Last time we began looking at the controversial verse in Ephesians 5:22, “Wives be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” We looked at the context of walking in love and wisdom and being governed by the Holy Spirit with the aim of husband and wife becoming one flesh. We saw that male domination is a result of sin and that male leadership is a fruit of the Spirit. Ephesians 5 is a template for God’s good and perfect will.
Wives are told to submit as to the Lord. Colossians 3:23-24 says “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” Jesus said “to the extent you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Sometimes those in authority seem like the “least” deserving in our eyes! It takes faith to be under authority. Faith that God didn’t make a mistake when He set up lines of authority and that His ways are higher or better than ours. Faith that as we submit “as to the Lord”, He receives it as a gift and blesses us. We must guard against not submitting to legitimate requests because we don’t approve of a person’s lifestyle or character. Those in a communist country still need to obey the traffic laws.
But what does the Bible say about submission when those put in authority to protect us abuse their authority and even use it to harm us? We are all under authority in some areas, be it national and local governments, educational, religious, and business leaders or even home owner boards. We know the ideal isn’t always the reality.
Romans 13 says every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God. Rulers are servants of God sent for good and to punish evil. But what if the government, like Sadaam Hussein’s does the opposite. What are we to do?
Consider this example, God says that all the commandments are summed up in “love you neighbor as yourself.” The US Government implements God’s law by saying schools are to offer equal opportunities to every citizen regardless of race, color or gender. The School Board upholds that law, the principal and so on. What would happen if a student was in a class where his teacher said, “That’s a bunch of baloney. In my class only those with white skin have any chance of doing well”?
The students in that class would suffer because of this teacher’s misuse of authority. But what if a student figures out what is going on and gathers evidence and appeals to the principal? Who would the principal support, the teacher who had fallen out of rank with the school board and US Government, or the student? If the principal is in rank, he must support the law that is higher than his own authority and therefore support the student.
All authority is under God’s authority. When any human authority is no longer serving God by upholding His law of love, it puts those under that leadership in a very hard place. But those under that authority have a right and responsibility to appeal to the One over human authority. In the trials after the holocaust, Hitler’s leaders were not exempt from their crimes because they were following orders. It was their duty to disobey evil, even if it cost them their own lives. If a human court recognizes that, how much more the righteous Judge of all the earth!
God rewarded the midwives who feared Him more than Pharaoh and refused to kill the Hebrew baby boys. Jesus told his disciples to submit to the Pharisees because they sit in the seat of Moses, (Matthew 23:1-3). Yet He infuriated the same Pharisees by not submitting to their interpretation of the Sabbath law. His own disciples, when given strict orders by them not to continue teaching in Christ’s name, replied, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
Some believe that when 1 Peter 3:5-6 refers to Sarah as an example of a submissive wife, it is referring to the time that she lied to King Abimelech, calling Abraham her brother instead of her husband to save him. Because of this lie she was put into the king’s harem.
But verse 6 reads, “You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.” In Genesis 12 with Pharaoh and chapter 20 with Abimelech it is very clear that what Abraham and Sarah did was wrong and done out of fear! I find it interesting that in a passage which speaks of winning over your disobedient husband without a word, it uses one of the most vocal wives recorded in the Bible as an example of a godly wife. In fact Abraham had to learn to go to God with her advice instead of just taking it without first praying about it, (remember Hagar). At times God told Abraham to listen to Sarah even when it went against Abraham’s instincts (sending Ishmael away).
Clearly, when God instructs wives to submit to their own husbands, He is not telling them to violate their conscience and participate in wrong or to be silent and not give warning or insight. Proverbs speaks much on giving a friend advice and warnings. I would hope a wife is not to be excluded from such wisdom. In fact, wisdom is personified as a woman in Proverbs. Wives have a responsibility to develop their own walks with God and to share their perspective. A wise head listens. A wise wife also knows when to be quiet and let God work.
Some take issue that God tells Adam He will make a “helper” suitable for him (Genesis 2:18). In our culture helper can sound like an inferior position. But in scripture it never refers to an inferior. It sometimes refers to an equal as here, but most of the time it refers to God, a superior helping an inferior. Ex.18:4, Ps.10:14; 27:9; 118:7, Heb.13:6
Wives are told to submit to their own husbands as to the Lord, as the church submits to Christ. What is your relationship with Christ like? He describes Himself as gentle and humble in heart, whose yoke is easy and burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30). Husbands are never told to make their wives submit. Husbands are told to love, nurture and cherish their wives as one would his own body, as Christ also does the church. Wives aren’t told to make them do this.
God’s will is that the wife and the husband each have a personal growing relationship with Christ, for each one to be filled with His Spirt and seek His will, for them to work as a team, one flesh, seeking the best for the couple not indulging one individual over another. He teaches servant leadership, not domination or passivity, and Biblical submission, not manipulation or being a doormat. God doesn’t hold me accountable for my mate’s choices, but for my own. Let us each focus on being who God has called us to be and seek His wisdom in how to apply His ideal in our particular place.
God’s Best to You,