Have you ever wondered, “What does it mean to submit to your husband?”
Or do you just kind of skim over those verses in the Bible, like I used to do, back in the dark ages, when we were first married?
I’ve written on this topic a number of times, and I know it often sets the keyboard on fire dealing with email and comments here and on Facebook. I’ll be honest, I don’t like writing about it – the stance I take is neither egalitarian or complementarian, but what I term, “wholetarian.” In other words, unlike many in Christiandom, I don’t do what our ministry has referred to for a decade as a popular Western cultural habit of thinking we’ve termed, “the pendulum swing,” which we define as buying into the “extremes” or “black and white thinking.”
So you may have more questions than answers after reading this. Please note that I boldly state in Daughters of Sarah that wives don’t have to blindly obey their husbands. I did name the course, “Daughters of SARAH.” So I got a few questions about that. I answered a few of them here, too.
Here’s a bit of a break down:
I don’t take the position that neither husband nor wife is held accountable to God (denying the Genesis 3 account where God holds the man accountable for the family – by asking him first, and dealing with him last, and ignores the many verses on headship) – wives, we are also held accountable by God, but He starts with the husband. We are ALL called to obey God.
I also don’t take the position that a wife is to 100% of the time obey or submit to her husband, this position ignores the examples of Sarah, Abigail, and Sapphira, plus the behavior of the apostles, who did not submit to the authorities and quit teaching (to the point of martyrdom, I might add).
I’m hoping that today’s post will answer a number of questions dealing with the questions. I’ll give some practicals and lots of links for you to peruse as you wrestle with the idea.
And you’ll need to wrestle with it, because it’s an important issue in marriage.
And it’s Biblical. There are two verses in the Bible that specifically state a woman is to submit to her husband. Ephesians 5:21-33, Colossians 3:18-19, to name them. Ephesians 5:24 specifically says a wife should submit to her husband “in everything.”
The problem is this – when we take the entire Bible and boil it down to just a few verses as the end word on everything, we end up in crazy space. We miss the entire picture.
We miss the whole truth.
That’s why it is REALLY important to read the Bible daily, and learn the entire text – because 2000 years after it was written, we’re STILL finding scientific evidence that what is says historically, relationally, emotionally, psychologically, etc., is actually true.
Sheila Wray-Gregoire discusses the “submission” concept in a concise and clear way in her newest book, Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage (Waterbrook Press, 2015).
I thought it was funny we both wrote “Change Your Marriage” books at roughly the same time.
But I really appreciate Sheila because she’s an actual writer, brilliant, even. I love her simple thought that captures my heart of submission: “This is my husband, and I love him, and I want to please him.” She also says this: “It’s often been used in Christian circles in a way that seems to suggest that husbands should be sergeant majors and wives should be lowly privates ready and eager to obey. That doesn’t sound like an intimate marriage; that sounds like a power trip.” (pg 95)
The other day, my husband’s car stopped working on his way to work. He called me, told me what was going on, and I dropped everything to go help. I would have done the same for a good friend. Actually, I have. There was no “obedience” or “submission” crossing my mind or his, however. Does that make sense? He would have done the same for me. He wouldn’t have “commanded” me to help, either. He asked. And I jumped to it – not out of fear or anything else negative, but because I could help and I wanted to because I love him. If he had “lorded over me”and made a command instead of a request, I might have still done it, I might not have. I would have asked God what He wanted me to do.
When my husband is kind to me, I don’t always ask God… maybe I should, but I ascribe good will easily, so I naturally just want to do what I can.
If I wasn’t able to help him, say he had called when I was just about to run carpool for kids to get them to school, I would have communicated that. He would have made a decision about whether to call someone else, or we would have talked options and worked out a different solution. I wouldn’t have fussed about “hierarchy in marriage” and “submission” and “obedience” but had an adult-to-adult conversation.
The problem with “blind obedience” for wives is that it isn’t Biblical. God doesn’t even demand it of us – He says we WILL obey Him if we love Him, however, in John 14:23. But the word, “obey” is for children to obey parents.
