A Proper Sister in the Church Life, by Witness Lee

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Here we may ask a question: What is submission? Ephesians 6:1 is Paul’s word concerning parents and children. He told the children, “Obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” It is interesting to note that 5:24 uses the words “be subject” or “submit,” while 6:1 uses the word “obey.” A wife submits to her husband, whereas a child obeys his parents. There is a great difference. What does it mean to submit? Submission is a matter of attitude, a matter of the spirit. What does it mean to obey? Obedience is a matter of the conscience, a matter of outward behavior. Submission is inward, whereas obedience is outward. Suppose your husband tells you that he wants to eat at twelve o’clock, yet you like to eat at half-past twelve. You realize that wives should submit to their husbands, so you set the table at twelve. But how do you do it? Do you make a great deal of noise setting the table? Have you readied the meal by twelve? Yes, you have. But are you submitting? No, you are not. In God’s eyes this is obedience; this is not submission. Obedience is carrying something out; it is accomplishing a task. God did not say that wives should obey. If God had said that wives should obey, then wives should do whatever their husbands want them to do. What God asks from wives is submission. Submitting means to be meek and nonresistant. It does not necessarily mean obedience. For example, many sisters among us have unsaved husbands. The Lord is telling you to submit to your husband, not to obey him. If he asks you to go to a dance hall and you go with him, you are obeying, not submitting. What does it mean to submit? Submission is a matter of the heart, an inward matter, a matter of the spirit, whereas obedience is outward and superficial. Do you see the difference?

Then how do we distinguish the difference? Often wives can disobey their husbands yet at the same time be very submissive. I know of a brother who is not too young; he is in his twenties. When the Bible says that children should obey their parents, it means little children not adults. The father of this brother asked him to do something which a Christian cannot do. When many people obey, they do not submit. But this brother was wonderful; he submitted, but he did not obey. Listen carefully to this word: Submit but not obey. This is a very important word. His father forced him to do something that a Christian cannot do. What could he do? If he did not do it, he would be disobeying, but he had to submit. What could he do? He said, “Father, I wish I could do it, but I cannot.” He knelt down before his father, and said in tears, “I wish I could do this, but I really cannot do it.” Although he did not obey, he was very submissive. How many times have you said that you wish you could do something? Whether or not you can is a different question. But wishing that you could is submission. I like the expression “I wish I could.” I wish is submission, whereas I could is obedience. Every one of us should be submissive. Not only should our sister submit, but also every brother and every sister should submit as well. We should all submit to one another, and no one should have a hard, rebelling, or insubordinate attitude. Often we may do something unwillingly and reluctantly. This is insubordination. We should all learn to submit from our heart.


The husband’s demands on the wife are not always that pleasant. Once I was a guest at a brother’s house. There was a constant difference of opinion in the house. One person wanted to do one thing, and the other person wanted to do another thing. But the wife in the house was very submissive. Although there were differences in opinion, she was very submissive. Although she did not follow her husband’s opinion, she was still very submissive and gentle in her attitude. She said to her husband in a very gentle way, “I cannot do this.” Although she did not obey, she was very gentle in her attitude, and the family was a very harmonious one. The cushion of a family is the woman. The floor beneath us does not make any noise because the carpet cushions it. The cushion of a family is the gentleness of the woman. Once we have such a cushion, there will not be much noise in the family. It is true that an unsaved husband may not allow you to be baptized or bind up your hair. But sisters, when you have a husband that does not allow you to do these things, what attitude will you take? Will you say in your heart that you wish you could obey his word but that you cannot? I can tell you honestly that after being a Christian for many years, I have often failed to obey God. Yet God disciplines me and shows me something, and I still fear my God. I have not succeeded in doing many things, but I still fear God; I am still fearful before Him. I wish I could obey. Of course it is another thing when God makes us able to obey. I say this to show you God’s demand for us today. There is one element that will keep a family in peace: submission in the sisters.

(A Proper Sister in the Church Life, Chapter 27, by Witness Lee)