Duty of Parents to Children

Part Two of Julie attempting to make the Puritans more accessible to other sleepy mommies. (See Duty to Wives for a much wordier prelude.)  This is another piece from John Bunyan’s Christian Behavior.

If you are a parent—a father, or a mother—then you must consider your calling as a believer in light of that fact.  Your children have souls, and they must be born of God as well as born of you, or they will perish.  Further, unless you are very careful in your behavior to them and in front of them, they may perish because of you: this thought should provoke you to both instruct them and to correct them.

Instruct them as the Scripture says

To “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord,” and to do this diligently, “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Ephesians 6:4, Deuteronomy 6:7).  To this end:

  • Use terms and words that are easy to understand.  Don’t talk in pretentious flowery language; that will drown your children.  God spoke thus easily to His children (Hosea 12:10) and Paul to his (1 Corinthians 3:2).
  • Be careful not to fill their heads with imaginative and unprofitable things, for this will teach them to be imprudently bold and proud, rather than sober and humble.  Talk to them about the innate sinfulness of man; talk to them about sin, death, and hell; of a crucified Savior, and the promise of life through faith: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
  • Fill all your instruction with gentleness and patience, “lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). And,
  • Work to convince them by reasonable discussion, that the things you teach them are not fables but realities: not only that, but realities so far above what we can enjoy here, that all things, even if they were a thousand times better than they are, are still not worthy to be compared with the glory and worthiness of the things of God.  Isaac was so holy in front of his children, that when his son Jacob remembered God, he remembered Him as “the Fear of his father Isaac” (Genesis 31:53).  When children can think of their parents, and bless God for that instruction and good they have received from them, it is not only profitable for children, but also an honor and comfort to parents: “The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice; he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him” (Proverbs 23:24-25).

The duty of correction

  • See if fair words will win them from evil.  This is God’s way with His children (Jeremiah 25:4, 5).
  • Let the words you speak to them in correction be sober, few, and pertinent, always adding some relevant sentence of Scripture; for instance, if they lie, then something like Revelation 21:8, 27; or if they refuse to hear the Word, something like 2 Chronicles 25:14-16.
  • Take care that they not be friends with those who are rude and ungodly, rather, with soberness show them a continual dislike of their naughtiness, and often cry out to them, as God did of old to His children, “Oh, do not do this abomination that I hate!” (Jeremiah 44:4)
  • Mix everything you say with such love, pity, and a spirit of anxiousness, that as much as possible, you may convince them that your dislike is not of their person, but of their sin.  This is God’s way (Psalm 99:8).
  • Constantly try to impress upon them the day of their death and the judgment to come.  Thus God also deals with His (Deuteronomy 32:29).
  • If you are driven to physical punishment, be cautious and clear-headed, soberly showing them a) their fault; b) how contrary it is to your heart to deal with them in that fashion, c) that you do what you do out of conscience to God and in love of their souls, and d) telling them, that if they could have been won over by any other way, that the severe punishment would not have been.  In all this you will be sure to not only afflict their bodies, but also their hearts, and since it is the way God deals with His children, it is the most likely to accomplish the desired goal.
  • Pray. Follow all this with prayer for them, and leave the issue to God: “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15).

Things to avoid

  • Be sure that the sin which you try to correct is not one they learned from you.  Many children learn the sins of their parents, the very sins for which the parents beat and chastise.
  • Be careful not to smile at them for small faults, and encourage them, so that your behavior will not be an encouragement to them to commit even greater sins.
  • Don’t use unsavory and ugly words in your correction of them, such as railing at them, calling them names, and so on: this is of the devil.
  • Don’t mix chiding and threatening words with lightness and laughter: this will harden their hearts.  Don’t correct them too long or too often, but be relevant and very serious.

