Slideshow image

Yesterday {Meaning of Submission (Part 1)} we began uncovering the meaning of submission by refuting some of what it does not mean for a wife to submit to her husband. Make sure you begin there before you continue reading today’s article. If you’ve already read part 1, let’s dive in and continue dismissing what submission isn’t.  

Biblical Submission Doesn’t Mean Agreement.

Is it possible to submit to your husband, even if you don’t agree with him? Absolutely! If you look at 1 Peter 3:1-2 you’ll see why: “they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, (2) when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 

The women that Peter is writing to are Christians. They have been called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light, but their husbands are still in the dark. They are members of the local churches in Asia Minor, but their husbands are not. So in other words, these women do not agree with their husbands about everything. In fact, they don’t agree with their husbands about the most important thing in the universe!

Ladies, it’s okay to disagree with your husband. It’s even okay to tell him that you disagree with him. But here’s the question: what do you do when the disagreement cannot be resolved? Do you yield to his leadership, or do you insist on your own way?

By the way, men, this assumes that you’re actually leading. Your wife cannot submit to your leadership if you’re not exercising leadership. Stay tuned we’ll touch on that more next week.  

Biblical Submission Doesn’t Mean You’re A Doormat.

A doormat is a person who submits without protest to the domination of another. It’s the person who never tries to influence or persuade the one in authority. A submissive wife is not a doormat. Look at 1 Peter 3:1-2 again: “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, (2) when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 

Notice what this wife is trying to do in verse 1: she’s trying to win her husband. She’s trying to influence him, to persuade him. About what? About the truthfulness of the Gospel! Now if it’s not wrong for a wife to try to persuade her husband about the most important thing in the universe, it’s not wrong for her to try to persuade her husband about lesser things. Ladies, this is not a call to be a doormat for Jesus.

My wife Holly and I have been married for 14 years. Although there’s been a lot of bumps and bruises along the way, my wife has learned to submit, and I have learned to lead. But I promise you, Holly is not a doormat. When I’ve got a stupid idea, she tells me.

Ladies, it’s not wrong to try to influence your husband’s leadership. It’s not wrong to try to persuade him. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. In 1 Peter 3:3-4 Peter shows these wives two wrong ways to try to persuade their husbands: Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—(4) but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.

First, don’t try to persuade him by nagging him. That’s what Peter is alluding to when he talks about “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” or winning husbands “without a word” in verse 1. He’s not saying you can’t speak up, ladies. But he is saying not to wear him down with words.

Second, don’t try to persuade him with your feminine wiles. Don’t try to win him over with braided hair, fancy jewelry, and a fashionable wardrobe. Don’t try to win him over with your beauty. I don’t believe Peter is saying women can never braid their hair, wear jewelry, or have fancy clothing. In his commentary on 1 Peter David Helm writes, “An Amelia Bedelia interpretation of this verse would leave women without any braiding of the hair, wearing of jewelry, or wearing of clothing. Peter is not advocating any such thing. His concern is one of emphasis, as any discerning reader will understand.”[i]

The point is not to let your primary focus be your physical appearance. Stop spending all your time on a beauty regime that will not last. Invest in the imperishable beauty of godliness!

This doesn’t mean that your husband doesn’t care about your physical appearance. Just don’t use that as a bargaining chip to persuade him. John Piper put it this way: “The world can teach you how to win a man to yourself. But only the Scripture can teach you how to win him to God.”[ii]  

Biblical Submission Isn’t Absolute.

The other day I was talking to my 8-year-old, Zoë, about today’s sermon. I asked her if a wife was supposed to submit to her husband and she said yes. She’s seen that modeled in our home through the years. I asked her if a wife should submit if her husband wasn’t a Christian and she said no. So I had to explain to her that a wife should submit even to an unbelieving husband unless he leads her to do anything that jeopardizes her submission to Jesus.

Peter hints at this in 1 Peter 3:2. He says that husbands will be won over “when they see [the] respectful and pure conduct” of their wives. That word “respectful” literally means “fearful,” which is strange because verse 6 says not to “fear anything that is frightening.” So the fearful conduct in verse 2 isn’t the wife being afraid of her husband. It’s a wife living with a faithful fear of God. Her allegiance to God always comes first. As Paul said in Colossians 3:18—Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Or to put it another way, you’ll submit to your husband best when you submit to him less than you submit to Jesus.

