Having been an abused wife, I cringe every time I hear or read that wives are required to submit joyfully to their husbands. In my mind it means to be joyful when I am humiliated by my husband, joyful when he orders me around, joyful when he mistreats me, joyful when my husband mistreats my child, joyful when he destroys my things, joyful when my husband threatens me. It is the ultimate in domestic abuse because it not only demands that wives both permit themselves to be abused—submit to abuse and abuser—and accept the justification husbands, pastors and church folk put forth to force wives to tolerate the abuse, it also demands that wives be happy—joyful—about being violated by their own husbands who promised to love and cherish them.
The fact that this is the experience of so many wives, leads me to examine whether “joyful submission” to one’s husband is biblical. Does the Bible ever command wives to submit JOYFULLY?
First, I look up the word “Joyful” in the concordance to see if it is ever connected to “submission.” Out of 25 occurrences, nearly all of them are about being joyful to the Lord for some marvelous thing He did. Exceptions are Esther 5:9, when Haman went home joyful because he thought he was promoted, Ps 113:9 when the barren mother has children (and is rejoicing in the Lord), and 2 Cor 7:4 when Paul is joyful in tribulation. Unless one concludes the teaching of “joyful submission” is talking about abused wives being joyful when their “Christian” husbands bring them tribulation, it is an entirely man-decreed doctrine that tells wives to leap for joy as they dump their brains down the garbage disposal and rush to allow the very thing they know will ruin their family. It is foolishness.
Picture it: When the husband overturns the table, dumping the pot roast, peas, mashed potatoes and apple crisp on the floor, along with shards of glass from broken glasses and plates, all doused liberally with water and milk, all because he thinks there is too much salt on the peas, the wife is to submit joyfully. Exactly HOW does that look? Will she be singing Amazing Grace or There is Power in the Blood? But that is being joyful to God and will likely provoke her husband to whack her across the mouth.
Perhaps a John Piper moment is what they mean. “My dear husband, I love you very much and joyfully submit to you. I am so sorry the peas were oversalted. I will joyfully make sure they are salted just right in the future. (as if anyone could guarantee that!) I am so sorry to have caused you such distress. What would you have me do now? Shall I clean the mess off the floor or cook you another dinner first? I will gladly do whatever you want.”
Gag me. What a syrupy bunch of hogwash. And why do the husbands who make such messes require their wives to clean them up?
God never asks wives to submit joyfully to their husbands. To say that He does, is to say that He demands that wives grovel at the feet of their husbands and be joyful at their own humiliation. This is a picture of a subjugator and his vanquished foe, not of a love relationship. It has no place in a marriage that is to be a symbol of our loving sacrificial Christ and the reciprocating church.
There is not a single verse in the Bible telling wives to submit to husbands who mistreat them. Slaves are told to submit to harsh masters, I Peter 2:18, but wives are NOT told to submit to harsh husbands. In fact, husbands are told to not be harsh to their wives. (Col 3:19, NIV)
Sapphira buried her brain with the excrement and agreed with her husband to lie to God about the proceeds of the sale of their property. She didn’t even do something that was “clearly” sin, like group sex, as Piper taught. She told a “little white lie” and God held her accountable with her life.
The demand that wives submit joyfully is a demand that wives put their blessing on being mistreated, and even sin joyfully because it isn’t “clearly sin.” BOTH THESE are wrong. While we are to “bless those that persecute us, bless and curse not,” we are never to put our blessing on the sin of persecution, nor on sin. Joyful submission is blessing the sin, because anytime a wife is required to submit against her better judgement, and then pushed to be joyful about it, there is sin involved on the part of the husband.
When husbands love sacrificially and make decisions WITH their wives instead of for them or in opposition to what wives think is best, wives ARE submitting to their husbands, and they don’t have to be told to do it joyfully.
Even worse, it is HUSBANDS who are told to be joyful with their wives. Ecclesiastes 9:9a “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity.” Once again, a command or recommendation to husbands has been twisted and misconstrued to apply to wives.
We should be hearing, “Husbands sacrifice joyfully for your wives, for that is genuine love and will bring out the best in your wives.”
Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge," a novel about a wife who discovers traditional marriage advice doesn't always work. See www.wanetadawn.com
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