What Submission Isn’t
Bob Lepine goes through the book of Esther to find descriptions of what biblical submission is, what it isn't, and why it is important.
About the Guest
Bob Lepine goes through the book of Esther to find descriptions of what biblical submission is, what it isn't, and why it is important.
Bob Lepine goes through the book of Esther to find descriptions of what biblical submission is, what it isn’t, and why it is important.
What Submission Isn’t
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, May 27th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. Many people have tried to explain away the Bible’s teaching about wives submitting to their husbands, in part, because of the caricature of what submission is supposed to look like. So what does the Bible mean when it says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands”? We’ll explore that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. And happy Memorial Day for you guys.
Ann: Thank you.
Dave: It’s good to be here. I’m excited, Bob. Do you know why?
Ann: Me, too, Dave.
Dave: I’m excited because we get to hear Bob Lepine preach! [Laughter]
Dave: It’s like we’re going to be sitting in your church today!
Bob: Actually, if you were sitting in my church, this program would have to go for another hour. [Laughter] I got long-winded on this sermon we’re going to hear today.
Ann: I like that you have the freedom to do that. Dave gets like 35 minutes.
Dave: I don’t have the freedom; they don’t do that.
Bob: We were teaching through a series on the Book of Esther. In Esther, Chapter 1, there’s this issue, where the king calls the queen in to do something; and she says, “No.” The question comes up: “Was she being inappropriately un-submissive to her husband?” I thought, “We’re going to take a morning, and we’re going to talk about the issue of what the Bible teaches about submission.”
I thought, “What better time than Memorial Day to talk about it on FamilyLife Today?” [Laughter] because maybe there aren’t a lot of people listening, and we’ll get less mail that way; you know? [Laughter]
Ann, you know that this is one of those subjects—you bring up submission, in the culture today, and you’ve just said one of the naughty words; right?
Dave: Oh, man.
Ann: Exactly. I didn’t grow up much at church; and when I heard “submission,” I thought: “Of course, Christians are going to say that—they’re trying to put women down,”—having no idea what it really meant and what Scripture means when it says wives should submit to their husbands.
Ann: I think this is a very intriguing topic.
Dave: I also don’t think men or husbands understand, either.
Bob: That’s right. [Laughter]
Dave: Most men—that’s the only verse in the whole entire Bible they know—is: “Wives, submit to your husbands.” Yet they have/we have no idea.
Bob: Let’s see if we can unpack a little of this. Now, again, this is about a third of the whole message. If folks want to hear the whole message, it’s available online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
We’re going to dive into why the question comes up in the Book of Esther—why we have to deal with the question of submission. We’ll hear how it gets dealt with here.
Bob: We’re only going to read three verses from Esther, Chapter 1, this morning; because they give us the illustration we need and get to the heart of what we’re talking about. Esther, Chapter 1: King Xerxes has been hosting a huge party, six months long, inviting generals and friends to come in. Then he had a seven-day long party after that, where everybody in the city could come. The king was drunk, and everybody was living it up.
It’s in that context that Esther Chapter 1, verse 10 [through 12] says: “On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven eunuchs, who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus”—that’s King Xerxes; he commanded them—“to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown in order to show the people and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command delivered by the eunuchs. At this, the king became enraged, and his anger burned within him.”
You understand the context—he’s drunk—he says, “Bring the queen in here. I want everybody to ogle her.” She says: “I’m not going for that. I’m not going to be objectified by my husband, the king.” Was Vashti obligated, according to the laws and customs of Persia, to obey the king or face the consequences? Indeed, she was. She knew the consequences for disobeying, not just her husband, but the king of Persia. Did she obey?—no; she didn’t.
The key question for us here is: “Does she have a defense? Is she justified in disobeying her king?” Clearly, the king and his advisors say, “No; she was not justified”; because they had her banished from his presence. Her decision to say, “No,” could have brought her death. What it did bring her was destitution.
Let’s move beyond the legal realm, and let’s get to the spiritual realm. When Vashti refused to do what her husband directed her to do, was that refusal justified in the way God looks at things? Whose side of this marital spat would God be on? Is He on Xerxes’ side, or is He on Vashti’s side?
Think about this with me. We’re talking about two people, who did not believe in God, did not worship the God of Israel, did not worship Yahweh. These people are living hundreds of years before the New Testament was written/before anybody ever said, “Wives, submit to your husbands; husbands, love your wives.”
