Our Submission Series: Does Jesus Value Marriage Over the People in It?

by | Sep 12, 2018 | Theology of Marriage and Sex | 37 comments

Does the bible actually say wives must always obey their husbands? Let's look at what the bible says when we interpret it through Jesus.

One of the interesting phenomena I’ve encountered when blogging is that the angry men who leave “drive-by” comments quoting Bible verses about how women must obey and remain silent so rarely talk about Jesus.

They take verses out of context from New Testament letters, or from the creation story, but they never reference what Jesus may say on the matter.

Last week I talked about principles of interpreting the Bible: Scripture cannot contradict Scripture, but everything should tell one complete story. When you read something that’s jarring, then, you should ask, “what does the rest of Scripture tell us about this?” We did that last week with the Abraham and Sarah story, and Peter’s command that women emulate Sarah, who obeyed Abraham.

Today I want to talk about another principle (one that Bruxy Cavey wrote about so well), and it’s this:

Scripture was meant to point us to Jesus.

It is Jesus who is the ultimate Word of God (John 1:1). He is the ultimate embodiment of God’s message to us. If you want to understand the full picture of God, we look to Jesus (Colossians 1:15-19). Jesus tells us how to interpret Scripture–and over and over again He said things like, “You have heard it said…But I tell you.” He is the ultimate authority. All Scripture must be interpreted through what we know about Jesus.

And Jesus taught us two main things on this earth: How we are to treat other people, and how we are to understand our relationship with God. He modelled the perfect life for us, and it is He whom we should ultimately be following. Indeed, it is God’s desire that we be transformed into Jesus’ likeness (Romans 8:29).

With that in mind, I’d like to look at an incident in Jesus’ life that we find in Luke 6:6-11. It’s not specifically about marriage, but bear with me, because I believe it’s a perfect parallel to what is going on right now.


Luke 6:6-11

On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.”So he got up and stood there.

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”

10 He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. 11 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.

Let’s paint the picture for a moment. The Pharisees were devoted to faith and following God, as they knew Him to be. They loved the Law as it was revealed in the Torah. It was indistinguishable to them from God Himself. Following God meant following the Law, and following the Law meant following God.

And it was written that one mustn’t work on the Sabbath.

That meant, therefore, that in order to bring God’s favour, no one must work. This was what God wanted; this was what made God happy.

It infuriated the Pharisees that Jesus did not appear to love the Law as they did. It infuriated the Pharisees that Jesus talked as if He actually knew God, and had a relationship with Him. That wasn’t that way God revealed Himself! Jesus, in essence, was being “liberal”. He was all touchy feely, and He was abandoning the rock of Scripture. He was abandoning God’s Word.

Jesus walks into the middle of this mindset this particular Sabbath in the synagogue. Present at the gathering is a man with a shrivelled hand. Jesus decides to deliberately make a point and reveal the Pharisees’ hearts. He asks them:

Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?

I’m not sure the Pharisees even understood the question, because they would never have framed the debate that way. To them, they were indeed saving life by preserving the Law! The only way we stay in right standing with God is to obey the Torah. Therefore, the letter of the Law becomes the ultimate good.

Jesus turned all that on its head. Jesus showed that what the Pharisees were doing was actually destroying life. You see, the dichotomy here was not “should Jesus heal or should he not heal”? The dichotomy was living solely according to the Law at the expense of people, or helping people at the expense of the Law. Jesus was saving life; and He was insinuating that the Pharisees were destroying it by forcing people to obey rules.

But hold on a second–weren’t those rules set up by God?

Well, yes. But there’s something deeper (as Aslan would say in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, there’s a Deeper Magic).

We get a picture of that in Mark 2:27, when Jesus says this:

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

In other words, God gave us the Sabbath to bless us. God wants to bless humanity! Our well-being matters to God. It is not blind obedience that God wants regardless of consequences; He put everything in place for our own good. In and of itself, rules are meant to point us to Jesus. Normally, taking a day to worship God and forget about our work enhances our well-being. But when it becomes about the rule, then we forget about God. We don’t understand who God is or why He made the Sabbath to begin with.

