What is submission not, according to 1 Peter 3:1–6? When I preached on this passage probably twenty years ago, women in my church found this question really helpful because we bring to the text presuppositions from our experience. You might hear submission means six or seven things, and five of those sound horrible to you, and two look okay.
If you bring to the Bible your preconceptions, you might just throw the baby out with the bathwater, and say, “If that’s what submission means, then I’m out of here.” That would be very sad. You may be right, you may be wrong, but it would be sad. I wrote down six things submission to a husband in marriage is not. I really want you to see them in the text.
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, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—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. 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. (1 Peter 3:1–6)
1. Submission is not agreeing on everything.
Submission is not agreeing on everything, for instance, the Christian faith, because the husband in 1 Peter 3:1–6 is an unbeliever. If in that situation the husband said, “You can’t have that religion. In this family we worship ISIS (or whatever),” this wife says, “I’m sorry.” It’s possible to be submissive and refuse to think what your husband says you should think. This text doesn’t make sense without that. She has sworn allegiance to Jesus. Jesus is now her Lord and her King. She’s an alien and an exile in this marriage. This husband belongs to another god, and she’s called to live with him. Do not get divorced over issues of religion.
If he says, “I don’t want you to be a Christian,” what does she say? She says, “I love you. I want to be submissive to you. I intend to be submissive to you. But on this point, I have no choice. I belong to Jesus.” He may send her away. That happens in 1 Corinthians 7. The unbeliever splits, which would be a great tragedy.
Submission does not mean you must agree with the opinions of your husbands, even on things as fundamental and serious as the Christian faith. God has made you with a mind. You have to think. You are a person, not a body and not a machine. You’re a thinking being who is able to process whether the gospel is true. And if it’s true, you believe it. If he says, “You can’t believe that,” you humbly and submissively do not submit to that.
2. Submission does not mean leaving your brain at the altar.
Now, maybe this is the same point, but it needs to be said this way, too. Any man who says, “I do the thinking in this family,” is sick and has a sick view of his authority. I dealt with a couple one time. The wife said he demanded that she get permission to go to the bathroom. That really happened. I just looked at him and said, “You’re not well. You have an unbelievably distorted view of this fellow heir of the grace of life. You don’t understand the Bible. You’re taking a word like ‘authority’ or ‘leadership’ or ‘submission,’ and then you’re stepping away from the Bible and filling those words up with stuff you want to do. You’re not getting this from the Bible.”
Submission never leaves the brain at the altar. All throughout the marriage, a husband is reckoning with an independent mental center that has thoughts that are worth listening to. It’s the working out of a one-flesh union. Leadership does not mean you do not listen. Leadership doesn’t even mean always getting the last word. Good leadership often says, “You were right; I was wrong.”
Leadership is taking initiative. Sometimes I say, “Who says, ‘Let’s . . . ,’” more often in your relationship?