Concerning the Ephesians 5 passage some have concluded that Paul is commanding a wife to be subject to their husband in "all things" even in the case of unbelieving husbands.
However, does the context suggest that Paul includes mixed marriages of unbelieving husbands with believing wives?
Does Paul intend to command believing wives to do "everything" their unbelieving husbands ask them to do, especially if they ask their wives to sin?
Eph. 5: 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
Let it be understood that the context Clearly gives a comparison of Christ and His Church with the Husband and his wife. Note, with Christ and His church there is a Clear spiritual oneness. It's not talking about Christ and the church made up of believers and unbelievers. Eph. 5 speaks of the believers as a whole, the Body of Christ under the Head of the Church.
The question must be asked: When Paul says "wives be ...subject...to their own husbands in everything," does he have in mind a mixed marriage, unbeliever with believer or an equally yoked marriage, believer with believer ?
In this context there can only be one answer. The "just as" in Eph. 5:24 refers back to Christ's spiritual relationship and spiritual authority over the church. There certainly is not a mixed relationship being suggested here. So, why would we assume it in the marriage relationship. The context of Eph. deals with the body of Christ. The context is quite clear, Eph. 5: 21 "submitting to one another in the fear of God," and Eph. 5:30 "For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones." It is clear that Paul addresses couples in the body of Christ. In this setting the wives must obey their husbands in everything "as the church is subject to Christ." 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. Paul addresses Christian couples.
If Paul had in mind mixed marriages, why couldn't we also conclude that Paul addresses unbelieving wives and asks them to obey their believing husbands? Does it make sense that Paul says to an unbelieving woman, v. 33 "...and let the wife see that she respects her husband." Would it also make sense that Paul is asking unbelieving husbands to "love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her." Certainly not! The context does not have mixed marriages in view.
We see then that the context teaches that believing wives are to be subject to their believing husbands who are commanded to love and lead their wives as Christ leads the Church. In this setting, wives are to be subject to their husbands in everything. Everything that follows the pattern of the church's submission to Jesus Christ. Just ask your self: What would Jesus ask the church to submit to? Would Jesus ask the church to do that which is wrong? Of course not! Would Paul say in 5:11 "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." and in v. "18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit," and then command a wife with an unbelieving husband (or believing for that matter) to do what ever he asks her to do, including sinful acts? That makes no sense at all! Again, look at the context that so clearly defines the leadership of Christ, Eph. 5:26 "that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish." So the husband must follow the Lord's pattern of leadership. The church is yielded to a Holy leader. The wife can yield herself "in everything" to a leader that leads like Christ leads the church. The context of Eph. does not suggest a mixed marriage, so the phrase "in everything" should be understood in a believing couple's relationship. Paul again in Col. 3 deals with the body of Christ and the believing couples responsibility: v. 15-19 "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. 18, Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them."
There certainly are passages that clearly deal with mixed marriages. Paul deals with the mixed marriage in 1Cor. 7:13, "And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. 15 But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?"
This passage in 1Cor. 7 certainly does not imply a neutral Christian woman regarding her speech and actions. There is obviously something that would cause an unbelieving husband to leave. Her faith, the change in her life, her obedience to God are all very convicting to a stubborn unbeliever.
Examine, 1Pet. 3:1 "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, 2 when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear." It's clear that this 1Pet. 3 wife, whether her husband believes or not ," even if some do not obey the word", must live a life of righteousness. Her lifestyle of Purity, 3 chaste conduct accompanied by fear" has an impact on her unbelieving husband. 1Peter 3:2, practiced will cause her unbelieving husband to think about Christ and the change He has made in his own wife's life. Certainly her disobedience to God will not win her husband to Christ. Look at Titus 2: 4 "that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed." Paul says that the word of God could be "blasphemed" if the wife is not discreet, chaste, good and obedient to their own husbands. Three of the four characteristics speak of moral character. No where does Paul suggest she sin in her attempt to be submissive. We must understand that godly submission involves living godly, which means after God's character. Peter tells the wife who lives with an unbeliever, 3, "Do not let your adornment be merely outward--arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel--4, rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. 5, For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror." Peter speaks of women in the OT that had a "gentle and quiet spirit". This is what God desires in the character of the wife. This is what is "precious in the sight of God". It was in this manner (meek & quiet spirit) that Sarah acted towards Abraham. When Sarah called her husband lord, it was a title of honor, a title of esteem.