After this episode, the Pharisees were furious with Jesus. This moment in Jesus’ ministry was the moment that they first started plotting to kill Him. I don’t think they were furious because He healed; I think they were furious because He was threatening everything they believed about Scripture. They felt He was leading people away from God. They were righteously indignant. The only problem? They totally misunderstood God.


This, I believe, is what is happening with regards to marriage today.

Today, there are women in hurting marriages, who are being emotionally, physically, and sexually abused, who are being told, “you are to submit to your husband in everything.” They are being told that to speak up is sin, because women are to be silent. They are being told that it is God’s will that men rule over women, and so to try to assert your rights is to usurp men’s authority and go against the will of God. You don’t matter; only your husband’s will does, because you are to follow your husband.

Too many Christian leaders are taking verses out of context, ignoring the character of God and the words of Jesus, in order to maintain a religion that is built on a certain kind of power and that shows no grace at all.

And there are men in hurting marriages, whose wives are emotionally abusive, whose wives are even physically abusive. And if they try to get help, or try to say, “I’m drowning here!”, they are told, “God hates divorce.” Too many Christian leaders believe that what pleases God is maintaining the rule, not glorifying God in your relationship. In fact, their definition of glorifying God in your relationship is to save the relationship at all costs, even if it hurts you or enables sin.

She Deserves Better!

Because we all deserve a big faith.

Your daughter deserves better than what you likely grew up with in church.

What would it look like to prepare the next generation without toxic teachings about modesty, sex, or consent, and instead set her up for a big faith?

When I speak up about how Jesus’ greatest desire is for us to look like Him, and how marriage should not be used to enable sin, people become furious with me.

I have been told that I am exciting itchy ears, that I am being a tool of the devil, that I am in league with Satan simply by saying that to Jesus, God’s will matters more than a husband’s will.

I believe the problem is that we have placed a certain view of marriage–where it is absolutely permanent, with the husband exercising his will over the wife–ahead of the gospel. By saying that, though, I am going against everything that they believe in. They have clung to certain verses (and ignored the heart of God and the rest of Scripture), and believe that I am leading people astray, just like the Pharisees believed about the Sabbath.

Their fury is real, but it is misplaced.

So let’s get back to Jesus’ heart: Marriage was made for us, not us for marriage.

And in marriage, God wants to be glorified. He is not glorified by sin. He is not glorified by abuse. He is not glorified by two people drifting away from Him because the husband won’t “lead” and the wife is waiting for him to. He is glorified when we step up and do the hard things–when we “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8).

And when we do those right things–when we start acting appropriately and setting boundaries–THAT is often when dying marriages are turned around. When people suddenly face the consequences of their actions (when they reap what they sow), then people often realize the need for change.

Don’t miss the point of Scripture. Jesus is the Word of God. If your view of marriage has absolutely nothing to do with how Jesus acted here on earth, then your view of marriage is seriously off-base. And it amazes me how, when I try to engage these people in the comments, none of them ever has anything to say about Jesus. They quote other parts of Scripture, but ignore Jesus altogether.

So let me ask with Jesus–what is lawful with marriage, to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?

If your view of marriage ends up destroying people, then your view of marriage contradicts the ultimate Word of God–Jesus Himself.

What do you think? Have you heard teachings on marriage that actually harm people? What’s a better way to think about it? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Carl

    Okay, I will just speak of Jesus. Jesus, who when He had a chance to pick twelve disciples did not fill a single one with a woman. There was a reason and it’s on full display every time you teach.
    You interpret everything through women’s feelings and not Gods Word. You want Jesus’ words? Come follow me. Take up your cross. Lay down your life. Take the narrow road. Lose your life for My sake. They will take your life for following me. Those are Jesus words. You want teaching that is not objectionable to BY FAR the most pampered women to ever walk the face of the earth. Jesus had 33 years to change to tell us exactly what was important. Women were not teachers in His time. Why did He not tell us this was wrong? Wives were under their husbands authority, why did He not tell us this was wrong?

