What Does it Mean for Wives to Submit to Their Husbands?

I am a Superman fan. When I grew up I would watch Superman II over and over again. I had nearly the entire movie memorized. Even as a teenager, I would drive to the local movie rental place and, at least once a month, I would check out Superman II on VHS and watch it. My favorite scene in the movie comes at the end, where Superman has supposedly lost his powers and General Zod is standing triumphant. Zod says to Superman, “And now, finally. Take my hand and swear eternal loyalty to Zod.”  Superman kneels, takes Zod’s hand, and crushes it as the Superman theme song begins to play.  Zod gasps in pain, and Superman picks him up with one hand and throws him up against a wall in the Fortress of Solitude.  Even now I am getting a smile of satisfaction on my face.

I would imagine there might be a few wives who would love to be Superman in this situation while their husbands would be Zod. They’d love to crush the grip of control and throw off their husband’s domineering views.  The reason though, I believe, for these feelings is two-fold: 1) the wife does not understand what submission really means, and 2) the husband is just as clueless, if not more so.

Taking the example of Superman II once again, Zod represents the mischaracterization of submission. This is what people tend to think about when they here the words “submit” or “subject.” After all, Zod is a general, and submit or subject are military words.  Very few people actually want to emulate General Zod. He’s the bad guy. And (at least in Superman movies), the bad guy finishes last.  General Zod cared only for world domination, to defeat and control anyone he felt was a threat to him. He was more than a jerk; he was a tyrant. And while many do not seek to imitate him, often men–husbands and fathers–come across in such a brutal fashion.

On the other hand, most people look to Superman (even if they are Batman fans) and see someone whom they wish to aspire to, knowing that they can’t.  He stands for truth, justice, and the American way. Two of those are biblical principles (truth and justice, in case you were wondering). He fights evil and stands up for the weak. He protects and leads with strength and kindness.  That’s what leadership looks like!

But there is a point in the movie where it looked like Superman was defeated. Hey! He had a bus thrown on him! From the crowd you hear people saying, “He’s dead. Superman’s dead. He’s not coming out!” “They killed Superman!” “Let’s go get ’em!” “Yeah, I know some judo. Let’s go get ’em!”  On the one hand, one could say that they are being extremely dumb. If the bad guys killed Superman so easily, they could definitely kill these guys without a sweat. But on the other hand, one could see that they are willing to die just as their leader did because of their love and devotion for him. That’s what submission really is. It is a love and devotion toward another.

Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and General Leonard Wood organized the Rough Riders to fight in the Spanish-American War in Cuba. Even Wood knew that the group was made up of men who knew they would follow TR into battle and perhaps even get killed. Thus Roosevelt was given his commission and the troops to lead. When he charged up San Juan Hill the Rough Riders were right there along with him.  After the war, they campaigned for him without his needing to ask.  The men had such a love and respect for their leader that they’d do anything for him, whether he asked them or not.  That’s what submission really is. It is a natural tendency toward the one respected and loved.

This is why Paul wrote as the last thing in Ephesians 5: “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband,” (Ephesians 5.33, ESV).  That’s the true motivation for submission: respect. Sadly, many husbands do not act in such a way that deserves respect. In those cases, the wife ought to respect the position rather than the person.  So if your husband is a Zod rather than a Superman, he is still your husband. As long as he is not asking you to sin, going against God’s Word, then one is to respect the position and treat the man with respect.  If he insists you go against the Word, then respectfully decline to do as he says explaining why.

If he is abusive, separate from him, until he receives counseling and repents of his sins.  Always seek reconciliation, but do not return until true repentance is made.

I’d love to read your thoughts, questions, and comments below.

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