A reader submitted the following questions about submission and I’ve recruited a group of wise and godly married women to respond to her question.
” So, I am a young woman about to be engaged and I’m grappling with the idea of being the submitting wife God calls me to be. One of the key issues I’m struggling with is the whole “ask your husband” idea of submission. When conducting research or answering any question, I very rarely rely on one source. So what if I am unsatisfied with my husband’s answer to a spiritual question? Can I not seek guidance from my pastor or other church leader because women should be quiet? And while I’m sure my husband-to-be would be happy to ask the question on my behalf, his paraphrasing is often less than totally accurate. So I guess my question is, then what?”
Ashley Cherry Smith: The question is obviously addressing the I Cor. 14 passage which is Paul’s instruction for how a church service should be run. He speaks first about tongues and prophesy and then he deals with women who were speaking out in a disruptive way in church. This passage literally means do not open your mouth. However, we know from other passages that Paul expected and wanted women to participate in church worship, prayer and prophesy. When women are told to be quiet and later to “ask their husbands at home” it is likely referring to the judging of prophesy. Many churches (like my own) do not even have the giving and judging of prophesy in a service in the same way of the New Testament church. So, while women were encouraged to participate, pray, prophesy, serve, teach other women, etc. They were not to teach men or have authority in the church (I Tim. 2:12) nor were they to judge prophesy – which would have served as an authoritative role. Prophesy was to edify the entire church body (women could participate). Judging of prophesy was to be done by church leaders, instructing and correcting (this was to be done by men).
What if a woman’s own husband gave an incorrect prophesy? It would be damaging for the marriage if she corrected her husband in public, instead, she should show respect to her husband and allow other men to mentor her husband. Also, what if an issue came up in the church service and only the male church leaders where aware of certain information – this is a good reason to ask your own husband at home… Paul did not want to encourage gossip or allow women to make a poor judgement based on a lack of information.
Now, “asking your husband at home” was actuallly a positive thing. It kept women from being contentious or taking opportunities to tear down male leadership in public. Also, Paul is encouraging couples to have theological/spiritual conversations at home. And, he is obligating husbands to respond! This is a wonderful thing and may have surprised men of Paul’s day (may be some men of our day, too). Paul wanted women to be theologically educated and astute. He wanted their husbands, who had access to more training to share, encourage and and build a spiritual life with their wives. He is also protecting the husband/wife relationship from unecessary competition.
Yes, women should engage their husbands with spiritual questions, but the Bible never says that the husband is to be the only spiritual influence in a woman’s life. Quite the opposite. The book of Titus explains the importance of Teaching pastors and elders for the benefit of the entire body. This book also explains the critical role of godly female mentors who are trained, experienced and wise.
Sherri Wilson Johnson: My dad was a preacher- very smart when it came to Biblical knowledge. I asked him any and every question I had and I took his answer as if it were gold. He was so smart that even when I asked my husband, even he would say, “Call your dad.” Since his death, I have learned that I am responsible for my own spiritual growth, which includes personal time with the Lord and worshipping with a body of believers, knowing how to find something in the Bible and where to go for answers when I don’t understand what I’ve read. A woman is to have a gentle and quiet spirit and be respectful of her husband and even of other men but I don’t believe we are supposed to be silent and that we are forbidden to ask questions. A smart woman knows when to speak and when to hold her tongue. If a husband doesn’t provide the answer that satisfies, pose the question to others and even do research yourself. The trick is: don’t complain that your husband didn’t know the right answer. Pose the question in such a way that his intelligence and spirituality are not threatened. A Godly man will want the right answers rather than preferring to be right.
2. Also I believe that our God is not a God of disorder but of peace so why/how could a husband and wife be called to make different decisions? And what if the decision the husband deems right is not completely prayerfully considered? Is the woman to remain silent even if her heart cannot help to object? I know that Christ made decisions for the church but no man can obtain His perfection, so why can’t the wife interject her decision?
Carrie Ward: I think it is Dennis Rainey who likens marriage to a dance – both partners must move and work together, but someone must lead. This is a great analogy and the dance can be beautiful when the husband and wife respond to one another the way God intended. Honestly, I have not experienced many of the situations that often concern women about biblical submission, and I credit that to my husband. He has always sought and valued my opinion, ideas and feelings. And when we have faced a decision, he has also prayed with me and urged me to seek the Lord on my own. He has lived with his wife in an understanding way. And I’m thankful for that. I actually think that biblical submission is often harder in the day to day small things than it is is the larger decisions of life. And I (we) need to continually trust the Lord and ask Him to help us live out the role that he designed for us.
First I would say, if you have not already, ask these same three questions of your future fiancé. Since this is a concern, you should begin an ongoing conversation about your views of submission and allow him to express his. That’s not to say that your conversations will cover every possible scenario that might arise, but you can get a general feel for his perspective and visa versa. Second, I would recommend you seek Christian pre-marital counseling and spend some time with a mature Christian couple that you respect and discuss this and other marriage issues. It’s not too early to begin counseling. I would recommend that you do this now, even as you are considering becoming engaged.