The Duty of Wives

John Bunyan’s Christian Behavior is a marvelously useful little work.  Unfortunately, it is also hundreds of years old and difficult to read.  Here I attempt to modernize the most immediately relevant part, and I hope to continue and add on some of the other parts.  I have had to add phrases here and there and try to simplify some things, because I think Bunyan’s assumptions of his audience’s foreknoweledge is different and inaccurate for today’s audience, and I have also changed the Scripture text to the modern ESV (modernizing the old English seemed pointless when we have our own even more accurate translation available).  But I’ve tried to understand and put forth what Bunyan intended to communicate as accurately as my grasp of English allows, without adding or taking away anything on my own.  Let me only add that there is some very useful advice hiding in the “Objections” section even for us whose situation is far from objectionable.

First, let me speak to the wives.  The wife is bound by Scripture to her husband, as long as he lives (Romans 7:2).  Therefore her work and place is in the family.

Let me discuss the things which the wife should conscientiously observe in the way she treats her husband.

She must look upon him as her head and lord.

“The head of a wife is her husband” (1 Corinthians 11:3), and so Sarah called Abraham lord (1 Peter 3:6).

She should therefore be subject to him, as is fit in the Lord.

Paul says, “wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22; 1 Peter 3:1; Colossians 3:18).  As I said earlier [in a different section of the book], if the husband walks toward his wife in a becoming manner, he will be an ordinance of God to her, in addition to the relation of a husband, that will show her how Christ loves His church.  Similarly, if the wife walks with her husband in a becoming manner, she will preach the obedience of the church to her husband. “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Ephesians 5:24).

Run away from these evil tendencies:

A wandering and gossiping spirit.

      This is evil in the church, and it is also evil in a wife, because she is the figure of a church.  Christ loves to have his spouse keep at home, i.e. to be with him in the faith and practice of His things – not to be ranging and meddling with the things of Satan.  So, too, wives should not be prone to wandering and gossiping outside their home.  Proverbs 7:11 says, “She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home.”  Wives should be about their husbands’ business at home, as Paul says, let them “be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands.”  Why?  So “that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:5).

An idle, talking, or squabbling tongue.

      This is an odious habit in all women, married or not, if they behave like parrots and do not control their tongues.  But the wife, who knows that her husband is her lord and over her just as Christ is over the church, should control her tongue.  Do you think it is good for the church to ramble and repeat nonsense against Christ rather than being silent before Him, looking to His laws, rather than inventing its own fictions?  Why should the wife behave any differently toward her husband? “Let a woman,” Paul writes, “learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” (1 Timothy 2:11-12).  It is a horrifying thing to see a woman so much as once in her life to strive to be over her husband; she ought in everything to be in subjection to him, and to do everything she does as if her ability, license, and authority is from her husband.  This is her glory, to be under him, just as the church is under Christ; “she opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:26).

Taking on immodest apparel or behavior.

      This is evil both outside the home and inside.  Outside, it not only gives a poor example, but tempts others to lust and vulgar behavior.  In the home, it offends a godly husband, and encourages ungodliness in children.  So, “women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire,” (1 Timothy 2:9-10), and, “do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands” (1 Peter 3:3-5).

Do not think, however, that because of the subjection I have just discussed, that I intend women should be their husbands’ slaves.  Women are their husbands’ yoke fellows, their flesh and their bones, and he is not a man that hates his own flesh or is bitter against it (Ephesians 5:29).  Let every man “however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).  The wife is master of the house next to her husband, and is to rule all in his absence: in his presence, she is to guide the house, to bring up the children, provided she does it so that no adversary can reproach her (1 Timothy 5:10, 13).  “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. A gracious woman gets honor, and an excellent wife is the crown of her husband,” (Proverbs 31: 10, 11:16, 12:4).

Objection: But my husband is an unbeliever. What can I do?

In that case, what I have said is even more important for you.  Your husband as an unbeliever will be even more watchful to take your mistakes and weaknesses and throw them as dirt in the face of God and your Savior.  He will be apt to make the worst of each of your words, actions, and gestures, and all this will harden his heart even further and prejudice him and cause opposition to his own salvation.  So Peter said, “wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1-2).  Your husband’s salvation or damnation is strongly influenced by your manner and behavior before him.  So, if there is any fear of God in you, or any love for your husband, seek to win him to the love of his own salvation by your behavior full of meekness, modesty, holiness, and humble behavior toward your husband.  By doing this, “how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband” (1 Corinthians 7:16).

