Submission in marriage is something the Bible clearly addresses and, at some point, every marriage will hit an either/or issue where one of the two parties will have to submit in order to move forward. In this article, Dawn Williams offers three questions to consider when that moment comes to help you and your spouse work through conflict in a God-honoring way.
I adore my husband. He is exactly who God intended for me. (Even my mother thinks so.) He walks with the Lord. He’s funny and handsome. We love raising our family together, and he is my best friend. But we vehemently disagree on how to educate our children, and there is little room for traditional compromise. At some point, the paperwork must be signed, and the kids must be dropped off at one school—or the other. There’s no middle ground.
THE QUESTION OF SUBMISSION IN MARRIAGE
The topic of Christian submission in marriage is taboo these days. Men can’t write about it and maintain their female readership. Women tiptoe around it because of legitimate landmines like abuse waiting to blow up at every turn. Of course, if abuse of any sort is a part of the picture, then the issue of submission should be tabled, and wise counsel should be sought without delay. But for those of us in otherwise healthy marriages, submission is something the Bible clearly addresses, and at some point, every marriage will hit an either/or issue where one of the two parties involved will have to submit in order to move forward. When that moment comes, consider asking yourself the following three questions to help you and your spouse work through the decision-making process in a God-honoring way.
1. DOES MY HUSBAND’S PERSPECTIVE REFLECT A HEART OF DISOBEDIENCE TO THE LORD, OR IS IT JUST DIFFERENT FROM MINE?
In our family, I favor Christian education because I would like for our family to be immersed in a community full of like-minded families. If I’m being honest, I feel the more they hear about God’s grace and mercy, the better chance they will have at coming to Him. In addition, the idea of my children playing in homes with like-minded families feels safer to me—and I like safe.
My husband, on the other hand, prefers an environment that includes families with different beliefs from ours so that we can come face-to-face with the hard questions of life around the dinner table—all while our children are still under our roof. We can listen and ask and debate together, so that they will have a good chance of taking ownership of their convictions before they leave our home instead of being blindsided by new issues once they are out on their own.
Theoretically, I can see his point of view has a lot of wisdom behind it. On paper, it sounds spiritually strong. But, when advanced moral, cultural, and spiritual issues appear next to the green beans on the dinner table years before they should, I get queasy. We have two middle schoolers now, and the stakes get higher with each passing year.
Because of this, we’ve sought wisdom through Christian counseling to help us through this colossal disagreement. In a sentence, the counselor summed it up like this: “You are trying to preserve your children’s childhood, while your husband is trying to prepare your kids for adulthood.” This sentence brought crystal clarity to our situation and I was able to appreciate my husband’s perspective so much more. Our goals in schooling are completely different. This understanding helped me trust that what he was doing was loving and good, even if it wasn’t my personal preference.
The truth is, God has called me to trust His leading through my husband before I can empathize with my husband’s perspective. If I’m being honest, I still think my vision for education is better than his. Yet I must trust that as my husband seeks the Lord’s will for our family, somehow God is redeeming the death of my preferred plan and working things out exactly the way He wants them to go.
The problem with both of our plans is that we forget our Father can use anything to accomplish His purposes, and we are wrongly putting too much faith in our parenting choices to bring our children to Christ. God is the One doing the work of bringing our children to Him. While we bear the Deuteronomy 6 parenting challenge of teaching our children about God, He is the One who awakens souls to their need of Him. I must trust that He remains in control, and He will use my husband’s leadership—even if it’s different from how I would do things—for my family’s good and His glory.
2. IS IT POSSIBLE I JUST WANT TO WIN?
Ever since the fall in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), women have had a desire to run the show. As much as we hate to admit it, Eve took the first bite of the forbidden fruit while Adam passively stood by, and that set the course long-term for husband-and-wife interactions. Genesis 3:16 tells us God’s response to Eve’s choice was, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (NIV). Some translations read this as, “Your desire shall be for your husband’s place, and he shall rule over you.”
I really have a hard time with this verse, because I feel its truth acutely in my own heart. My desire is to be the one in charge. Down deep inside, it really, really offends me that I was not given the cosmic reins in this relationship. This is where the value of my sisters-in-Christ comes in. They have the freedom to candidly ask me, “Is there a chance you are using this particular disagreement to try to prove something bigger? Is it possible you’re just trying to win?”
A Posture of Pride?