Sherri Wilson Johnson: First of all, Satan loves disorder and he loves to play with our emotions and our heads. Making husbands and wives disagree is the highlight of his life. But I believe husbands and wives often come to different decisions because we are human. We’re independent thinkers. We have different personalities. We have learned to work together in spite of our differences. When it comes to decisions about things that matter, it is the husband’s privilege to make the call. I say privilege but many times, it is a burden. I personally love knowing that many of life’s big decisions don’t fal solely on my shoulders.
But truthfully, since a wife is her husband’s helpmeet, I believe if she has prayerfully considered a decision they are making as a couple or as a family, it is her duty to share with her husband in a loving way what she feels God is leading them to do. A husband, when he is following the Lord, will not lord his authority over his wife. He will listen to her and prayerfully consider what she has said. In the end, if he feels that is not the decision that needs to be made, then it is his choice and his responsibility—and his burden to bear if he’s wrong.
Ashley Cherry Smith: This passage is a great reason to choose a spouse wisely. Too often women start off the relationship being stronger spiritually and it rarely changes. If a Christian woman believes in submission and intends to obey this command, she had better marry a godly man who first honors God and His Word and second honors and respects her. It is a tough situation to be in when a spouse cannot be trusted with spiritual matters, but a great blessing and benefit to life when spouses have a spiritual connection and can learn from and encourage one another.
3. Also I have observed some husbands lording this authority with their wives… how do you address that?
Sherri Wilson Johnson: I believe that husbands and wives are a team. They should work together to reach a common goal. A husband should realize what a treasure he has in a wife. He has a helper. He has someone to love. Someone to be his lover and supporter. If a husband “plays his cards right” he will have his biggest fan right by his side for as long as he lives. A woman who feels loved and not controlled will be happy to be her husband’s biggest cheerleader.
Ashley Cherry Smith: The spirit of this passage and common sense explain that competition, especially spiritual competition in a marriage is bad news! Ladies, don’t compete with your husband, instead be on his team – marriage should be a partnership where you build each other up, so your attitude is key! But if someone is abusing authority – that is a good time to seek shelter from church leaders who have leadership in part, to protect women (also shows the importance of choosing a church and pastor wisely). God never encourages husbands to abuse authority – church leaders are supposed to deal with abuse. Those who are abused should not sit in silence. They should act with wisdom and grace, but they should be protected.
Carrie Ward: I would recommend that you do some research. I don’t think that submission means that you stop using the brain that God has given you. I do think that submission requires respect, trust, love, humility and often forgiveness. So before you enter into an engagement or marriage it would be beneficial for you (both) to have a healthy grasp of the significance of the role God has given to the husband, as well as the wife. God’s plan for these roles is marital harmony and glorifying Him, not abuse of power!
The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace
Dancing With the One You Love by Cindy Easley
True Woman 101 by Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss
Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
Search for biblical submission on these websites:
I would echo Carrie Ward’s advice to seek godly counseling. The tone in your questions sounds like you are not at peace with your boyfriend’s ability to lead, and it may (or may not) be for good reason. I was once in a relationship where I too, was not at peace about some of these issues and God revealed shortly after that there were some VERY good reasons why I was not at peace, and God also protected me through it. Like night and day though, the Lord afterwards led me to the godly man that I’m now engaged to, and I can say that submitting to his leadership is a joy and comfort, not a burden! So if you are following after God and his design for marriage, things won’t always be easy, but it shouldn’t put fear in you either. My advice is to seek godly counsel, deciding to marry someone is an important decision!
Mara’s comment has a lot of wisdom in these words: “The tone in your questions sounds like you are not at peace with your boyfriend’s ability to lead, and it may (or may not) be for good reason”
This applies to people who are already married as well. If you struggle with this issue, it’s highly likely you have concerns about your husband’s abilities. The task is to investigate whether those concerns are actually valid or not.
I absolutely believe the Bible and try to follow it. I also believe it fully supports the idea of women praying, seeking their own inspiration, seeking truth from a variety of sources, and sharing those discoveries with her husband. Husbands can and should learn much from their wives spiritual learning, and most good men actively seek their wives input and deeply value their opinions. Good men also really want their wives to be happy. They make sacrifices and voluntarily give up their own wants and needs so that their wives can be happy. Those kinds of men really enjoy and appreciate hearing from their wife what she wants.
That’s actually one of the greatest struggles of Biblical Manhood–listening to God first, and doing what He wants you to do, rather than what your wife thinks will help her be happiest in the short run–because your general inclination is to do what your wife wants. That was Solomon’s downfall.
If both the husband and the wife are actively seeking God’s direction and humbly willing to follow Him, these disagreements on fundamental direction will be somewhat rare.