Objection: But my husband is not just an unbeliever, he is very prone to be contrary to God, to be easily irritated, and quick to anger. I don’t know how to speak to him, or behave in front of him.

Indeed, there are some wives in great slavery because of their ungodly husbands, and we should always pity and pray for them so that they may be even more watchful and careful in all their ways.

1. Be very faithful to him in all the things of this life.

2. Patiently bear his unruly and sinful behavior: remember that you are alive in Christ and he is dead in sin; you are principled by grace, he is principled by sin.  But, seeing grace is stronger than sin, and virtue is stronger than vice, do not be overcome by his vileness, but overcome it with your virtues (Romans 12:21).  It is a shame for those who are filled with grace to be as careless with their words as those who do not have that grace: “whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (Proverbs 14:29).

3. A wise woman will observe convenient times and seasons, if at any time you want to speak to your husband for his conviction, concerning anything, whether good or evil. There is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7).  Now for the right timing for your intentions, here are some thoughts:

  • Consider his disposition, and approach him when he is the least in the thrall of those sins that are so bothersome to you.  Abigail would not speak a word to her disagreeable husband until he was no longer under the influence of alcohol, and was in a sober temper (1 Samuel 25:36-37).  If you don’t take heed of his disposition, that’s why so much of what you say seems to be ineffectual.
  • Talk to him when he’s being loving and friendly toward you, and when he proves his love and delight in you.  This is what Esther did with her husband the king, and she prevailed (Esther 5:3,6; 7:1,2).
  • Notice when he is seized by conviction, and follow his conviction up with sound and serious words from Scripture.  This is similar to how Manoah’s wife dealt with her husband (Judges 13:22,23).  Even then, a) let your words be few, and b) let nothing you say be domineering over him, but still take care to speak to him respectfully as your head and lord, pleading and entreating him, and c) speak in such a sympathetic spirit, with deep and obvious affection for his well-being, that the entire manner of your speech and behavior toward him is itself an argument that you are speaking in love as one who is aware of his misery, and enflamed with the desire in your soul for him to be converted to Christ.  Further, d) follow your words and your behavior with prayer for his soul, and e) continue to keep your behavior holy, pure, and modest before him.

Objection: But my husband is an addict, a fool, and can’t even hold down a stable job.

Still, you must know he is your head, your lord, and your husband.You must take great care that you don’t want to steal his authority.  He was not made for you, for you to rule over him, but he was made to be your husband, and rule over you (1 Timothy 2:12, 1 Corinthians 11:3, 8).So, even though you may have more discretion and ability than he does, you have to keep in mind that you, and all that is yours, is to be used under his authority.  Even “everything” (Ephesians 5:24).  Be careful that what you do is not done to your name and your credit, but to his; not to your praise but to his; arranging everything so that by your hard work and wisdom, no one may discover your husband’s weaknesses due to your actions.  “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones” and, “she does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” (Proverbs 12:4, 31:12).

Therefore act, and behave, as one who is under the power and authority of your husband.

Conclusion

As far as your behavior to your children and your servants: you are a parent and an employer, and so you ought to consider yourself.  Because the believing wife is a figure of the church, she ought, as the church, to nourish and instruct her children and her servants, just as the church.  And, actually, the wife being always at home, has a great advantage in this task – so do it, and may the Lord prosper your obedience.

This is my job. And it’s a job.

Seth is a little quicker than I am to jump in and proclaim that I do work a “full-time job,” which I appreciate, even as I feel a little sheepish about it myself.  Although if I was doing all the cleaning and housework and 24-hour-a-day nannying for any other family but my own, I’d definitely think it was a job!

Part of my problem is that I feel like home-work is a calling and duty in itself.  Outside jobs may be the way husbands fulfill their own duties to provide for their families, but the actual job itself isn’t the duty–it’s the means to the end.  My “job,” on the other hand, is the end.  (Not the ultimate end; home-work is just my first line in the grand scheme of serving God, but it’s still a specific and direct calling.)