If, in fact, my desire for control is driving my inability to submit, then my motives can be summed up in one old-fashioned word: pride. There’s a litmus test for this posture: Am I willing to make this particular decision even if my plan fails miserably? When I sift my motives through this sieve, I often realize my preference is not as valuable to me as I thought, because it’s not worth the risk of failure. I don’t really want to be accountable for my decision if something goes awry. Actually, I just wanted to win the argument. And that boils down to pride.
The Bible has much to say about the damage done by pride and not a word of it is good. I want to be a wise woman who builds her house, not a foolish one who tears it down (Proverbs 14:1). Pride is the first act towards tearing down a home. Christ-honoring marriage issues a call to both men and women to lay down our lives for each other, and pride is the antithesis of that way of living (Ephesians 5:22-33). Even 17 years into marriage, I’m learning how to live out this mysterious truth like a newlywed.
A Posture of Respect
Since we are equal and designed to work together as a team, I will absolutely present my side to my husband and we will hash it out down to the nitty gritty, but I will aim to do that with respect for him that flows from a love for God and His good plan for our family.
When it comes to our school situation, we know dear Christian families on each of these paths for their educational needs. It’s not a question of right and wrong. In fact, despite our best intentions, our decision making may not ultimately lead to the outcome we are hoping for. And that brings me to my last question.
3. MIGHT GOD BE USING THIS SITUATION TO CALL ME TO A DEEPER LEVEL OF TRUST IN HIM?
The Bible is chock-full of stories of God asking His children to do something that seems absolutely preposterous to them, but the question underneath was really, “Do you trust Me?” Noah had to look like an idiot building the ark. Wealthy Abraham had to willingly embrace homeless wandering. Shy Moses had to confront Pharaoh and command the release of all his slaves. The Israelites had to take the first step through the parted sea, hoping it wouldn’t engulf them. Scrawny David had to face Goliath. Over and over again, God presents His people with moments where their response would have justifiably been a wide-eyed, “Seriously?!” But the question under the question was always the same, “Do you trust Me?”
In the past month, I have had multiple conversations with other moms from my children’s schools. All sorts of temptations are presenting themselves these days. Gender issues, sports book gambling, drug abuse, parent-condoned drunkenness, sexual misconduct of every sort, and so on are all present in the schools where my children are enrolled. While I can understand my husband’s way of thinking, this just isn’t the path that I would choose. From my vantage point, these places don’t feel safe for my children’s long-term health or their personal salvation.
God Achieves His Purposes
But as I look back through Scripture, I discover that these issues—and some that are even worse—have plagued humanity from the dawn of time. Actually, there is nothing God cannot use to achieve His purposes of bringing glory to Himself and goodness to His children (Romans 8:28). Not even a school. Perhaps, in a great stroke of God-authored hilarity, God will use my submission to my husband’s opinion—while vastly different from my own—and their education in schools I don’t agree with to bring my kids to Christ in a way no Christian school would have accomplished. It is hard for me to envision such a thing happening. But I’m just me.
And God is God.
It’s vitally important not to confuse the two.
SUBMISSION IN MARRIAGE: A QUESTION OF TRUST
Christian submission in marriage is a beautiful thing when it goes the way it should: a man laying his life down for his wife, and a woman willingly submitting to his wise leadership (Ephesians 5:22-33). But we know it doesn’t always look like that. Two sinners can take that beautiful illustration and botch it beyond recognition with a relatively small amount of effort. But the lovely grit of old, thriving marriages is the learned trust in the Father’s steadfast love for us, exhibited in His plan of Christian submission. Ultimately, no matter what school my children end up attending, I can rest in the knowledge that God really does know what He’s doing. And no matter what issue you might be struggling to agree with your spouse on, you can rest in that knowledge, too.
The question is: Do we trust Him?
Which specific questions highlighted in the article really resonated with you? How might God’s plan for appropriate, bilbical submission in the marriage relationship help you and husband move forward as you face these types of disagreements?
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You have TREMENDOUS insight into this hot-button topic.
Thank you for bringing some of my thoughts and actions into the light that I was trying to keep hidden in the dark. (yes, even after 38 years of marriage!)
These truths are LIFE-GIVING to me and I’m sure will be to other women as well.
Keep pressing on, sister!!
Great article, full of truth and opening a conversation many are not talking about! Well done!
Excellent article, thought provoking. After 52 years of marriage, we still get challenged with issues where we differ.
Loved the 3 questions you proposed. Thank you