Kevin DeYoung: Submission, Strength–and Stereotypes
Can being a “submissive” wife also mean “strong”? Professor and author Kevin DeYoung tackles tough questions about marital roles.
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Christ Covenant Kevin served as pastor of ...more
Can being a “submissive” wife also mean “strong”? Professor and author Kevin DeYoung tackles tough questions about marital roles.
Kevin DeYoung: Submission, Strength–and Stereotypes
Kevin: Who are some of the godly women that first come to your mind in the Scriptures?—“Ruth,” “Esther,” “Mary.” One of the things they most likely have in common is their godliness was expressed in helping men/in helping their husbands. These are strong women: Esther/she’s courageous! Ruth—
Kevin: —they’re not doormats; they’re not wallflowers—they have different personalities. There are all sorts of pictures of biblical femininity; and there are all sorts of pictures of these godly women, who embrace their role in supporting a husband and in nurturing the care of children. What many women need to hear is this message: “To gracefully/lovingly follow, support, respect your husband.”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
So after being married to me for 41 years—
Dave: It has been awesome.
Ann: It has; right?
Dave: There’ve been a few tough years, but mostly—
Ann: There’ve been some real valleys! But good highs too! But in that time, do you view our roles in our marriage differently than you did in year one?
Dave: Well, yes; in year one, I had no clue.
Ann: Well, neither did I; I was 19.
Dave: I mean, I didn’t grow up in a Christian home;—
Ann: Me either.
Dave: —grew up in a divorced home. I didn’t really have a dad. And [I] was pretty new in my faith, like 18 months to 24 months; so I didn’t know what leading spiritually looked like. I didn’t know what a husband looked like. I was—well, you remember—on our honeymoon, I broke down in tears,—
Dave: —feeling overwhelmed with this new responsibility.
Ann: —of being—
Dave: After going to the Weekend to Remember®—
Dave: —the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember that we now speak for—if you haven’t been to one, sign up right now. Go to FamilyLife.com and go to one; it’s a powerful weekend!—but I walked away, thinking, “Oh, my goodness! I have to be this man that I don’t think I can be.” I felt my role—I was ill-equipped to do it—so I was overwhelmed.
Now, 41 years later, I’m like, “Oh, I am exactly who God made me to be.” And you tell me I’m awesome!
Ann: You are awesome! [Laughter] Were you surprised at how strong I was?
Dave: Yes. [Laughter] I knew it, going in; but man, oh man. In many ways, you have stronger leadership gifts than I do; and that caused some real friction in our marriage. We’re going to talk about that today!
Ann: I’m glad we’re going to talk about this.
Dave: Because I think the roles in marriage, and even the friction that can happen as we try to understand our roles, are a cause of contention for a lot of couples.
Ann: And I didn’t know what that was supposed to look like either; because I knew in life, I was really strong; and I was a strong leader. And so, as I walked into my relationship with God, I was asking the question: “What is my role as a wife? Do I just push down all those leadership tendencies? Do I bow at the feet of my husband?—‘Oh, Dave, you’re amazing!’?”
Dave: That would have been nice! That didn’t happen.
Ann: I really didn’t know, but I was willing to do whatever God wanted; I just didn’t know.
Dave: We have Kevin DeYoung back in the studio/back to FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.
Kevin: Great to be here.
Dave: You’re going to answer all our questions!
Kevin: Oh, hardly!
Ann: Kevin’s like—
Dave: You’re going to solve this.
Ann: —he’s like, “This is the most messed up couple!” [Laughter]
Dave: He’s like, “Am I your counselor right now?”
Kevin: Yes, yes.
Dave: He’s sitting over there.
But you’ve written a book called Men and Women in the Church. It isn’t just about men and women in the church—although, much of it is—it’s also men and women/husbands and wives in marriage.
Dave: Obviously, you’re a pastor in Matthews, North Carolina. You’ve written many books; a seminary prof; right?
Dave: So you do all kinds of stuff; and you write and think a lot about what we’re talking about right now.
Ann: Well, the subtitle is: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction. Why that?