Anyway, all of this has hindered me a bit from realizing one important truth until it completely hit me upside of the head last week: this is a job.

I mean that in a “negative” sense.  This is a job, in the sense that it’s a lot of work.  It’s hours and hours of work, every day.  It’s just like life at the office: some days you watch the clock and die for a break.  Some days you’re exhausted or sick and all you want to do is go back to bed.

Maybe because I used to work outside the home, or maybe because even my inside-the-home work used to be so much simpler, I’ve really struggled with the occasional monotony and unavoidableness of this job of mine.  This is motherhood, after all; noble and divine calling and all that.  This is supposed to be fun!  I’m supposed to be enjoying every second, right?  If it’s not all joy all the time, then either I’m doing something wrong, or somebody’s asking too much of me!

And no.  In all seriousness, I can’t compare working at home-work to the office work I used to do–home-work is much much much much more demanding, but it also has a lot of joys and giggles and very deep rewards that the best office job in the world could never offer.  But sometimes, however rarely or commonly, sometimes it’s hard.  Sometimes I just gotta suck it up and get it done because it is my job.  Just because the delirious joy of changing poopy diapers isn’t happening doesn’t mean I get to stop working.

Home-work is a discipline, just like so many other aspects of serving God.  Sometimes we pray because we’re just outflowing with delight to talk to our Creator but sometimes we pray because we’re told to.  Sometimes we open our Bibles with glee and sometimes we open them and read with frustration at our total lack of connection to the text.  I’ve always struggled with doing any of these things that are “supposed” to be a joy at times that the joy just isn’t coming, and home-work is another one I’m adding to that list.  Put another way, I’m learning that sometimes, home-work is something I do because I have to, because it glorifies God and serves my family, even when I’d rather be tucked under the covers snoozing away. 

It’s better to enjoy the work, but it’s necessary to do it whether I enjoy it or not.  It is a job, and sometimes you have to go to work and do your best even when you’d much rather be on vacation.  And in that sense, I desperately need to see it as a job, and not just a very busy activity of leisure!

Reflections on being a stay-at-home wife.

sahw
Recently I read some discussions on the idea of being a stay-at-home wife–not a stay-at-home mom, but being just a married, childless woman who stays at home all day while her husband goes to work.  It’s an idea that gets pretty highly criticized, often for good reasons.
It’s also something I was for the two years between our move northward (when S graduated and got a “real” job) and the birth of E.
I don’t regret that time.  I think it’s good when women can throw themselves–their entire selves–into the work of their home and of supporting their husbands.  This article describes it well.  In my own case, I was recovering from cancer treatment and then dealing with a pretty throw-uppy pregnancy at the same time that I was a SAHW, but there are some things I still wish I’d had more determination and wisdom to accomplish.  Reading the articles made me think about those things pretty consciously, especially since I’m trying so hard right now to get my house under better control!
1) Made my own cookbook binder.
More specifically, I wish I’d accumulated a good thirty or so recipes that we liked, that were kid-friendly, and that were easy to prepare with toddlers and their unpredictable schedules.  Then I wish I’d arranged those recipes into “weeks” with matching grocery lists categorized by area of the store.  I’ve been trying to do something like this ever since, but I don’t seem to have quite the coherence of thought to pull it off–at least not yet!
2) Created some income-generating WAHM-type ventures.
Specifically, some things that would require little or no continued intervention from me–something that a mother of very young children could continue to maintain without it infringing on her household duties.  A blog, perhaps, as I’m trying to do now, or what I think would have been really ideal is if I’d written down some of the patterns for the various knitting projects I was inventing at the time, formalized, sized, and sold them.  An ongoing source of revenue with a pretty big time commitment to initialize (time I genuinely don’t have now) but then little or no further attention needed.  Or, more pleasantly, I could have polished up and prepared for publication some of my short stories or essays–not that they would have gotten published, but at least I could have tried!
3) Engrained some really good housekeeping habits.
This is one that really makes me kick myself, because I really should have had a handle on the housework before kids came along.  No reason at all not to.  I should have had routines, skills, and HABITS.
4) Made good, close friends with women with very young children.
We were planning on having kids as soon as we were “allowed” to, but for some reason I didn’t realize at all how hard it would be to make good friendships with a toddler around.  I wish I’d planned ahead by trying to forge some friendships back then that would have carried over well to this stage of our life.  I did try to get very involved with church and Bible studies and so on, until I got too sick to go out, but I didn’t aim my energy very well or pursue things nearly as hard as I could have.
5) Sorted through my old stuff and downsized.
We pretty much filled up the house with just the two of us and our stuff, but now we’re going on five with the same amount of space.  Needless to say, there’s been a lot of downsizing and our priorities about what to keep and what to get rid of have changed drastically.  (It used to be, “is it possible we’ll ever in a million years need this, want this, or know someone who does?”  Now it’s more like, “do we really actually use this very much, like once a month, or is it really expensive to replace?”)  So I’m not sure that if I’d gone through things back then that I would have had adequate perspective to achieve quite the state of stufflessness that I’m wishing for now–but if I could have, man do I wish I’d tackled some of the many boxes in the basement, and had the nerve to throw away some of my moldy old toys.  I have the vague idea that now, since they’re tucked away nearly invisibly in the basement, we won’t tackle them for eons, if ever.  And have you tried going through anything with toddlers around?  Everything is an exciting new toy, and they pull everything back out of the trash.
If you were ever a SAHW, what do you wish you’d done better with your time?  Or if you never had the opportunity, what would you have liked to have accomplished?

