In like manner, you married women, be submissive to your own husbands (subordinate yourselves as being secondary to and dependent on them, and adapt yourselves to them), so that even if any do not obey the Word (of God), they may be won over not by discussion but by the (godly) lives of their wives. (1 Pet 3:1 AMP)
In reaching understanding on any matter, context and premise are everything. A lot of the discussions about submission in marriage miss this fundamental point. The only context in which the idea of submission merits any discussion is actually among believers: mankind (the natural man) is intrinsically self-seeking, and to ask someone who is not regenerated to be other-oriented is simply futile.
It is proper to underscore that a regenerated person is not merely someone who has given mental assent to the idea of salvation – everyone is ‘born again’ these days. The apostle Peter here speaks to those in whose hearts, the Holy Spirit has been at work. (Dear friends, God the Father chose you long ago and knew you would become his children. And the Holy Spirit has been at work in your hearts…1 Pet 1:2 TLB)
It is to this category of believing women, who have given the Holy Spirit free reign to work in their hearts that the instruction to submit can resonate. To all others, it is an impetuous, and odious assault on self (That innate desire to pursue, and promote one’s own desires).
But even among such believing women, the idea of submission in marriage can still be a very strenuous test of faith. Some men are just scum. Still, the Lord apparently has great confidence in what the Holy Spirit is able to accomplish, for He instructs that even for Christian women married to “any who do not obey the Word of God (i.e. scum), victory can be won even without a word.
All this is however predicated on a somewhat unconventional understanding of the concept of marriage, and it is to that that we now turn our attention.
Eve was not an afterthought
A cursory reading of the account of creation in Genesis may suggest that Eve was an afterthought. A reader may go away with the wrong impression that, after placing Adam in the garden (Gen 2) God somehow belatedly realized that “it is not good that man should be alone”, and then went on to create Eve. In reality, the reason God said, it wasn’t good for man to be alone in Gen 2:18, is because, all along he was never created to be alone. God had originally made them male and female in Gen 1:27. All along, from the beginning, God’s plan was for Adam to have a partner, together with whom he had then given the blessing, and the mandate to multiply and have dominion. So when we encounter God saying, “it is not good for man to be alone” it is against the backdrop of the fact that he had originally created mankind to start as a couple. God was simply saying, it isn’t good for only half of my plan to be implemented.
Why is this important to know?
If we think of Eve as an afterthought, then we might be tempted to see her only as a contingency plan, and not an integral part of an original master plan. When Adam saw Eve for the first time and exclaimed, “now this is the BOMB! (Bone of My Bones)”, it wasn’t merely adulation, it was a dawning of an eternal truth, only just realized.
Actually, Adam and Eve’s marriage was a key part of God’s grand plan for mankind. While making them male and female (Gen 1:27), blessing them, and instructing them to be fruitful, and multiply; God also adds “fill the earth and subdue it”.
What’s that doing there? What’s there to subdue (overcome) in pristine eden, and the earth just created, and declared very good? All the animals were obedient to Adam, and at that time, the earth was yielding its fruit without the sweat of man. What was the opposition to subdue?
In all of that pristine innocence of eden, and it’s first tenants, I can only think of one person that was in opposition; the devil, with his agenda to wrest the tenancy of eden, and the dominion of the earth from man. It was he that was to be subdued.
Paradise Lost. Paraclete Restored.
Unfortunately, the first Adam (and by extension mankind) lost the first battle. It appeared perhaps like a little skirmish, but the adversary was wily. Thank God however for the second Adam (and by extension all of mankind who accept his Lordship) who completely routed the devil. The battle front had moved from pristine eden to a parched desert. Mankind had come full circle from the splendour and abundance of God’s providence to a dry wilderness; a fitting metaphor for the wilting, and wasting that the devil wrecks with sin.
It was the same old battle plan: the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life, disguised as a skirmish. The villain really has no new tricks. In eden, he twisted the Word of God, in the wilderness, he quoted them for his own ends. This time though, he was routed and eventually vanquished… “And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” (Col 2:15)
Christ has won the victory, and handed us the authority to enforce it, and having sealed us with the Holy Spirit “we are not ignorant of the devices of the enemy” (2 Cor 2:11).
or are we?
Marriage as Warfare
Sad to say, but even among believers who supposedly have the Holy Spirit, there can be an unbelievable amount of ignorance about the devil’s devices regarding marriage. Too often, we divorce the idea of subduing (warfare) the earth from marriage as expressed in Gen 1:27, and when we do think of marriage as warfare, it is unfortunately an internecine war fought, sadly to the enemy’s glee.
