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Friday, July 21, 2006

The Role of a Wife - Part 2

Husbands ... you're still not supposed to be reading this. Now, be good!

“What about the husband who is not what he should be?”

I said, “If Christ is the head over the husband ... “ What if He is not? What if the husband is not in submission to Christ? This is often the complaint, partially from a failure to properly read Paul’s words in Ephesians 5. Some seem to think Paul says for wives to submit to their husbands “as they submit to the Lord”. But that’s not what the verse says. Instead it says that their submission to their husbands should be the same type of submission they are to offer to God. Not “as they submit to the Lord”, but “as to the Lord”. Thus, the wife is to submit to her husband “as the Church submits to Christ”. How is that? It would appear to be total submission, if Christ is Lord.

But what about husbands who don’t submit to Christ? What about husbands who don’t even know Christ? How can a wife submit “as to the Lord” when he doesn’t even know the Lord? Or, at least, isn’t the man he should be? Peter has answered that. When Peter tells wives to submit, he refers specifically to husbands who “do not believe the Word”. Now, that could be non-Christian husbands, or it could be husbands who are failing to follow the Word even though they are believers. In either case, Peter allows for no “out”. The command is to submit.

Peter assures wives that there is a good purpose in this submission: “So that ... they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives.” And of what type of behavior does Peter speak? First he refers to their purity and reverence. Then he points to the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit”. Wives, ask yourself, are you known for “a gentle and quiet spirit”? Is your approach an inner beauty or is it with a frying pan. Are you “a wife of noble character” (Prov. 31:10ff), or “a quarrelsome wife” (Prov. 21:9)?

Neither Peter nor Paul, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, give room for a failure to submit. Peter specifically addresses the ungodly husband. Paul elsewhere offers some hope on the subject of “How can my husband lead me in the will of God if he doesn’t know God or is not in the will of God?” According to Paul:

There is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted (Rom. 13:1-2).
Now, if you are a woman who loves God, that statement should give you pause. Having seen that God is the head over Christ and Christ is the head over men, we see the authority structure established by God in the home. According to Paul, if you defy that structure, you defy God . No longer is it a matter of failing to submit to that man. It’s a failure – a refusal – to submit the God’s authority. Now, to make things easier, you can have this confidence from the words of Solomon:

The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes (Prov. 21:1).
There is blessed assurance in that statement. While the authorities that God has ordained over us may or may not be what they should be, or even aware of God, we can have absolute confidence, not in them, but in Him that He is in charge and will direct the authority as He sees fit.

There are, of course, those instances in which the authority placed over anyone may call for the one in submission to sin. We can see that is unacceptable and a valid reason to refuse to submit. We see it in Acts when the Sanhedrin ordered the disciples to stop preaching the Gospel. Peter replied, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). This is valid, but there is a strong caution here. Only in the case of a command to sin can we say that we must not submit. Only when instructed to defy God can we choose to defy the authority God has placed over us. If we were to be honest, the actual incidences in which husbands are commanding their wives to sin are very rare. Before invoking this exception clause, check carefully to determine if this is a sin being commanded. You will find it to be very uncommon.

Please note that in this sin-sick world there are also going to be times that the husband is, well, dangerous. I just saw a news show about a husband who tried to poison his wife, and she worked hard at both submitting to him and not ending their marriage. Clearly this would be a case for the authorities that God has placed in society, and not submitting to being murdered is not considered “disrespectful” or evil in some way. The same is true for other conditions. A wife cannot submit to a husband who teaches their children lies. She can be respectful, but it is not in her husband's best interests or her children's best interests to simply “go along” with it. Again, however, the danger here is in their exceptional nature. Once we admit these exceptions - and we do - it becomes likely that they will be used incorrectly. “I don't like it” is not necessarily a reason to take this exceptional path.

The other common error is in the word “respect”. Wives are to “respect” their husbands (Eph. 5:33). So what about if he is not worthy of respect? This is a failure to understand the word used. First, respect is aimed at the position, not the person. As God’s representative in the house (regardless of his godliness), the position deserves respect. More importantly, the root of the word used in Eph. 5:33 is not so much “respect” as it is “reverence”, “fear”, “be in awe”. The Amplified Bible says, “Let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband [that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates, and esteems him; and that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly].” When you conquer that list, you have arrived at “respect”.


Anonymous said...

