Submission vs. Coercion in Marriage- A Grace Perspective

There are so many dysfunctional marriages in the world. The men who lead these families have no idea what real "servant leadership" works like. They make demands and expect everyone to fall in line. When they finally lose their family because of foolish thinking and behavior they want to blame everyone but their own selfish stupidity. "WHAT WENT WRONG?" they asked bitterly. They went to church every Sunday...well at least most Sundays but they would not serve others. Most worked hard and made a good living, sure they spent most of the money on themselves because they worked so hard, but "hey, she had a nice roof over her head clothes to wear and food to eat." Some even gave up some weekends to go on vacations but they were in a hurry to get it over with so they could go play. Some nurtured  their bodies so their wives would see them as "hot at any age," however that meant they spent less time nurturing their children and wives needs and spent more time in front of the mirror admiring themselves. Unfortunately for them it cost them a close relationship with the one they most wanted to impress. The church told them that no matter what they were like that their wives had to submit to them even if they didn't like the man they had become...

Meet Pastor Sam Nunnally-GraceWorks Church, Tallahassee, FL.

My wife(Beth) and I have been married for about eight years. The first two years were hell on earth. Here’s why: we are both “type A” personalities. When we got married, as strong Christians, we assumed that God would automatically adjust our personalities to mesh in a glorious fashion.  That’s didn’t happen – I was offering her a divorce by the end of the first year!

Slowly over time, we developed an understanding of what godly marriage might look like. Surprisingly it looked nothing like what we saw in the church. The majority of spousal teaching we had acquired over the years taught the exact opposite of what we found to be true for us.  I want to share some of that here and in the next post as well.

The biggest problem surrounding Christian marriage teaching is the understanding of the word “submission.” I know…it conjures up images of wives waiting on husbands hand and foot, just happy to be alive serving their spouse and children in the name of the Lord.  I actually saw a blog on here last week written by a female that attempted to talk women into exactly that…like if you say it over and over to yourself it will sound more palatable! One line in her blog said, "If wives would just submit to their husbands even when they don’t want to, they would find enjoyment and fulfillment in the act." For the record, that concept makes most sane Christian women want to puke – and for good reason.  Submission, as it is generally understood in church circles, has ruined the true definition of biblical submission. Mostly because it was made up by men and taught by men to get what men have wanted: their wives to do their bidding, especially in bed!

Rather, what some churches have taught is “coercion” or “compliance” the act of making another person do your will even when don’t want to. I have actually been personally told, “you can’t submit until you disagree.” The problem with Christian men who teach such phrases is that they have no intention of listening to what you have to say in the first place. Most people assume that God requires submission in the same way – a subtle form of coercion. Like a boss at work, he makes decisions that you are expected to comply with even when they rob your emotional and physical vitality for some unknown purpose.  Usually such admonishments to submit by Christians are shrouded in mysterious phrases like, “it’s for your own good,” “you’ll see the benefits in the future” or “all things work together for good…” Who’s good are we talking about here?

Truthfully, God calls us to submit to him and to one another, to the extent that we trust God and others are acting our best interests. Submission merely means to voluntarily become vulnerable to the actions of another. However, God never says to follow someone who has not earned that submission. My wife is happy to follow my lead as long as she knows my intentions are for her betterment and not at her or our children’s expense. I  expect her to submit (voluntarily open herself up) to me only to the extent that I am submitted to God. Furthermore, she doesn’t have to do what I say unless she believes I am fully informed of her and our children’s wishes AND actively involved in their lives. Husbands who do not fall into those categories should never ask for their families’ submission.

I want to concentrate on that famous submission passage in Ephesians 5, but a summary verse for a husbands role in marriage in found in Galatians 5:13. “…do not use liberty as an opporunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Listen up fellas – women have an internal barometer that tells them where your affections lie. They know when you don't truly love them but want what they can give you instead! Their intuition tells them whether your heart values their input or not. If they feel that you are using the headship of your home as an “opportunity for the flesh” – to meet your own short range, inconsiderate goals – they will buck you every time. God made them like that! SEX IS NOT LOVE-NEVER HAS BEEN AND IT NEVER WILL BE! Men who “through love serve” their families never have to ask for submission from them. His family immediately supports his decision because they trust his intentions are true. A husband who has his families’ trust rarely asks anything from that trust unless its absolutely necessary. On those rare occasions, they submit – voluntarily opening themselves up to your decisions – trusting that you will prize their volition. The husband that follows God will honor that trust, never capitalizing on it. Taking their cues from Dad, the other members of the family serve each other in love as well…and the cycle for healthy family submission starts over again.

See you next post where Sam looks at Ephesians 5:18-33…


  1. I like Pastor Sam Nunnely. He gets what so many Christian men have never figured out about submission in a marriage. The best leaders are always ones that have more of an interest for their men than for themselves. They are trusted, respected, and followed faithfully because of who they are and how they treat those who rank under them. The same applies for a husband and wife. While he is the head of the family and has final authority according to God's word, he must also submit to her and serve, honor, and cherish her if he wants her to be submissive. Great thoughts Ted. Thanks for sharing.

  2. This is godly wisdom:
    "Truthfully, God calls us to submit to him and to one another, to the extent that we trust God and others are acting our best interests. Submission merely means to voluntarily become vulnerable to the actions of another. However, God never says to follow someone who has not earned that submission."
    "The husband that follows God will honor that trust, never capitalizing on it."
    It is nice to see a strong Christian husband leading his flock by example. Thanks for sharing Pastor Nunnely's acticle!


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