The other problem with obedience is that parental relationships between spouses are super unhealthy.
How could “the two become one” mean that an adult man needs a child woman to fulfill something lacking in himself? Not to devalue children in anyway, as they should be treated with respect and honor and not as property or they will despise us as parents (remember we’re not to exasperate or “arouse them to anger”) but how could a parent-child relationship even function as a marriage? Does that make sense?
The best way I’ve found to look at the entire submission concept coincides with something else Sheila says on page 99: “Treating marriage like a hierarchical relationship makes it sound as though wives and husbands are constantly at odds and someone needs to have the final say. It indicates that we’re in competition, not in unity.”
Here’s why that makes sense – “headship” does mean “source” (read her section on that – it’s really well done) but it also means “leader with authority” as there are no instances in the Bible of “head” being used without authority. The problem is how we look at the word, “authority.” It’s viewed as negative, with a connotation of opposing sides, like Sheila talks about. Management-versus-labor-style.
When marriages “work” you have a husband who follows the verses directed at him – he doesn’t treat his wife like she is his maid, slave, or servant, but rather his equal heir (1 Peter 3:1-7). He doesn’t dismiss or discount her opinions. He thinks about how his choices or desires effect her. He is concerned about her when she isn’t feeling good. He doesn’t increase her work load, but pitches in as a life-participant. He isn’t a taker, he’s a giver, also, in the marriage. He treats her as an equal heir to the throne of grace, he loves her well, putting effort into his relationship with her and the kids. A guy like that is certainly more easy to “follow.” But like he can’t “make you follow him” – you can’t “make him love you or lead well.”
So many women are in marriages where the husband acts like a dictator of sorts, ruling with fear and anger, refusing to be Christ-like. I have had several friends whose husbands behaved this way. It’s really hard for their wives not to hate them and at the very least, the marriages end in isolation – the opposite of one-ness. It makes submission difficult, but it doesn’t let us off the hook – we still have to be open to our husband, even if we are closed to his sin, if that makes sense.
1 Peter 3:1-6…the verses that refer to an “unsaved or un-following man” are those that start with “therefore” linking back to slaves and masters – implying that a wife married to a non-believer or a man who isn’t following is going to be dealing with someone behaving like Abraham did, putting Sarah at risk, where she was going to have to be BRAVE, and did what he wanted her to do, and didn’t sell him out – probably because she believed God and saw her situation as less important than Abraham’s protection, given what God had said to him. What is interesting is when her story is told, Genesis 21:12 is often left out, where God tells Abraham to do what Sarah has told him! 🙂 That’s a whole long discussion, btw, but we should also note that the first time Sarah didn’t rat out her husband when he lied and she ended up in a harem, she didn’t know for sure she’d be the mom of the coming nations. The second time, God had clearly told her she would be. So maybe the first time, she was being brave, and the second time she was wildly trusting God with the outcome.
But mutual submission existed in the Old Testament – and God was the one telling Abraham to do what Sarah told him to do. 🙂 It doesn’t negate the other verses, however.
There’s also another example that we need to be aware of, one in which a wife completely “disobeys” her husband’s wishes. It’s found in 1 Samuel 25.
The Bible describes the pair of Abigail and Nabal this way: The woman was discerning and beautiful, but the man was harsh and badly behaved; and we should also note that “Nabal” means “fool.” In a nutshell, David spends a bunch of time protecting Nabal’s property, and as is the custom of that day, he asked for provisions. Nabal has a rant and says, “NO.” David’s more than ticked off about this. One of the servants tells Abigail what happened, and she goes out with provisions herself, apologizes, and David decides not to destroy everyone in her home and calls her blessed. She also calls David to a higher level as a man, motivating him to do the right thing. He does and decides not to kill everyone. When she gets back, Nabal is drunk, so she doesn’t tell him what happened until the next day, and Nabal’s heart has issues (was it from the awareness that he just about got him and his household killed?) and then he dies.