Now at this point, some have taught that Sarah's excellent example of godly submission was demonstrated when she lied about being Abraham's wife. With this, some teach that the Christian wife must submit to her husband even if he asks her to sin. Is this what the Bible teaches?
Is this what Peter had in mind in 1Pet. 3, when Peter said that the wife should have the "incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God." Not at all! The writer of this paper believes that a thorough study of God's word reveals that the wife must obey God and trust in the Lord for the results.
Let us approach the remainder of this study being reminded that it is God that told the wife both to obey Himself and her husband.
The following passages in Gen. deal with two occurrences when Abraham asked Sarah to lie: READ - Gen. 12:10-20, Gen. 20:1-16.
What can we say in these instances? First, Abraham did not trust God. Certainly if God had the power to give him a child in his 90's and to give him the promise land, then protection for he and his wife was a small issue to a Powerful God. Abraham lied! Some will say, well he told half the truth. Or they say he told the truth, but didn't give out all the information, because Sarah was his half sister: Ge 20:12, "But indeed she is truly my sister. She is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife." Let1s face it, Abraham lied to cover his own hide. The main issue was to keep men from knowing that Sarah was his wife. He withheld the truth, he was deceptive.
No parent would encourage their children to give them half-truths would they?
Now this is were the debate begins.
Was Sarah correct in obeying Abraham and disobeying God? The same God that told Sarah to be submissive told her not to lie. God says much more about lying than He does about wives submitting.
The question we need to deal with is this: Does God want us to set aside one of His commands to obey another? One thing is certain, God's characteristics are constant. There is no "variation or shadow of turning" with God, James 1:17. Consider what happened the first time in Gen. 12, Abraham commanded Sarah to lie, and she did. The second time, Sarah was not asked to lie, she did it all on her own, Gen. 20: 4, But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, "Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also? 5, "Did he not say to me, 'She is my sister'? And she, even she herself said, 'He is my brother.' In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this." How sad that an unbeliever claims to be the only innocent one here. Abimelech clearly points out that Sarah she lied "even she herself said, 'He is my brother". In both Gen. 12 & 20 Abraham receives a rebuke from an unbeliever. In Gen. 20:16, Abimelech point out Sarah's sin, "Then to Sarah he said, "Behold, I have given your brother (sarcastic) a thousand pieces of silver; indeed this vindicates you before all who are with you and before everybody." Thus she was rebuked.
God's Word does not record a moment of glory for Abraham and Sarah, but rather a moment of shame for not trusting God, a moment of being rebuked openly for not telling the truth. Sarah is never commended for not telling the truth. To read this into 1Pet. 3, is poor exegesis and not considering all that God's Word has to say.
If we go to Heb. 11, we can read about a number of faithful saints in the OT. Heb. 11:11, "By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised." We find no mention of her laughing in unbelief. In Heb. 11:17, "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son." We find no mention of Abraham's many short comings. Also, Heb. 11: 29, "By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned." Again no mention of Moses being forbidden to enter the promised land because of his sin. Why do I mention this? For this reason, we need to be careful when we go to a passage not to read in our own conclusions. Yes these folks were all faithful, but they all had their sinful areas. Yes, Sarah did submit, but she also lied. Peter, in 1Pet. 3, is not endorsing her lies with Abraham. Peter is using Sarah as an example of a woman that generally was characterized by godly/holy submission. 1Pet. 3: 5, "For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands." Peter is not saying, women obey your husbands even if it means sinning. Only 4 verses away from mentioning Sarah, Peter says, v.10, For "He who would love life And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit." We can hardly imagine that Peter was thinking in v. 6, that it was permissible for Sarah to lie and then in v. 10, condemn Deceit.