    • Rebecca Lindenbach (Sheila's daughter)

      You could say the exact same thing about slavery, Carl, which is one of the most abominable evils humans have come up with. Listen, it works:
      “Okay, I will just speak of Jesus. Jesus, who when He had a chance to pick twelve disciples did not fill a single one with a [slave]. There was a reason and it’s on full display every time you teach.
      You interpret everything through [slave’s] feelings and not Gods Word. You want Jesus’ words? Come follow me. Take up your cross. Lay down your life. Take the narrow road. Lose your life for My sake. They will take your life for following me. Those are Jesus words. You want teaching that is not objectionable to BY FAR the most [entitled slave] to ever walk the face of the earth. Jesus had 33 years to change to tell us exactly what was important. [Slaves] were not teachers in His time. Why did He not tell us this was wrong? [Slaves] were under their [masters’] authority, why did He not tell us this was wrong?”
      Just because Jesus doesn’t explicitly tell us every last thing that is right and wrong doesn’t mean we are excused if we continue to perpetuate what is wrong. That’s exactly what the South did with slavery–they even used the Bible to endorse it (which is just a whole other load of evil) using this same logic of “if Jesus had an issue with it, he would have said something”. He also never said that homosexuality or abortion was wrong, but the church has no problem taking a stance on those issues.
      Jesus’ words of “Come follow me, take up your cross, lay down your life” do not stand in contrast to women simply wanting to receive the respect that they deserve as children of God. Women who demand that their husbands stop emotionally abusing them in the name of “spiritual headship” are not failing to lay down their life. It seems to me that the men who cling to their authority and power over their wives are the ones who are refusing to lay down something.
      What you are saying here brings death. It brings spiritual death to marriages, because it puts husbands where Jesus should be. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind (this means women, too), the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim 2:5) When we say that women have to obey their husbands or they disobey God, we preach something completely against what the Bible teaches. My husband is not how I hear God’s voice–the Holy Spirit is how I hear God’s voice. And I’m not less able to hear Him simply because I’m a woman.
      To other readers, this kind of skewed logic is not how God works. What Carl is saying is “because Jesus didn’t say it explicitly, it doesn’t matter.” Well, that’s literally the difference between legalism and living through the Spirit.
      Legalism says “there needs to be an explicit rule for everything.”
      The Spirit says “Learn the principles of God so you can recognize his voice and then follow His promptings.”
      God doesn’t want there to be explicit rules for everything or he wouldn’t have taken down the Pharisees and their Torah. So let’s ditch this rules-based thinking and get back to what the post was saying: let’s just act like Jesus did and when it’s unclear what to do next, follow the Spirit’s guiding instead of man-made rules.

    • Kelly

      I consider Mary Magdalene to be a disciple of Jesus. She even has a gospel which was not included in the traditional cannon, but is a beautiful read on the nature of our reality on earth. There is a passage in it which Peter is angry that Jesus would give such teachings to Mary, a woman, and not them. Levi then says to Peter, “Who are you to dispute her testimony like an enemy? If Jesus made her upright, who are we to disown her? Jesus knew her well; that is why he loved her more than us.”
      Man and wife are not enemies. We are to submit and love and honor, creating homes and families that submit to, love and honor God. Any marriage where the two are made enemies is not a godly marriage, but any marriage can be made Godly with both hearts coming together as ONE.
      It saddens me to read that you have such a nasty view of a pampered woman. I love to pamper my husband, as he does me. I understand many women have tall orders when it comes to how they want to be cared for, but if a woman’s husband gives her a good life because it brings him joy, how does that devalue her worth or relationship with God?

