This is such a serious issue. How I pray that God’s Spirit will be very much involved to help me write and to help each of us understand things clearly. I have had many women read a bit about biblical submission and conclude that submitting to our husbands means things like:
- My husband is my absolute authority not God.
- I have to do whatever he says no matter what.
- I can’t voice any disagreement with my husband, that’s disrespectful.
- I have to follow him into sin.
- I have to treat his words as if they are always the very words of God even if he clearly goes against the Bible.
I don’t believe this is what Scripture teaches at all.
With almost every biblical principle, there is balance. If we veer to the right or the left of what the Bible teaches, we will end up with a destructive false teaching. So let’s always “test the spirits” as Scripture says. Let’s not just believe anything that any human teaches. Let’s compare everything to the Bible and pray for God’s Spirit to give us His wisdom and discernment that we might handle His Word rightly. It is impossible to delve into all that marriage means in one post – so please take lots of time to study this issue and to seek God’s truth wholeheartedly.
Note – There is a danger with a post like this that a wife who is not abiding in Christ and not seeing clearly spiritually may try to use this list to justify her own sin or selfishness. We are accountable to God for any sin in our own lives.
Let’s keep in mind that ultimately our submission is to Christ as Lord – as men and women. And let’s be sure we are hearing God’s voice clearly, not listening to the enemy’s lies or walking in the power of the flesh so that we can clearly discern God’s voice. Let’s ask God to purify our hearts and motives and to expose any sin or wrong thinking we may have. The goal is that God might say, “Well done, My good and faithful servant,” to each of us. Let’s desire obedience to Him above all else. 🙂
TIMES THAT I PERSONALLY WOULD NOT SUBMIT TO MY HUSBAND
I am posting this with my husband’s full support and knowledge.
Greg wants me to be sure to emphasize, “A wife will need godly discernment and the power of the Holy Spirit in some of these situations. Sometimes things are gray, not clearly black or white.”
We all need God’s Spirit to give us His wisdom as we seek first of all to submit to Christ as Lord. Ultimately, we will each answer to Him. I want us to handle His Word and our decisions rightly in His eyes. We need to be abiding in Him and we need to know His Word well and be seeking Christ far above all else so that we can hear His voice clearly. God gives us as wives a command to honor our husband’s leadership. I don’t want us to be always looking for a way out of obeying the Lord. That is not the point of this post. Our hearts should long to obey the Lord in everything.
This list is one that Greg and I came up with together for our marriage.
I Would Personally Not Voluntarily Yield to My Husband’s Leadership If:
- He was very mentally ill and not in his right mind (psychotic, manic, extremely depressed, suicidal, schizophrenic, hallucinating, etc…)
- He was on medication that was causing him not to be able to think properly (like he was not in touch with reality after anesthesia) or he was high or drunk.
- He had an illness like dementia that caused him not to be in touch with reality.
- He was truly endangering himself, me, or others. (He was doing something very foolish or reckless like asking me to get on the roof when I was 9 months pregnant, unless the house was on fire, or saying we should strap the kids on the hood of the car and drive down the interstate.)
- He was asking me to condone clear sin according to God’s Word – not about my personal convictions – but clear sin.
- He demanded that he had absolute authority over me and was to be my primary “lord” instead of Jesus.
- He was threatening harm to me or my children, brandishing weapons, or he had rage so out of control that I felt that I or our children might be seriously in danger.
- He was asking me to do something I literally could not do. (i.e.: drive a stick-shift that I have never learned how to drive, pick up a 300 lb couch, speak German fluently when I haven’t learned German, etc…)
- He was asking me to seriously jeopardize his health and safety. (i.e.: he obviously was extremely sick or injured and needed to go to the ER but insisted that he didn’t want to go.)
- He was asking me to commit clear sin according to God’s Word – (idolatry, immorality, stealing, lying, hatred, greed, criminal activity, lust, unforgiveness, gossip, slander, drunkenness, using illegal drugs, having an abortion, participating in pornography, etc…)
- He was obviously demon-possessed.
- He was involved in a major drug/alcohol/gambling/sex addiction and the addiction was in control of his life.
- He was truly abusing me or our children. (see note on bottom of post about abuse)
- He was leading me into blatant false teaching or a cult.
- He wanted me to do or condone something illegal (unless it was to smuggle Bibles into a restricted country or something similar where the law was against sharing Christ).
- He was involved in unrepentant adultery or other major unrepentant sin (in which case I need to consider Matt. 7:1-5 and Matt. 18:15-17) .
Note – I haven’t been in such a situation with Greg so far, but if I did face something like this, I would not be able to just blindly follow him. God requires wives to be accountable for our decisions about when to submit and when not to submit. Check out what happened when Sapphira followed her husband into lying to the Holy Spirit in Acts 5. Abigail is a great example of a wife who honored God and who did not follow her husband’s disrespect toward David in order to keep the males of their household from being killed in 1 Samuel 25. For more on this issue of when it is appropriate to disobey a person in a position of God-given authority (in the home, government, church, or workplace), please check out the class notes on the post Spiritual Authority from a minister at my church.
There are some situations where a wife may be able to stay in the home and honor his leadership concerning non-sinful things. There may be other situations where things are so toxic that she prayerfully decides to seek a separation in hopes that her husband will repent and find the help he needs and that they can rebuild a stronger, more godly marriage in the future. Separation is not ideal, but it is permitted in 1 Corinthians 7 and sometimes it is very necessary.
I could still have a desire to be able to honor my husband’s leadership and a heart that anticipates being able to honor him again. But before I could honor my husband’s leadership in cases like the ones above on my list, I would need to see that he was back in his right mind. I would need to see clear repentance and fruit of repentance if he had been involved in major sin and trust had been severely broken. If wives are dealing with issues like this, I believe they may need godly, appropriate outside help to help them navigate these kinds of issues and find the help for their husbands that they need spiritually and medically – depending on the situation.