But there’s a key point I want you to get here—that even though they didn’t know God and had not heard God’s Word—God’s Word, in this case, had not been delivered yet—did not mean that they did not have an obligation to live according to God’s Word or under His authority. Because you are born a human being/because God created you, you are a part of His race/you are under His authority. The point of all this is that the biblical teaching from the New Testament about wives respecting and submitting to their husbands was binding on Queen Vashti just as it is on every other wife who has ever lived.
So back to the last question: “Was Vashti justified, in this case, refusing to submit to her husband?” The bigger question is this: “If you’re a wife, are there times when you’re justified in not submitting to or respecting your husband?” To answer that question, we have to go to the primary passage that deals with this issue of wives submitting to their husbands. That’s in Ephesians, Chapter 5, starting at verse 22: “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. As the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands...Let the wife see that she also respect her husband.” That’s at the end of the chapter—that last line.
Okay; so wives are to submit to your own husbands. The word, “submit,” here is a Greek word you ought to know—it’s the word, “hupotasso.” Hupo means “under”; tasso means “authority.” So Hupotasso means “to arrange, in order, under.” It’s actually a military term. A soldier has to arrange himself, in order, under authority of those who are over him. And if he is over the authority of others, then he finds himself in that arrangement.
Let’s be clear. In the military context, where there is this hierarchy or order, every soldier has dignity, worth, and value. But different soldiers have different rank and different authority. If you didn’t have that, you would have an ineffective military force.
In marriage, there must be some kind of hierarchical structure. Lots of people just dive in and pull these verses completely out of context. You’ve got to understand the context in which these verses are being given. The first three chapters of Ephesians are all about what God has done for us in Christ—they’re the doctrinal section—they give you all of the indicatives.
The second half of Ephesians—[Chapters] 4, 5, and 6—is where you find the imperatives. This is where you say, “Because [Chapters] 1, 2, and 3 are true, then we should live this way in response to that truth.” Chapter 4, verse 1 is the big starting point for the second half of Ephesians—it says, “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” That’s the thesis statement for the second half.
Then, look at verse 18 of Chapter 5—in verse 18 of Chapter 5, Paul says, “And don’t get drunk with wine, for that’s debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit.” I’ve said this before: “When you drink too much wine, you are under its influence; and you are not in command of your own faculties. When you are controlled by the Spirit, you are under the influence of the Spirit; and you are not in control of your faculties, but the Spirit is directing your faculties.” So: “Don’t let wine control you; let the Spirit control you,”—that’s the overall thesis that we’re getting to with these commands for husbands and wives.
As he moves forward, he’s explaining, “Here’s what Spirit-filled living is going to look like for you.” He gets to verse 21—one of the ways you demonstrate that you’re living a Spirit-controlled life is by submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Okay; now, stop right there.
You probably heard somebody say that this verse teaches that, in marriage, we should have mutual submission. Anybody ever heard the phrase, “mutual submission”?—right. That’s not what this verse is teaching. It’s saying that, where there is God-ordained structure and authority in our world, if we’re walking in the Spirit, we will order ourselves underneath the leadership and direction of the person, whom God has put in authority over us. So, if you’re in a job, you submit to your employer—that is pleasing to Christ when you submit with the right attitude.
But if you’re the person over somebody in authority, you have instructions, too; so: “Husbands, love, and nourish, and cherish your wives. You give yourself up for them.” Wives are submitting; but husbands—you’re giving yourself up. He’s saying the people in authority have a responsibility, before God, to live that out in a Spirit-led way; and the people, who are under authority, have a responsibility to live that out in a God-honoring way. Here, the Bible says God has designed it so that, in a family structure, the husband is the one who has the authority; and the wife is the one who is under that authority.
Some really important points here. First of all, the Bible does not teach that men are more valuable, or have more dignity, or have more skill, or are more important than women. The Bible does not say that husbands are in authority over their wives because they’re better—nowhere is that taught. Men and women/husbands and wives are equally image-bearers of God—equal worth, equal dignity, equal value. This teaching on submission is about a God-ordained structure in marriage—not about superiority or value.
Number two: “The Bible does not teach that women are to submit to men.” It teaches that wives are to submit to their own husbands.
Number three: “There is a difference between submission and obedience,”—this is pretty important. The Bible teaches that children are to obey their parents and do what parents say. But the Bible does not teach that wives are to obey their husbands. Submission is the acknowledgement that there are aspects of life on earth that require a God-ordained structure. It’s a commitment that you’re going to play your part in that structure with respect and reverence for authority—that’s what a Spirit-filled way of living looks like.
Submission also doesn’t mean that you don’t have a voice or that your husband gets to make all the decisions. Some people have so caricatured submission that there have been wives, who have said [timidly], “Whatever you think, dear,”—right?—“If that is what you think.” They have turned into meek, voiceless people who don’t express their own thinking.
