“Submission” for the Single Ladies

After preaching on Biblical Womanhood last week, I received some submitexcellent questions from some godly single women in our church.  None of them expressed issue with the sermon, but they all desired a better understanding as to how some of principles of marriage may apply to singleness.

A Good Word Used Badly

One question that came up centered on the idea of “submission”.  And although this concept was not highlighted in my sermon, it is an all too familiar term employed when teaching about Biblical Marriage.  It is not a bad word in itself, but it is often badly taught by bad teachers and badly exercised by bad men.

As Paul wrote in Philemon 8…though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—.  In other words ladies, I’m not scared to tell it like it is.  But I do want to try and be sensitive to the reality that it is difficult for most women to feel enthusiastic about the word “SUBMIT” in our culture or in their personal experience.  A man can barely whisper the word “submission” today without being crucified as a chauvinist, a Neanderthal, or worse.  And many a pastor has been rightly criticized for preaching strong-handed sermons on the “S-word”, sadly, devoid of the compassion of Christ.  I don’t mind being crucified as long as I am speaking the Words of Christ in a Christ-like way.

Let me try and talk gently, but frankly, about the big bad “S” word–SUBMISSION.  Usually, when we come across a word or idea that we do not like, but feel obligated to agree with (because God said it), the first thing that happens is an attempt to redefine it, to make it more agreeable.  Simple defined:

The word SUBMISSION means to take a subordinate role, specifically in relation to another person.

Everyone Submits to Someone

The act of submission is not exclusive to women in marriage. According to Ephesians 5.21, mutual submission out of reverence for Jesus should characterize ALL Christians.  But as we demonstrate meekness, grace, and patience with one another, that does not mean we do not submit to the God given authorities in our lives.  Submission to authority, be it God, parents, or governments is also a Christian virtue.

Again, the idea of “submission” is most commonly connected to marriage because it is most explicitly taught as applying to this relationship. In Ephesians 5.22-24 Paul charges: Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church. , his body, and is Himself its Savior.  Now, as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.  Paul teaches the same idea in his letter to the Colossians 3.18 declaring: Wives submit to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord.  Similarly, the apostle Peter teaches in his first epistle:  …wives be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives–when they see your respectable and pure conduct. 

There is no question that all Christians are expected to mutually submit to one another or whether wives are called to submit their husbands.  The question is whether or not all single women are responsible to somehow live out submission in their relationship to all or any men.

One Wife not All Women

That said, it is important to understand what submission means in the context of Biblical Womanhood for both the married AND the unmarried.

First, it must be stated that the verses about submission in marriages are written to wives, not all women.  In other words, the women is expect to submit to A MAN, not to ALL MEN.  It follows then, biblically and practically, that single women are not under authority of a man in the same sense until she is married.  In the strictest sense, she is not under the authority of her boyfriend, or fiancé, even though she may be preparing to be.

Second, that truth does not mean that she cannot uphold and even proclaim the principle submission in other existing relationships outside of marriage.  In truth, she has a responsibility in several relationships as a single woman which include:

Submission in relationship to her heavenly Father

The first, and most important way a single woman can live out godly submission is in relationship to God.  A woman, married or not, lives first and foremost in submission to Jesus–under His Lordship.  She is a daughter of the King before she is ever a wife, mother, or friend.  Being a child, in Christ, assumes submission to the Father’s authority in all things.  This submission is not a meant to solicit love from God, but is in response to God’s love.  It is not merely our duty to submit and obey, it is our delight to follow Jesus’ lead.

Submission in relationship to her earthly father

Another way a single woman can live out godly submission is in her relationship to her mother and father. Until a woman “cleaves” to a husband, she does not “leave” the covering of her earthly Father.  There is, without doubt, a time when women become adults and no longer live under the practical authority of their parents–but we always bear the responsibility to honor them.  This, of course, does not necessarily mean submission in the strictest sense.  In some sense, however, a daughter’s Father never ceases to be her primary protector, cultivator, and teacher.  He is, or at least should be, the most (or at least one of) important “man” in her life under Jesus (as a mom should be a son’s most important woman).

Submission in relationship to elders of the church

Another way that a single woman can live out godly submission is in her relationship with her pastors. We can and should say this about all church members as the Bible is abundantly clear in Hebrews 13.17:  Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.  The elders and pastors of the church are shepherds–they exist to love, feed, and protect the sheep. This is no more true than with widows, orphans, and single moms (or single ladies).  The appointed leader’s of God’s family should be especially concerned with caring for those who may not have husbands or fathers thinking about caring for them.  It is important that single ladies, especially single moms, know and trust their elders so as to receive their counsel and care with the love in which it is intended.

Submission in relationship to her sisters in other marriages

A fourth way to uphold godly submission as a single woman is to encourage other married women in their submission to their husbands.  Even if there is not a shared marriage experience, there is a shared identity in Christ.  And a shared commitment to Christ means upholding the things of Christ.  More than just sentimentality, that means actively encouraging wives in biblical submission and admonishing them, with all gentleness, when they reject their husbands leadership.  It may be helpful, but it is not necessary, to have a shared experience of marriage in order to uphold God’s Word about marriage relationships.

Submission in relationship to those younger in her care

Finally, single woman can also live out godly submission by what they teach those in their care whether they be daughters, sons, or other younger people on which you have great influence.  The Bible is clear that the best thing older women can teach one another, and younger women can learn from one another (apart from the gospel), is Biblical Womanhood.  Paul writes in his letter to Titus 2.3-4: Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children. Until, and if, she is married, the single woman should work to fulfill the mission given in Genesis 2 to Adam and Eve—build a God-glorifying culture.  A God glorifying culture includes teaching biblical manhood and womanhood in whatever way you can.at whatever opportunity you have.

Ladies, I recognize that this blog is certainly not comprehensive, but I pray that this helpful.



Author: Sam Ford

Sam Ford is a preacher, planter, and pastor from the Pacific Northwest. He is currently pastoring Restoration Road Church in Snohomish, WA.