The Sub-ordination of Wives

tim_savage_marriageIn the first century, women were asserting their rights and climbing to positions of social prominence in ways very similar to those of today. And the apostle Paul was an advocate of this. He even coined a revolutionary slogan:

‘There is no male or female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28).

But then, how could the same apostle come up with something else, which sounded just as demeaning to the ears of the first century as it sounds to ours?

‘Wives, submit to your husbands.’ (Colossians 3:17)

There can be only one answer. It wasn’t demeaning. It was, just like the slogan in Galatians 3, exalting to women.

Submission, ‘exalting’ to women?

I don’t think ‘submit’ is the right word, here. Submission is passive – a response to what someone else does or says. And too often Christian wives view ‘submission’ as acquiescing to the husband’s opinion in rare moments of irresolvable disagreement. A better translation of the Greek word here, hypo-tasso, might be ‘sub-ordinate.’

Sub-ordination is active – it takes the initiative in its own right, not merely reacting or going along with someone else’s program. Rather, it willingly lay down what one has a right to. Paul’s advice is meant to be a 24-7 part of everyday life.

‘Wives, sub-ordinate yourselves to your husbands.’

Does this still sound inflammatory? Maybe we’re taking our definition of it from the wrong sources – from secular sources. What does it mean to subordinate oneself?

Look at Philippians 2:3:

‘Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others’.

That’s the definition of pro-active subordination, given to the Church as a whole. This is what Paul is calling on wives to do. In humility, count others more significant than yourselves. Wives are being called to give to their husbands what belongs to wives by right. Equal to their husbands, wives choose to put the needs of their husbands before their own. Wives are in no way subordinates – but willingly, actively, Christian wives choose to subordinate themselves.

Still, this is radical. What person with even a modicum of self-respect would dare to subordinate her interests to those of another?

You know him.


He put our interests ahead of his own. He regarded our interests, our needs, our desires as more important than his own interests, needs, and desires. He willingly, radically, gave up what belonged to him by right. We, sinking in the wreckage of our sin, were in no position to demand that he sub-ordinate himself to rescue us. But because of this, Christ was exalted. He was exalted through sub-ordination. (Phil. 2:9)

Paul’s words are exalting to wives for the same reason his command to husbands – love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her – is exalting to husbands. Just as a husband’s giving himself up for his wife, in love, is an image of Christ, so too a wife’s elevating her husband’s interests over her own, in love, is an image of Christ.

Wives reflect Christ, just as husbands do. True exaltation always comes by subordination, because humble subordination is the mind character of God himself. (Phil. 2:2-6)

Like husbands, wives can reflect the character of God, and the glory of God – and so they are highly exalted!

If you are in the Lord, wives, then the Lord can energize you to be towards your husband as the Lord is towards you. Pro-actively searching out your husband’s interests, his needs, his weaknesses, his annoying traits, his disgusting behavior, and – not because he deserves it, but because the Lord is empowering you – willingly put his life above your own.

And in the end, this works not just for his exaltation, but also for yours, and your names will heralded in heaven and on earth, because you’ve shown heaven and earth a better way to be married.

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