Wives Submitting to Husbands:
How and When?
NCW 71, May - June 2001
Q. The scriptures say that I am bound to submit to my husband as Christ submits to the Father. But my husband is not God - he is a human being who makes mistakes. What if he wants me to submit to him in unrighteousness? What then should I do? Where does one draw the lines? And how should I react if I disagree with him? He says that I should submit to him in everything unconditionally. What does NCCG say?
A. Barnes' Bible Commentary answers your question very well, I think:
Verse 22. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands. On this passage, See [1 Co. 11:3], also #1 Co.11:4-9. The duty of the submission of the wife to her husband is everywhere enjoined in the Scriptures. See #1Pe.3:1; Col.3:18; Tit.2:5. While Christianity designed to elevate the character of the wife, and to make her a fit companion of an intelligent and pious husband, it did not intend to destroy all subordination and authority. Man, by the fact that he was first created; that the woman was taken from him; that he is better qualified for ruling than she is, is evidently designed to be at the head of the little community that constitutes a family. In many other things woman may be his equal; in loveliness, and grace, and beauty, and tenderness, and gentleness, she is far his superior; but these are not the qualities adapted for government. Their place is in another sphere; and there, man should be as cautious about invading her prerogative, or abridging her liberty, as she should be about invading the prerogative that belongs to him. In every family there should be a head -- some one who is to be looked up to as the counsellor and the ruler; some one to whom all should be subordinate. God has given that prerogative to man; and no family prospers where that arrangement is violated. Within proper metes and limits, therefore, it is the duty of the wife to obey, or to submit herself to her husband. Those limits are such as the following:
1. In domestic arrangements, the husband is to be regarded as the head of the family; and he has a right to direct as to the style of living, the expenses of the family, the clothing, etc.
2. In regard to the laws which are to regulate the family, he is the head. It is his to say what is to be done; in what way the children are to employ themselves, and to give directions in regard to their education, etc.
3. In business matters, the wife is to submit to the husband. She may counsel with him, if he chooses; but the affairs of business and property are under his control, and must be left at his disposal.
4. In everything, except that which relates to conscience and religion, he has authority. But there his authority ceases. He has no right to require her to commit an act of dishonesty, to connive at wrong-doing, to visit a place of amusement which her conscience tells her is wrong, nor has he a right to interfere with the proper discharge of her religious duties. He has no right to forbid her to go to church at the proper and usual time, or to make a profession of religion when she pleases. He has no right to forbid her endeavouring to exercise a religious influence over her children, or to endeavour to lead them to God. She is bound to obey God, rather than any man, See [Ac 4:19] and when even a husband interferes in such cases, and attempts to control her, he steps beyond his proper bounds, and invades the prerogative of God, and his authority ceases to be binding. It ought to be said, however, that in order to justify her acting independently in such a case, the following things are proper:
(1.) It should be really a case of conscience--a case where the Lord has plainly required her to do what she proposes to do--and not a mere matter of whim, fancy, or caprice.
(2.) When a husband makes opposition to the course which a wife wishes to pursue in religious duties, it should lead her to re-examine the matter, to pray much over it, and to see whether she cannot, with a good conscience, comply with his wishes.
(3.) If she is convinced that she is right, she should still endeavour to see whether it is not possible to win him to her views, and to persuade him to accord with her, see #1Pe 3:1. It is possible that, if she does right, he may be persuaded to do right also.
(4.) If she is constrained, however, to differ from him, it should be with mildness and gentleness. There should be no reproach, and no contention. She should simply state her reasons, and leave the event to God.
(5.) She should, after this, be a better wife, and put forth more and more effort to make her husband and family happy. She should show that the effect of her religion has been to make her love her husband and children more; to make her more and more attentive to her domestic duties, and more and more kind in affliction. By a life of pure religion, she should aim to secure what she could not by her entreaties--his consent that she should live as she thinks she ought to, and walk to heaven in the path in which she believes that her Lord calls her. While, however, it is to be conceded that the husband has authority over the wife, and a right to command in all cases that do not pertain to the conscience, it should be remarked,