Many of us have read Ephesians 5:22. Mr. Ames refers to it as a “memory scripture,” implying we should know it by heart. It reads, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” 1 Peter 3:1 is very similar. It tells us, “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives….”
When we read this, we have to recognize that it is a command. Not a suggestion or request, but rather God’s inspired instruction. Peter’s words tell us that even if we have an unconverted mate, we are not off the hook. And notice how the command doesn’t have “terms” or “conditions” that govern whether or not we need to follow it. It doesn’t say, “Submit when your husband makes a decision you agree with” or “Accept the decrees you think are wise.”
So, what happens when our husband makes a decision that we might consider to be unwise? What if we don’t think he has considered all of the facts before he made his decision? On the path to becoming one as husband and wife, disagreement is inevitable. When our mate makes a decision that we deeply believe is a mistake, what are we to do in those situations?
Let’s look at the example Sarah set for us. Peter himself points us to her as an example from which we can learn (1 Peter 3:6).
Our Husband’s Story Is Ours, As Well
Abraham is called the Father of the Faithful, and even though Sarah is not given a similar sort of title, she is mentioned among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. When you read the story of Sarah, you quickly realize that the subject of the larger story is God’s working with Abraham. But in working with her husband, God also was working with Sarah, and God did talk to Sarah herself. The text does not tell us He gave her visions, but, as Abraham’s wife, Sarah would have been a part of the covenants God made with him.
Abraham was the leader of his family, the protector of Sarah, and the one who supported her. When Abraham left Ur, Sarah had to be willing, otherwise she would have stayed behind or would have likely been removed from the story. Peter reveals the mind of Christ by telling us that men and women are heirs together, receiving the same promise (1 Peter 3:7). It is not unreasonable to conclude that Sarah, too, believed in the promises God held out to her and her husband, as he did. Reading 1 Peter 3:7, I would think that she believed not only in the physicial blessings God had promised, but also in whatever details of the full plan of God that He had shared with Abraham, as well. We, too, along with our believing husbands, trust the promises God holds out for us.
What about that “submit” thing, though? Especially submitting when our husbands make decisions with which we don’t agree. Does Sarah teach us anything about how wives should respond?
Well, in Genesis 12 and Genesis 20, we see two occasions in which Abraham makes a decision where—each time—Sarah is placed in danger when he allows her to be taken from his protection and into the house of a foreign king who does not know she is married and intends to make her his own. If you haven’t read the accounts in those chapters of Genesis, they are worth the time, and, as you read them, place yourself in her shoes. Imagine what living through those situations would have been like for Sarah and how vulnerable and exposed she would have felt. Talk about “unwise” decisions! Abraham knew what God had promised him, yet, in these instances, he feared for his life and made unwise choices that did not reflect the powerful faith for which he would eventually be known. Like our husbands, Abraham was still human, and made a poor decision to allow Sarah to be taken from him.
Can We See God in Those Moments?
What did she do? She did not brandish a sword and fight her way to freedom or otherwise take matters into her own hands, as many of today’s movies might depict her doing. She did not seek to shame Abraham into doing the right thing. No, she submitted to Abraham and went. Now it happened in both cases that God intervened and saved her. The text does not tell us any details of her reaction, but it is not hard to imagine that Sarah was praying, possibly even fasting and begging God for deliverance from the potential consequences of the decision her husband had made. Perhaps she pleaded with Abraham about the foolhardiness of the decision he was making—if not the first time he made it, then perhaps the second! We do not know.
What we do know is that she submitted to her husband and let herself be taken. I have always admired her for this, even from my childhood.
You see, when I read the story of Abraham and Sarah, I see a woman who was able to look past her husband and see God. To see her real protector. Her real deliverer. The One who was really in charge of her family. Peter praises Sarah for the fearless obedience she gave her husband (1 Peter 3:5–6). She was able to submit to Abraham in every decision, even the ones that could possibly endanger her, because she had the ability to see God behind her man. Not that God necessarily agreed with Abraham’s decisions, and, as we know, after these two failures Abraham would eventually have to pass an even greater test of faith. However, God had Abraham’s back—and, thus, had her back, too. Sarah, I suspect, realized this. In her submission to Abraham, she was able to get out of the way to let God direct and lead her husband, and thereby herself, to the land He promised to them.
When our husbands make decisions we don’t agree with, what is our response? Do we criticize or nag? Do we undermine the decision, biding our time till it falls apart? Do we take what we feel is the high road, and run to God in prayer and fasting—but then corrupt that high road by doing nothing to support our husband’s decision, waiting for God to show him we were right? Or do we pray and tell God our concerns, reminding Him we are on the journey, too, alongside our husband, and then do all we can to make the decision work?
Doing Our Part and Letting God Do His
My husband has had the opportunity to serve on the Living Church of God’s Council of Elders under both Dr. Roderick Meredith and Mr. Gerald Weston, and he has commented on the men they have chosen to surround themselves with for counsel. He is quick to say that the men are not “yes” men—that is, the sort of men who simply say what they think the Presiding Evangelist wants to hear. They give real counsel, even if it means disagreeing with the boss. But he says that they are what he calls “yes, sir” men—meaning that after giving their honest opinions, counsel, and input, they still recognize that the Presiding Evangelist is the leader God has appointed in the Church. When he makes a decision, whether it matches their counsel or not, they rally behind him to make that decision work the best they can. In other words, they, too, understand the lesson of Sarah.
Our families are no different. As wives and mothers, we have to recognize that families are tiny kingdoms—individual governments learning God’s way. The husband is the king and the leader (under Christ), and and wives are to submit to their own husbands. We are to give our input and our advice, and then, when the decision is made, we are to do all we can to make the decision succeed, whether it matches our own counsel or not. When we feel a bad decision has been made, we can pray about it, or fast about it. We can even, if necessary, talk to our pastor about it if we are truly concerned. In the end, our command is to submit to our husband and to strive to see God behind our man.
If we do this, God will not fail us. He will rescue us if need be. Who knows, maybe the “stupid” decision may succeed. Maybe He will change the mind of our husband. Or maybe we were wrong, and time will help us to see it. Or, even if we were right, He may miraculously intervene if necessary, to make things work out. Who knows? We are simply to do our part, and let God do His part. We must remember that we are not only the wives of our husbands, we are also the daughters of the Ever-Living One. That Ever-Living One is not only working with us, but with our husbands as well.