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Volume 15, Issue 3: Femina


Nancy Wilson

The world regards the idea of wives submitting to their husbands as archaic, repressive, and obnoxious. When unbelievers attend a Christian wedding, they are sometimes appalled at references to that "dirty word" submission, or even worse, obedience. They think that the world has better ideas about marriage. This is funny really. The world has trashed marriage, sex, and the family in a spectacular way. We know that God is the Creator of marriage, not man. He has made it clear in His Word what He expects of both wives and husbands. Our duties are laid out for us, and He always blesses obedience. Faithful Christian marriages are bright lights that defy the lies of a dark, dark world.

But sad to say, many Christian marriages are not the bright lights they should be. Both husbands and wives refuse to obey the Word: husbands fail to take responsibility, and wives behave in disrespectful ways. In spite of the fact that the church has emphasized teaching on marriage and the family, much still needs to be done. And when Christians are disobedient, the Word of God is blasphemed. Titus 2:3-5 makes this very clear. When Christian women are taught to be "discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands," God is glorified. And Paul says here the result is "that the word of God be not blasphemed." Not only is the world guilty of this blasphemy, but we are as well, for our ungodly behavior is by nature blasphemy. So we become guilty of disrespecting God and His Word.
Often women who know better are failing to be respectful, dutiful, submissive, and obedient wives. They make excuses for their behavior, saying things like, "Well, I know it wasn't very respectful, but he was wrong." If the older Christian women don't know how to obey their husbands, how can they teach the younger women? And so the church is sick and passing the infection on to the next generation.
Sometimes wives think they understand respect, but they fail at the obedience part. "What do you mean I have to obey him? I thought that was just for the children."
But returning to the passage in Titus, older women are to teach younger women to be "obedient to their own husbands." Obedience is something that wives should be practicing so they can teach it to others. This means obedience in everything, not just in the big things and not just in the little things. Good Christian wives need to learn to obey.
It is amazing how much we gloss over this and how much we excuse and overlook. The commands of submission and obedience are only difficult when we disagree with our husbands. If we agree with them and we do what they say, it can hardly be called submission. Submission comes into play when we differ with them over an issue, but we defer to them and willingly give way.
But what about when the husband is in sin? This is a very important issue. What if the husband has adopted a wrong attitude and is heading in the wrong direction? Is a wife obligated to go along? It all depends. I have often been saddened that we don't see more Abigails in the church today. She was not afraid to call her husband a fool and to make arrangements behind his back without his permission. God blessed her abundantly for intervening in this way. She did not stay home waiting for David to attack her household calling herself a submissive wife. She recognized that her husband was acting the part of a fool, and she exercised wisdom and prudence by going to David herself.
If a man is acting foolishly, a woman is foolish to go along quietly. Of course this requires great wisdom. I am not advocating giving wives license to disobey in a willy-nilly fashion. That is what I am objecting to in the paragraphs above. But there are times when a godly wife should beseech her husband not to act in a foolish manner. It may involve doctrine. Perhaps she is alarmed that he is being attracted to heretical ideas, whether it is "openness theology" or Roman Catholicism. She should speak to him respectfully about this, but letting him know she cannot follow him there. If she belongs to a godly church, her elders would support her in this. Perhaps he is plotting to create some kind of stink in the church. Abigail would not stand for it. A good Christian wife should go to the elders and ask them how she can be a good church member and a good wife at the same time. She should not simply stand by, hoping that her husband will do the right thing. Nor should she just accept anything her husband does as though he is infallible. If a husband is bad-mouthing his elders, his pastor, or his friends, a godly woman should refuse to go along. She should speak to him privately first, but if he is not receptive, she should go to her pastor or elders and seek their advice. This same pattern should be followed if a husband is violent, if he has a temper, if he is cheating on his income taxes, if he is not providing for the household, or if he is being sexually unfaithful in any way. This is not an exhaustive list.
A wife is to be a helper to her husband not a blind follower, and this sometimes includes going past him to get help. God blessed Abigail when she did this. In her case it was abundantly clear what was necessary. In other cases it might require pastoral oversight. But obedience and submission to a mere man is never absolute. God governs all of us. We demonstrate that we serve Him above all others when we realize that our submission and obedience to our husbands is always to be lived out within the boundaries God has wisely set for us.

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