Kevin: Well, those are the sort of books that people read. [Laughter] At least, I hope! So that’s what I do: I try to be short, biblical, and practical. You know, this book, Men and Women in the Church,is trying to take a lot of good things that have been written and said, over the last ten to twenty years, about a lot of issues related to—sex, gender, marriage, home, church—and try to put it in—what is it?—150 pages that somebody might actually read. [Laughter] Hopefully, the most important word there is “biblical.”
Kevin: And then, it’s “practical”; and then, it’s “short.”
Dave: Talk about your own marriage with Trish. You’ve got nine kids.
Dave: And I’m guessing you—
Kevin: We just did something, yes.
Dave: You did something.
Kevin: We got married, had nine kids. [Laughter] I love my wife and feel like I have been immeasurably blessed. I have an easy wife.
Ann: That’s good; Dave doesn’t!
Ann: But I’m glad you do! [Laughter]
Kevin: Yes; well, somebody has to! [Laughter] I don’t know if she says she has an easy husband. We’ve been married for 20 years. We both come from good, Christian homes; and that helps. We had a kid, and another kid, and another kid; we said, “We’ll be open to more kids.” I don’t know how open we want to be now, but we have nine!
It is craziness—that’s not just something I say—it really is crazy, loud, chaotic all the time. People say one of my wife’s gifts is she has a high threshold for chaos.
Ann: She has to.
Kevin: There’s a lot going on. If you came to the DeYoung house, I hope you would feel like it’s a happy house; but it’s a very normal house. Our kids are never sitting down in a corner, reading, you know, Calvin’s Institutes or something. [Laughter] They’re outside; they’re fighting; they’re screaming. And in the midst of it, we’re trying to love each other, Trish and I are.
Ann: Well, Kevin, talk to young Ann Wilson: married at 19, no church background, hadn’t really studied the Bible at that point that much, was new in a relationship with Christ. Yesterday, we talked about men and their role; we looked at Ephesians 5. So now, let’s talk about women.
Dave: Well, yes; I mean, even as you go back to Ephesians 5, this was one of our struggles, as we got married. We were new believers—again, not brand-new—but first couple years. We read passages in Ephesians 5—we talked yesterday, you know, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church,” verse 25—then, before that—and I’ve always joked at our church: “You know, most men know one verse in the entire Bible,—
Kevin: Yes. [Laughter]
Dave: —“and it’s Ephesians 5:22; we don’t know what it means.”
But here we are, trying to understand what that looks like for Ann, you know? I’ll read it to you; it says: “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Savior. Now, as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” We walk into marriage, and Ann’s trying to live that out.
Dave: And she felt like, “What?!”
Dave: You felt like: “I had to just—
Ann: Let me just say, two weeks before we got married, I went to the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
Dave: You really are our counselor today.
Kevin: Yes; right. [Laughter]
Dave: It sort of feels like it.
Ann: And I sat there as he [speaker] started talking about and breaking down this Scripture: “Wives, submit to your husbands.” I sat in the back, with my arms crossed, thinking, “I can’t do that.”
Ann: Because I thought my mom was a doormat—she did everything—my dad ran her life. He was a strong man, and I felt like my mom had no voice.
I think, when we have those feelings, it’s good to go back and think, “Hmm, what created that?—that angst of thinking, ‘I’m not doing that!’”
Dave: “Where’d that come from?”; yes.
Ann: Yes; so then, I’m trying to figure out: “What does it mean to submit to my husband?” I think that’s just a great discussion.
Kevin: Yes; one of the things to know, right off the bat, is: it’s a command for the wives, not for the husbands; meaning, the command is not: “Husbands, see to it that your wives submit.”
Ann: That’s a good point.
Kevin: Submission is not something forcibly taken; it’s something freely given on the wife’s part. It’s her intelligent, gracious submission to her husband’s authority and leadership.
I just did this in my seminary class—we were talking about some of these issues—and I said, “Who are some of the godly women that first come to your mind in the Scriptures? Let’s just start there.” They start saying: “Ruth,” “Esther,” “Mary.” They named a bunch.
Kevin: “Deborah”; yes, Deborah.
I said, “One of the things they most likely have in common is: their godliness was expressed in helping men/in helping their husbands—and sometimes, you know, Deborah helping Barak—but their godliness is in a supportive, helping role.
