by Wendell E. Miller
Q. In the years that I have been married I have accepted the biblical teaching that a woman should submit to her husband. However, I have not submitted fully or always with a good attitude; and the idea of submission still bothers me. Why should my husband be the one to make all of the decisions, and why should he have his own way in everything?
A. Biblical roles in marriage seem to be poorly understood even among Christians who are well taught in the Bible, and this includes husbands not understanding their role.
In a column like this, it is not possible to deal with any subject extensively, nor to deal with every aspect in applying the biblical principles. However, I believe that the following discussion will be helpful.
Considering the husband's role first, the Scriptures teach that husbands are to love their wives (Eph. 5:25). In order to understand this passage fully, it is necessary to know the meaning of the Greek word agape, which is translated "love."
Agape love is, in the broadest sense, a dedication to someone or to something; and this dedication can be good and holy, or it can be sinful. For instance, agape love is used twice in a sinful sense in 1 John 2:15.
If we consider agape love in the good sense, perhaps the best definition of agape love is: "an act of the will (not feelings) to purpose and to do that which is best for the one loved, without the necessity of emotional motivation."
If we paraphrase Ephesians 5:25 by inserting this meaning of agape love, we arrive at something like this: "Husbands, purpose and do those things that are best for your wives, whether you like them or not, without regard to the way they treat you, following the example of Christ as He loved the Church and gave His life for it."
To wives, God says, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord" (Eph. 5:22).
So, in God's plan, the husband is to dedicate himself to his wife and do good for her; and, by submitting to him, she is to allow her husband to do good for her.
How are these biblical roles in marriage applied to the area of decision making? The Scriptures teach that the husband is the head of the wife (Eph. 5:23), and that the wife is to be subject to her husband in all things (Eph. 5:24); so the husband is responsible, before God, for all decisions that affect his wife.
In day-to-day application of biblical roles, l suspect that most husbands allow their wives to make decisions, and that most husbands allow their wives to make some decisions that they think are less than the best.
For instance, a good Christian husband will allow his wife to make decisions with regard to running the household. He will trust her to decide wisely overall; and he will not overrule individual decisions of which brand of laundry soap or peanut butter to buy, just because he thinks that she is not buying the best brand. Instead, he will eat, without complaint the brand of peanut butter that she buys.
Other husbands, some of whom are Christians, in shirking their responsibilities, allow, and sometimes even force, their wives to make decisions for which their wives are not qualified.
A good manager develops the talent of his employees by giving them responsibility, by allowing them to make decisions, and by refraining from overruling them except when necessary. He "goes along" with many decisions that he believes are poor.
The Scriptures teach that agape love is not proud ("not puffed up"--1 Cor. 13:5), and that agape love is not selfish ("seeketh not her own"--1 Cor. 13:4).
If a husband is not proud or selfish, but wise, he will utilize his wife's talents by delegating some decision making to her in accordance with the amount of responsibility that is best for her.
Of course, if he loves her with agape love, he will not dump responsibilities on her out of laziness or irresponsibility, and he will not abdicate his responsibilities.
If a decision of his wife is not morally wrong, if it will not harm her spiritually, morally, emotionally, or physically, or harm someone else, or break their budget, then a Christian husband may allow his wife to make decisions that he deems to be wrong.
On the other hand, if he overrules her too frequently or criticizes her decisions, she may lose her self-confidence, feel as if she is being treated like a child, lose heart, become bitter, or rebel against his authority. In contrast the husband in Proverbs 31:10-31 must have utilized and developed his wife's talents wisely; so that he had no fear of her judgment when "she considereth a field, and buyeth it" (Prov. 31:16).
When a Christian husband makes decisions, if he is neither proud nor selfish, then, in accordance with what he deems to be best for her, he will honor his wife's judgment seek to make decisions that are best for her, seek to fulfill her desires, and allow her to make some decisions.
And if a Christian wife is not proud, and if she is not selfish, then she will not insist that she is right nor try to get her way. Instead, she will want decisions to be made that are good for him and his growth as a Christian man, and that are in accordance with his wishes. And she should cheerfully accept his decisions and stand by him when his decisions prove to be wrong.
On some subjects, and on many occasions, the wife will have more knowledge or better wisdom than the husband. Only pride will make a husband think that he knows the most about everything every time; and only selfishness will cause him to demand his own way in everything.
If the husband is wise, he will solicit his wife's opinions, listen carefully, and value her opinions. If he does, and neither one is proud nor selfish, quite often they will arrive at decisions that are not consciously the idea of one any more than the idea of the other.
If a Christian husband loves his wife with agape love, and she loves her husband with agape love, then neither will act out of pride or selfishness. Instead, each will prefer that things be done according to the good of, and the wishes of, the other person.
What a contrast in marriage between mutual agape love and "I know best" and "I want everything my way!" What a contrast to compromise! In compromise neither gets everything that he wants to get, both give more than either wants to give, and neither is happy.
Submission is not inequality. Jesus submitted to the Father, and He is equal with the Father (John 10:30). Also, the teaching of scripture is clear that there is no distinction between male or female before God (Gal. 3:28).
Submission is not silence; but, when a Christian woman submits to her husband, it includes treating him and talking to him with the honor of the position that God has given him (Eph. 5:33).
What is submission? For all believers. not just wives. submission is obedience to God and a way of life (Rom. 13:7; Eph. 5:21; 6:1; 6:5).
Submission for wives is obeying God (Eph. 5122-24): it is loving God (John 14:15); it is trusting God's purpose in her life (1 Pet. 1:7), even when the situation is difficult; and it is trusting Him to work all things together for her good, even when things seem bad (Rom. 8:28,29).
Submission for wives is working in partnership with God for her husband's eternal good regardless of his present spiritual condition (1 Pet. 3:1), it is demonstrating a Christlike character to her husband, and it is bringing glory to God (Matt. 5:16).
Paraphrased, God says, "Husbands, be devoted to your wives, provide the right atmosphere for them to grow in Christian womanhood, and shelter them from those things that would harm them or be too strenuous for them."
And paraphrased, God says, "Wives, let your husbands do goodfor you; and trust Me that l will work all things together for your good (Rom. 8:28,29), even when your husband does not love you as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it."
Biblical roles? Obey God and trust Him for the results. If both of you follow biblical principles, the marriage will be good, both of you will be modelling godliness for your children, and both of you will bring glory to God.
If only one of you lives his/her biblical role, that one will grow in godliness, that one will be a model for your children and others, that one will bring glory to God, and that one will be rewarded by God (2 Cor. 5:10).
But how much better it is when two are one in their desire to please God and to obey Him in living their biblical roles.
Copyright 1986 by Wendell E. Miller
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