Whenever I am interviewed about Domestic Abuse in the church, a question about Ephesians 5:22-25 normally arises. The word says: 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. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. (NLT). Peter echoes the same type of sentiment in 1 Peter 3: (read all) ‘In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands’….

Does this mean that a woman should submit even when her husband is abusive? Should she accept his authority as the final word even when that authority is misused?

Some people will interpret submission as an opportunity to be controlling but Paul is not giving anyone the green light to being oppressive.

Lets start with how Paul begins chapter 5 – ‘Follow God’s example in everything you do….’ then he embarks on a long list of character qualities that we are to develop. In verse 21 Paul then states what will happen as a result: ‘And further, you will submit to one another out of reverance for Christ. You wives will submit to your husbands as you do to the Lord‘. In other words: As you develop a Christ like character you will find that you will submit to one another, even you wives will submit to your husbands as you do to God and just as the church submits to Christ.

So what does it mean to submit? Submit means: to yield, to agree with, to give in. So, as a result of developing these qualities a woman won’t resist her man. When and why does she resist him? She resists when there is no trust and love. A woman will pull away when her man is abusive, untrustworthy, uncaring, unholy, unfaithfuly, neglectful, intimidating etc.(by the way a guy will shut down when a woman is this way too!).

Now some people argue that an abused women does yield to her perpertrator. But I say this is different to what Paul is talking about. An abused woman is not free to give and yield her love or herself freely. She lives in fear, resentment, mistrust, pain, etc. If a woman is submitting to an abuser its because of the power and control he has over her – it is not the same as the submission Paul is talking about. Remember, Love is a Choice and is given freely just as Christ freely choses to love and give Himself to us.

Now lets look at our relationship with God: I yield and agree with Christ because of WHO HE IS. His love has won me over. It certainly would not be that way if God was a tyrant. God wants us to be like Him so that we submit to one another. We all know it’s a lot easier to yield to people who are loving and safe then it is to move towards difficult, uncaring, unloving people.

So what is this list of qualities a man is to have before expecting his wife to submit?

  • He needs to have a heart filled with love (Love is gentle, kind, patient and hopes and believes in all things)
  • He needs to be sexually moral and pure
  • He can’t be greedy and selfish, he needs to think about his wife’s needs and not just his own
  • He mustn’t be verbally abusive: obstaining from course jokes, foolish talk and obsence stories
  • He doesn’t blame others for his behaviour, he doesn’t commit acts of darkness and evil (hitting, controlling, stalking, lying, abusing, torturing, molesting, raping are all acts of evil).
  • He doesn’t act thoughtlessly but considers God in all his ways
  • He doesn’t get drunk and is controlled by the Holy Spirit

Submission comes as a result of Christ like character.

Submission due to demand, threat and control is not biblical submission it is the response of someone who has a fearful expectation of what will happen if they don’t comply.