Saturday, November 7, 2009

“In Everything” Christianese, Part 2

As discussed in part 1, Ephesians 5:22 and 24, “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord…Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything,” have been interpreted to mean “no matter what” in Christianese. Specifically, they have been interpreted to mean “submit if he is abusing you, obey when he is nasty and sinning against you.” The result of this Christianese, is that the church is commanding wives to REWARD husbands for disregarding all of Ephesians except the directions to wives. This encourages sin.

According to the context of Ephesians, those words to wives mean wives are to submit to the sacrificial love of their husbands. If they do not, then the other passages about submitting to one another and getting along in church would also mean our churches are to be ruled by those who are the most demanding and sinful. After all, the demanding and nasty ones are the very people who will never give in, therefore, the godly ones are required to give in and submit to sinful behavior. (This may actually be the problem in many churches today—that the godly leaders are submitting to the sinful leaders.)

Submitting to one another does NOT include submitting to sin or allowing sinful and selfish behavior. Rather, just like we have to accept the gift of Christ’s salvation, so a wife must accept the gift of her husband’s sacrificial love. When he says, “Honey, you look tired. Please, go get ready for bed. I’ll wash the dishes and put the children to bed,” she is to submit to that. She may want to protest, “But Dear, you are tired and worked hard all day, too. Those are MY responsibilities. I feel so bad leaving those things for you to do, I cannot submit to you.” But the passage tells her to submit to sacrificial love, even as she does to Christ.

I recall a sermon Chuck Swindoll preached about the letter to Philemon. Chuck suggested that Paul wrote that letter “tongue in cheek,” meaning in a humorous and ironic way to get the point across. Paul played with the meaning of Onesimus’s name and his unprofitable behavior. On the one hand Paul refused to command Philemon to accept his slave as a brother, and asked Philemon do so voluntarily as receiving a gift from Paul, since he is Paul’s son in faith and Paul would have liked to keep Onesimus with him. Yet at the end of the letter he said he is coming to visit, suggesting if Philemon treats Onesimus harshly, Paul will be coming to hold him accountable. Although Paul writes kindly, he tells Philemon to treat his slave well, especially since his running away ended up in bringing him to Christ.

There is similarity in the letter to the whole Ephesian church, where Paul tells wives to submit in everything and as to the Lord and in his actions of sending Onesimus back to his owner. Just as Philemon may have thought when his slave returned, that he had the right to beat his slave severely, husbands tend to think they have total power and domination rights over their wives because of Paul’s words to wives. Paul’s next words say to both husbands and to Philemon that this supposition is false. Paul asked Philemon to treat Onesimus as a brother in the faith, as Paul’s own son, and asks husbands to treat their wives with self-sacrificial love, even as Christ loved the church so much He gave Himself up for her.

It is time churches teach ALL of Ephesians correctly, that abusive, controlling, and authoritarian husbands turn from their wicked ways, be transformed by the renewing of their minds, align their beliefs with scripture, and treat their wives as daughters of God, and joint heirs with Christ and worthy of all self-sacrificial love, gentleness, and respect.

Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel,"a story about a woman who grapples with her husband's demands that she submit--no matter what. Please visit


  1. Your comments regarding Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus are insightful and worthyo consideration. You might be interested to know that in Baptist history there some who actually had eldresses in the 1700s (Sandy Creek Baptist Assn.). The records had burned in a fire. I tried to reconstruct the case from the view point of the Bible being the word of God which they would not have questioned then. I delivered an address, "The Genius of Orthodoxy: Eldresses." The silence in the conservative camp of Southern Baptists was deafening. What was even more remarkable, the moderates who would supposedly have favored the idea only mentioned it in the state paper in passing and never discussed it (they didn't care for the approach that a case could be made out for women in ministry from the perspective of the Bible being the word of God.

  2. Dr. James Willingham,

    Wow! You had the guts to speak to conservative southern baptists about eldresses! Amazing! The reaction of the moderates is telling, too. Perhaps they would have suffered church discipline if they had made more of it. There is much fear of man going on in our churches today. If the Baptist churches are anything like the super conservative Mennonite churches, a person who is excommunicated or discipled in one church is held accountable by the pastors in the next church if the first church doesn't give them a good reference.

    Thanks so much for speaking out! In spite of the deafening silence. Another way to look at it: sometimes people are silent because they had not thought about it from that angle. They want time to mull it over and discuss it quietly among friends before they are willing to stick their necks out. Please, keep preaching/teaching.