Submit in Everything?

Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 

[Ephesians 5:24, ESV]

I can just imagine the hordes of feminists getting out their pens and crossing this verse out of their Bibles. Not only does Paul say that wives are to submit to their husbands, but he explains exactly what he means: in everything. Can’t really build any loopholes out of that! The Greek is equally plain and incontrovertible; everything means everything!

So, we have a command from God to submit to our husbands in everything. Let me the first to say that I fail miserably at this! Everyday, probably: very time I’m lazy and spend time on my own pursuits and the housekeeping goes a bit awry, every time I get unjustly miffed at Seth for some little thing or another, every time he asks me to do something–or I know it would please him if I did something–and I don’t do it, I am failing to submit in everything. In short, this is a hard command to follow! It infiltrates every moment of our homeworking, every breath of our marriages, our finances, our families… that’s what everything means.
While the command is clear, I find myself asking two questions tonight:

  1. Are there exceptions to “everything”?
  2. What motivates me to such a massive calling?

These aren’t exegetical questions so much as heart questions, so my answers are not theological so much as personal, although I hope they’re scripturally sound!


Are there exceptions to “everything”?

I think this is sort of a trick question, really, although I suspect it’s the most often asked. The only exception that’s is biblical is, of course, when one’s husband is asking one to sin. Clearly, Christ is our Lord far and above the position of our husbands, and submitting to Him is both first and limitless. And since Christ is Lord of our husbands as well (whether Christian or not), I think it’s fair to say that biblical wifely submission in such a case is to obey God rather than man.

But once we get out of the area of direct sin, things are far less clear. What if our husbands want to teach something we think is theologically wrong to our children? Again, there are times when this would be clear–if our husbands forbid us to tell them about Christ, for instance–but what if it was a more minor point of theology, or even something that barely even touches on theology, like politics? Especially for those of us who tend to be more opinionated, it can be a deep struggle to have a disagreement even in such a small subject.

The most helpful thing to me in these situations is to remember that unsubmission should always be a very sorrowful concept. If we are choosing to act contrary to our husbands, and if we believe that we are doing so out of righteousness, then our hearts should ache unbearably! Our husbands are choosing sin, we’re being ideologically completely separated from them, we aren’t happy with them, they aren’t happy with us, and we’re losing the opportunity to move forward in Christ together. In other words, there is no room for gloating, unholy glee, rashness, or self-centered anger. If our hearts aren’t breaking with every act of disobedience, then we’re not being unsubmissive for the right reasons.