    • Kay

      Last I checked, Jesus didn’t marry the Disciples, so I am having a hard time seeing how his friendship with the 12 has anything to do with a marriage relationship.
      But if we want to talk about the Disciples, I’ve always found it so fascinating that Peter and John were literally JUST at the tomb, but Jesus chose NOT to appear to them. He chose to appear to Mary, and sent her to tell Peter and the Disciples that He is risen. When they doubt her, Jesus appears and chastises them.
      Not to mention, the majority of Jesus’ miracles were done for the benefit and flourishing of women. That is how Jesus chose to “wield” his authority, in service to empowering and equipping all—men and women alike—to blossom and bear fruit. So it ought to be in marriage and the church. When I look at Jesus, I see submission as committing to the flourishing of others; in the context of marriage, the flourishing of your spouse and children. Whether you are a husband or wife, you cannot go wrong trying to love your spouse like Jesus.

    • Jon

      Hey Carl. Christ never dishonored any woman the way you have here. He treated even the most sinful of women with respect (John 8, Luke 7). Christ honored them as the weaker vessel (1 Pet 3, Eph 5). Christ lived and died self-sacrificially for them (also Eph 5). And He has called us to do the same.
      You, on the other hand, have shown nothing but scorn and contempt. You have been a perfect illustration of the Pharisees that Christ was against.
      The problem is not women who won’t submit, it is men who refuse to honor and respect and love self-sacrificially. If you want to look for the source of your problems and society’s problems, look in the mirror.
      @Sheila, I want you to know that this man not only endorses what you say here, but has preached it from the pulpit that God has placed under his responsibility–which I take very seriously. I have advised and counseled men along these lines, and the irony is that every man who has ignored me has destroyed his marriage, his wife and himself. Pride is an enormous sin, and a great destroyer. Men will destroy everything they claim to love, to maintain their sense of dignity, rather than submit to Christ, to be like Him.
      P.S. Sorry. I’m posting late to this parade…

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Jon, no problem with being late! I really appreciate it. And I’m so glad that there are pastors out there like you who want to point people TO CHRIST! That’s the whole point. Christ is the one we pursue; the one that we bow before. And He must always be the centre–not our husbands.

  2. wifeofasexaddict


  3. FollowerOfChrist

    I typically ignore these, because people tend to think with their emotions rather than scripture. It is clear in scripture that God has created an order for our lives. Every Christian is to submit to God first and foremost. We are to submit to the authority of the government, but not when it contradicts God’s word. Therefore the issue of an abusive spouse is not at issue. A Christian wife is then called to submit to her husband, as long as it is not against God’s word. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. Both of these are high callings. A wife must trust God to work in her husband’s life so that he will strive to be a Godly leader (not ruler) and do his best to love her. A husband must trust God to give him the ability to lead regardless of the wife’s actions. Outside of the marriage, Christians are to submit to one another. Children, when they are young, living at home, are to submit to their parents.
    I am blessed to have a wonderful wife who willingly submits to God, and as a result submits to my leadership in the family. That doesn’t, by the way, mean that she doesn’t have a voice. I would be a fool if I didn’t seek out her advice. Good leaders don’t simply make every decision, they empower others to make decisions as well. However, as the head of our home, if a decision is wrong, I won’t blame my wife, as God has put that responsibility on me.
    I realize there will be many who disagree, especially in this age of political correctness. All I can suggest is to continually seek out the scriptures and seek God’s will for your life. His plan is always best.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I’m so glad that your view of submission leads to both of you in your marriage having a voice. But the problem is that not everyone has that outcome. And how submission is taught in churches often leads to abuse of power and women putting up with manipulation and lies and, at times, abuse for years in the name of “submission” when really, all along, they should have spoken up.
      This isn’t actually about political correctness–it’s about truly living how God called us to live. Submission is a part of that–but how we teach submission often points people towards legalism and arguments about who’s in charge of what and my mom and I both find that utterly ridiculous when the real question all along is how can we best serve each other and serve God. That’s why we’re doing the submission posts this month: to get couples back to that question, and to question this idea that only a husband can truly hear from the Holy Spirit, since that seems to be the belief among many who preach that wives must always obey their husbands (which is not actually what submission means).

