No concept today seems more controversial than the biblical teaching of submission. Our society values independence and the thought of submitting to anyone else is distasteful. Yet, men and women live submissive lives. Our society would not function without submission.
Submission is the complementary state to leadership. If one person has authority then those who follow that person are in submission. When you take a job, the boss rightfully expects you to follow his directions – to be submissive to his will. It does not mean that you live for your boss’s every whim or that you break the law just because your boss tells you to do so. We understand there is a hierarchy of authority. A boss cannot act independent of his superiors, the laws of the land, or God’s laws.
When we obey the traffic lights, we are submitting our will to the laws of our country. We understand that they are for the betterment of the society as a whole, even though it may slow us down from reaching the other side of town. Yet our government has a higher authority over it. God is the one who has ordained governments. It is He who puts leaders into place and causes governments to topple. Even when they do not acknowledge God, governments are subject to the law of God.
When we discussed the husband’s role as head of the family, we looked way back to the beginning when Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit. One of the consequences of Eve’s sin was that women would desire their husbands and that husbands would have rule over the wife (Genesis 3:16). If the husband leads as he is required, then when a wife follows his lead she is in submission. Paul said that submission is fitting in the Lord (Colossians 3:18). In other words, a wife submitting to her husband is right and proper in God’s sight. To refuse to follow your husband’s lead is to rebel against God.
Now submission does not imply that a wife must follow her husband in wrong doing. Paul said in Ephesians 5:22 to submit to your husbands as you would submit to God. Husbands cannot do anything they desire. They are supposed to be in submission to Christ (I Corinthians 11:3).
Notice that submitting is a voluntary action. No verse exists that tells someone to make another person submit. The person in submission must do so of his or her own free will. The writer of Proverbs said that forcing a person to submit is impossible. “A constant dripping on a day of steady rain and a contentious woman are alike; He who would restrain her restrains the wind, and grasps oil with his right hand.” (Proverbs 27:15-16).
Submission is more than simple obedience. A child can obey his parents while grumbling about the injustice of taking out the trash. A wife can do as her husband asks and then make his life miserable by bringing up constant reminders of his shortcomings. True submission is not done because you must, but because you want to submit. Such an attitude is seen in the wife’s actions. In I Peter 3:1-6, Peter refers back to a seemingly small incident in the life of Abraham. Even though Sarah laughed at the idea of her and Abraham having a child in their old age, notice how Sarah thought about her husband in Genesis 18:12. The fact that she referred to Abraham as a lord tells us a lot about her attitude toward her husband. Is there any doubt that Sarah was in submission to Abraham? Peter is not saying that women today must call their husbands “lord.” What he is saying is that the actions of the wife must show her willingness to follow her husband’s lead.