To bring this home a bit–I remember one time when I told Seth something along the lines of I think what you’re doing is wrong, in the sense of sin-wrong, and I’m not going to have any part of it. Which sounds really good doctrinally, except that I was saying it because I was frustrated and you’d have been searching my heart for a long time before you found a holy motive. So was I right? Absolutely not!

Secondly, I think that it’s important to remember that nothing should be important to us apart from God. All of our wants and desires–whether mundane, like a fondness for chocolate sundaes, or serious, like a burning desire for motherhood–all these things we are called to subordinate to God’s will. All these things we are called to abandon to God. Not to stop liking them, necessarily, but to order them in our minds so that if, in God’s sovereignty, they are denied us, we find it joy to forsake them for His sake.

In other words, while submitting to our husbands involves varying degrees of self-denial, it’s nothing more than we should already be prepared to do (joyously!) as Christians. The wants we’re talking about abandoning are nothing in comparison to the sweetness of obeying God. And submitting to our husbands is obeying God. This strikes very near to my own heart, honestly, because I often don’t consider things that far. If Seth asks me to do something, I tend to consider it as him asking me to do something, me giving up something I like for him, when really I need to view it as obedience to God.

What motivates me to such a massive calling?

Submission isn’t natural–check out Genesis 3:16–and submission in everything can sound downright unpalatable. So why do we do it? This is one of those areas of theology that must sound absolutely batty to nonbelievers; we give up “everything,” and what do we get in return? What motivates us? Moreover, when we feel unmotivated, how can we learn to enjoy submitting to our husbands?

There’s the obvious answer: heavenly reward. God will reward us for obeying Him. But I think it goes beyond that, and so it’s the here-and-now I want to focus on tonight. As I was studying to write this entry, I came across the following passage in John Gill’s commentary on the verse:

Her head, being wholly dependent upon him, and entirely resigned to him, and receiving all from him; from whom alone is all her expectation of provision, protection, comfort, and happiness; wherefore she has respect to all his commands, and esteems all his precepts concerning all things to be right; and yields a cheerful, voluntary, sincere, and hearty obedience to them; arising from a principle of love to him, and joined with honour, fear, and reverence of him.

To be less archaic, Gill is saying that since a wife is dependent upon her husband for “provision, protection, comfort, and happiness,” she must therefore do what he says, agree with his opinions and obey them, because she loves/honors/fears/reveres him.

As I read, I thought, hmm, Mr. Gill, that sounds rather akin to the philosophy that we should do good works in an attempt to “pay God back” saving us. Like a cosmic thank-you note from us to God. And since John Piper rather throroughly debunked that idea (excellent book, by the way), I’m not sure that I agree with Gill here. Or maybe I’m reading him more chauvinistically than he intended. But while there is a sense in which wives do subordinate themselves to their husbands out of thankfulness for their provision, I think that motivation alone falls far short.

The parallel Paul makes in this passage between Christ/Church and husband/wife is unspeakably valuable. As believers, why do we do good works? Because they please God. And why does that please us? Because our delight is the Lord; pleasing Him is the sweetest thing we know. And yet that very truth is one that we have to learn a bit as we grow in Christ. Sometimes our thick skulls forget that there is no higher pleasure. Sometimes we do the wrong thing in pursuit of something infinitely less grand. And sometimes we do the right thing trusting that it will bring us the most delight, even though we don’t yet know it experientially.

Very similarly, in the sphere of marriage, pleasing our husbands is the sweetest thing we know. Just as we were created human to worship and glorify God, we were created woman to be a helper to man (Genesis 2:18)! As wives, the height of our gender, our identity as female, is to submit to our husbands. The church is the Bride of Christ to submit to and glorify Him; wives are examples of that relationship. Therefore, if submission doesn’t bring us happiness, our worldview needs changed! As Christians, we sin because we forget that our joy is in pleasing the Lord; as wives, we balk at submission because we forget that our joy is in pleasing our husbands.