    • Hannah

      I like how you said that because it gives balance to both sides of leadership and submission. I think John Piper says it well when he says, “It’s (male headship) not about rights and control. It’s about sacrifice and responsibility.” I grew up so resentful towards submission because the circles I grew up in, both men and women focused on the wife’s role, and not the man’s. I didn’t hear what it meant for a man to lead as the Bible lays it out. Now though, I see it as it is – a heavy burden. And now that I’m married, I am honoured to come alongside my husband and try and ease that you weight that I wouldn’t even want to carry, like I thought I would. It’s heavy. Leadership isn’t about domination (which is obvious, when you look at how Jesus lived and loves the church), and sure, decision making is part of it. But like you said, the weight of the decision falling on your shoulders as the husband? Even if you’re wife is fully about it and just as much in it as you? That’s a lot…

  4. Annette

    I agree that in cases of this type of abuse, it is not healthy for anyone. However God also gave us each other in marriage to make us holy. Each of us challenges the other one to grow and change but it should always be towards God. I think many these days aren’t interested in growing in holiness because it is hard. It involves a lot of self denial. I think many these days could easily misinterpret what you are saying and decide that they are simply not happy in marriage and leave. Our primary vocation in marriage is to help our spouse get to Heaven and to create in our home a domestic church. Remember Ephesians 5 doesn’t just discuss a wife’s submission but the obligation of the husband to love his wife as Christ loves His church. That is a tough task. But if a husband is striving to live up to that end of the bargain, what a wife is asked to submit to is never unreasonable.

  5. Melissa

    If someone asks my husband and I the age-old question “who wears the pants in your family” our response is “Well we both wear pants…it would be awkward if we weren’t wearing any pants right now…if you’re asking who has the ultimate authority in our marriage, that would be God.”
    Remember that article by a renowned male author/teacher that went viral a while back? I can’t remember who it was. But he had spoken at a women’s conference about marriage and he heard absolute horror stories from women about situations they were living through trying to be “Godly wives” and to avoid divorce. He said in his article “God cares more about people than he does about institutions. If the cost of saving an institution (a marriage) is a woman’s soul (or a woman’s life), then the cost is too high.” I was like THANK YOU. At what point did the balance of responsibility shift to the woman’s side and let the men off the hook??? As Christians should we be sending women back into abusive (physical, emotional, psychological) situations with a pat on the head telling them to submit better, or should we extend a helping hand to get her (and her children if necessary) to safety?
    Yes, divorce sucks. I have friends who have been divorced and it was an incredibly painful time in their lives. But I have also witnessed God’s redemption and restoration in their lives and seen some of them happily remarried and thriving. God’s grace is more than big enough to redeem a person who has gone through divorce, just as it is big enough to redeem a person who was addicted to porn, or engaged in prostitution, or who was an atheist for decades.
    Okay, stepping down off my soapbox now. I’m feeling a little feisty today.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly, Melissa! And that article was by Gary Thomas, Enough is Enough. It was great!

      • Melissa

        Gary Thomas! Thank you! I was totally drawing a blank on that one. 🙂

    • Madeline

      I have to say, Melissa, that I love that answer to the “who wears the pants” question!

  6. Noel

    After the Lori Alexander kafuffle, I pulled up her website to see what the general tone was. She had several posts justifying her tattoo-debt-virgin post. One of them basically said her post was right, because “look what all of these men said about it.” Either on that post, or a related one, there was a comment by a regular male reader of her blog that literally made me gasp. I quote: “Genesis 3:16: her desire is to rule him, and his charge is to rule her.
    Interpreted: he has the charge, the authority of good, of order, of God; she has the charge, the (illicit) authority of rebellion, of disorder, of Satan.
    He is the agent of God. She is the agent of Satan. This is in the male all his life, in the female all her live.
    This is how Satan attacks God, by using women to attack men, who hold the authority of God.”
    This is heretical. The Bible does not say this. Anywhere. The problem with hyper-submissionists (technical term I just invented,) is that the thought process will always tend to extremes: yes, abuse, as already pointed out, but also extrabiblical doctrine presented as God’s truth. (I should emphasize that this statement was not made by Mrs. Alexander, only by one of her fans; however it was also not corrected by her, at least at the time I read it.)
    Biblically, man AND WOMAN were created in God’s image. How can a woman created in God’s image be an agent of Satan simply by her femininity? That is a huge leap of inference, from the verse referenced to a pagan distortion of God’s created order. It’s actually quite frightening.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Noel. I find that whole thing quite frightening, too. And incidentally, that’s totally the wrong interpretation of Genesis 3:16. Many of these hyper-submissionists (I like your term 🙂 ) interpret it as “her desire is to control her husband”. That’s not what it says. It says “her desire is toward her husband”, meaning, basically, that women will love men even when it’s not in their best interests. It has nothing to do with trying to control them. But that is the doctrine that was started around 1970s and it has distorted so much!

