A passage I read this morning sheds light on this doctrine of men, even though it says nothing about wife submission. The context is a message to servants who are “under the yoke,” teaching the servants to honor their masters in a godly way so that “the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.”
I Timothy 6:3-5 “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.”Notice that Paul uses “the words of our Lord Jesus Christ” as the most important guideline that we are to consent to. Clearly that was his guideline, along with “the doctrine which is according to godliness.” Remember, Paul did not consider his words to be scripture. He considered his words as letters which contained advice, direction, & teaching, but not as scripture. The words and teaching of Jesus clearly have top billing in Paul's mind.
With the words of Jesus having such high priority to Paul, what is the likelihood that he would teach anything contrary to the words of Jesus? Would he claim that “the doctrine which is according to godliness” would trump the words of Jesus? In Paul's words, God Forbid! He would never consider such a thing! Indeed, he considered himself an apostle of Jesus Christ. As an apostle, he must adhere to the teachings of his Lord.
Yet, traditional teachers & pastors preach from Paul's letters, teaching as if Paul was directing his listeners to do the opposite of what Jesus taught. Yet Paul, himself, wrote “Be ye followers of me even as I also am of Christ,” I Corinthians 11:1. By that directive Paul makes it clear that if anything he says is contrary to the teaching of Jesus that we are NOT to follow him in that teaching. By extension I would add that he meant to include anytime we misinterpret Paul's teaching to counter the teaching of Jesus, we are NOT to follow that interpretation.
What did Jesus teach regarding women and authority? By example He did NOT put women “in their place,” at least not in the place that men had decreed belonged to women. He elevated women and their children instead of classifying them as nuisances, disposable, or unimportant. He healed women, he honored Mary for taking a man's position and NOT serving, and He included women in his inner circle. He chose a woman to evangelize the Samaritans, and did not reject those who came to Him at her bidding. He chose to come to earth through a woman, He chose to “come out” at the temple via the announcement of a woman and a man, & He chose a woman as the first witness to His resurrection. He honored the woman who in an emotional (shall we say “that-time-of-the-month?”) crying jag washed his feet with her tears and anointed him with expensive perfume. He defended her “wasteful” use of perfume, and did not berate or belittle her for making the place “reek to high heaven.”
Jesus said absolutely nothing to even suggest that men were to take authority over women or wives. Instead, He said the entire law and the prophets are based on two rules; to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Further, He specified that we are to treat others as we want to be treated.
Luke 6:31 “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”The two laws are interconnected. If a person does not love his neighbor by treating his neighbor as he would like to be treated, he or she clearly does not love God, either. He has put himself ahead of both God and neighbor (or spouse). Do I want my spouse to give me the right to decide his life for him? To tell me what he thinks is best and then lay his concerns aside, choosing to follow my decisions--even against his better judgment? Absolutely not! Do I want him to give me that kind of power over him? God forbid!! To be handed such corrupting power would be loathsome to me. Therefore, I will not tempt my spouse with such corruption.
On the men's side, do they want women to take power over them? I am convinced they do not. So why are they doing it to women? In particular, why are they doing it to their wives whom they claim to love? Controlling another who is one's equal is how one would treat an enemy, not how one would treat a cherished and respected companion.
Finally, Jesus taught both directly and in principle that we are not to exercise authority over others nor seek to be greater than they.
Matthew 23:10-12 “Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”
Matthew 20:25-28 But Jesus called them unto him and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
John 13:13-15 ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”
Foot washing was a demeaning task that fell to the lowliest person in the household. It was so lowly that people often refused to do it. (In the house where the woman washed Jesus's feet with her tears, neither the host nor a servant had washed His feet. In His defense of the tearful, perfume-wasting woman, Jesus commented on the host's lack of manners). Peter did not want to allow Jesus, his Lord, Master, Superior, Teacher, and Friend to wash his feet; he saw it as so out of line with propriety and his love for Jesus that he protested. By both teaching and example, Jesus, our Master and authority, taught both male and female to choose the lowliest serving positions instead of ruler and superior positions. We are to follow His example.
Now with Jesus's teaching and example, how could Paul possibly conclude that husbands are to rule and act superior to their wives? His very focus on following the teaching and spirit of his Lord and Master would totally rule this out. Instead, he would teach husbands, especially those who “would be great among you,” to serve their wives through loving them sacrificially as Christ loved the church, giving themselves and whatever they thought would benefit themselves up for her, and to choose the lowliest tasks, which may include washing the feet of their wives or cleaning their wives shoes or boots, cleaning urine from the floor and toilet, changing oil in the car, hand-washing feces and urine from diapers (if the couple has chosen to be green and $ conscious and use cloth diapers), to humbly do whatever job needs to be done, and to do it well and as to the Lord without grumbling, complaining, or power-seeking.
If that is NOT what Paul was teaching, by his own statement, we are NOT to follow him. We are to follow the words and teaching of Christ Jesus our Lord. If any man (or woman) does not consent to following the words of Christ, “he (or she) is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth...”
Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel" See www.wanetadawn.com A Mennonite woman fights to save her family yet keep her faith.