Revive Our Hearts Podcast

God’s Beautiful Design for Women, Day 42

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s books can elicit strong reactions. 

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: A number of years ago I was speaking at a conference for women’s ministry leaders that was held at one of our nation’s top seminaries. I did a book signing after one of the sessions. There were a lot of women standing in line, and a woman came up, and she was holding my book called Lies Women Believe—one of the first books I ever wrote.

She held it up, and she goes, “I hate this book!”

Leslie: Why did she hate the book? We’ll talk about it here on Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. She’s the author of Adorned: Living Out The Beauty of the Gospel Together. It’s April 4, 2017.

Yesterday Nancy laid a very helpful foundation for the biblical concept of submission. Does it condone abuse of women? No. And submission is set on a backdrop of husbands loving their wives like Christ loves the church. You can hear yesterday’s helpful program at ReviveOurHearts.com. And now, let’s get back to the series "God’s Beautiful Design for Women: Living Out Titus 2:1–5." When we left Nancy, she was in the book-signing line with the frustrated reader.

Nancy: She said, "I hate this book!" And I’m thinking, Ooo, that’s a little strong. And I said, “Well, tell me about it. What is it that you hate?”

Then she said, “It’s this whole thing about submission.”

It turned out, as we chatted briefly, because there were other women in line, she had never even heard of this concept. It wasn’t just that she heard it and didn’t like it. It was totally unfamiliar to her.

So we chatted for just a moment, but there were other women in line. Two women later, as I recall, there was another woman who said almost the exact same thing. She said, “I’ve never heard of this concept before. This is horrible.”

This is a very natural and, in some ways, understandable if you don’t know God’s ways and how it fits together. It was rather surprising to hear that at a conference for women’s ministry leaders held at a seminary. It surprised me that there would be women there who had never heard of this concept.

But then you get outside, into the world . . . One woman was just telling me at the break here how often in the church you find people who this is just new to them. They don’t get it. Or it’s not new to them, but they’re really resistant about the idea.

So when we come to this phrase that we’re looking at in Titus 2, I kind of hang on to my seat, like, buckle up for the ride because you don’t know who’s going to be coming at you, throwing your book away or around.

But getting that kind of feedback and input over the years has really helped me. And now, as I’ve written this latest book, Adorned, which has a whole chapter on the unexpected blessing of submission, the strength and the beauty of submission, I find that I’ve written that chapter a little differently than I would have fifteen years ago because I’ve heard some of these women, I’ve listened to the arguments, I’ve read the theological stuff coming out here. And I’ve tried to address these things in a way that is more helpful for our current era.

Let me just read the passage we’re looking at, and then we’ll talk more about it. Paul says in Titus 2:

Older women are to train the young women to love their husbands [the first and last in this list of qualities has to do with marriage] and their children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind and submissive to their own husbands, [Love their husbands, submissive to their husband. What’s at stake?] that the word of God may not be reviled [or blasphemed (Titus 2:3–5).

Now as we look at this thing of “submissive to their own husband” (submission in the context of marriage), I’m convinced that much of the resistance to this idea comes from a faulty understanding of its meaning. Now, some people just don’t want to understand it, and no matter what you explain or tell them, they’re not going to agree to it.

But I think a lot of these younger women have grown up in this world with its way of thinking. They don’t know any different way of thinking. That’s where we need to gently come alongside of them as older women and be coaches and disciplers and mentors and help them, and help the teenage girls before they develop wrong ways of thinking—the little girls—to think God’s way before they buy into the mindset of the world.

So it’s especially important for those of us who are older women to be prepared to deal with the misconceptions that exist around this subject if we’re going to carry out our mandate to train the younger women to be submissive to their own husbands.

So I want in this session to talk about some basics in relation to submission that we need to understand, and I’m going to do that in the form of nine statements—they’ll be quick—that talk about what submission is not.

What Submission Is Not

Number 1: A wife’s submission is not to men in general.

Her submission is not to men in general. Now, every person—man, woman, young, old—has relationships that require submission, whether to parents, a boss, civil authorities, spiritual leaders in the church. And according to Ephesians 5, verse 21, all of us as believers are to have a humble, submissive attitude toward one another in the body of Christ.

