Why Women Won’t Submit to Men and Vice-Versa


Colossians 3:18–19

Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.


Submission. It’s a word we love to hate. It evokes images of a mixed martial arts cage fight. Submission must be the worst possible way to lose. It happens when one fighter is held down so oppressively and inescapably by another fighter that he taps out, which means he taps on the mat with his hand to signify his submission, and the referee stops the fight. I think I would rather be knocked out than forced to submit like this.

Is it any wonder so many women have an almost allergic reaction to texts like today’s: “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (v. 18)? Submission carries connotations of being overpowered and dominated. Wives, allow yourselves to be overpowered and dominated by your husbands—just tap out. Surely this can’t be what Paul means.

Here’s my theory on the case. Paul is proposing a very radical thing here. In the old framework, under the curse going all the way back to Eden, wives would have had no choice but to be subject to their husbands: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen. 3:16b). You will remember a few verses back where Paul said, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col. 3:11). He might as easily have added here the same pairing he inserted as he expressed this point to the Galatians: “neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:28 KJV).

The new creation is “in Christ,” and it is now. Everything has changed. Husbands no longer rule over wives. Submission as imagined by the curse is out. Submission as imagined by the gospel is in. Hear Paul again, and particularly the six-word addendum at the end: “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (Col. 3:18).

In the new creation, wives do not live under the curse of being ruled by their husbands. Paul is asking them to step outside the old power paradigm and into the ethos of the kingdom of God. In this all-too-rarified realm, submission means voluntary surrender, not to one’s husband, but to Jesus; not giving up one’s rights, but laying them down in preference for others. In short, submission means having the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus (see Philippians 2:5) and all that this entails.

To be clear, it would never be “fitting in the Lord” for a wife to submit to a husband who seeks to rule over her, violate her sense of personhood, or act in any way that might remotely resemble abuse.

Paul is actually saying something very radical here. Submission to one’s husband is now the prerogative, the free choice of the wife, taking submission out of the structures of power and into the realm of holy love. I am sure I will ruffle some feathers with this, but why do we set our sights on equal rights? Isn’t that far too low a bar for God’s people. We are following the One “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage” (or “grasped” in the ESV; Phil. 2:6). Submission presupposes no obligation; only freedom.

“Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Col. 3:19). It’s another way of saying, “Husbands, you are not the ruler of your wives. You are not their lord. In fact, in the new creation, everything is reversed. You are just the opposite—their humble servant. You are not surrendering some of your power to them so they can be somehow equal to you. No, you are surrendering all of your power to Jesus alone, who will empower you by the Holy Spirit to become the servant of your wife. After all, he refers to his people, the church, as his bride.

The kingdom comes in response to radical surrender to Jesus, “in heaven,” which is manifest through radical submission to each other, “on earth.” Remember how the chapter began, “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (v. 1).

We must take care not to baptize our American idealism with Christian theology. While the latter has certainly informed the former, they are decisively different visions. We don’t need better ideas, ideals, and ideologies. We need better theology.

The handle for Domino #3|18 and #3|19 is simple: Submission.


Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who, far from an idea, is the Word of God made human flesh. Forgive us for the ways we want to press him into the service of our ideals and ideologies. Come, Holy Spirit, and lift my heart and mind and eyes to the heavenly vision of the very real kingdom of God. I’m ready to renounce every other vision. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


  1. How does this challenge your views of what submission means?
  2. How do you understand the whole concept of one’s rights and how they should be exercised in light of the cross of Jesus Christ?
  3. What is it about you that causes you to resist humbling yourself as a woman? As a man? As a wife (if you are married)? As a husband? What are you afraid of?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

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Comments and Discussion

5 Responses

  1. JD, I find myself in total agreement with everything you’ve written here. I believe that the reason that we, even us who are Christians, have problems putting this concept of submission into practice, can be explained in one simple word, PRIDE. I believe the weakness of our flesh will continue to haunt us till the day we draw our last breath’s. Our calling to follow Christ requires that we freely give up our “rights “ to self-will to Him who bought us with His blood.

  2. 1) You wrote: “The kingdom comes in response to radical surrender to Jesus. . .” This morning, before coming to your blog, I posted on Facebook: “The kingdom of God is one invisible nation, indivisible, with deliverance & healing for all who will receive it.”

    When we’re radically submitted to the risen Jesus as citizens of God’s kingdom, living in humble, ongoing obedience to His will, we begin to walk in mutual submission to and heart-felt service to one another. Paul said: “Consider others better than yourself,” and “Submit to one another.” That consideration and submission “is fitting in the Lord.” It means being full of love for others and without harshness.

    Christians today have trouble embracing mutual submission because church for many centuries has tended to follow an authoritarian model. Although we say that Christ is the Head, functionally He’s actually a figurehead, while a pastor literally runs the service and operates as if he is the head. Jesus gave an alternative model. He said: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” A great husband serves his wife, and a great wife serves her husband. (I also posted this on Facebook before reading your post today: “When members of the body of Christ gather as His Spirit-led town hall meeting, God’s kingdom comes.”)

    2) In the light of the Cross of Christ, there are no human rights. We’re entitled to nothing. We’ve earned nothing. We’re doing better than we deserve. Everything we have is through grace and mercy. Now we need to show grace and mercy to all people, because God so love the world that . . .

    3) The pride in me causes me to resist humbling myself. To be truly humble we must resist and die to our pride.

  3. Beautifully said. Now we can pray that all Christians, male and female, will actually do this. Thank you, J.D. AMEN.

  4. Normally I enjoy these daily posts, but this one made me cringe. Telling a wife to “voluntarily” be subservient to her husband is no better than requiring her to do it. Also, telling a husband to love his wife without telling him to voluntarily submit in this passage implies there is still a family hierarchy. It sounds like what we egalitarians like to call “soft comp” and it has no place in a marriage, unless of course both parties subscribe to it. God’s telling Eve that her husband would rule over her was descriptive, not some curse issued by God as punishment for women. It was a statement that sexism is not part of God’s plan but is a form of sin that resulted from the Fall. I won’t tell anyone how to run their marriage, but to me this post sounds similar to a preacher telling a former enslaved African person they they should continue working for their enslaver even though the Civil War has ended. Telling the enslaver to be nice and not to beat the former enslaved person does not make it okay. All posts like this do is give fundamentalist churches more ammunition to defend sexist policies that relegate women to second-class citizenship in the church and in the home and encourage abuse. And like you, I realize that what I am saying might “ruffle some feathers.” But after so many years, we egals are weary of having to fight this battle again and again and again, especially now that this is the 21st century.

  5. Our number one ministry should be our spouse. Submitted to Christ, and then your spouse creates a Christ-centered marriage. Any other foundation of marriage, self-centered or spouse-centered, leaves the door open for the evil one to creep in to kill, steal and destroy it. He did it in Genesis and is still doing it. A marriage that the devil influences through sin affect the children, making them more acceptable to sin’s power. It happed to Adem and Eve’s kids, and it still does. God’s instruction to submit righteously, as is fitting in the Lord, is the natural order of living a marriage that walks in the spirit. He designed it this way for our benefit to deliver us from the evil one. In Christ-centered marriage, both spouses are covered in the Armour of God simultaneously.

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