Some have tried to say that Sarah was setting the example for wives to submit, even if it causes one to sin and then they just trust in God to spare them from disaster.
Where in Scripture is this promise found?
Where does God say, He'll spare those that choose to do unrighteousness?
We have no such promise! In fact, we find God allowing the Righteous to perish at the hands of the ungodly over and over again.
For a moment, let's look at some other examples of women in God's word. 1Sam. 25 records a situation were the wife went against her husband who was obviously doing the wrong thing against David. Nabal would not offer meat and water to these military men of the country. David was out battling for the Lord, v. 28. Abigail brought food and water to David's men and David's response was, "Blessed is the LORD God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me!", 32.
Nabal then dies and the Scripture makes it clear that it was because of his evil deed against David: 38, "Then it came about, after about ten days, that the LORD struck Nabal, and he died. 39, So when David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, "Blessed be the LORD, who has pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and has kept His servant from evil! For the LORD has returned the wickedness of Nabal on his own head."
What can we say about Abigail? She chose to honor the Lord first and not her husband. Her husbands deeds were so grievous to the Lord that He took his life. Is she condemned for doing what obviously pleased God? No!
Conclusion: The writer of this paper does not see God's word asking wives to sin in order to be submissive. "Subject in everything" in Eph. 5, must follow the pattern of Christ and the church and the context in no way implies an unequally yoked marriage. Jesus would never ask His church to sin, this is the pattern wives are to be under with their husbands. The 1Pet. 3 passage clearly says that the unbelieving husband may be won by the wife's life style. A life style of sin will not provoke an unbeliever towards the Cross of Jesus, but the light of good works will. Righteous living attracts sinners to the Cross. Peter is certainly not endorsing submission to the unbelieving husbands sinful whims. This type of living will not win the unbeliever. Paul in 1Cor. 7, reveals actual situations that we've all heard about. Unbelieving husbands have left their believing wives. Why? Not because the wife chose to submit to the husband's demands for sinful behavior, but because the wife served and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.
God has no double standard when it comes to obedience.
All Christians have different areas of authority over them. God in no way calls us to sin when sinful leadership asks us to. A sinful government may ask us to sin. A sinful church leader (Pastor or Elder) may ask people to sin, a sinful boss may ask you to sin and a sinful husband may ask you to sin. Yet, ultimately we serve God and must obey Him.
Remember Acts 5:28, "Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!" 29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men."
God would not say in one passage such as Ro 13:14 "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts." And then in another passage give license to sin. He's not the author of confusion. Acts 5 reminds us that God does not simply ignore the sins of couples, even when they are believers. Ananias and Sapphira willfully sinned and died the same day. Sapphira agreed with her husband to sin against the Spirit, Acts 5:9. Adam and Eve both received their personal judgment.
Some have suggested that because Sarah lied for Abraham, an acceptable pattern of sinning in order to please the husband has been set. Yet, when we examine Gen. 12, Abraham ends up being rebuked by an unbeliever and God has to intervene to protect them. Genesis 20:9 And Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, "What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done." No where in God1s word is Sarah commended for sinning. Abraham and Sarah are both commended in Scripture for their faith, but not their unfaithfulness. When we look at God1s word we can only find clear prohibitions against sin and no encouragement to sin.
The writer of this paper realizes that there are very difficult situations that believing women with unbelieving and believing husbands find themselves in. However, the command to be "subject in everything" is clearly in the realm of a believing couple. Christians may find themselves in very difficult situations under ungodly leaders. Yet they should always choose Righteousness.
Many saints under ungodly governments have given their lives because they have refused to sin or refused to forsake their faith. The moment we open the door for situation ethics as Christians we will forever be drawing new lines of what is Right and Wrong from man's perspective. However are those lines God's standards or merely Doctrines of conveyance? We must stand on solid conclusions based on Scripture, interpreted in it's context and in harmony with all of God1s word.
Ponder the following:
Ac 4:19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge."
Ge 3:17 Then to Adam He said, "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it': "Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life."
1Sa 15:24 Then Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice."
Return to Bible Studies