      • Elena

        I so agree with you, Noel and Sheila. Also, I’ve read enough of Lori Alexander’s writings to know that’s her interpretation of Genesis 3:16 because that’s what she teaches. That’s probably why she didn’t correct the man to whom Noel referred. Boy, it hurt my heart to read his words! Not only are they unbiblical, but it’s shocking to me that some Christian men actually believe it. They’re also influencing others by putting it out there on the Internet.

  7. The Baby Mama

    I am just weary of people using this as an excuse to get out of a difficult marriage or simply an unhappy marriage because God is more for people. I don’t think its an either/or but a both/and – in that God is BOTH for marriage AND for the people in the marriage – and if we trust God enough, and walk with Him, he can use an unhappy marriage to grow us into being like Christ.
    What better place to grow Christian virtue and be trained to become like Christ than in marriage?
    We are so fixated on happiness and our own well-being that we forget that Christ sacrificed Himself for us, His walk was a very difficult one and yet He made it FOR US with love. How many of us love our spouses with that same kind of love – no matter how difficult or uneasy the marriage is? How many of us allow God to use our difficult or uneasy marriages to teach us holiness? I know I don’t! And I am learning that this is something to aspire to…
    Yes, I am busy reading Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. And this has changed my whole view on marriage – from easy, to difficult to anything in between. God can and will use my marriage to make me holy, and usually holiness comes at a cost. Whether I have to learn submission or learn to own my voice, marriage isn’t a quick get-out when I am unhappy; its holiness and that is where I need to focus on.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I completely agree, Baby Mama. And I wasn’t trying to say that we should all divorce–only that God does care about us, and that He doesn’t want people hurt. Incidentally, have you read what Gary Thomas (author of Sacred Marriage) said about this? It’s basically what my post here says too in his article Enough is Enough. It is really important.
      I know it was so rough when your mom left your dad, Baby Mama. Me, too. I really do hate divorce. I just also think that a lot of the bad marriage teaching we’re getting is actually contributing to divorce. By telling women that they can’t speak up when there’s a problem, we’re creating a ticking time bomb situation. I’ve seen it in my close friend groups. When women hear that if they’re upset, they have to swallow it and submit more, then genuine, important conflicts don’t get resolved and intimacy is ruined. Instead, we need to show how Jesus meant marriage to be an intimate, life giving thing, and that means that it’s okay to bring up issues. It’s okay to have feelings and thoughts. I think that part of the reason that divorce rates are higher among denominations that preach hyper-submission is because they’re creating the groundwork for an emotionally dead marriage.And quite often, in those conditions, someone eventually snaps. I just want people to learn how to thrive in marriages, and we can’t do that until we understand what real intimacy is. And real intimacy includes both people sharing their feelings! I hope that will become apparent throughout this month.

  8. Lydia Purple

    Submission is the free will choice of the one submitting. It is not forced obedience or outward compliance out of fear. It is very individual. The Bible doesn‘t teach that all women should obey all men. But it requires of each woman to submit to her own husband. This is true the other way around too. The husband is to lay his life down for his wife. How this exactly plays out in each marriage is s very individual thing. But the woman has a powerful choice. Even in abusive or otherwise destructive marriages she has the power to draw the boundary. How long to stay, how many more chances to give to the husband and with what conditions (I am talking about addictions or abuse – not about minor annoyances or general unhappiness of the wife). It is between her and God to decide. If she obeys the husband out of fear she is actually not submitting in a godly sense, because we did not receive a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind. I believe these 4 things are related. If we act out of fear it is not truly love, it is giving away our power and it is messed up thinking and screwed judgement. Submission is the free choice to put your husbands well-being before your own, to respect his preferences and his wishes, to seek God‘s will for him.

