Decision Making and Mutual Submission in Marriage

Photo: Flickr/Aaron Alexander - <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/">Creative Commons</a>

By Wade Burleson

The attitude of every follower of Jesus Christ, whether male or female, is one of servant-like submission. "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3). "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who.... took the form of a bond-servant" (Philippians 2:5-7).

The best one word description for this servant-like attitude of "regarding another as more important" is the word submission. To be a submissive person is to be like the bond-slave Jesus Christ became for us. The Bible is emphatic that all Christians, both males and females, are to be characterized by love and submission to other people.

Paul describes this Spirit-filled life of believers in Ephesians 5 where he writes- "and walk in love, just as Christ also has loved you..." (v. 2) and then he writes, "and be submissive to one another in the fear of Christ" (v. 21). Again, these two characteristics of the Spirit-filled life (love and submission) are mandatory regardless of gender. Paul illustrates how love and submission works in the husband/wife relationship in the rest of chapter 5. "Wives to your own husbands" (v. 22) is what Paul literally writes. Unfortunately, English translators add the words "be subject" after the word wives. Why do our English translators leave off "love?" Paul is writing about love AND submission, and when he writes "wives to your husbands" the emphasis is "Wives, be submissive and loving to your husbands." Likewise, later Paul "so husbands to wives" (v. 28). Again, the English translation picks up on the word "love" for husbands, but in the context of mutual love and mutual submission (v. 2 and v. 21), husbands are to express a love and a servant-like spirit of submission to their wives. It may sound strange to your ears to hear that the Bible says a husband is to be submissive to his wife, but it wasn't strange to Paul's ears. This is the teaching of the New Covenant. To say that a husband is to have a submissive attitude toward his wife is as correct as saying that a wife is to love her husband. No gender, whether male or female, is to leave off either submission or love in human relationships.

Because the Scripture teaches mutual servant-like submission and unconditional love for both the husband and the wife, some Christians who are unfamiliar with Scripture-- but who have been indoctrinated with institutional church dogmatism about "authority"-- may be confused. "How will a married couple ever make a decision if nobody is the boss and everybody has an attitude of servant-like submission and unconditional love?" they might ask.

Great question. Here is how a Spirit-filled couple makes a decision in marriage.

(1). Both the husband and wife are able to freely give their opinions and express disagreement because the husband considers his wife "more important" than himself and the wife views her husband "more important" than herself, so each desires to hear what the other person has to say.

(2). The husband listens to his wife and the wife listens to her husband because there is reciprocal love and respect for one another. This love and respect is the same kind of love and respect that the husband and wife have both experienced from Jesus Christ.

(3). If unity of desire and mutual agreement for the proper course of action cannot be found, then the couple mutually agrees to wait on making a decision. They that wait upon the Lord shall be renewed in strength. During this time of waiting, the husband asks God for wisdom and discernment for himself, and the wife asks God for wisdom and discernment for herself.

(4). After waiting, when the deadline for a decision approaches, the husband--in a spirit of love and submission toward his wife--will either be led by the Holy Spirit to begin having the same desires as his wife, OR, the wife--in a spirit of love and submission toward her husband will be led by the Holy Spirit to begin having the same desires as her husband. Two Christians living together are to honor God by living in harmony with one another. That’s not to say that that the husband and wife are to be the same; harmony recognizes the beauty of differences, and incorporates those differences into a beautiful melody. Mutual submission is the art of hearing from God.

(5). In a Christ-honoring marriage, no person sees himself (or herself) as the "authority" in the home. Jesus Christ has "all authority" (Matt. 28:18), and a marriage that honors God is one where both the husband and the wife look to Christ alone as their authority. Decision making is made with a spirit of mutual submission and love, leaning on Christ to produce unity of hearts and minds.

For anyone married to an unbeliever, this process of coming to unity in decision making may be a tad harder. This is why the New Covenant writers issue a caution about being unequally yoked. However, when two followers of Jesus Christ are married, it is important to remember that Scripture clearly teaches submission is never the wife's responsibility to the exclusion of the husband's, nor is love the responsibility of the husband's to the exclusion of the wife's. A Spirit-filled, Christ-honoring, God-glorifying marriage is one of mutual submission and love.


Wade Burleson is pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma and blogs at WadeBurleson.org.

The Christian Post