What this means is that, if you’re a husband and wife—you come to a place, where you don’t agree on a decision that you’re facing—after a season, where there’s been a lot of dialogue, and where the husband has prayed and you’ve prayed, and you’ve sought godly counsel, and you’re still at an impasse in this situation—when you’re in those situations and you’re not of the same mind, and you’ve been before the Lord and said, “What do you think the Lord would have us do?”—“I think this,” / “Well, I think this,”—you’re not at the same place. When you get there, it is the appropriate response for the wife to say, “I’ll follow you.”
The reason the wife should willingly submit in those places, where there’s an impasse, is because the decision that gets made—guess who God’s going to hold accountable for it?—the husband. Remember, in Genesis, Chapter 3?—this is where Adam and Eve are in the Garden. The snake comes along; he tempts the woman; she takes the bite of the fruit. She hands it to her husband, who was there with her all the time, keeping silent—should’ve stood up and should have said, “No, no; we’re not going to do that”; but he didn’t. He was passive; he eats the fruit as well. All of a sudden, they recognize that, “We just blew it.” They realize that they’re naked and they’re ashamed, and they go hide. And God comes to find them.
What’s the first thing God says? “Adam, where are you?” Why does he come looking for Adam?—because Adam was responsible to lead, and he went passive. He was accountable for the decision. You say, “But Eve was the one…—that’s what Adam said—he said, “The woman—the woman You gave me…” He’s blaming both the woman and God: “It’s the woman You gave me. You gave me a defective model, God,”—right? [Laughter] “It’s her fault.” God says, “I’m having none of that, because I have placed you in a position of leadership and authority. What happens in your home—you’re responsible for that.” Guys, you get—I mean, we’re talking about submission among women—you get the sobriety of what you’re accountable before God, too, in this situation?
What do you do if you’re a wife and you’re married to somebody, with whom you regularly disagree? First of all, ask yourself if your heart and attitude are right before the Lord: “Are you living a Spirit-filled life?”
Secondly, ask yourself: “Are you a person who is, regularly, disagreeable?” If you and your spouse don’t agree regularly, are you just a disagreeable person? Are you a controlling person? Are you a fearful person? Are you humble and teachable? Do you think your way is always the right way?—or are you humble before the Lord? I think a woman has to ask herself: “Am I so caught up with fear or a need to control that I don’t feel like I can trust my husband, because I don’t feel like I can trust anybody but me?”
Here’s a third thing: “Do I demonstrate respect for my husband? Does he know that I’m his ally and not his enemy?” In a marriage relationship, for a wife to be effectively submitting and for a husband to be effectively leading, there needs to be the sense that we’re allies; we’re on the same team: “I’m not your enemy; you’re not my enemy. We’re both trying to do the same thing.”
We may disagree—Mary Ann and I have talked about this. When we have issues, where we’re not on the same side, we make sure we say: “The issue is here. The issue is not us—you’re not the issue; I’m not the issue. This is the issue we’re trying to deal with.” So if we disagree, it’s about the issue; but we’re allies in trying to figure out how this issue should be addressed.
Here is number four: “Have you sought outside godly counsel in an area where there’s an ongoing disagreement? Have you sought outside godly counsel?” And then, if you regularly disagree, do you know what it looks like to respectfully appeal? See, sometimes, you’re just disagreeing; it’s not a respectful appeal that’s made—it’s just anger, it’s insecurity, and it’s fear and it’s disrespect that’s being communicated—as opposed to saying: “Could I make an observation here?” “Could I make a suggestion? I’m not sure this is right,”—a respectful appeal.
Then, as a wife, do you pray regularly for your husband? Let’s say you’re right, and he’s regularly wrong—he’s facing a day, when he will stand before God, and God’s going to say: “You were wrong on this,” and “You were wrong on that,” and “You should have been listening to your wife.” Where were you?—are you praying for him that he will grow in godliness?
Then, the last question here is: “Do you trust God?” Because if God has said, “Here’s the hierarchy—husbands and wives—and the wife should be under the husband’s leadership. If the decision is going to be wrong, who is God going to come and get?—the husband. Is He going to protect you?—God will be your protector in this situation. Might you have to go through some hard times?—“Might there be consequences for my husband’s bad decision?”—yes. Can God meet you in those consequences and still be your strength and your shield?—yes.