The wicked women: who comes to mind?—you know, Jezebel or David’s wife—they either led their husband’s astray or did not follow their husband’s leadership or support. You see a pattern. It’s not that they’re all of these iron-clad prescriptions: “Here’s what a submissive wife looks like…” We need to distinguish between prescriptions and patterns. The pattern is prescriptive, but the pattern doesn’t give you: “Here are ten things that you must do and what it always looks like…”
But here’s the other thing that, I then, said: “When you look at those women in the Bible, these are strong women. I mean, Proverbs 31—we all: ‘Oh, the Proverbs 31 woman. [Laughter] Oh, we hate her!’—you know, the wives—‘I can never be: she’s up in the middle of the night, and …on her “distaff,”’—whatever that is—‘and she’s selling things.’”
Ann: She’s working.
Kevin: She’s working all the time.
Ann: She has a career, and she’s a great mom.
Kevin: Yes, she’s a great mom. It maybe is an idealized personification of Lady Wisdom, there in Proverbs 31. But these women: Esther/she’s courageous; Ruth—
Kevin: —they’re not doormats; they’re not wallflowers—they have different personalities. There are all sorts of pictures of biblical femininity; and there are all sorts of pictures of these godly women, who embrace their role in supporting a husband and nurturing the care of children.
When we come to Ephesians 5, we realize, as we said yesterday, Paul is addressing women in their area of fallen-ness. The husband, Adam, abdicated his responsibility in the Garden; Eve usurped that authority. The serpent went to her; and she took; and her husband was standing right there, passively. It was a reversal of their roles. What many women need to hear is this message: “To gracefully/lovingly follow, support, respect your husband.” There are a lot of different ways that that looks like. I’m sure, Ann, you’ve just nailed it 100 percent. [Laughter]
Ann: As Dave can attest to: “No!”
And I think, even as some women hear you, Kevin, they’re thinking, “You don’t know who I’m married to; he’s not a believer.” Maybe she’s saying, “I have a really hard time respecting him.
Kevin: Yes, yes.
Ann: “So how do I submit to that guy? —like: ‘You guys: you, Kevin/you, Dave—you’re easy to follow.’”
Dave: We’re amazing; aren’t we, Kevin?
Ann: You are!
Kevin: Right, right, right.
Ann: You guys are, but there are some men who aren’t. So women are feeling an angst, saying, “I don’t even know how I could do that.”
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Kevin DeYoung on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear Kevin’s response in just a second; but first, at FamilyLife, we believe God’s design for marriage and family isn’t some silly, old-fashioned, fun-killing rule book, but that it’s a good, true, and beautiful design. And if you’re passionate about more people catching that kind of vision for family, would you consider partnering with FamilyLife Today?
All this week, with your donation of any amount, we want to send you Kevin DeYoung’s book, Men and Women in the Church. That’s our thanks to you when you give this week at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Kevin DeYoung and what a wife can do when her husband is hard to respect.
Kevin: We need to choose, in our various situations of submission, to respect and submit based upon the office, even if the person may not—we feel—be worthy of it. We have to do this with the magistrate—Romans 13—you know, “Honor the emperor” for the office they hold—whatever it is: senator, governor, president—whether you think the person him- or herself is worthy of that respect, for the office that they hold.
It is a choice. You know, lots of people have said this: “Well, when you get married, you think it’s love that keeps the marriage together; and you realize, after years, it’s actually the institution of marriage that preserves the love—it’s the commitment; it’s the choice you make—so it is a choice.
I sympathize hugely with women out there, who are saying, “In my heart of hearts, he’s a jerk!”
Kevin: And some men: they are!
Kevin: They shouldn’t be, and they are.
Submission doesn’t mean/it certainly doesn’t mean you just take abuse.
Kevin: We never want to say that. It doesn’t mean that you can’t voice your opinion. It doesn’t mean you let him lead you into sin; heaven forbid!
But it does mean that—even if, in your feelings, it’s not there—you state it as an act of the will: “Honey, I do love you. I do respect you.” That’s not hypocrisy; that’s a choice of godly maturity. We need to put that forward sometimes as an act of the will and let that [emotions] follow.