  9. Dars O’connor

    So I read articles like this and I struggle. My struggle is that my wife is constantly refusing my sexual advances. We are down to having sex once every four or five weeks and it is nothing to go an entire month without sex. I’ve spoken up and she refuses to talk about it.
    I’m at the point that I consider it abuse and thoughts about divorce are becoming more and more. The only thing that keeps me in this marriage is that God abhors divorce.
    When I read articles like this, it feels like it is giving me permission. That God cherishes my health and happiness more than my marriage. That the abuse I suffer is not something he desires I suffer. How do I balance that against what my pastor says that I am to remain in the marriage and pray for her?

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Wow, I’m so sorry you’re in that position right now.
      Here’s the thing: marriage shouldn’t be something that brings death and allows people to stagnate spiritually. And your wife refusing to have sex? That’s spiritual stagnation.
      But divorce isn’t the next step as soon as something wrong happens in a marriage, and Sheila’s written extensively on that and how horrible divorce can be. Rather than giving permission to seek divorce, what my mom is trying to do is show people that they aren’t powerless in their marriages. She’s written so many posts that are very clear that divorce is not an ideal option–in fact, it really should be the last possible solution tried. But if your pastor looks at your situation and says “just pray for her,” I’m sorry but that’s not the whole picture.
      YES, pray for her. But people need to feel the consequences of their actions. If she’s consistently refusing one of the major tenants of marriage, you are free to do something about it. Talk to not just the pastor, but find someone else who can help. Friends, a counsellor, an older mentor couple in your church.
      Sheila has written lots of posts on this, here are a few I think might help:
      Praying for encouragement for you, and for a breakthrough for your marriage.

  10. KellyK

    Thank you Sheila and Rebecca for this great article!

  11. Akin

    I have thoroughly enjoyed your exegesis on submission in marriage in this article and last week’s on Sarah. I’d like to say what a blessing you have been to my wife and I and to the body of Christ!
    We consider your blog and other inspired grace-based writings and comments the Bible of our day; written in a language and context we can easily relate to. The New Testament writings of Paul, Peter and others were responses to the questions of the saints and general commentary on life. If they lived in our day, these disciples would have blogs just like yours. I still believe and follow the Bible passed on over 2,000 years ago but I have also elevated grace-based writings like yours that point me to Jesus on the same level. God spoke through Believers 2000 years ago and God still speaks through Believers today, He never stopped speaking through the ages.
    Take heart, keep speaking the truth, God is with you. The Pharisees vilified Jesus because he came to destroy their established order and tradition and to proclaim liberty to humanity; that’s exactly what you are doing and it’s no surprise the drive-by commentaries try to discredit your calling.
    Truth will prevail in the long-run and you will be vindicated.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Akin! That’s really a great encouragement.
      I must say, though, that as much as I wrestle over what I write, I can’t say that my words are necessarily “God-breathed”. I do hope that everybody takes what I write and acts like the Bereans in Acts 17–and compares it to Scripture. We all need to decide for ourselves! And it is a weighty responsibility, with so many reading my words.
      But thank you for your encouragement. I do appreciate it. And I covet your prayers, too!

