A Godly Unsubmissiveness

Married women the world over can fail to understand their standing and authority in Christ two ways. The first way is when they over-shoot and miss the mark by assuming headship over their husbands. Some husbands like it that way, and they go along quietly because, if they keep their heads down, life goes along peacefully enough. But “wearing the pants” is not all it’s cracked up to be.

The second way women fail to grasp their position in Christ is to cower and “submit” to a man who has forfeited his authority over her. In the first instance, I suppose the man should send up a flare for help. But no one really feels sorry for the husband who gets walked all over. After all, he’s the guy and should know how to stand up for himself. But when a woman gets walked all over, she should also stand up for herself. She is a free woman in Christ. Sometimes a Christian woman should be what some might call “unsubmissive.”

Now before you gasp and think I’ve gone over to the dark side, let me just clarify. Authority is a good thing. Moms have authority over their kids, teachers have authority over their students, the head of the company has authority over his or her employees. The husband has authority over the wife just as Christ has authority over the church. This is a sacrificial authority.

In a good and godly marriage, both husband and wife are submitting to one another out of love for Christ all the time. The only time that a wife is called to be submissive in a particular way is when she disagrees with her husband. In other words, the only time she must obey God’s command to submit to her husband is when she doesn’t want to. But in a good marriage, her husband has sought her  input and counsel before he makes a decision. If he has to make a decision contrary to what she is wishing, he knows God holds him accountable. This is a grave thing.

Submission is found in the Godhead, for Christ submitted to the Father, showing us what submission looks like. It’s not easy, but it is holy.  But now back to my earlier point. Human authority is real, but no human authority is absolute. When should a wife refuse to submit to her husband? Here are a few scenarios where  a husband’s authority is trumped by God’s.

1. When her husband forbids her to worship God.

2. When he tries to convert her to a false or idolatrous religion.

3. When he forbids her to teach her children about the Lord.

4. When he wants her to lie or cheat or steal or break any of God’s commands.

5. When he forbids her to read her Bible.

In these cases, a wife should refuse to go along with her husband. She should cheerfully decline. And then she should look for help. She should call her pastor (which is another good reason to be a member of a church). She may feel that by calling someone for help she is betraying her husband or being disloyal. But our loyalties are always to God first, and His authority is the only absolute authority.  Sometimes being unsubmissive to her husband is exactly what the situation requires in order to be submissive to God. We would call that a godly unsubmissiveness.

Women shouldn’t  just try to be as pretty as Abigail. They should try to be as shrewd as she was as well.

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14 thoughts on “A Godly Unsubmissiveness

  1. Very good, needed the reminder about submission when “she disagrees.” :-) The Lord knows every time we need a little tap and push to settle down and do the right thing.

  2. Great points. I am wondering, those examples you gave are very clear cut, but what about a situation where the husband is just abdicating his responsibilities? Should a woman go to her pastor in any other circumstance other than a husband directly hindering her obedience to God’s higher authority? This would assume the man is a Christian but refuses to get counsel or help.

  3. I totally believe in submission to husband which isn’t as high as submission to God, but women need to be really wise and discerning in how they choose to exercise the submission.

    It’s one thing to say “my husband doesn’t want me to read the Bible”, know that she has to anyway, but to do it with the right spirit. It’d be poor for a wife to then choose to read her Bible ONLY when he’s watching. Or to loudly announce “I’m gonna go read my Bible now!” When we have to not submit to our husbands, we need to do so with a quiet spirit.

    “The only time that a wife is called to be submissive in a particular way is when she disagrees with her husband. In other words, the only time she must obey God’s command to submit to her husband is when she doesn’t want to. But in a good marriage, her husband has sought her input and counsel before he makes a decision.”

    This is so true and was hammered home during our pre-marriage counseling. It’s only submission when you disagree. When you agree with him, it’s not submission. It’s just you and him making a decision.

    My husband uses this illustration:
    Submission is like a Captain and a Sergeant in the army. The Captain sets the priorities, gathers information, makes decisions. As a good Captain, he gets the Sergeant’s input on things and on decisions that need to be made. Once a decision has been made, the Sergeant executes on the decision. The Major has freedom to use the troops and other resources he has available to him, within the area of influence he has. He doesn’t get to tell the Captain what to do.

    He doesn’t get to direct troops that aren’t under his command. He can certainly ask the Captain for more help or his opinion, but by and large, he has freedom to execute what direction the Captain set.

    It isn’t always this way. Sometimes the Captain will make a decision and execute it himself. That’s okay too. The Captain doesn’t always have to have the Sergeant do it. Maybe it’s an area that the Captain likes or maybe it’s something that the Sergeant doesn’t have time for. My main points are:

    1) The Captain and Sergeant are better together when both give input and both decide the direction that should be taken, but there are times when the Captain just has to make a decision.