For many a woman our immediate response to a hurting wife would be to console her with words of compassion and understanding...words of condemnation to the one who has offended her...But what would Sarah say, "My not fear, trust God and obey your husband, live your life not according to your will, but in subjection to the One Who has a perfect will for you, my daughter, obey your husband. Yes...that's what Sarah would tell us to do. But at the same time, I know that she had concerns within her own marriage...and she even shared her concerns and desires with her husband, a husband who would take those concerns to his Almighty God and respond to his head accordingly. It is good to be in subjection to a God fearing man, better yet, it is greater to be in subjection to the Lord who according to His will, turns the Kings heart whichever way He pleases.
It may be hard to hear the words, "Obey your husband at all cost", but they are the words to live by and they are the words to share.

Thank you for sharing His truth.

Gina Burgess said...

I violently disagree with obeying your husband at all costs. That is not only dangerous, but ridiculous. Being in submission, yes! But one of the great things God designed was the partnership between husband and wife.

When the husband loves his wife as Christ loved the church, then obedience is great... but, when he uses the Bible as a machatti, then it is worse than divorce.

Stan said...

First, Gina, I want to point out that this is "Marriage 101", and not intended to cover all bases and all aspects.

Second, I wish to point out that I'm simply using Scripture for these things, so if there is a problem, it is a problem with Scripture not addressing the situation you described.

More importantly, and my main purpose here, I'm speaking to the majority. The truth is the majority of wives aren't being abused. They simply choose not to submit because the culture has said not to or because they don't want to.

I know women who piously refuse to see an R-rated movie because it's sinful, but completely ignore submitting to their husband because, well, he doesn't know enough to come in out of the rain. "Me? Submit to him? Not likely."

I'm addressing the norm, and I'm only addressing it from Scripture. Truth is, Scripture doesn't cover "Well, what if your husband is abusive?", so I'm not. It's not that there is no answer, and it's not that the Bible teaches "Too bad; you must submit anyway." It's that it's outside of the time and scope of what I'm writing. Because it is a rare gift to find a wife who loves the Lord and submits to her husband, and it shouldn't be that rare.

Anonymous said...

I hope you do address it at some point in your study...because a woman who has obeyed her husband for the most part of her married years is at a complete loss of what to do when she is abused. She hears the, "obey your husband at all costs" and then she hears from the oposite side of the spectrum, "leave him, don't submit, your a fool if you do". Do you know how that feals, who is right and what is to be done next. The heart of a woman who obeys her husband is usually the woman who loves the Lord so much that she is afraid to dissapoint Him..She would rather suffer than be out of the Lords will, but yet, what is the LORD's will...I really need to know.

Stan said...

Dear Anonymous, I know that it is painful and devastating when you practice faithfully what God says you should do, and you suffer for it. I know it. If I had all the answers to these sticky questions, I wouldn't be writing a "Marriage 101" series, but a comprehensive manual, and I wouldn't be doing it on a blog, but be getting filthy rich with a book, TV series ... you get the idea. My point - I don't have all the answers to these sticky questions.

My concern is two-fold. First, I'm only writing what I see in Scripture, not to individual circumstances. The majority of men are not doing what God calls men to do, and the majority of women are not doing what God calls women to do, so the majority of marriages fall in the "101" category. Second, I'm trying to lay down underlying principles rather than overarching realities because our tendency is to operate on how it feels and how it affects me. But as believers we are to die to self, so "how it feels and how it affects me" cannot be our basis for deciding.

I don't think the question is as cut-and-dried as many teachers would have you believe. "Never, ever, ever leave your husband" doesn't take into account reality. What do I mean? It doesn't take into account the reality that status quo is often harmful to those around you. A wife whose husband is doing drugs might "submit", but love demands she call the police. A mother whose husband is beating her children might "submit", but love demands she protect their children. In other words, "submit" and "respect", the primary demands of Scripture on wives, don't necessarily mean "doormat". Sometimes it requires courageous action that appears to be a violation of "submit". We understand that when we have a friend on drugs or a sibling in a cult. We will do an "intervention" as an act of love, violating their very wishes for their benefit. I don't see that it's all that different in a marriage.

But you can see that the question is sticky and rather individual. Is the loving action to defy your husband for the sake of your husband, or is there a better act of love? I can't say. I can only say that it isn't always a violation of love, submission, or respect to act in a manner that protects you and your children, and the "obey your husband at all costs" viewpoint doesn't get that. It is always a violation of love when your pure motive is self, and that is generally the thinking behind the "leave him, don't submit, you're a fool if you do" type of response.

Would that I could provide you with the epiphany that would answer your own dilemma. I trust that God will protect and guide you in your choices. I am quite confident that the motivation of "love others" is always the best motivation, and sometimes that means taking the painful path of "obey your husband at all costs" and other times it means "leave him, don't submit", but always it has the best interests of others in mind. I'm sorry I can't be more helpful. But this I know: "Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory" (Prov. 11:14), and my God will not fail to provide for His children.

You are in my prayers.