Wives, Submit?

Angus Buchan (and others) may be right.  Perhaps the biblical command for wives to submit to their husbands is a valid principle and God’s preferred way of families operating.  I have my own views which aren’t particularly important.  There are, however two problems with the stance of Buchan and others.

First, it is rather over the top to suggest (as some letter-writers have) that, because wives don’t submit to their husbands, the family is breaking up and the world is going to pot.  That’s rather like the Gospel story of the woman caught in the act of adultery.  I like to think Luke intended us to see the irony in the fact that there appears to have been no man involved.  Could it perhaps be the failure of men to learn how to love that has caused the breakup of the family and the world going to pot?  We have a recent horror case of a woman jailed for adultery in Afghanistan because she had a child as a result of rape, and then being offered pardon on condition that she corrects her situation by marrying the father of the child (her rapist).  For some this is simply the logical next step in blaming women for all the world’s woes.

The other issue is that, even if men do have a position of authority and responsibility in the home, men of all faiths and those of none have so abused our position that we can no longer be trusted with the responsibility.  We have the all-too-short 16 Days of Activism Against Women and Child Abuse precisely because women and children need urgent protection against men, including (and often especially) their husbands and fathers.  Submissive wives, and submissive women generally, tend to be trodden on and abused.  As men we have lost the right to tell women about any duty to submit.

What we (and Buchan particularly since his is a ministry to men) should be doing is teaching men to love their wives.  That is the important second part of Paul’s admonition to the Corinthian Church.  It is a message men desperately need to hear.  I confess that it’s a message I thought I knew during my first marriage but failed dismally to practice.

There will always be controversy about submission, but love is an unequivocal call to all of us.  When we, as men, get that right, when we love our wives as we have been loved, no one will have to tell anyone to submit; there will be loving cooperation all round.  But until we get it right we are not entitled to tell our wives what they should or should not be doing. 

Forgive the analogy, but it’s rather like a thief insisting that his victims must forgive him.  The thief’s ‘duty’ is remorse and reparation.  If he gets that right forgiveness may follow but it will always be a gift freely given, never demanded.  If one is counselling victims of theft (or worse) one may want to lead them towards forgiveness in order to help them move beyond the trauma.  But if one is working with perpetrators, forgiveness doesn’t come into it.  One helps them face the consequences of their actions whether they are forgiven or not.

Perhaps we spend too much time worrying about how to be head of the house, and too little time asking, “How can I love my wife?”  In an article entitled, “What is a man?” (Witness, 18 September 2009) Suntosh Pillay wrote about “encouraging new forms of masculinity that are more adaptive, more flexible, more balanced and more engaged with the people around them, which in turn allows men to better understand themselves and their identities.”  That I would suggest is an appropriate focus for a ministry to men.  Let’s keep clear of what our wives should or shouldn’t be doing, at least until we get this right.

(This article was published in The Witness on 14 December 2011–I have made a couple of amendments above)


Filed under Articles, Family

8 responses to “Wives, Submit?

  1. Pingback: Messy Faith | Wondering Preacher

  2. Another thought – so many people ask “what happened to the man?” – referring to the woman taken in adultery. It seems obvious to me that the man had already been stoned. There would have been no need for witnesses or a trial if they had been “taken in the very act”. The cuckolded husband would probably have been the first to cast a stone at the man. But, before they dragged her out to kill her, someone had a bright idea – “let’s get this Jesus into a corner and see how he handles this one!”.

    The Jews, just like all of us, wouldn’t have missed the chance to howl after someone’s blood, as they did. not long after, with the Lord himself.


  3. When we receive Christ as Lord and Saviour, it is essentially a response to the call to “submit” to 1. His benign Lordship and 2. To His desire to bless us with everything that constitutes an “abundant” and eternal life.
    A long time ago i came to realise that a wife’s call to “submit” to her own husband was exactly that, to stop resisting, and submit to her husband’s desire to provide for her and to bless her in every way he knows how. It’s very frustrating for a husband to offer his support, his gestures of honouring her (even in something as small as opening a door for her), and to have it rejected – “I can look after myself, thank you very much”. Godly submission is opening yourself up to receiving God’s best through others. It is NOT submitting to oppression, which is what the world would have us believe it to be.


    • Hi Paul,
      Thanks for stopping by. I think you are right to relate it to the letting go in submission to God (then it applies to all of us). My focus here is that whether or not wives submit is not my busiuness, or the business of a men’s ministry. My business is only with how to love my wife and, if that means ‘allowing’ her to reject my offers of help/support/door opening, so be it. I’m grateful that my wife accepts these simple acts of kindness. But for some they evoke a sense of oppression and control that is hurtful, so I would not force them on anyone.


      • You say elsewhere that “I don’t think we preach God’s love enough”. Many people would disagree with that, saying that we God’s love is all we preach! But I know what you mean. In reality we don’t preach the true meaning of God’s love, we proclaim a travesty of God’s love. We think we’re very clever at defining God’s love, but by putting Him in a box we have created an idol. God’s love is mystery, unfathomable and that to me is why it is so very lovely. I guess maybe it’s not so much preaching God’s love as it is saying – “You have a need? Come with me to God, come taste and see and experience what I could never explain. You have to come and receive it in person”. Perhaps a simple testimony is more effective than an explanation.

        By the way, have you been on the Walk to Emmaus – a three-day journey with Jesus? I can highly recommend it, for me it was a case of encountering our God of grace in person, a place where God’s love and servant-heart came very near.

        Just after my “Walk” I had a dream. I arrived at heaven’s gates, and Jesus told me to remove my shoes. I asked “Because I am on holy ground?” “No,” He said, “because I want to wash your feet”

        That’s LOVE


        • Agreed. Thank you.
          Yes, Jen and I have both been on an Emmaus Walk. I found it to be a deeply moving experience affirming God’s love in real and practical ways.
          I touched on it in a post that has similar sentiments to this one.:
          By the way why are you awake so early in the morning?


        • Our Evangelism Explosion NZ site, ee.org.nz has been hacked into (don’t go there, you’ll get a malware warning), and lying awake, the solution hit me, so I got up and took the first steps to getting it sorted – getting the site to point here in the meantime – eenz.eeifw.org
          A lot of things happen at 2 in the morning for me, my brain seems to be at its right-brain best at that time.


  4. Pingback: How to be a good Husband « Reality Inspiration

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