      • KELLYK

        Sheila, I feel that you speak the TRUTH! Based on Scripture and not a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing”. Especially since you have eschewed the teachings of such people as Lori Alexander and the Pearls! Then there are popular Christian authors like Jen Hatmaker, & Glennon Doyle Melton plus Rachel Hollis, who has a NYT best seller in her “Girl, Wash Your Face “book with an endorsement from Ms Hatmaker herself. who have come out in full support of homosexuality and in Melton’s case married a female soccer star (after divorcing her husband)! I struggle with this because God says we are to love everybody. But how does one do that when we disagree with the lifestyle because it says in both the Old and New Testaments that its not ok? I show them kindness and am non-judgemental. They think that if you disagree with their lifestyle that you’re a hater. Which also is not true . I have friends from high school who came out as homosexual after having both been married to people of the opposite sex. They are both great human beings. The male homosexual is active in his local Episcopal Church, here in the USA, it’s a very accepting denomination of homosexuals. Not trying to open a can of worms but just something that I struggle with. Thanks Sheila! AND BECCA!

  12. Madeline

    Sheila, thank you for this. I am so encouraged by your series on submission. This is a challenging topic for me, because I’ve seen how it is twisted to largely disempower the wife or make it seem as if she is no longer a moral agent somehow, and nothing she does matter besides obeying her husband. But you help me to see how submission does not have to be an ugly thing at all. Both the husband and the wife are meant to still have a relationship with God.

  13. Kay

    I just came across this quote in the book Vindicating the Vixens: “…study of the Bible is not meant to make us smarter sinners.” I feel as if this is what has happened in much of the conversation about a wife’s submission, that it has been used—whether covertly or overtly—to keep a woman silent so that a husband’s sin can go unchecked. Not okay.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s a great quote! And that’s exactly the point here.

  14. Melissa G.

    Sheila, thank you for writing these things even when it makes some angry. It’s impossible to have a sensible discussion with a man who just dismisses what you have to say and accuses you/me/us of being an “emotional female” when ever he disagrees with something. But thank you for trying. 🙂 But
    It took me a long time to realize these truths about marriage and submission. And I had a hard time finding any godly marriage advise such as this when i was searching way back when. I’m glad your articles are here now for people searching for help.
    I finally realized that the church/Christians have made an idol out of marriage. They value the institution of marriage over the safety and health of the people in the marriages.
    Anyway, just wanted to say thank you and keep up the good work.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you so much, Melissa! I appreciate that.

  15. Laura D

    Thank you, Sheila.
    I think that if you removed the “epistles” by all of these “authors” and just read them by themselves: you would be seeing a completely foreign religion that Jesus Christ never preached. It would be all about male domination and female subjugation. It would go so far as to silence women, tell them to wear head coverings, tell them they are to be shamefaced, that they are despicable creatures “in the fall of Eve”; and it would say that Jesus Christ is the Head of men… but women have not the same salvation nor personal relationship with Jesus.
    You’d see an entirely different religion than the truth of the cross of Jesus Christ and the equal salvation of all people.
    And, I don’t think that is “an accident”.
    Thank you for calling people back to Jesus Christ.
    Understandably, there are many persons who follow the religion of those “epistles”… who do not know Jesus Christ nor what Jesus said.
    Because, that other religion appears quite clearly to be Islamic.

  16. Kayla

    Paul’s principles in 1 Corinthians for discerning the will of God:
    • Is it lawful? (6:9-11)
    • Is it beneficial? (6:12a)
    • Is it enslaving? (6:12b)
    • Is it beneficial to others? (10:33)
    • Is it consistent with Christ? (11:1)
    • Is it for the glory of God? (10:31)
    This is a good start

  17. Michelle G

    Thank you – I am almost speechless. Almost. As a survivor of marital soul abuse and during a time of so much muck with the SBC and attacks of Beth Moore, I have searched deep, long and hard for answers. I often find myself swallowed up in a war of, Scripture vs Jesus and sometimes (like tonight) dropping into a heap of disparity that hurts so badly that I can’t understand why I am here. Why would God create me to be enslaved to the desires and afflictions of a sinful creature and tell me I am only here to be a Stepford Wife. What I read seems to not match the Jesus I know and love. This article helped say out loud what was inside me but I couldn’t verbalize. It was so confirming, I’m not out of the woods yet, but this helps a great deal. Thank you

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad, Michelle! So glad!

  18. Mary

    Thank you so much! You are a breath of fresh air!


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