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What does submission look like for Christian women?

What does submission look like for Christian women in a concrete, practical way?


What does submission look like for Christian women in a concrete, practical way? It seems like there are reams of paper written about how submission is biblical, produces good fruit, and (most importantly, repeated over and over again by every conference speaker, pastor and talk show interviewee ever) submission doesn’t mean treating women disrespectfully or like doormats. Well, yadda, yadda, yadda. I know all that, but what does it mean then?

For example, does it mean that after careful research and serious consultation with his wife, a husband has the final say on:

  • How many kids to have? What type of contraception to use — NFP or artificial contraception? How the kids should be schooled — at home, public or parochial? Whether the wife should be stay-at-home mom or work outside the home?
  • Where to live geographically? Whether or not to be a homeowner? Whether to move for a job?
  • What church to go to?
  • Whether or not to invest money, in say, a 401k or college savings plan?
  • What about a gut-wrenching, horrible issue — like, a kid gets diagnosed with life-threatening cancer, and the parents strongly differ on whether they should treat it aggressively or go with hospice care? After talking about it and doing the research, does the husband still have the final say?

I think you get my idea … most of the stuff I have read is all theory, no practice. I would also be interested in reading the stories of women who strongly disagreed with their husbands, went along with them anyway, and had good or bad results. For example, maybe they sometimes say, “His idea was, in my view, bad, and I went along with it anyway, and the results were bad. But at least I obeyed God and was a loving and supportive wife, and that’s the most important thing.”

Also, you don’t have to remind me that a husband has no right to compel his wife to do blatantly evil or immoral things, like take drugs, view pornography or listen to disco music. (That’s the other thing the conference speakers and talk show people love to say!)

OK, so I will be eagerly awaiting your response. Also, I ordered your new book about having babies. I will let you know what I think!


In a word, the answer I’d give to your question is yes. In some of your scenarios, of course — moving, choosing a church, investing — that answer is easier to accept than in others.

When it comes to more heartfelt issues like how many kids to have, where to educate them, and whether to stay at home with them, as well as decisions about treatment for serious illness, I think yes, biblically the final decision does ultimately reside with the husband.

But biblically, that’s a responsibility to be borne with utmost care. I would caution a couple that is at odds over these very sensitive and life-altering decisions to not be hasty in reaching an answer, but to be diligent in prayer and even fasting. It is possible for God to change hearts, of either husband or wife, and for the sake of your marriage unity is essential in such decisions.

It would certainly be a miserable marriage if husband and wife disagreed about such things as how to treat a child with cancer, especially if the child were consequently to die. You could imagine them spending the rest of their lives wondering if it’s the fault of other.

If, on such life-and-death issues, a couple is constantly in disagreement, I would suggest that the problem lies not primarily with submission, but with spiritual maturity and being able to discern God’s will and relinquish their wills to His.

The principle of submission is rooted in Ephesians 5 — the chapter of the Bible that most clearly sets forth distinct roles for husbands and wives. But it’s not the only principle contained therein. Biblical submission is only biblical when it’s given freely and respectably by the wife, to a sacrificially loving husband. It’s hard to imagine a couple that’s being faithful to all the principles in that chapter — not just submission — still having the kinds of disagreements you describe.

Your question is a powerful reminder to the singles who are reading not to trivialize dating. And so now, a word to singles:

Dating is primarily about testing a potential spouse’s character and ability to live out the marriage job description given to us in Ephesians 5. If you squander your dating time on entertainment and recreation, you may miss important cues about how your sweetheart would be as a spouse.

Dating is a great time to ask some hard questions. If you’re a woman, how would you feel submitting to the guy you’re dating — as your husband. How does he handle decision making now? Does he demand your concession and cooperation? Is he open to the idea of praying together for God’s guidance on important decisions? How does he respond when you disagree with him?

And if you’re a man, how would you feel trying to lead the woman you’re dating — as your wife? Can you imagine being willing to take the responsibility of providing for, protecting, and if needs be, laying down your life for her?

If you’re already married, this question is a great conversation starter. How do you and your spouse make big decisions? Does one try to manipulate the other into cooperation, if even subtly?

If you’re the wife, do you respectfully explain your thoughts, and does your husband lovingly consider your input? If you’re the husband, does your wife willingly follow your lead? Are you open to her input? Do you lead sacrificially?

You mentioned in your question that you’d like me to recommend a book. If you want to read more about all the principles set forth in Ephesians 5, I highly recommend Emerson Eggerichs’ Love and Respect. Steve and I attended one of his Love and Respect conferences and found his message to be extremely helpful in fleshing out those biblical principles in our day-to-day living and relating to one another. Eggerichs is formerly a senior pastor and also researched the issues for his Ph.D. at Michigan State. He goes deeper on this issue of submission than most.



Copyright 2009 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Candice Watters

Candice Watters is the editor of, a weekly devotional blog helping believers fight the fight of faith by memorizing Scripture. She is the author of Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help it Happen. In 1998, she and her husband, Steve, founded Boundless.


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