Now we find that what is rendered “multiply, fill the earth and subdue it” in Genesis, the psalmist renders in more direct and graphic phrasing as;
Children are a gift from God; they are his reward. Children born to a young man are like sharp arrows to defend him.Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. That man shall have the help he needs when arguing with his enemies. (Psalm 127:3-5 TLB)
What God says in Genesis 1:27, he reiterates through Psalm 127:3-5, Genesis (18:19 For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment) and Malachi (2:15 You were united to your wife by the Lord. In God’s wise plan, when you married, the two of you became one person in his sight. And what does he want? Godly children from your union),
From the forgoing it becomes evident that we don’t just get married and have kids because we fell in love. We do it because it is a key strategy for establishing godliness on the earth.
Mutiny in the Ranks
It is clear that God designed families as ‘fighting units’. “Two”, he says “are better than one, because they get a better reward for their labour” (Eccl 4:9). To borrow the thought in Deuteronomy 32:30, while one shall chase a thousand, two shall chase ten thousand.
There is a grand mission to subdue the earth: to enforce the victory of the cross, and establish godliness upon earth. In and since creation, man was given the privilege of pioneering this mission. Yet God judged that it was not good that man should pursue the mission alone, because in himself, he was incomplete. The woman (who was created) was then manifested to help with the mission. Now because there is a mission, which pioneering work was given to man, the manifestation of the woman invariably mandated a sub-mission.
Now where there is a sub-mission, it is clear that the individual carrying the mandate for the sub-mission ought to be in submission to the person with the mandate to pioneer the mission. To suggest that this in any way translates into a commentary on the worth of the two individuals is to say trees are more valuable than soil. Rather than pirsue such strenous and pointless ends, it is sufficient actually to see it simply as the divine order of things.
In one of those portions of scripture that we sometimes wish were not there, Apostle Paul alludes to the breach of of that divine order as the cause of that great fall of man.
Let a woman in quietness learn in all subjection, and a woman I do not suffer to teach, nor to rule a husband, but to be in quietness, for Adam was first formed, then Eve
(1 Tim 2:11-13 YLT)
I choose to skirt the topic of women teachers here. I’ll focus for now on why the apostle says he does not permit women to rule over a husband. In referring to the order of creation, he reminds us again of that divine order, which speaks not about the relative importance of men to women or soil to trees, but their individual mandates from their creator from whom alone they derive their worth.
Now, for a fighting unit, it is critical for not just the mission, but to the survival of the unit that all members execute their personal mandates. Unfortunately, we are in a great conflict today about the roles of individuals within a marriage. That conflict is a ploy by the enemy to breach the divine order, and again, it is not a new ploy. In verse 14 (and it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman who was led astray and fell into sin) of the same scripture above, the apostle adduces the cause of the fall of man to the breach of the divine order. From the beginning, this has been the strategy of the enemy, to undermine the family (God’s fighting unit) by stoking mutiny within its ranks.
Amos 3:3 says that two cannot walk together unless they agree, Mark 3:25 says the corollary. “And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
Mission, not ego trip.
For those who do not understand that the family is God’s fighting unit, it is easy to mistake the mission for an ego trip. When a man doesn’t realize that on a battle field, the medical corps is as crucial as the infantry, he may soon find himself on an ego trip to fantasy land. He may start to think that he is the Lord of the manor, and its commander in chief, not realizing that in this unique fighting unit, leadership is at once a great, and grave privilege.
Leading this unit is not an ego trip. It’s not a free ticket to fantasy land on a gravy train. It is actually first, and foremost, the laying down of your own life.
Husbands, love your wives [seek the highest good for her and surround her with a caring, unselfish love], just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25 AMP)
The performance index for leading this unit is not some ambiguous standard. It is as clear as can be; “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
As with all that God does, he strikes a perfect and eternal balance. (The Word of the Lord is tested Ps 18:30 and Settled Ps 119:89), he demands of the man to give up himself, and of the woman he demands the same in submission.
But the foolish man, as I once was would instead grab for privileges. He will demand respect, because as he claims “God has made me head.” Clearly the sharp sword of God’s word has not separated such a man from his folly. For such a man we exhort:
Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing. Your attitude should be the kind that was shown us by Jesus Christ, who, though he was God, did not demand and cling to his rights as God, (Ph 2:4-6 TLB)
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. (Ph 2:5-8 MSG)
The proper leader of God’s fighting unit while he is indeed leader, has the same attitude as christ, and does not cling to his rights. He gives them up. In God’s idea of marriage, the man is so busy serving, and the woman so busy submitting, and both so busy winning victories that neither has any time to nurse any egos.
