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The Submissive Wife

Wives, be submissive to your husbands. This guidance from Saints Peter and Paul is one of the more contentious verses in the New Testament. Generally men and women interpret it to mean that wives should conform to the will of their husbands. That interpretation has lead to male dominance of women, female subservience to men, and even the rejection of the Gospel by some. These were not what the author intended. To understand this guidance, we must consider the meaning of submissive. The word literally means under sending or more figuratively to support the mission. A mission is a sending. A person does not send himself, but is sent by another. Therefore, it is an external will that establishes a mission. As Christians we are sent by God to be witnesses to the world of His love for us. That is our mission, a mission based on Gods will, not the will a human. What the writers of the New Testament commanded a wife to do is this: she is to be supportive of Gods will for her husbands life, to support and encourage him to be a missionary of Gods love. Instead of conforming or giving in to her husbands will, a wife is intended to support the husband in his efforts to follow Gods will. The three places where the submission of wives is most commonly quoted, all relate to Gods will (all are NIV translations):
Colossians 3:18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. I Peter 3:1 Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives.

Notice how the intent of the directed actions of the wife is in each instance to be in accord with the will of God: submit as is fitting in the Lord, submit as to the Lord and submit to lead the husband to salvation. The directive is not for a wife to conform to the will of her husband, but for her to conform to the will of God for her husband. What greater love can a wife have for a husband? This means in order to obey this guidance a wife must refuse to conform to her husbands will, if the husbands will is not conforming to Gods will. It is her mission to help keep him on track towards his ultimate goal. And that goal is to be a sign to the world of Gods love, which is best demonstrated in the consummate love between husband and wife, a love which encompasses intimacy (complete openness), passion (a focus on the objective instead of the cost), respect (attempting to see things again from the others perspective) and commitment (acceptance of a mission together, which requires a dedication of ones future). Some may ask why husbands are not told to be submissive to their wives. That is because husbands have been given a mission to love their wives as they love themselves. If the wife were given a separate mission it could prevent the unity God intended to exist in a marriage. A husband is directed to meld his life together with the life of his wife. However, this is impossible to accomplish alone, so the wife is instructed to support her husband in his efforts to fulfill his mission of holy union with her. This is a beautiful mystery of the complementary blending of the masculine action and the feminine nurturing so that the love between husband and wife becomes a reflection of the love between Christ Jesus and his bride, the Church. Understanding this in seeking a spouse or developing a marriage can help bring joy to a marriage.