This passage has proven to be a great source of contention, especially today. Of course, many husbands love to whip this one out, jokingly or seriously, when they feel their authority being challenged by the spouse. What does this passage mean? Doesn't the bible also say to submit to one another? What if the husband is asking the wife to do something illegal or immoral? These are all good questions and, once again thanks to our modern level of moral degradation, quite valid. But instead of answering questions like those directly what I would like to do is show what submission looks like in the light of a model relationship.
What is this model relationship? The relationship of the the Father, Son and Holy Spirit or what is referred to as the doctrine of the Trinity. I won't go into a defense of the Trinity here. I am going to assume my reader is familiar with the doctrine and its import. In short the doctrine states that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are separate persons and yet, at the same time, God. Not gods, but God (singular). And that this relationship has existed for all time. Sometimes the formulation is stated: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
But what relevance does this have on married couples? Scripture teaches us that the three are equal. That they are all God. So would it surprise you to know that the Son submits to the Father?
For "God has put all things in subjection under his feet." But when it says, "all things are put in subjection," it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:27-28)
But wouldn't this mean that now Jesus is somehow less than God? No, not if you understand biblical submission correctly. In fact, if you know anything about the life of Jesus and his ministry you will already be aware that Jesus tried to teach his disciples what real submission looked like. When he washed his disciples feet he demonstrated to them that even though he was their master and Lord, he was willing to submit himself to the role of a slave in order to show them what genuine love looked like (John 13:5-15).
See, our problem is that we equate submission with someone being the boss and the other person being the slave or employee. Although the word can be used that way, it isn't the only way it can be used. Our passage uses it differently. When Jesus submits himself to God it is for the same reason he submitted himself to his disciples and even death on a cross: Love. It can not be a becoming less than God. That would be impossible. Nonetheless he submits and will submit all things to the Father.
When wives are told to submit to their husbands it isn't suppose to be a grind where the wife contorts her face and says, through clenched teeth, "OK, but only because God is making me!". But rather, it is with the understanding that even though she is equal with her husband and equally a barer of God's image, she can love her husband the same way Jesus loves his Father and will, ultimately, place all things, including himself, in submission to him.
Of course, verse twenty five speaks to the husbands. They are to love their wives as Jesus loved the church and gave himself for her. But what does it mean that he "gave himself"? It means he submitted. He submitted to the will of his Father in coming to earth and doing his will. He submitted to the disciples by becoming one of them and serving them and he submitted to death. The whole while being "very God of very God". In essence, all of these passages equate to "submit to each other".
In this context, that of the relationship of the Father and the Son, submission is a beautiful word. One that, if practiced correctly, with the right motives, will bring great pleasure and satisfaction to both the husband and the wife.