18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
We live in culture that is opposed to the Biblical concept of the submissive wife. Usually people justify their objection to the submissive wife by saying the Bible was written during a time when women like being submissive. I guess people who want to believe in Jesus but not the whole Bible make these arguments.
I think it is interesting that no one is opposed to the loving husband. Nobody ever says, “well, the loving husband was a cultural phenomenon for the ancient backwards societies. Now men are free to be unfaithful men because that’s the modern man.” So how do we justify saying Colossians 3:18 is no longer culturally relevant but Colossians 3:19 is?
I get it. Submission is an ugly word. It doesn’t sound fun or even healthy to out culture. I believe that is part because our culture has made submission into a bad word. So maybe I should start by clarifying what submission is not.
- Lesser value in the kingdom of God.
- Barefoot, baby making machine…
All these cultural descriptions are not Biblical descriptions of the submissive wife. One must make the distinction between submissive and subservient. Submission is a choice made from a position of strength. As Americans we submit everyday to our government, laws, authorities and employers. Historically Americans, when their submission feels taken advantage of we quit or revolt only to set ourselves under a new system of submission. However, subservient is not a choice, from strength but from fear. There’s a big difference.
Furthermore, this is not a new tension. In fact the Bible teaches that the issues surrounding the submissive wife date back to the very beginning in the book of Genesis.
THE HELPER (Genesis 2:18)
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him. – Genesis 2:18
In the beginning, God created, eventually in His image He creates man and woman. After announcing to Adam a “helper” is coming, God brings before Adam a male and female version of every animal to name. At some point Adam must be wondering…do I get one of those? So God tells Adam to, take a nap. He wakes up and poof. Woman. Not from the ground like man, but from his side. Because she is part of him, they are one. Without man there is no woman, without woman now there is no man. There’s a synchronicity to it all. The Bible says here in 2:18 the wife, woman, is a “helper.” Ladies if that term makes the hairs on the back of you neck stand up and scream, just hold on. “Helper” is not some small word in the Bible. In fact, Jesus uses the same term to introduce the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). You see, the woman is not a lesser being or of lesser value, she’s of no less value to man than the Holy Spirit is to Jesus. Yet, like the Holy Spirit she is uniquely different for a different purpose. Part of the purpose is realized under the care and protection of a man who she supports.
That’s where submission started. In paradise. Then it was broken and turned upside down.
Along comes the snake. Satan comes as a snake, not an angel, to represent creation, God’s creation, which man has been entrusted to take care. Creation is under man’s authority just as the woman is and God has ordered that man who cares for woman will together steward creation. It’s a divine order. Every natural law of the universe is ordered by God for His glory. Gender identity is a natural law.
One of Satan’s great agendas is to disrupt what God has put in place. So Satan comes as a CREATION. Tempts the WOMAN with the fruit of the tree she is not to eat from. WOMAN submits to CREATION who then in turn offers the temptation to ADAM. MAN submits to WOMAN and eats of the forbidden fruit. So now for a brief moment Satan sits on top. He has reversed the natural order of God. Creation is ruling woman, who is ruling man and in the end man will blame God (Genesis 3:12). The whole temptation story challenges the order of submission.
God doesn’t play when it comes to His glory. He warned man that his eyes would be opened if he ate from the tree. Man chose not to trust God and decided to trust in creation and now man gets to see just how dysfunctional creation can be.
Eve tasted something else that day as well. Power. She knew what it was like to tempt and rule her husband, a man.
After this in Genesis chapter three we see God curse Satan. But God does not curse man and woman. He reveals to them their new reality. Specifically, God reveals something new about a woman’s nature now as a result of the fall:
“Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” – Genesis 3:16b
Eve. Because you have tasted this power, “you will desire.” The word, “desire” is in context with Cain’s “desire” (4:7) mentioned in chapter 4, desire in both cases is a type of mastery. That means the correct way to interpret 3:16b is the woman’s desire for man is a desire to master him, to rule him, to lead him. God doesn’t curse Eve with submission, he reveals to her a new tension women will deal with. Women will desire to lead their husbands, yet men are made stronger so they will rule. It’s a tension that is only resolved through Christ who will ultimately restore creation and end the tension of sin.
NO CULTURE LIKES SUBMISSION
Some date the writing of Genesis about 2000 years before Jesus. So a little over 4000 years ago the idea of a submissive wife was a struggle. It was a cultural issue. In the New Testament, written about 2000 years ago, Paul calls for the submission of women is because they too, were dealing with submission. Paul didn’t write in a vacuum, he had a point, he was instructing the church on issues they were dealing with. If he were to write today to the churches in America he’d probably address, politics, worship genres and the role (not the qualifications) of pastors. But he didn’t write to us, he wrote to the 1st century dealing with 1st century issues and one of those issues was the role of women in marriage. So it safe to say Paul’s prescription on this topic is not based on a common view of submissive women in the first century. It was not.
Now that we can accept that this is still true today, what do we do with it.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A SUBMISSIVE WIFE?
Paul in Ephesians uses the word submission (5:22) interchangeably with another word, respect (5:33). So let’s replace submission with respect,
18 Wives, RESPECT your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Is it submissive to be respectful? Yes. To be respectful is to be yielding. Respect shows appropriate attitudes regarding your husband’s leadership. Respect is a beautiful thing and it is intuitively desired by all men.
GENDER RESPECT IS CULTURALLY INTUITIVE:
A wife’s respect is powerful in the life of man. In the Huffington post, a nonChristian news source, asked male readers what they wanted in a wife here’s the author’s summary of their responses,
“I did get a sense from many of the responses I received that there is a certain male need to be with a woman who takes pride in her femininity and allows her partner to take pride in his masculinity. That is to say, despite a general desire for gender equity in relationships, a man still wants to feel he is with a woman and not someone who is competing for, trying to tear down or undermine his manhood.”
Why is it even a nonChristian man wants to be a man in marriage? Because that is how God designed him.
If we could take advice from Scripture, instead of the Huffington post, on how to achieve a healthy marriage, the Holy Spirit would tell wives, “if you want a healthy marriage, respect your husband.” Don’t yell at him. Trust him. Support him. Say appropriate things to him and about him. In the end. Respect him.
IS THERE A LIMIT TO SUBMISSION?
There are Biblical limits to submission. Throughout Scripture we see that if the entities we are called to submit require us to disobey God our submission ends there. If a government or a husband were to ever institute a command that would cause you to violate what is Biblical then you are free to rebel (respectfully).
Culturally speaking respect has become a priceless commodity in the economy of marriage. Not many women are offering respect to the men they say they love. I believe a respectful woman can literally and single handedly transform her marriage.
To hear about the man’s role in marriage check out the entire sermon preached at Anchor Way: