desire to glorify God would have saw to it. When sin entered the world – and their relationship – they became selfish and prideful.
What were they to do when their sinful nature inevitably lead to conflict? Certainly, they were to do their best to negotiate a harmonious resolution. But, what if they could not? Though the woman would desire to dominate her husband, God decreed the man was to rule.
C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity said, “The need for some head follows from the idea that marriage is permanent. Of course, as long as husband and wife are agreed, no question of a head need arise; and we may hope that this will be the normal state of affairs in a Christian marriage. But when there is a real disagreement, what is to happen? Talk it over, of course; but I am assuming they have done that and still failed to reach agreement. […] Surely, only one or other of two things can happen: either they must separate and go their own ways or else one of other of them must have a casting vote. If marriage is permanent, one or the other part must, in the last resort, have the power of deciding the family policy. You cannot have a permanent association without a constitution.”
The purpose of the wife’s voluntary submission to her husband is to maintain the unity of the marriage bond, when negotiations fail. There are instances when the exhortation does not apply, such as domestic abuse. Furthermore, this exhortation is voluntary for the wife. The husband must not force the wife to submit. That would verge on abuse.
If your marriage is struggling, please consult a trained Christian counselor. This article is brief and more needs to be said.
Husbands, we turn to your exhortation next week.