Third Sunday in Epiphany 2015
[Note: the audio for this sermon can be found here.]
We come now to the question: What does it mean to obey your husband? A Christian woman obeys her husband by ministering the grace of God to him through her gentle and quiet spirit and fearlessly following his lead.
Obedience in the Lord
The temptation we have is to spend all our time on the exceptions and difficult cases – explaining everything “obedience to husbands” does not mean, but as important as that is, it is often a temptation to avoid the clear teaching of Scripture. So let’s begin with the exceptions and set them aside: There is no absolute authority in all of creation except Jesus Christ. This is what it means to confess that His name is above all names, that He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Phil. 2:9-11, 1 Tim. 6:15, Rev. 17:14, 19:16). Therefore, the true authority of the husband in marriage is limited by the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:22). A godly woman obeys and submits to her husband as to the Lord Jesus, and therefore, if her husband asks her to rob a bank, cheat on their taxes, use pornography, or pray to pictures, the godly woman will respectfully refuse because of her prior commitment to obeying Jesus. Obedience to Jesus also includes His protection of women in abusive relationships (Ex. 21:10-11, 1 Cor. 7:10-15, Eph. 5:28-29).
As Sara Obeyed Abraham
One of the principle passages we look to when establishing the wife’s duty to obey her husband is 1 Peter 3. Here, Peter takes up a less than ideal situation where a husband may not be obeying the Word of God (1 Pet. 3:1). This establishes the principle that mere disobedience on the part of the husband is not grounds for disobedience on the part of the wife. Instead, Peter calls the wife to submission to husbands in those circumstances not as a form of pacifism or apathy but as a strategy of grace. To be a Christian is to believe in the power of grace; it is to believe in the power of the gospel to transform enemies into friends, to transform tyrants into servants (Rom. 5:6-11, Mt. 20:25-28). This is the logic of all gospel living: you have been loved with an unreasonable and efficacious love, therefore, go and do likewise. Here, Peter argues that a woman’s gospel power is in her beauty, which is not merely an outward adornment, but also the hidden person of the heart, a gentle and quiet spirit, which is an incorruptible beauty, precious in the sight of God (1 Pet. 3:3-4). This is how the women in former times adorned themselves by being submissive to their own husbands (1 Pet. 3:5). And the example Peter supplies is Sara who obeyed Abraham calling him lord (1 Pet. 3:6). The notable thing about Peter’s overall argument is that it began with slaves and progresses to wives and finally husbands, implicitly arguing that an individual’s relative weakness is related in an inverse proportion to their potential to display the gospel (cf. 1 Tim. 2:18-25). This is underlined by the fact that Roman society had far less legal recourse than we have today.
Admonish the Young Women
The other explicit teaching on this matter comes when Paul is giving Titus instructions for establishing churches on the island of Crete. This includes finding good men to lead the churches (Tit. 1:5-9) who are to be on the frontlines of establishing a new way of life, a distinctively Christian culture. But the responsibility of inculcating this paideia of God extends to the whole community, including the older women both modeling and teaching the ways of God (Tit. 2:3) and admonishing the young women to be husband-lovers, children-lovers, sober, chaste, homemakers, good, and obedient to their own husbands (Tit. 2:4-5). Notice that here and in every place where obedience to husbands is commanded it is manifestly clear that women are not commanded to obey men in general but only their own husbands in particular (Eph. 5:22, Col. 3:18, 1 Pet. 3:1, Tit. 2:5). Second, Paul exhorts older women to admonish the younger women in this duty. This assumes of course that older women are themselves accustomed to this obedience, and they understand the various temptations that accompany it.
Third, Paul says that a great deal rides on this: “that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” So it’s worth asking: How does the disobedience of a wife cause the word of God to be blasphemed? There are at least two ways: First, Paul says in Ephesians that a submissive wife pictures the submission of the Church to Christ in everything (Eph. 5:24). Therefore, a disobedient wife is announcing with her actions that the Church is disobedient, that Jesus is not a Husband worthy of respect. In other words, women who cheerfully serve their husbands are potent displays of the gospel: they picture the loveliness of the Church, the Bride of Christ (cf. Rev. 21:2). Second, as we noted last week, Jesus models obedience and submission to His Father (Jn. 4:34, 5:30, 6:38-40, Phil. 2:8-12). It is precisely in freely and gladly embracing His calling as Son in obedience and submission and honor toward His Father that Jesus fulfills His mission and calling. In this sense, a wife also represents Christ to her husband, and He is the eternal Word of the Father full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14).
We live in world that is terribly confused about what true feminine freedom and glory are. But the answer is the same as the life that Jesus gives all those who follow Him: deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. If you are a single woman, you are called to lose your life through serving others in obedience to Jesus. If you are a married woman, you are called to lose your life through serving others, and specifically through obedience to your husband. This is a unique way that God has gifted a woman to bless her husband. When you respect him and follow his lead, you are ministering to him in a way that no one else can. When a husband is respected and obeyed, his wife crowns him and glorifies him, and he stands up a little taller.
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