This would have been very important to Peter’s original audience because in those days it would be scandalous for a wife to have different religious beliefs from her husband. The Greek philosopher Plutarch, who lived in Peter’s day, wrote this: “It is proper for a wife to recognize only those gods whom her husband worships and to shut the door to superstitious cults and strange superstitions.”[iii]

Peter is telling these 1st century women: yes, submit to your husband but not in such a way that compromises your devotion to Jesus. Wives, don’t submit to your husband if he’s leading you into sin. If he tells you to do something that violates a clear teaching of Scripture, tell him no. Tell him that you must obey God rather than men. If he claims to be a Christian and he’s living in clear disobedience to Scripture, come to your pastors. Talk to us. You don’t have to submit to that. Our job is to call him to repentance. Whether he claims to be a Christian or not, if he’s physically or sexually abusing you, do not submit to that. Go to the civil authorities so they can help protect you and punish his evil conduct.

Biblical submission doesn’t mean inferiority. It doesn’t mean women submit to all men. It isn’t contingent on spiritual health. It doesn’t mean agreement. It doesn’t mean you’re a doormat. It isn’t absolute. What is it then?

Years ago, I asked my kids that same question and Jonah said “it's like Mommy is your sidekick. You're Batman and she's Robin.” Extra credit for the Batman reference, but let’s try to get a more clear and helpful definition.  

Biblical Submission Is A Voluntary, Joy-Filled Disposition to Yield To and Strengthen the Leadership Of Another.

Now remember, this type of submission is for all us! We submit to our government, we submit to our employers, we submit to our elders in the local church, even the elders submit to one another. Children submit to their parents, and wives submit to their husbands.

Bible teacher John Ensor helpfully explains it this way: “In matters of the heart, it is right that men should lead and women should welcome and guide that leadership. She is his helpmate (Gen. 2:18). Her goal is to give her man all the help he needs to lead well. His goal is to humbly accept that responsibility to lead and not run from it or wield it like a club. The guidance that she provides comes mainly in two forms: helping him to think clearly and in encouraging him to act confidently. What comes from this is a shared victory. If it proves a mistake it is borne together.”[iv]

Peter gives us an example of what this kind of submission looks like by pointing to Abraham’s wife, Sarah. Look at verses 5-6, For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

Peter says the holy women of old weren’t primarily focusing on their external appearance. Their primary focus was their spiritual beauty, and they adorned themselves with the beauty of submission. And then he says, consider Sarah! She showed her submission by calling Abraham lord. Excuse me?

What in the world is Peter talking about? Well first, you need to know that the word “lord” in the Greek was often used as a general term of respect, much like our word “sir.” But what is this about Sarah calling Abraham “lord”? In my study last week, I learned that this only happens on one occasion. And in fact, Sarah doesn’t even call Abraham lord to his face. The story is found in Genesis 18. Abraham and Sarah are both very old. He is 99, she is 89. For almost 25 years they’ve been waiting for God to keep His promise and give them a son. In Genesis 18 the LORD visits Abraham and promises by this time next year he and Sarah will be holding their baby boy. Sarah is eavesdropping from inside the tent and when she hears the LORD’s promise she laughs and mutters to herself, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 

Why does Peter bring up this story? Is he telling the wife to call her husband “lord”? Not even Amelia Bedelia would interpret this passage that way. That’s not what he’s saying. Here’s his point: even in moments of unbelief, even when it seemed like nobody else was listening, even when she’s muttering under her breath, Sarah still talked about her husband with submission and respect. Dear sister, is that how you speak to and about your husband?

Wives, are you submitting to your husbands? If you’re struggling with this, let me ask you: would you submit if Jesus was your husband? Would you have a voluntary, joy-filled disposition to yield to His leadership? If you answer yes, just remember Ephesians 5:22—Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  You are called to submit to your husbands as if you were submitting to Jesus.


[i] David R. Helm, 1–2 Peter and Jude, Preaching the Word (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).  

[ii] John Piper, Accessed October 15, 2020.  

[iii] As quoted in Thomas R. Schreiner, The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), 152–53.  

[iv] John Ensor, Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 97.