    2) A good Sergeant knows what he/she is responsible for and executes in a way that he/she thinks the Captain will approve of.

    3) The Sergeant seeks to support what the Captain is doing, not to undo the goals the Captain has set.

    4) Captains like Sergeant who bake cookies. And monkey bread. 😉

  4. yes – I wonder the same thing Evan asked. I have spent the last two years living with the secret money decisions that my husband made that may land us in court or bankruptcy. He did all of it without talking to me and even included other Christians in the deception. Of course they kept the secret from me even though they knew it was wrong (as they told me later…) I have struggled with what my role is. Yes, he has the final responsibility for this – but I wonder what I am supposed to do. Take over control of our finances? Start going through papers to find out what I still may not know? This has been the toughest time of my life. We are still married and that will not change unless he makes that choice but this is HARD HARD stuff.

  5. Jennifer,

    Much of this depends on what has happened so far and how you found out. It matters whether your husband has come to you and sought your forgiveness for his past mistakes, or if you found out some other way. If he has sought to put things right, then I assume you are dealing with how to trust God for the ongoing consequences of his behavior. If that is the case, you may want some pastoral input on how to proceed under the circumstances.

    But if he hasn’t repented, and he is continuing to be irresponsible, then I would suggest you go to your pastor for counsel right away. You could choose one of two ways to go about this. You can ask your husband if he would be willing to go with you so you can voice your concerns together. If he says no way, then you can let him know you’ll be going without him. Or, if you believe he would try to stop you, then you could simply go to your pastor without your husband’s knowledge. This is why church membership is so important. If your husband is disobeying the Word, the church can begin discipline proceedings, which is applying a godly pressure and accountability. Your role is to give them the necessary information they need so they can proceed. And they can also help you with your role. Living with the knowledge that he is misbehaving financially is unacceptable. He has the final responsibility, but you have the responsibility to get pastoral input and help. Holding your husband accountable in this manner is a way of showing him respect and glorifying God, no matter how hard it may be for you to do. Disrespect looks the other way and covers for him. Honor holds him to a higher standard, and speaking to your pastor is a way of honoring the position the church has in the lives of its members.

  6. Disrespect looks the other way and covers for him. Honor holds him to a higher standard.. YES!! SO WELL STATED!!!

  7. I was wondering what are your thoughts on a wife who chooses to go to a Baptist church instead of going to church with her Church of Christ husband? Is the latter denomination considered a false religion? I’m not sure why she married him in the first place knowing these differences existed. I ask these questions because this is a situation in my husband’s family. His grandparents attend separate churches.

  8. Lee,
    I have known of couples who attend different churches, and we should not jump to conclusions. It may be that they have reached an impasse and this is a peaceful and mutually agreed upon settlement.

  9. How about when a husband asks her to do / not do something that is contrary to her conscience but isn’t clear in Scripture?

    Your definition of the only time she should submit being when she doesn’t want to covers the times they make decisions together and are in agreement but doesn’t cover the situations where he is insisting that she / they do something she is not in faith for.

    According to your definition, I wouldn’t say I’ve never submitted in my marriage. I can’t recall anything specific but I’ve yielded to him and he’s yielded to me on different occasions. I’m accountable to him and he’s accountable to me too. It would be just as wrong for him to go around me in something that concerned us both as it would be for me to go around him. Not because I’m the head but because we are ONE.

    Radical unity should never be subliminated to to an authority / submission paradigm. Nor should a wife be asked to surrender her conscience and personal responsibility as a moral agent in the name of submission. Your examples are very clear, but life is not always so.

    Ultimately I, as well as he, am accountable to God for the decisions I make, whether following or leading in them. Being married doesn’t void your responsibility to God for your decisions. The fact is, Jesus submitted to someone who was perfect and their oneness was complete, never disjointed. Our marriages are symbols, and imperfect ones at that.

    Even when I disagree with him and even should I be unable to follow him in a matter of conscience, I am still to honor him, respect him, love him because he bears the image of God. And because, if he is also a believer, he is my brother in the Lord.

  10. What if a (believing) husband doesn’t forbid his wife to teach his children, but doesn’t take up the Biblical requirement to train them himself? Should the wife step in? Or wait silently and pray while their children’s formative years slip by?

  11. Dear anonymous,
    Both parents are to be involved in teaching the children, but mothers often have far more opportunities than dads. Timothy was brought to faith by a godly mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5). If Timothy’s father was an unbeliever (Acts 16:1), and his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois were responsible for bringing him up in the faith, how much more can a Christian mother do for her children with a Christian father, even if he is not involved in their education. So I would urge you to train up your children and not wait around silently. This is not you “stepping in” but doing your duties before God.

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