But how do we get that truth into our minds? What can we do if we don’t feel joy in submission? I’m sure there are many answers to this question, but I would like to propose two.

The first is this: earnest prayer that God would change our hearts. It sounds cliche, but truly, every step on the road to eternity teaches me more and more that God is sovereign, and that He delights in answering our prayers. When things seem hopeless–when we need a massive personality overhaul, for instance!–God is faithful.

The second is, very simply, to seek out and savor the joy when we do submit. Here’s an example: when everything’s going crazy and I really don’t feel like I have time to get dinner on the table, but I do it anyway, I’ve got to treasure Seth’s smile and appreciation; treasure his happiness more than I disliked the “inconveniences” of achieving it. Then the next day when the same thing happens again, I can anticipate that joy as I work towards it. The joy sweetens the work, until it becomes such a state of mind that the work begins to sweeten the joy.

How awesome the gift of submission becomes once we treasure and learn from it as God intended!

As Christ is the Head of the Church

For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
[Ephesians 5:23]

So why is it that God has called one-half of all the people in the world to go against their rebellious natures and put themselves under the authority of the other half of the world? Does God think women can’t make good decisions on their own? Are women just not emotionally stable enough to lead? Are we stupider than men? Or, conversely, does the idea of women being in control just bother men so much that God knew they couldn’t handle it?

I’ve heard these sorts of arguments, and I think that many times when we’re struggling with submission–when we know we should and just find the desire lacking–these questions come to our minds. Submission doesn’t always seem fair. It’s easy to be resentful and think that joyfully submitting must be like asking a slave to be patriotic. And the world doesn’t help. They think we’re nuts. I went to a secular university, and let me tell you, my non-feminism didn’t always go over too well! I’m very sure that it cost me a few grades and made me a few enemies amongst the professors, especially in the English department. This is the world in which we live. “Women can do anything men can do–and do it better,” they insist.

Then there’s the standard legalistic reaction to the world’s errant philosophy, which takes a dollop of true misogyny and mixes it with broad generalizations, missing the beauty of femininity in an attempt to avoid feminism. Women were made in the image of God (Genesis 5:1-2 ): rational, emotional, soul-imbibed human beings. God didn’t decree that we would be the submitters because we’re dumb, irresponsible, and over-emotional! There are so many women in the Bible and throughout history that completely disprove that notion.

So why submission? Because God had a bigger, beautiful purpose to accomplish.

Paul equates the husband to Christ, and the wife to the Church. That’s the “for,” the ultimate reason why we are to submit. In creating marriage, God made sure that His divine love for us would be obvious everywhere we turn, lost or saved. We see marriages around us, and we see how God loves us faithfully! We see marriages, and we see what our relationship with Him is supposed to be! As wives, we have a solemn and joyful duty to illustrate in our daily lives the way that the Church adores and serves and is faithful to her divine Husband. As husbands, they have an equally solemn and joyful duty to illustrate in their daily lives the way Christ unrelentingly and selflessly loves and protects the church–a taller order than submission, if you ask me!

We are called to submit to our husbands specifically as a witness of the submission of the Church to Christ. Wives all around the world at this very moment are displaying in the universal language of action the way that the Bride of Christ submits to her Bridegroom! By His grace, God has written all over the world a great display of redemption and obedience, and this is our part to play. It’s exciting, not inhibiting. It’s part of our created purpose, not a millstone around our necks! God has planned this from the foundation of the world.

There is nothing less dehumanizing than godly submission. Submission is a very real part of what our humanity is at its very essence! God could have created us all to be alike, and left the world to flounder with no idea of how He works amongst humanity, but instead, out of grace alone, He made an illustration and put it in the middle of marriage–the world’s oldest and most abiding human bond–and then, adding grace to grace, He gave us the privilege and duty of carrying it out!

Every time we joyfully submit to our husbands, it becomes a little clearer in our hearts how the Church is designed to submit to Christ. And every time a non-believer sees us being submissive, they see beautiful truths in action that they haven’t seen firsthand. Our submission should be a continual lesson for us as well as a witness to the world!