Battles are won in the barracks
“whoa! doesn’t all these gory talk of battles just drain out the romance from marriage?” you ask.
Actually, we aren’t fighting that kind of war. We are in reality enforcing a victory already won. The reality is closer to a cold war with a defeated enemy roaring about and seeking whom he may devour. Our battles are mostly fought by vigilance even as we recline in our barracks.
Like our Lord and Commander in Chief, we can recline in a boat, and get a good sleep, and rise at will to rebuke the stormy tantrums of the enemy (Mark 4:39).
Oh, it is a faithful saying that God designed our marriages for love and laughter, and raising godly children who will outdo our heights of achievement.
Stranded on the battle field
But we are in a battle nevertheless, and when a man grasps for, and insists on his privileges, his unit is often left as stranded, sitting ducks for the enemy’s target practice.
The thing about how God designed marriage is that, unity is critical to the survival of either party. This idea is wonderfully expressed in 1 Pet 3:7
In the same way, you husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way [with great gentleness and tact, and with an intelligent regard for the marriage relationship], as with someone physically weaker, since she is a woman. Show her honor and respect as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered or ineffective. (AMP)
by “fellow heir of the grace of life”, we are learning here that the man and his wife are co-signatories to the account of grace in the bank of Heaven. Now if a man shows up at the bank with a cheque not countersigned by his wife, he can’t draw on the account. He is stranded. For what the bible says is, “if two of you agree down here on earth concerning anything you ask for, my Father in heaven will do it for you”. (Matt 18:19)
What amazing wisdom God deploys in designing checks, and balances into marriage. A man can’t just treat his wife shabbily because he is the so called head of the home, and saunter to the bank of heaven to draw down on their joint account of grace. The cheque will bounce. It is dud.
Death by friendly fire
Unfortunately, bullets don’t discriminate, and too many soldiers die by friendly fire (the sheer irony) on the battle field.
God considers divorce to be violence. For in marriage he makes two people become one flesh, and when men put asunder what God has joined together, in the sight of God, they are violently tearing apart a single person into two separate and incomplete entities.
This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with [your own] weeping and sighing, because the Lord no longer regards your offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.
But you say, “Why [does He reject it]?”
Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously. Yet she is your marriage companion and the wife of your covenant [made by your vows]. But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit.
And what did that one do while seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong and violence,” says the Lord of hosts.
“Therefore keep watch on your spirit, so that you do not deal treacherously [with your wife].”
You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “In what way have we wearied Him?” In that you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them,” or [by asking], “Where is the God of justice?” (Mal 2:13-17 AMP)
God says, “but no one has done so who has a remnant of the spirit”. No one who has a remnant of the spirit (the Paraclete restored) deals treacherously with his wife. And what is this treachery? It is Divorce.
And the Lord lays a charge against our culture. We have wearied Him he says, because we have called evil good. We have falsely claimed that God delights in people who get a divorce when he has in fact said, I hate Divorce.
When two believers (note believers) get a divorce, they are stating unequivocally that the tiny “remnant of the spirit” they had has been drained out, and what is left is hardness of heart, for the Lord said ““Moses did that in recognition of your hard and evil hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended” (Matt 19:8).
Sadly, at the core of a lot of divorces today, is a misunderstanding of the ideas of leadership and submission. The right understanding is in essence a man laying down his life for his wife, and mission, and she laying down her will for the mission.
A work of grace
Is there any man on the surface of the earth who deserves to be treated in the way the opening scripture in this piece describes? Or a woman who deserves the sacrifice of one’s life? Neither exists. Scripture says, on rare occasions, one may give his life for a righteous man (Rom 5:7) but it also tells us that “there is none righteous, no not one.” (Rom 3:10).
This laying down of one’s life, and submission that God designed for marriage is entirely a work of grace. Marriage in essence is two people (co-signatories) drawing down on their account of grace from heaven and sharing that grace in a mysterious communion.
It is God himself who does this work. “For it is [not your strength, but it is] God who is effectively at work in you, both to will and to work [that is, strengthening, energizing, and creating in you the longing and the ability to fulfill your purpose] for His good pleasure.” (Php 2:13 AMP)