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Marriage in the Fullness of the Spirit, Part II: Submission

November 7, 2006

It’s marriage encounter week here at the vomit blog, but so far nobody has commented.  Don’t you know this is your chance to accumulate big points by publicly praising your spouse?!

Ephesians 5:22-24 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.

This is a word that our flesh is not delighted to hear.   But by the Spirit we can come to delight in submission.   Even though I am not a woman, I say “we” can come to delight in submission because submission is a big part of every man and woman’s life.  We are called to submit to civil government, to submit to our employer, to submit to our elders, and to submit to God.  If you chafe at the word submission, your marriage is not the only thing that will suffer. 

So I want to make five points now about submission that hopefully, under the influence of the Holy Spirit will lead you to delight in the word.

1) Submission is a means of receiving blessing.   Wives are to submit to husbands the way the church submits to Christ.  When the church submits to Christ it is not about serving Him.  The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve.  When we submit to Christ we are expressing a willingness to receive his blessing, his washing of our feet, we are letting him serve us, we are allowing ourselves to be lovingly led and we are greatly blessed for it.

While I was engaged to Katie I went backpacking with my pastor.  So I was thinking a lot about my upcoming marriage as we walked through the woods.  And I saw in his leadership and my following on the trail a picture of leadership and submission in marriage.  When he led on the trail, that was a gift to me.  It meant he was watching for the trail markers on the trees and he was watching for the obstacles on the path.  I was more free just to walk and enjoy the day.

In the kingdom of God, leadership means servanthood.  And when leadership is servanthood, then submission is a blessing.  But if a husband, or an employer, or a civil servant is self-promoting, then yes, submission is a drag.  And if your husband is self-promoting, he’ll get rebuked here in a few minutes.  But in the meantime, his selfishness doesn’t exempt you from the call to submission. 

But having said that I must hasten to add point 2) Although your submission to God is to be absolute, your submission to every other person, including your husband, is not absolute.  If your employer orders you to do something illegal or disobedient to God, you must say no.  Although the Scriptures tell us to be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors, still when they ordered Peter and John to stop preaching the gospel they said that they must obey God rather than men.  And when Pharaoh ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill the male babies, they did not obey and they lied about it and God blessed them for it.  When a civil government becomes tyrannical and evil enough, like Hitler’s Germany, then resistance and revolution is the right thing to do. 

So if your husband asks you to sin, don’t do it.  And if your husband becomes evil and tyrannical, I believe there may be a time when you have to leave him.  If your husband is beating you, you need to tell someone so that we can get you into a safe place and start the process of calling him to repentance.  And if after multiple prayerful efforts he still refuses to repent, then we will regard him as an unbeliever.  And I believe that in that circumstance you are free to divorce him, for his behavior qualifies as the desertion of an unbeliever in 1 Corinthians 7:15.  “if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases

Now what if this unrepentant wifebeater were to come to me and say, “Wait a minute, pastor, you can’t tell my wife that she’s free to divorce me because 1 Corinthians 7:13 says “if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.”  and I’m willing to live with her provided she keeps the house clean and I can slap her around when she doesn’t.”  What would you say to this guy?  This is what I would say, “You are not willing to live with her as a husband, you are just a loser looking for a loophole in the Bible and she does not need to be held hostage by a wife-beater’s numbskull exegesis.  And if you insist on a more literal hermeneutic, then let me get on the phone here and call the police to haul you off to jail and then you’ll be the one leaving her.”

Now I recognize that some of you might feel that I am leaving open too big of a loophole for those wanting an easy divorce, but that’s not my intention, and if you’re worried about that we can talk later.  My desire this morning is to rearticulate the biblical exceptions for divorce in a way that says to abused women: “the church will stand with you and help you, the church is a safe place to ask for help.” For I know that in the past the bible has been used to make abused women feel trapped.  So I am trying to bring to women this morning the good news that biblical submission does not mean that you might end up in lifelong bondage to a criminally wicked man. 

3) Submission does not imply inequality or inferiority.  If you think it does, then you don’t understand the doctrine of the Trinity.   Jesus the Son of God submits to the Father. But Jesus is fully God, he is no less divine than God the Father.  Yet he submits to the Father with out any sense of envy or rivalry, rather the relationship between the Father and the Son is full of joy and love and honor.  And we have in our marriages the awesome privilege of reflecting this image of God.  God created man in his own image, male and female he created them, says Genesis 1:27.   Something about our maleness and femaleness is designed to reflect what God is like.  And I believe that this blend of authority and equality is a big part of that.

4) If you don’t like the word submission, Paul provides you with a synonym in verse 33. “let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”  But I warn you that respecting your husband may even be harder than submitting to him.  For you can submit to him, yield to his will in a matter, in a disrespectful way. (Fine! Have it your way.  Jerk. )  That’s not submission, because that’s not respectful.  Take this seriously:  Every time you speak disrespectfully to or about your husband, you are sinning against God.   That leads me to point 5.

5) Submission to your husband is an act of obedience to God, faith in God, devotion to God. 1 Peter 3:5-6  For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

It can be a scary thing to follow the lead of your husband.  But you can put your hope in God, pray for your husband, speak respectfully to him or not at all and believe that God will use the beauty of your gentle and quiet spirit to win your husband over in the areas where he needs to grow in obedience to the word. 