In the case of Queen Vashti—back to her situation—was her refusal to submit to her husband—was that something that God would have sanctioned? Well, we don’t have enough information to make a definitive judgement on that; but based on what we do have, I believe this was a case, where a submissive wife refused to obey a sinful command from her husband. Vashti, I believe, is an illustration, for us, that there are times when it is appropriate for a wife, who is committed to biblical submission to her husband, to refuse to do what he has directed.
If the message you’re getting from this sermon so far is that wives don’t always have to submit to her husband—if that’s the big message you’re coming away with—maybe you didn’t pay attention to everything I just said; okay?—because that should not be the dominant spirit of this kind of a message. You don’t read Ephesians 5 and go: “Oh, there are loopholes! Keep in mind there are loopholes!” You don’t major on the loopholes; you major on “What is the basic teaching?” The main idea is that there’s an order and a structure here and that the wife needs to understand that role.
One more caveat I have to make here. Some have so misunderstood and so misapplied Ephesians 5 that they have taught that the biblical teaching on submission means that a wife, who’s in an abusive marriage, needs to stay under her husband’s authority and continue to be abused. That’s absolutely not the case. If you feel threatened, physically/ if you feel like there’s danger, it is not a lack of biblical submission to call the police and tell them that you’re in danger. If you’re in an emotionally-abusive situation/if there’s regular abuse going on—to contact church leaders and tell them what’s going on.
Some people will say: “People have tried that. The husband gets believed, and the wife gets disbelieved.” That’s happened, to our shame.
If you’re in that situation, get help, get counsel, make sure you’re safe. In fact, some wives would not come to tell the church elders because they’re afraid, if their husband found out they told the church elders, they’d need physical safety. A wife needs to know what her safety plan is before she does something. Sinful biblical authority and submission can manifest itself in abuse—that’s not God’s design/not God’s intent. The church should be a protection and civil authorities should be a protection for wives, who are in that situation.
Bob: Again, we’ve been listening to a portion of a sermon from the Book of Esther, talking about how Queen Vashti was called upon to submit to her husband. She said, “No; I’m not going to submit,” and looking at what the Bible has to say about the subject of submission.
Honestly, there’s some stuff in the message that we had to edit, because of time constraints; but important things I think we need to say—like, “There’s a side of this issue that men need to be alert to as well”; right?
Dave: Yes; men think they’re off the hook. It’s like God’s called us to submit to God—that’s the greater submission—and to love our wives, and make their submission to us something that they’d want to do because of the way we submit to God and love them.
Ann: I think that’s a beautiful picture of it. I’m glad that you talked about what biblical submission is and what it is not. I think it’s important to distinguish both. I think this is a big thing for us, as women, to not see it as a burden or some yoke that God has put on us. It really is a beautiful picture of the church and what it should look like.
Bob: The relationship between the Father and the Son—there’s nowhere in Scripture that the Father submits to the Son or the Father submits to the Holy Spirit. There’s a hierarchy there, so our marriages are supposed to reflect that hierarchy. We’re supposed to see, in our marriages, a picture of what the relationships within the Trinity looks like. That’s why this subject is not just “What works in your marriage?” but “What reflects the truth about who God is to others?”
Do you consider yourself a submissive wife? [Laughter]
Ann: The question is to Dave—do you think I am?
Dave: The fun answer is, “Yes.” I mean, I say “fun” because it’s—she is! She is a very strong woman.
Dave: We talk about a lot of issues.
Bob: And you have opinions.
Dave: She should. I feel like we’re really partners and teammates. At the same time, there’s an authority structure that we both submit to God; and you submit to me.
Ann: My fear was that I would lose my voice.
Ann: I think that’s every woman’s fear—that we won’t be heard, that we won’t be noticed, that what we say doesn’t matter. All of that does matter, and we are seen. God wants to use our voices.
Dave: I would add this—I also feel a strong sense of accountability to God. I know every man should feel that; and every woman as well. But I feel a strong sense of, “How am I loving/how am I leading?” I will be held accountable—that’s a real thing; not a fearful thing—but it’s a thing that gives me a strong sense of responsibility to do it God’s way.
Bob: Again, if folks would like to hear the entire message and hear the context for what was talked about today, you can go to FamilyLifeToday.com. We’ve got information there about resources available that help explain what we’ve heard about today. There are books and articles that talk about the biblical view of submission. It’s a part of the Art of Marriage® video series that we produced. And then, resources to help women, particularly, understand that the Bible’s call to submission in marriage is never a call to undergo abuse. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about all the resources we have available.
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We hope you can be back with us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to hear some good news about marriage. We hear statistics that can be disheartening, from time to time. We’ll hear from Shaunti Feldhahn tomorrow. There is good news about marriage, and she’ll share it with us tomorrow. I hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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