18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
Having completed an explanation of identity and motivation, Paul gives exhortations to the believer about how they are to conduct themselves in their relationships. It should not be surprising that Paul feels the need to give exhortation regarding those who are closest to us. The closest relationship a person has is their spouse. It is the spouse who sees the most intimate moments in the heart and life of a believer. Naturally, it is in these close relationships that must reflect the image of Christ in the heart of the believer.
A side note: the instructions given to wives in scripture are not given to the husband. The husband is not responsible for ensuring that she receives her instruction. The wife is responsible for her obedience and does not need her husband to instruct her in the way of obedience. Rather, the husband must trust the Holy Spirit to work in the heart of his wife. Likewise, the wife must trust that the Holy Spirit is going to work in the life of her husband. Consider spiritual growth in marriage this way: both the husband and the wife have their own bucket in which their own responsibilities for maintaining their relationship with the Lord are placed. Each one has a dipper with which they can reach into the bucket and share some of their own insight with others. They are welcome to share the contents of their bucket with their spouse. They are not welcome to put their dipper in the other person’s bucket be it to stir, correct, or withdraw. Kahlil Gibran urges married couples to “share [their] bread with one another, but do not eat from the same loaf.” In this way, you will provide for the other, but you will not steal from the other.
So wives are to recognize a chain of command. Wives are to submit to their husbands. Submission does not mean subjugation. Submission does not mean to ignore abuse or sin. (In cases of abuse, please separate yourself from that person and seek help from both church leaders AND police authorities. Biblical submission does not mean that a woman or a man leaves herself or himself in a dangerous situation. Abusers need to be addressed both by spiritual and civil authorities. There is much to be said on this, far more than we can cover in this passage. Here we will simply say – if you are being abused, please seek help from authorities and get some space between you and that abuser.) Rather, submit means to recognize the chain of command. The husband is the head of the household and as such is empowered to make decisions for the household. The wife is to speak boldly to her husband, respecting his position, challenging him to be a better leader, and engaging in honest dialogue with him. The husband is to be kind and gentle with his wife. He is to love her and be gentle with her. The term for love is the term for divine love. It is self-sacrificing love that transcends selfish motive so common to man. So while the wife is encouraged to submit, the husband is commanded to love and be gentle. The term for “harsh” used could also be translated “do not embitter your wife.” In other words, the term means that the husband must be careful not to make his wife bitter or her life so difficult that she loses hope and joy in her marriage.
Too often married couples use their words and concern to direct their spouse’s spiritual actions. Men will try to command their wives and, inadvertently, lead them to bitterness. Wives will nag their husbands and, inadvertently, disrespect their position as protector, provider, and leader thereby leading him to become passive and lazy, feeling as though he cannot win. Yet, if married couples will focus on their individual development and stop attempting to control their spouse, then there will be a great unity between the two. As is fitting in the Lord.
An explanation of motivation in the Lord is at the center of the exhortations given to each relationship set. So here in marriage, the roles of husband and wife are “fitting in the Lord.” Living under these guidelines are fitting, or appropriate. The word used for “fitting” is referring to a sense of duty or responsibility. Note that Paul’s appeal to the husband and wife is not based on a feeling or pleasure. It is based on duty. No one feels like submitting. Likewise, it is much easier for a husband to harshly command his wife void of love or concern. Submission is difficult. Tenderness is uncomfortable. Still, it is the duty of the wife and husband, respectively. Sometimes it is difficult for a wife to submit to her husband, yet, it is fitting for her to do so. Sometimes it is difficult for a husband to love his wife and not be harsh, yet, it remains his duty to love her and be kind and gentle with her. When a husband fails in his duty of love and tenderness towards his wife, submission becomes less and less appealing to the wife. Likewise, when the wife refuses all submission, her husband will have difficulty in his role. However, if both parties are lead by the Spirit of God and are obediently following Jesus, these exhortations are not burdensome but are a delight (1 John 5:3).