Be careful with the submission caveat

It is so common for complementarians to say, “wives, submit to your husband UNLESS they command you to sin.” That goes for any authority-submission relationship. But if you are ever studying or teaching one of those passages, I would urge you to be very careful with the submission caveat. If you are teaching, say, Ephesians 5: “wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord,” I would just as well say, don’t teach the exception to that command when you are teaching that passage. Or at most give very, very brief pause to it. Just some things to think about that lead me to that conclusion:

  • The exception is not the point of “wives, submit to your husbands.” If you want to teach the point of the passage, teach men and women what submission looks like, not what it does NOT look like! I cannot stress this enough. Christians (at least in the West) seem to have a harder time understanding what submission looks like. If anything, we need to swing the pendulum right now to help Christians submit. They do not need help thinking about what resistance looks like.
  • Obeying God rather than man is so obvious most of the time that it does not even need to be said.
  • If a woman sins against God because her husband told her to and she has the attitude, “God, you made him leader over me, so it’s not my fault,” what you probably have is a woman who wanted to sin, not a woman who wanted to submit to her husband.
  • Sadly, in a fallen world, sometimes women must follow their husband into sin. Sarah obeyed Abraham (1 Peter 3.5-6), and two of the ways she obeyed him in Genesis was to be an adulteress (Genesis 12) and to be willing to be an adulteress again (Genesis 20). In our day, this is simply a case by case thing where you need the help of pastors to think through this. One example: if a non-Christian husband says, “skip church today, let’s go have fun.” It would be a sin for that woman to forsake the assembly, but she might follow in order to keep peace, be submissive, perhaps win her husband over without a word. The godly woman hates missing worship, missing gospel preaching, missing the Lord’s Supper, missing fellowship and prayer with the saints, missing the name of Christ being exalted publicly, yet out of submission to the Lord, she could submit to her husband.
  • Most cases where women are wanting to resist a husband’s authority are not that black and white, in which case, submission should be the default. What it probably amounts to in most cases is not that a woman wants to please the Lord, but that she simply does not want to submit, which ultimately means she does not want to please the Lord.

Again, these apply to any authority-submission relationship. Just some things to think about. Thankfully, perfect submission does not save, only Jesus, the perfectly Submissive One, does that!


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