The beauty in this transcends the merely theological: it affects our day-to-day living and gives us hope and encouragement. At times when submission “stings”–when I totally disagree with Seth–I can take comfort in the fact that even if the particular instance of submitting seems useless from my point of view, it is still serving the primary goal of teaching the Gospel to my heart, to Seth’s heart, and to the world.

Wifely submission is a beautiful illustration of an even more beautiful example of God’s grace. May we live it with thankfulness, not resentment!

“Submit” to Your Own Husbands

Now, the question of a dictionary-like definition of submission. We could just look it up in an actual dictionary, but that would just tell us what G. & C. Merriam and Noah Webster think it means, not what God says it means!

The word here is hupotasso (plus some funny characters I can’t get to show up). Hupo is a preposition meaning “under” or “beneath,” and tasso means “to arrange in an orderly manner, that is to assign or dispose (to a certain position or lot)” (via Strong’s). Or to paraphrase and be verbose, the word literally means to deliberately and carefully arrange beneath.

The word is the same one used to describe Jesus’s relationship to his parents in Luke 2:51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. (ESV) And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. (ESV) (imagine being a completely perfect being submitting to imperfect parents!); in Luke 10:20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (ESV) Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (ESV) Jesus uses the word to describe how the demons are subject to the seventy sent-out; in Romans 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope (ESV) For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope (ESV) Paul uses the word to describe how creation is subject to depravity; in Romans 13:1 [13:1]Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (ESV) [13:1]Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (ESV), he uses the word to describe how we are to submit to our government; in 1 Corinthians 14:34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. (ESV) the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. (ESV) the word is used in telling women to keep silent in the church; in 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (ESV) For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (ESV) we learn that God subjected all creation under Christ’s feet and that Christ shall be subjected to God; Titus 2:9 Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, (ESV) Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, (ESV) exhorts servants to be subjected to their masters; in James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (ESV) Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (ESV) we are to submit ourselves to God; in 1 Peter 5:5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (ESV) Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (ESV) we are to be subject to our elders. All the same Greek word.

It’s worth noting that the word used to describe the relationship of children to parents is hupakouo, which means “to hear under… to listen attentively… to heed or conform.” The word is used in many of the same contexts as hupotasso (including in relation to the spirits obeying Christ, servants obeying their masters, the Christian’s relationship to God, and Sarah’s relationship to Abraham), but is never used to describe the “submit to one another” relationship of Christians, nor (except for Sarah) to describe the relationship of a wife to a husband.

Conclusively, then, we are to “submit” to our husbands in the same sense that:

  • we submit to the government
  • we submit to our masters
  • we submit to our elders
  • we submit to God
  • we behave in church
  • Christ submitted to his parents
  • Christ is submitted to God
  • demons submitted to those Christ sent
  • creation submitted to depravity
  • creation is submitted under Christ’s feet
The word for submit is transitive; it requires an object. Submit yourselves. Place yourselves in subjection to your husband. Here’s some other English synonyms from the Greek-English dictionary for hupotasso: arrange under, subordinate, submit to one’s control, yield to one’s admonition, obey, be under obedience; subdue unto. The sense I get is that wifely submission is, at its essence, appointing oneself below, which reminds me of nothing so much as Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (ESV) Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (ESV).

To summarize: we are called to subject ourselves to the government, our masters, elders, our husbands, and God. All the same word, and all emphasized multiple times throughout scripture.

So what does submission actually mean, practically speaking? It’s active: submission is continually bringing ourselves under the authority of our husbands. It’s orderly: submission is joyfully recognizing that we are “outranked,” in a sense. It’s illustrated: we have countless examples of “submission” described in the Bible; wives aren’t the only ones called to submit. It’s selfless: the very nature of submission requires us to put someone else first, and regard their counsel and wishes as higher than our own.
It’s easy at this point to wonder if wives are some kind of second-class citizens: why did God decree that our husbands would be over us? Are we just not as good? More on that… in the next entry. 😉