Hopefully, if the husband is under the work of the Spirit, God will use that gracious attitude of the wife to soften his heart. That’s, you know, what 1 Peter 3 is about; that’s what Ephesians 5 is getting at as a way to win over your husband. It doesn’t mean you never say anything; but being—for any relationship—being a constant thorn in the flesh/being a nag is never the way—
Ann: And it doesn’t work!
Kevin: —yes, to get to him.
Ann: I’ve tried it.
Kevin: It doesn’t work.
Ann: It does not work. And it also says: “…as to the Lord.”
Kevin: Yes, yes.
Ann: Like we’re submitting as to the Lord. I’ve had women come up to me and say, “So, you want me to be a Hollywood actress,”—[Laughter]—like, “I’m supposed to act like I like him or love him, when I have nothing?” And I said, “This is as to the Lord. You are worshiping God through the way you’re treating your husband.”
And you have to go back—and this is hard when your emotions are so tied into it—but think: “I married this man because there was something in him that I saw.” So even to go back to those things, and to compliment your husband, even when you don’t feel like it.
And I’m not saying/if he’s harming you in any way, you need to remove yourself and get help! But I’m just saying: “If he’s a regular guy, and he’s just failing,—
Kevin: Right; right.
Ann: —I think that, sometimes, we have that power.
Dave: You know, when Kevin was talking about respecting your man, here’s all I know: I mean, I’m married to one of the strongest women I’ve ever met. She’s very strong! [Laughter] And yet, I sit here, thinking, “She’s been very respectful, very submissive.” One of the things we didn’t understand—
Ann: —[I’ve been] submissive; really?
Dave: Well, in year one, we thought submission meant I make every decision.
Dave: Remember that?
Ann: —and I lay down my life and have nothing.
Dave: Yes; like you have no authority at all.
I remember we were driving somewhere—first year of marriage—and we didn’t know if we should get off at this exit. We got in this yelling fight in the car, and she yells back, “I’m not supposed to do anything! You’re the leader! You make the decision! I just sit here!” So I did—I got off at the wrong exit—and then, she sits there, like—
Ann: —“I think we missed our flight.”
Dave: I thought it was so ridiculous that: “That’s what we thought submission looked like: ‘You [wife] have no voice; you shouldn’t say anything. You [husband] make every decision.’” It’s like, “No, no, no!”
I’ve realized, over years, it’s like, “Wait, wait. You’re wiser in so many things!” So a good, loving, sacrificial leader—that we talked about yesterday, as a husband, to love you, and serve you, and care for you—many times, I’ve turned to you and gone, “I don’t know what to do. What do you think?”
And you usually go, “I have an idea!” And a good leader goes, “That’s the right idea. Thank you; let’s do it!”
Ann: And maybe, in the past, I would have said, “We should do this!” And I don’t do that anymore.
Dave: I don’t know; as you hear that, is that something that’s—
Kevin: Yes, that’s absolutely right! One of the words that I use is the word, “posture.”
Kevin: “What is our posture toward one another?” We’d like, at times, for life to just give us a list of prescriptions:—
Kevin: —“Just do this,” “Don’t do that.”
But it’s a posture—so you’re sitting in a chair—“Are you sitting straight?” “Are you slouching?” Your posture says something about what your attitude is. The husband’s posture is eager to lead.
Kevin: And the wife’s posture is eager to follow. But she’s going to know more things than the husband about a bunch of things.
Kevin: Yes, you’re going to have some personalities:
- Where the wife is the extrovert; he’s the introvert; the wife is very outgoing.
- She may be better at managing the finances; more organized. She may be the one to plan the trip.
All of those things could be true, but that’s why it’s so good that God’s Word doesn’t tell us: “Have this personality…” It tells us things that we can control/things that we can do.
And I love what you said earlier, Ann—it's a good word, for wives in particular, if you say, “I can’t think of anything, honestly, that I like or love about my husband right now,”—the question then is: “Is there anything you like or love about Jesus?”
Kevin: And that’s where you start. You don’t have to start with: “Let’s find a diamond in the rough here.” We’ll get to that, because you’re probably overlooking some things.
