Genesis 21:12 is a great verse of Scripture, worth mentioning because most men don’t have it underlined or memorized. “God said to Abraham, ‘Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice.’” Maybe women underline this passage, but men tend to favor another verse. Not only do they have this other verse underlined and memorized, most guys know it in several translations—even in Greek! It’s Ephesians 5:22: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”
Some men love to use that verse as a club to try and beat their wives into submission. If there’s a disagreement, especially if they can’t support their own case, they’ll say, “Hey, the Bible says submit to your husband.” That is not only unfair relationally, it is uncalled for theologically and contextually. The verse directly before Ephesians 5:22 talks about “submitting to one another in the fear of the Lord” (verse 21). So, whatever submission a wife owes to her husband comes from the idea that there’s a partnership built in, and there’s a mutual humility and submissiveness between the husband and the wife. It goes both ways.
Moreover, the thought actually begins a few verses earlier. “Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:18-21). Only then does Paul address wives. Prior to that, we have mutual submission based upon the fear of God, which is the result of being filled with the Holy Spirit.
The broader context of the chapter, then, is a fivefold application based on the idea of submission. First and foremost, believers submit to each other; then, wives submit to husbands; next, husbands submit to the example of Christ; fourth, children submit to parents; and finally, employees submit to bosses (or, in those days, slaves to owners). Even more interesting is the fact that in the verse, “Wives, submit unto your own husbands,” the word “submit” isn’t in the original Greek text; it’s implied, so the translators put it in. That means the concept of submission is all based on verse 21, “submitting to one another in the fear of God.” All of those different people groups are to submit in a certain context.
Now, I can hear a few husbands saying, “Wait a minute, Skip, are you saying that I am to submit to my wife?” Exactly! You may say, “Well, this throws a big wrench in my theological platform. How do I do that?” Paul tells you how: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). You say, “That’s not submission, that’s sacrifice.” But what could be more submissive than loving someone like Christ loved the church and being willing to die for her? That has to be an act of submission. After all, Jesus said, “Not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). He chose the Father’s will first; that’s submission. I do recommend, on this biblical basis, that you submit mutually and prayerfully, considering and listening to one another. You’ll both be much happier.