“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”
— Ephesians 5:21-25
What does it mean for a wife to submit her husband as the Church loves Jesus? It sounds like a beautiful yet challenging concept, so what does it look like in reality? To find out, I sat down with two friends to understand how they have been practising this biblical principle in their marriages.
Eishen works in the counselling department of a non-profit organisation, and has been married for more than a year. Dinah manages a network of like-minded individuals committed to growth of family, and has been married for 25 years.
1. Eishen, before getting married, how did you prepare to love your husband as the Church loves Jesus?
Eishen: The preparation for me started when I was a little girl. When I was 8, my mum would sit me down for these girl-to-girl talks, and she told me that the best way I can show my future husband that I love him is to preserve myself—in emotional and sexual purity. She told me that if I wasn’t ready to date, it wouldn’t be wise for me to open my heart to somebody. That started my journey of really desiring to preserve myself for the person whom I would one day marry.
And of course, since I was born in a Christian family, my parents taught me our family’s Christian values very early on, so my concept of how to love and submit to my husband largely comes from what I learnt from my parents and the church.
“My concept of how to love and submit to my husband largely comes from what I learnt from my parents and the church.”
When I was nearing marriage, the theory of submission to my husband became more practical. Our dating journey was helpful for me because as I got to know my husband more, I got to know what he expected of me and how I could communicate love to him in ways that made sense to him.
Before I got married, I also took time to learn what biblical submission was. I looked at Ephesians 5, studied the root word of “submission” in the Greek language, and I realised that it wasn’t a one-off thing. It’s a continuous verb, which implied that my submission to my husband has more to do with the attitude of my heart towards him than what I do for him. For example, I know that he wants me to be gentle in my speech, and I will do so to communicate to him that I respect him. But if I do this with a grudging heart, it won’t be something he can appreciate because he’d know it’s something I do for the sake of doing.
“I realised that ‘submission’ wasn’t a one-off thing. It’s a continuous verb, which implied that my submission to my husband has more to do with my heart attitude towards him than what I do for him.”
2. In your marriage, what are some significant things you have learnt in this journey of loving your husband as the Church loves Jesus?
Eishen: I thought I was really prepared for marriage, since I’d studied what submission meant and all that, but these concepts were very romantic for me. But when I got married and saw all the weaknesses of my husband, submitting to him became challenging. Being more emotionally-inclined as a woman, whenever my husband wasn’t really able to communicate love to me, I found it very hard to submit to him and respect him unconditionally.
I know I should decide on my own that I will submit to my husband, whether he meets certain expectations or not, but the truth is that it’s easier for me to submit when I know that he loves me, or when I’m being shown love by him.
But I do want to submit to my husband unconditionally—regardless of what he does for me—because just as Christ loves the Church unconditionally, with lots of grace and forgiveness, the Church is also to love Jesus unconditionally, and I believe wives are to love and respect their husbands in that way as well.
“I want to submit to my husband unconditionally—regardless of what he does for me—because just as Christ loves the Church unconditionally, with lots of grace and forgiveness, the Church is also to love Jesus unconditionally.”
I equate submission to respect, so whenever my husband feels disrespected, even if I didn’t do it intentionally, I’d apologise for making him feel that way. For me, saying sorry is also an act of humility and submission, instead of trying to excuse myself or explain my way out of it. It’s to acknowledge that I’ve hurt him and I heard what he was trying to say.
Dinah: 25 years ago, when my husband and I got married, we were a very young couple and we didn’t go through any formal marriage preparation course, so the only thing that both of us had to take into marriage was 1 Corinthians 13.
I went into our marriage with a lot of emotional baggage, having had very poor modelling in my family of origin. I often saw elements of distrust and suspicion in my family, and carried that into my marriage. So there was a lot of unlearning to be done and I had to apply the Word a lot to my life. I found marriage to be a lot about dying to myself, and that was very painful. Until I got married, I didn’t know there were many ugly parts in me, more than I realised and would like to admit.
So what surprised me in marriage was how important it was to apply the Word and put the Word into action. The Bible has more to say about how to live as a Christian than it does about marriage, so the more Christ-like we are, the fewer challenges and issues we will face when we enter into marriage. I only learnt that several years into my marriage.
“The more Christ-like we are, the fewer challenges and issues we’re going to face when we enter into marriage.”
And my role as a wife is to respect my husband, which is how I express my submission to him. Husbands feel loved when they are respected, likewise wives feel loved when husbands are loving and tender towards them.
When there’s this interplay of love and respect, husbands and wives fill each other’s love tank the way God has designed it. So I found that when I respect my husband, he has no problems loving me. It’s God’s manual for marriage, and when I apply God’s Word, I find that things just come into place.
3. So Dinah, when you look back on your marriage journey, what are some things you wish you did differently to express your love to your husband better?
Dinah: I’ve learnt that the more intimately I walk with the Lord, the more I can be a loving wife. My personal relationship with the Lord is foundational because it affects the way I relate to my husband, my immediate loved ones and anyone else. It naturally makes me more aware that I shouldn’t be self-seeking and I’ll be more mindful of what love should look like and how love should be expressed.
“I’ve learnt that the more intimately I walk with the Lord, the more I can be a loving wife. My personal relationship with the Lord is foundational.”
Looking back, I definitely would have wanted to be a wife who prayed more for my husband. Having close friends and mentors to journey alongside us would have been great, too. Knowing what I know now, I would also have spoken my husband’s love languages more to fill his emotional tank, because that’s the way he’d feel even more loved, in addition to me respecting him as his wife.
4. How is God leading you to love your husband more?
Dinah: Something I should do a lot more is to pray for my husband. I can see a lot more things happening when I pray and intercede more for him. Prayer helps me to love him and is my way of loving him.
“Prayer helps me to love him and is my way of loving him.”
The other thing that I can do better is to get more creative and to make that special effort to add to my own marriage. When my husband and I don’t do this, we can get into a rut of the humdrum life. There are no issues in the marriage, but we can always take it a notch higher. That’s something I feel we can put more thought and effort into—to add that surprise element. Spontaneity is also an essential component that gives life to the marriage.
Eishen: My ability to understand my husband is really important to him. It’s one of the things he expects from me, but it’s something I find challenging because of our cultural differences. I am Filipino, and my husband is Singaporean; so he might say something, referencing it in a certain context, but I’d take it in another context and act on it in a different way. When that happens, he’d feel disrespected because he’d think I wasn’t listening to him, when in fact it was a misunderstanding of contexts.
I understand that he just wants to know that I’m trying my best to listen to him and see where he’s coming from. It’s still very challenging for me because it’s hard for me to understand him the way he meant due to our cultural differences. But if this is that important to him and even though this is the biggest challenge for me, I will do my best to learn how to listen to him and make him feel understood. That’s how I want to love my husband more.
We hope that their invaluable insights on how they love their husbands, as the Church loves Jesus, have given you a better understanding of living out this biblical principle that God calls wives to uphold in His design for marriage.
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If you enjoyed this article, we have written one for men and husbands here.