Kevin: But “Let’s start with Jesus,” because there’s lots to love in Jesus!—and He loves us. If we really love Him, and really worship Him, then we’ll want to follow His instructions; and we’ll want to do this “unto the Lord,” even when the wife’s husband doesn’t look a whole lot like Jesus right now. [Laughter]
Kevin: You can love and pray him into the sort of man that God wants him to be.
Dave: You know, Kevin, talk about this from your perspective; because we talk about this a lot—we wrote about it in our Vertical Marriage book—the idea of when Ann—or when a woman/a wife—respects her man, affirms him, believes in him—
Ann: —supports him.
Dave: —trusts him—those are words that you use in your book—something happens in us, as men, that brings life to us/that wants to. Because for years—we wrote about this—Ann nagged/critiqued. I said one time, “I didn’t want to marry my mom! Why are you…” But then she started cheering and believing, and it changed my whole [life].
Kevin: That’s right.
Dave: It’s like I became a better man because she said I was a better man. I wasn’t, but I started thinking, “You really think I’m good?” She’s like, “Yes!” And I’m like, “I want to be good!” It created a whole different dynamic in our marriage. That’s the power, I think, of respect. Am I right?
Kevin: Yes; Ann, it’s a picture of the gospel; because God first declares something about us.
Kevin: And then says, “Go be who you are! You’re in Christ. You’re as lovely as Christ. You’re as holy as Christ. Now, go and live up this person that I’ve declared you to be.”
Now, obviously, it’s different; but there’s an analogy there. I think so many of us—and maybe men in particular—we are living our lives inside out; meaning, if you think about your life—you’ve got your relationship with God in the middle; and then you have your marriage and kids; maybe your church and work—and then you’ve got this thing called the internet. There are people, who are living their lives for the people on Twitter®, or Facebook®, or the approval of those people, and neglecting what’s on the inside.
I always say to people: “I can deal with a whole bunch of people hating me.” The Kevin DeYoung fan club does not have universal membership; I can assure you! [Laughter] But if the closer it gets to the center, it’s healthy and it’s good, then I can deal with some stuff at church that’s bad or outside there.
Outside of that relationship with the Lord, the most important thing is my wife. And I just have to praise my wife—because we have fights and chilly days like everybody does—but I’ve always felt like I want to be the sort of person that she makes me feel like I am—respects me—and I’ve always known that. Yes, we’ll have disagreements; we’ve had to make big decisions. Certainly, I ask her; I want her opinion. I’m not/I don’t want to lead us into a place that makes her miserable; but I always know, at the end of the day or end of some hard thing, her posture is: “You know I believe in you,” “You know I trust you,” “You know I’ll follow you; I’ll be okay, and the Lord will be with us.” That is a gift—
Dave: Yes, yes.
Kevin: —when a wife can speak that—and more than speak it—live that out; because I really think men/we’re not as tough as we like to think that we are. We can, you know, seem so tough at work, and we can seem so tough when it comes to, you know, our sports teams. But if we come home, and we feel like we have a wife who doesn’t really look up to us—doesn’t really respect us or like us—then we start looking for that in other ways, which are bound to be unhealthy.
Ann: Yes; I’m just thinking of so many women that are feeling this tug of their heart, like, “Ugh! I’ve just lost all my feelings and respect for my husband. I don’t even know where to start.”
What I would say is to start on your knees, before God. When you get there, just give Him your life; because I know, as one person who has tried to find my life through my marriage and through Dave, he’s not enough! He’s just a man. But there is a God [who] loves you, sees you, hears you, knows the pain that you have felt, and has seen every tear that has come from your eyes. He wants to walk with you! And He will! He has done this with me: He has given me eyes for Dave, that I see such greatness in him. He gave me the power; because He has already filled me up, so then I can overflow and tell Dave, “This is the greatness I see in you…” It all starts on our knees before a Father who loves us.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Kevin DeYoung on FamilyLife Today. His book is called Men and Women in the Church, and we’ll send you a copy when you give any amount today at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson will continue their conversation with Kevin DeYoung as they talk about explaining God’s design for young men and young women. That’s coming up tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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