So here’s a Biblical example of a wife who is strong, discerning, but doesn’t allow her husband to destroy himself or her family. She clearly doesn’t “obey” her husband – but God punishes him, not her!
Acts 5 begins with a story about how a man and wife lie and God strikes them both dead. The wife had the opportunity to tell the truth, but she went along with the lie, even though she knew the truth – and it’s interesting that it is Peter, the writer of the “gentle quiet spirit” verses in 1 Peter 1-6, is the one who verbally clobbers her for doing so, right before God takes her life as well. It’s also interesting that the chapter also contains a story about Peter and the apostles refusing to obey the leaders of the church and he says in verse 29, “We must obey God rather than men.”
I might be wrong here, but I think we can interpret God striking people dead as His not approving of their behavior.
At the risk of making you discouraged about what your husband is or is not doing, let’s talk about this practically. I admire Sheila’s stance on what to do if our husband is making poor choices. Common Christian thought is to go along with it, obey. But that thinking flies in the face of the above. As she so eloquently puts it, “Peter would have been the last person to say we should ever put a human authoirty in God’s place!” (pg 102).
For those of us who want to use the word “helper” as a second-class citizen status, we need to understand that in the original language, it’s used to represent God and the Holy Spirit, and if you really study, you’ll see that “helper” pretty much equates to “warrior” – but not as a warrior against, but one with – in other words, ON THE SAME SIDE.
I also love it that she talks about how “deferring to your husband is not the answer to every marriage problem.” Sheila says on page 109, “… I think that submission – ‘putting ourselves under’ our husbands and willingly pursuing our husband’s best – is the primary tool to attain this oneness. In humility, we become willing to think of his needs, his wants, his interests, his desires, before we think of our own. We pursue his best before we pursue our best.”
The problem comes in when he’s not leading like Christ loves the church, or when he isn’t a believer. If he’s lording over you by taking authority instead of receiving responsibility, he’s probably harsh and domineering. No one has an easy time following a “leader” like that. Dr. Larry Crabb deals with this beautifully, encouraging a wife to “be submissive” by being agreeable to her husband, but not to his bad behaviors.
This can be hard to do, but if you know who you are in Christ, if you are a woman of Strength & Dignity, it’s easier than you think, although your husband will not be a person who will be capable of building you up. Living with him can destroy your sense of worth to the point where you feel like dying – that’s why we have the Strength and Dignity eCourse (it’s free!) – you can sign up here and here’s more info about it.
So how does this play out daily? Here’s an example:
He doesn’t teach the kids the Bible or grow his own faith. Am I being unsubmissive if I do it? NO. We’re all called to disciple. You’re NOT being submissive if you demean, berate, dismiss, or treat him like a second class citizen because you know more about it than he does, however. Submission is like respect on steroids. Treat your husband well, regardless of whether or not he is right.
Bottom line: Above all, obey God. Stop being afraid of your husband (that’s Dare 2 this week!) and fear God instead – it’s the beginning of wisdom, so goes the Proverb.
Here’s a few more links for those who are itching for even more…
From Sheila Wray-Gregoire (Here’s her book on Amazon): (and when you check the post below, you should totally subscribe to her blog, To Love Honor & Vacuum!)
From Family Life & Me:
I tried to get to the questions submitted – and I’m sending this to you knowing I’ll hear from someone – the last time I wrote on the topic, I left out a verse that said nearly the same thing as two others and got a very long email from a “sister in Christ” who needed to “in love” “chastise” me for “maligning the Word.”
I’m not going to nail this topic perfectly – and I’m open to hearing where I’ve missed the mark and really want your thoughts about the subject. I look forward to discussion today – just be respectful! Majoring in a minor non-truth is also known as “nit picking” and it’s disrespectful, so treat me the way you’d like to be treated, okay?
I’m really thankful that warning is for less than 1% of my audience – just having a rough week and don’t have the bandwidth for a bunch of aggression, so be gentle and kind while we talk this, okay?
SO. What about you? How does all this play into what you’ve been taught? What do YOU think are some of the common “submission myths” out there?
Love to you,