Well, I suppose it is time once again to set the cat among the pigeons. This is not done for purposes of entertainment, but rather for edification. We need to let the Scriptures admonish us where we are sinning, and not where we are in no real danger of sinning, or where admonitions are established and routine.
A couple generations ago, all evangelicals believed certain things about headship and submission in marriage — because the New Testament taught them — but now if you simply repeat those things, you are routinely dismissed either as a deviant misogynist yourself, or at best, an unwittingly enabler and defender of the husband as jerk.
So let me begin there. The aroma of what I am defending is altogether lovely, and has nothing to do with the abuses of the various domestic mussolinis that any of us may have met. Anyone who has followed my writing on marriage over the years knows that I do not cut any slack for blustering machismo. Abusive and angry husbands are not an example of what I am talking about. But, and this is our point this morning, neither are bitter and unsubmissive wives.
When God assigns our roles to us, the men have to do what God tells them to do, and the women have to do what God tells them to do. The value of doing this is no way undone or refuted by those who refuse to do it. Perhaps a challenging and rewarding course is not best evaluated by the insubordinate students who flunked it.
Say that a young man and woman marry, and their first year is a turbulent and epic battle. This battle is a battle for control, and let us say further the wife wins it. This marriage does not thereby become an “alternative” arrangement — it becomes a standing exasperation to the both of them. She won, but because she was not created to win in this way, she is bitter with him for losing, she is bitter against him for being the kind of man who would let her win, and she is in turmoil within herself because she insists on winning, and despises the fact that she has. Reality has lots of compelling arguments. The way things are has a lot going for it.
“Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16).
This is not referring to a woman’s desire for moonlit walks on the beach with her baby, but rather a desire for control or mastery. The only other time this phrase is used in the Bible (desire > rule) is in the next chapter, when God is warning Cain about what sin wants to do.
“If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him” (Gen. 4:7).
This means that the Fall made the relations between the sexes kind of rough. The woman will want to wrest control of the relationship away from the man, and the man will react forcefully, and frequently disproportionately. There is a war between the sexes because the world is a screwed up place.
The gospel transforms all this, but not by setting the issues of authority and submission aside. Rather, the gospel teaches us that submission does not equal inequality — for Christ in His equality with the Father nevertheless submitted to Him (Phil. 2:5-7). And the gospel also teaches that authority or rule must not be the kind of dominion that pursues ego-glory for the one in authority (Mark 10:42-43). Christian women are able to learn how not desire this control, and Christian men are able to learn what servant authority looks like. It looks like Jesus.
There are many examples of this, but Titus 2:5 provides a good sample. Obedience and submission themselves are not set aside by the new covenant — although it is transformed. Titus was written decades after Paul had declared that in Christ there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28), and so it is plain that as Paul envisions headship and submission in the marital context, it is headship and submission conducted, like a glorious dance, between equals who love and respect one another.
There is therefor a way to do this right — for the Scriptures require it. Those who do it wrong, no matter how many of them you may have seen, pose no argument whatever for those who are interested in doing it right — other than the obvious warning to not do it like they are doing it. But the feminist or quasi-feminist reaction to the abuses is to not do it at all. But this is just another abuse. This is simply another way of doing it wrong — and it is why the practitioners of this bad reaction are so unhappy and bitter.
So one of the tell-tale signs of standing resentments of this nature will be the fact that when the biblical position is set forth, and with every necessary qualification made, a bitter opponent will be absolutely unable to represent and restate accurately what is being said. “You are enabling wife-beaters . . .”
True moral equality means that we should be able to state what a husband’s sins are, frankly, and also be able to state what a wife’s sins might be, again frankly. Both men and women are true moral agents, responsible for their own behavior and misbehavior.
But if every time we get to such a statement of what a wife’s fundamental lack of a submissive spirit might be doing in her relationship to her husband we get a histrionic reaction, then perhaps we are seeing a refusal on the part of certain women to see women as true moral agents. Feminists (including the professing evangelicals) are those who loudly demand to be treated the same way as the men, and then, if we do, retreat with indignation and tears behind their petticoats.
So I am not at present talking about lousy marriages that are lousy because the husband is violent, or angry, or resentful, or lazy, or misogynistic, or unfaithful, and so on. I know that such exist, and I am unalterably opposed to every last one of them. I am especially opposed to them when the name of Jesus is invoked as an excuse for the sin.
But let us also be opposed to marriages that are thoroughly unhappy because the wife has usurped control of the relationship, and is a catty, ungodly, controlling, insubordinate, unhappy, and unsubmissive woman. These exist also, correct? Shouldn’t we be against them also?