“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:18-19 NIV).
For many, the directives contained within these verses may seem remarkably backwards. For instance, some may dismiss these instructions as little more than the vestigial remains of an ancient culture where gender roles and societal responsibilities were rigidly determined and enforced. Others may prefer to reinterpret these guidelines to accommodate the sensibilities of modern-day society. Then there are those who struggle with the use of an emotionally-charged word like submit in the context of a marriage relationship.
In considering these verses, we should begin by noting that humanity’s Creator took the initiative in establishing the concept of marriage. As mentioned earlier, the conceptual origin of marriage began in the Garden of Eden: “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone…'” (Genesis 2:18 NIV). God addressed that deficiency in the following manner: “…the LORD God made a woman… and he brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:22 NIV).
This tells us that the institution of marriage is not a human construct- it is ordained of God for the benefit of His human creation. That benefit is revealed in Genesis 2:24: “…For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (NIV). The term “one flesh” expresses the fulfillment, satisfaction, intimacy, pleasure, enjoyment, and unity that reflects God’s intent for a marital relationship.
Because of this, it is inappropriate to associate the word “submit” in Colossians 3:18 with the concept of forced servitude. It is also improper to link this verse with the idea that a wife is obligated to comply with any mandate a husband might seek to impose upon her. It is crucial to note that this requirement is contingent upon an important qualification: “Wives, submit to your husbands in a way that is appropriate in the Lord” (CEB, emphasis added).
One source clarifies these parameters with the following observation…
“Of course there are moral limits to this submission; it is only as is fitting in the Lord. Just as obedience to government is commanded (Rom_13:1; Tit_3:1; 1Pe_2:13) but only insofar as government takes its place under God (Exo_1:1-22; Dan_3:1-30; Dan_6:1-28), even so a wife’s submission to her husband is only ‘in the Lord.’ That is, she is not obligated to follow her husband’s leadership if it conflicts with specific scriptural commands.” (1)
(1) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck Bible Knowledge Commentary [note on Colossians 3:18]