To me, this would be similar to a situation where my husband is driving the car. I don’t grab the wheel from him because I would wreck the car if he is driving even though I am a very responsible driver, myself. I can’t drive well from the passenger’s seat. However, if my husband were to pass out or become incapacitated, I would certainly try to grab the wheel then and bring the car safely to a stop, if at all possible.
We also need to be sure that we are not endangering our men, abusing them, sinning against them, trying to lead them into sin, or continuing on in unrepentant sin ourselves, as well. And if we are involved in addictions or we need help spiritually, emotionally, or mentally, we need to be sure to reach out for the help we need. I don’t want to ever see anyone in danger from family members! Home should be the safest place on earth, brothers and sisters!
WE ANSWER TO CHRIST ABOVE ALL
Ultimately, we must each study to “show ourselves approved workmen” before God. We will answer to Him alone for all of our motives, thoughts, words, and actions. So will our husbands. I want us to obey His Word above all else.
There are some who teach that submission/authority in marriage is about a husband lording power over his wife. That is not how Jesus describes authority in His kingdom to His disciples in Matthew 20:25-28. There are some who teach that husbands have no authority or that husbands and wives have “equal authority” to lead. I also don’t see how that is biblical when we read passages that clearly teach that husbands do have authority in ways that wives do not (Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 3:18-19, I Peter 3:1-7). We do have equal value in Christ and yet we have different roles. But there is to be mutual unconditional love, and unconditional respect flowing both directions in marriage. We are to treat all others with honor, dignity, gentleness, 1 Corinthians 13 love, and respect if we love and know Christ.
Even though husbands have a God-given position of authority, it is not a position of absolute authority.
God doesn’t ever give a human a position of absolute authority. All authorities on earth answer to Him and He has put all authority in heaven and on earth under Christ’s feet. Human authorities often answer to other earthly God-given authorities, as well. Husbands answer to the church, the government, and the police, for example. If there is abuse going on, these other authorities are there to help stop that. Any human authority must have limits. We know that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” for sinful humans. Thankfully, God’s Word has answers for us – I share some resources below that may help, as well.
I pray you will take the time to really study this issue and seek to understand God’s teaching rightly. Misunderstandings on this issue lead to great dysfunction and harm to husbands, wives, children, and the Body of Christ.
WE CAN BE GODLY WOMEN NO MATTER WHAT OUR HUSBANDS DO
If our husbands are involved in unrepentant sin or are not in their right minds, that does not mean we get to sin against them. It doesn’t mean we get to treat them with contempt or disrespect. But it does mean that we may have to spend much time wrestling in prayer to discern God’s wisdom and direction for us and how to best handle these very difficult situations. There is not always a one-size-fits-all formula for what a wife should do. I would encourage women with extreme situations to seek one-on-one, experienced, godly counsel and much prayer.
For More Clarification on Spiritual Authority and Biblical Submission:
NOTE – please compare EVERYTHING any human author says to the Bible, my precious sisters!
Spiritual Authority – by Rev. Weaver from my church
A Husband’s and a Wife’s Authority in Marriage – by Rev. Weaver from my church
What Does “Submit in Everything” Really Mean? The Nature and Scope of Marital Submission by Steven R. Tracy – Overall I agree very much with this paper, there is only one point towards the end that says if a wife ever disagrees with her husband on anything, the husband should always seek outside godly counsel before leading in that direction. I can think of some possible exceptions to that. If you want to talk about that, please let me know.
The Danvers Statement – from The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Do I Condone BDSM or CDD? – (The short answer is – no, those things are not what I am teaching at all.)
The Pendulum Effect – men and women must avoid being dominating and avoid being passive
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood – edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem
Secret Church – Biblical Manhood and Womanhood – David Platt
The Peaceful Wife – Living in Submission to Christ As Lord – April Cassidy – There is a whole chapter on submission in marriage, after a whole chapter on submission to Christ as Lord. I talk about what biblical submission is not, and what it is.
- It is not an invitation to abuse.
- It is not agreement.
- It does not mean I can’t have my own opinion.
- It is not mutual (in the way that many evangelical feminists describe it).
- It is not absolute.
- It is not related to value.
- It demonstrates trust – in God but also in our husbands.
- It allows God to work.
- It promotes real romance.
I want to be clear about a definition of “abuse.” This term is so overused. Some women who truly have godly husbands claim their husbands are “abusive” because their husbands want them to check with them before the wives making purchases over $500 or because their husbands would like them not to show rated R movies to their young children. These kinds of things are not abuse! That is godly leadership. Other women don’t think they are being abused, but they really are and don’t recognize it. Other women truly are being abused, severely sinned against, and mistreated, but think they have to stay and take it. They think that is what “submission” means in Scripture and are told they are “bad wives” or “sinning against God” if they leave.
thelawdictionary.org’s definition of abuse – “Cruelty that causes harm to another.”
legaldictionary-thefreedictionary.com’s definition of domestic violence – “Any abusive, violent, coercive, forceful, or threatening act or word inflicted by one member of a family or household on another can constitute domestic violence.”
I would argue that all sin is abusive. All sin causes harm to those we sin against and to ourselves – as well as our relationship with God. But there is a continuum and progression of sin where it becomes more and more toxic. There is a point at which it can be too poisonous for a spouse and/or children to stay with the abusive spouse. Sometimes both spouses are abusive.
What is the Biblical Perspective on Domestic Violence – by www.gotquestions.org
www.leslievernick.com – for Christians in emotionally abusive situations
www.thehotline.org – a secular resource for those in physically or severely emotionally abusive situations