It seems unfair and non-egalitarian to expect wives to submit to their husbands. In a world characterized by power struggles, the one who can exert the most power is the one who calls the shots, and the one who calls the shots is, generally speaking, the top dog, the best off, the most respected, the most honoured, the ‘greatest’. But in the Kingdom of God, where we are called to die to ourselves that we should live, to deny our carnal appetites that we should know pleasure, and to look to an executed convict that we should see God, we must also make ourselves the least that we should be the greatest. Power, status and ‘greatness’ in the Kingdom of God are not based on the same principles as their counterparts in the secular world we live in; the tallies are very different here. This is clearly demonstrated in Mark 9:33-35, when the disciples argue about which of them is the greatest and Jesus sets them straight:
And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
(Mark 9: 33-35 ESV)
In God’s Kingdom, to be the most submissive is to be the greatest; to be the last is to be first. We see this in the fact that Christ, a member of the Almighty Godhead and co-creator of the universe, emptied himself of his glory to take the form of a mere human being, submitted himself, innocent, to the Jewish and Roman authorities, remained silent when tried on trumped up charges and let himself be executed like a slave in the place of the very reprobates who insulted his glory. Hold onto that thought. It’s the blueprint for what follows in Peter’s first letter, which is what the teaching looks like in practice – for the whole Church, and not just for women:
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
(1 Peter 2: 13-15; 19-22 ESV)
Godly living is characterised here as follows, roughly in order of appearance:
1) Good works are a means of winning over evildoers and silencing fools.
2) Submission to all forms of authority on Earth under God.
3) Patiently accepting unjust suffering for doing good, according to the example set by Christ.
If this is the supreme way to glorify God with our living – that the last will be first, and that those who would be the greatest must make themselves servants of all – then those who are especially called to submission are the role models the whole church needs to follow if it is to be great. Here, I’m thinking of wives’ calling to submission. Regarding wives, Peter goes on to say the following as an extension of the theme exposited in 1 Peter 2:
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
(1 Peter 3:1-2, 7 ESV)
Study the parallels here with the passages from 1 Peter 2. As above, in the commandment for the whole Church, godly living regarding wives is characterised as follows, roughly in order of appearance:
1) Submission to husbands’ authority under God.
2) Good works are a means of winning over evildoers and silencing fools.
3) Husbands ordered with as much vigour not to treat their wives inconsiderately or fail to honour them; God will not listen to their (the husbands’) prayers if they neglect to obey this order.
It seems to me that the submission of wives to their husbands is the greatest outworking of the commandment to the whole church, of which Christ is the supreme example. This is an outworking that men cannot imitate in relation to their wives: the woman, in her role as wife, is the one who submits to the greatest degree, and the man, in his role as husband, is commanded to show her honour as the weaker vessel (I do appreciate that people have different understandings of the words ‘weaker vessel’). Let us remind ourselves of what Jesus said above: the last will be first, and whoever would be great must make him (or her) self the servant of all. In the eyes of the world, to command someone to submit is to imply that they are in some way inferior, but if the capacity to submit is prized as a conferrer of greatness, then in their submissive wives, the men of the Church should have a guiding light to look up to.
Women, submission to husbands is not something we need to do just ‘because the Bible says so’. Our special calling to submission is glorious because it allows us to follow Christ’s pattern of submission at the cross most completely and utterly, and Christlikeness is our life’s chief goal. The cross may be foolishness to those who are perishing, but through it, we women have a special calling to be great. Let us strive to be great in our submission and lead a good example for our men and our children to follow.