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 7, 2006 11:21 am

    i remember when you gave this sermon in august, and nat and i were very encouraged of what you shared (both part 1 and 2). ephesians 5:21-23 was read at our wedding, and nat’s mom had commented about how she didn’t agree with the idea of “submission of the wife” in a marriage. but rereading your blog entry is such a reminder of how beautiful it is, and how submission doesn’t mean weakness of inequality (as she might have perceived it). needless to say, we mailed nat’s mom a copy of the sermon in hopes of clarifying what submission in a godly marriage means.

    as per your suggestion, i will happily give praise about my spouse! ;) it has been so wonderful submitting to nat b/c of his love for God and me. he truly has exhibited how he loves me as his own body. i can see the ways the Holy Spirit has worked in him, producing gentleness, kindness, humbleness, and patience; i’m so lucky to be a recipient of these fruits of the Spirit! i praise God for the work that he’s done in nat and in our marriage! :)

    as a last note, thanks for the reminder to be focusing on building our vertical relationship with God. :)

  2. November 8, 2006 9:56 am

    I just finished preaching through the book of Ephesians and dealt with ‘hupatasso’ as well. My comments on this would be twofold:

    First, I think that the abusive ‘criminally wicked’ man should simply be put in jail. If a man is physically abusive to his wife she should be taken away (and the children) to an anonymous home for safety. If after investigating the offense the man is deemed to be guilty of the violence he is given over to the police. They are the sword of God against unrighteousness. (Romans 13)

    We simply don’t monkey around with violent punks who choose this as a means of control in their home and it is the church’s responsibility to protect that family.

    Secondly, I think the biggest attack on the family today is without a doubt the de-feminization of women. It is still culturally acceptable to be a ‘man’ – provide for you family, lead, be a protector, etc. You don’t get much ridicule if you fulfill your role along those lines. However, if a woman claims to be submissive and does not seek to have the world hear her roar, well… what’s wrong with her? Doesn’t she know she’s been liberated from archaic and outmoded bondage? Girls are, for the most part, raised to be men in our society at large and sadly in the church as well.

    Gone is the emphasis on homelife and family and in is the mixture of career-mindedness and compromise. I’ve spoken enough about this topic within the church to know that I will always get rocks tosssed at me. We have a majority of career women, dual-income households, and a mindlessness that simply sends our children off to college as the cure all panacea of the world.

    I believe we need to call our fathers back to seeing their daughters as future wives and mothers and raise them up accordingly. The attack is on them.

    To raise up an independent Oprahfied young lady who may not even want to be married is the norm for far too many. I pray that we can see the beauty and glory of women in her God-given roles and reject the tendency to thwart those guidelines. Ironically, where we see the bossy, dominating, God-defying woman we see a man who is equally blasphemous.

  3. Jim T permalink
    June 7, 2008 6:40 pm

    II appreciated you comments. I start teaching Eph. 5 & 6 next Sunday in our family class. I will be placing your message above on my resource table.

    I’m glad you are willing to confront the delinquent behaviors of abusers. The church must never insist a women (or man) live with such out right self-centered sin! I know way too much about the church abusing some women by insisting they return to an UN-save relationship. Submission is supposed to be a gift given in the Lord to another, to love and support, etc.

    I’m adding a different twist with two questions:
    1) Are you adult enough to do submission?
    Not out of fear but love for the Lord (Codependency cannot do submission in a healthy adult way)

    2) Are you an Abigail wife? 1 Sam 25:1-22
    She confronted her husbands bad choices and took action to bless David. She also respectfully confronted David and stopped him from a disastrous direction he was taking in wanting to kill all the males in Nabal’s household.

    We husbands should all take note, God took out Nabal as a result of his self centered attitude. (1 Peter 3:7b)
    I’m am thankful that I married an Abigail wife 48 years ago, saved my butt many times. Ministry can be a very dangerous place at times.

    Jim T

  4. egana permalink
    June 11, 2008 10:14 am

    I will speak up – although I am WAY late – and give testimony to God’s goodness in this area of respect and submission on marriage.

    Not ONCE has the Lord forsaken me or abandoned me in the 14 years we have been married to each other. During the happy times, he has been my Joy, during the painful times, He has been my Protector and my Teacher.

    My husband slowly learns to bless as I slowly learn to receive his blessing. My husband slowly learns to love me as I slowly learn to respect him. My husband slowly learns to wisely listen as I slowly learn to speak wisdom. The process is slow, but it is constant, unyielding, and faithful, because it is God at work in us, and HE is faithful, unyielding, and constant.

    I am a happy woman. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, even in the middle of pain and frustration. Often we both suffer from our ignorance and disobedience, but the Lord faithfully rescues us and reconciles us to Himself and each other.

    So the Lord is faithful to us in our marriage. And He would be my portion no matter who I was married to.

    But I wouldn’t want to be married to anyone else. I love my brilliant, creative, sensitive, talented, handsome, thoughtful Gorf. We laugh a lot, we talk creatively, we serve, we enjoy our children, we comfort and encourage each other, we learn from each other, we endure this passage and look forward to Heaven. I wouldn’t want anyone else. He’s great!

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