18 February 2011

Question of the Week:
Balance in Marital Submission

by Anne Lang Bundy

"I can't promise you that I will bring you all home alive. But this I swear, before you and before Almighty God, that when we go into battle, I will be the first to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off, and I will leave no one behind."
~ Lt. Col. Hal Moore,
from the movie We Were Soldiers
(© 2002 Paramount Pictures)

A biblical look at "Submission to Authority" was planned as one post but is being stretched into three:

February 4: Submit to Bad Government?
February 11: Obedience or Submission?
February 18: Balance in Marital Submission?

: : :

Last week's post ended with these words:

The principle of love acts not according to mere duty, but according to what is in the best interest of both [neighbor] and myself, in light of eternity and God's truth... Where marriage is concerned, the Bible teaches that balance comes not only in understanding the distinction between obedience and submission, but in understanding how both husband and wife submit to each other.

Jesus epitomizes a principle which God stressed most emphatically throughout the entire Bible: the greater the power a person has, the greater the responsibility to use it for good to serve others.

No human has greater power or has served others as sacrificially as Jesus Christ. He is the standard for servant leadership.

The headship of a husband above his wife is not about exercising power and authority, but about leadership and order among equals. The principle is perhaps seen most clearly in the military, where good leadership values and relies upon lower ranking officers, while exercising decisive leadership for the best of all. Good leadership would not think of asking from a subordinate what one would not be willing to do, as seen in the example pictured above.

I have observed two extremes purported to be marital submission.

One extreme says the husband speaks for God, and is therefore heeded without question, perhaps without a wife even thinking to offer input. This approach 1) makes an idol of the husband; 2) denies a husband the value of his wife as a helpmeet; 3) makes a woman a subservient pet at best, a doormat at worst.

The other extreme embraces the "forgiveness is easier to obtain than permission" mantra, with a wife doing her own will unless expressly forbidden by a husband. Such an approach 1) disregards the high price of forgiveness; 2) is blind to the high cost of lost trust in a relationship; 3) undermines the true spirit of submission.

Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is...
submitting to one another in the fear of God.
~ Ephesians 5:17,21 (NKJV)

In a balanced, biblical approach to submission, husband and wife both submit personal will to God first, and each other second. The husband exercises responsible, sacrificial servant leadership, taking the lead in laying down personal desires, and seeking a wife's unique perspective to make informed decisions. The wife follows her husband's lead with a submissive spirit, recognizing that the Lord appoints her husband as a minister for her good, respectfully sharing her relevant knowledge and supporting his final decision unless he chooses a clearly immoral path. Both accept that they're mutually fallible and actively seek God's guidance.

"Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
~ Lord Acton

The above principles of servant leadership, trust, and fallibility also apply to government authority. Esteem the exceptional official who, regardless of political affiliation, behaves as a public servant rather than as a totalitarian prig feeding at the trough of public monies.

: : :

What questions do you have about Christianity or the Bible? You're invited to leave them in the comments below (anonymous questions welcome), or email buildingHisbody [plus] @ gmail.com.

© 2011 Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.


  1. Oh Anne. I love how you love me through Him. =) I must email you on this one.

  2. Love the way you clarified some things for me. Had someone really try to throw me on this topic. Thanks for your Biblically sound wisdom here.
    ~ Wendy

  3. this entire series really caught me off guard. in this part and especially in the last one. will admit i came into it with my guard up and with expectations of getting beat up a bit....especially in relationship to obedience and submission. this one left me a bit stunned as well because it was a flip-flop of past teachings related to it. didn't get away totally scot free though. need a bit of His work, a lot of grace(especially in extending it since she isn't a believer yet), plus more understanding of all of that's been covered here. haven't got it all down yet. thank you, Anne!

    still can't believe how mild all this series was!!! \0/. yeah, the truth is freeing.... thank You, Lord!!! the verse about men tying up heavy loads and putting them on your back comes to mind.

  4. Tana ~

    You KNOW I'm watching for that email! : )

  5. Wendy ~

    I've also been thrown on this one. I spent first years of my marriage operating under the "as long as it's not forbidden ..." view, and know all too well the consequences. Then I spent several years under the "a husband speaks for God" perspective, being taught that from other women as well as their husbands. I bought into it a little bit for a little while, but because I saw such abuse under that teaching, and because of my background of assisting abused women, I searched long and hard for the balanced view I've shared above, which I believe fairly accurately represents what the Bible actually teaches. I pray that God will allow me to share it with more women, and that men will increasingly hear the same message from God's Word and His Holy Spirit.

  6. Bud ~

    Though my background is civilian police rather than armed forces, I think that para-military experience is the closest I've found to the ideal, at least when good leaders rise to the top. There must be order for leadership to work. Especially in the heat of battle, there must be unhesitant obedience to decisive authority, excellence in communication and listening, and leadership which places high value on subordinates. However true (or not) to historical events, We Were Soldiers stands out as one of my favorite moveis because of how well the principle is exemplified there.

    One of Lt. Col. Hal Moore's lines in the movie is something about how bad he feels that his men died while he lives. Good kings in the Bible led their people in battle rather than lying protected at the rear. The Bible's greatest King willingly laid down His life to defeat the enemy. It is our example of sacrificial submission, willingly offered in love of our Father and love of one another.

  7. PS in reply to Bud re: this verse:

    "For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers." (Matthew 23:4 NKJV)

    That verse must have come to mind about a hundred times as I witnessed the legalistic and abusive doctrine of submission laid on women which said the husband speaks for God.

  8. reading the return comments. the last two-three ministries i found myself involved with were big on authority and submission PLUS women weren't considered equals. throwing everything out(past teachings) and starting all over again is a good thing. there was some things still caught in my noggin though like what you mentioned. until this series i thought/believed myself to be the spiritual head of OUR family. thank you for the MUCH NEEDED correction, Anne!!! the tangents and wrong teachings that are out there...are many!

  9. Bud ~

    Rather than say you are not the spiritual head of your home, I might suggest you look to Christ as the Head, and seek His guidance on your role as leader.

  10. very god post... I will put link to it...

  11. Natasa ~

    Thanks! I appreciate the feedback and the link.