But when Scripture instructs wives to submit, here in Titus 2, it is specifically to be submissive to—whom?—to their own husbands. I’m not called to be submissive to your husband except in the sense that all of us in the body of Christ are to have a humble, submissive attitude toward each other. But I am called to be submissive to my own husband in a way I’m not called to be submissive to men in general.

I think this has been misunderstood. If we miss this, then we’re going to overreach on the subject of submission. I’m called to submit to my husband. You’re called to submit to your own husband. Who are these husbands? These are the ones that have been established by God to serve as the head of their own wife—not the head of women in general—and to love their wife and to lay down their life for their wife.

So wife’s submission is not to men in general.

Number 2: Submission does not mean that you are inferior to your husband or worth less than he is.

Now, some of what I’m going to say here, some of you have known for years and years. You could teach it. In fact, that’s my point. You need to teach it. This is what older women are supposed to teach younger women. So don’t say, “Oh, I know all of this.” The question is: Do you know it well enough that you could teach it to a fourteen-year old, or a twenty-four-year old, or a thirty-four-year old, that you could help them grasp this?

This is a huge statement: Submission does not mean that you are inferior to your husband, because many books about biblical submission today, many blog posts say that if you talk about submission, that’s the same as saying that women are less than men. This is not true. It’s not true.

Scripture is unequivocal in affirming that men and women are both created in the image of God.

  • They have equal worth and value.
  • They have equal access to the Father through Jesus Christ.
  • They are equally co-heirs with Christ.
  • They share equally in the Holy Spirit.
  • Men and women are equally redeemed and baptized into Christ.
  • They are equally partakers of His spiritual gifts.
  • They are equally loved by God.
  • They are equally valued by God.

And to say all of that is not incompatible with saying there are God-created differences and distinctions in the function and the assignment between the husband and his wife. Get it?

So to say that there are those differences is not to say that a woman is inferior to her husband or worth less than he is.

Number 3: Scripture doesn’t subject you as a wife to a life of forced compliance or forced submission.

Listen to this: Husbands are nowhere in the Scripture told, “Make your wife submit.” Submission is to be a voluntary response of love and obedience to God on the part of a wife. No husband should ever force his wife to submit to him through coercion or manipulation.

So if you hear men say, “I’m the boss; you’re the wife. Submit.” This I not God’s paradigm or plan for submission.

“Wives submit.” This is something we gladly yield to the Lord and to our husbands. It doesn’t subject you to a life of forced compliance.

Number 4: Submission doesn’t mean slavish, grovelling subservience.

You are not your husband’s maid. You are not his employee. You are not his child. You are not a second-class citizen who bows at the feet of her superior. Rather, submission is a joyful, glad-hearted, intelligent, loving responsiveness to your husband’s God-ordained position as your spiritual head—whether he recognizes that or not, whether he gets that or not.

This is something we gladly give to the Lord and to our husband as part of this great redemption picture that we’re painting.

This headship we’re talking about doesn’t mean that a husband has absolute authority over his wife. Husbands are not the supreme authority over their wives—God is. Husbands have been delegated authority by God, and they will answer to Him for exercising that authority in a humble, sacrificial, loving way.

Number 5: Submission does not imply mindless, unquestioning obedience.

It doesn’t mean your husband has all the ideas, all the thoughts, and you never peep, you never squeak, you never say anything, you never have any input. That is not what submission means. A man who leads his home that way is foolish. That’s not God’s way. You are your husband’s helper. That means he needs you. He needs your input expressed in a humble, gentle way—hopefully the same way he’s leading and shepherding this marriage, in a humble and gentle way.

I am so thankful for a husband who values my input, who seeks it out on everything you can imagine. But I also realize that the way I give that input can make him more or less inclined to want to consider it. Now, he’s gracious, even when I’m not, but I don’t want to test him. I want to give the input in such a way—not just blurting out everything I think, not just dumping all my great treasure trove of wisdom.

Like, for example: The time not to dump my input and my wisdom on my husband is when we’re lying in bed very early at night, and he’s falling off to sleep and can’t keep his eyes open another second. That’s not a great time. Now, if I need to bring something up then, he’ll sit up, and he’ll listen, but I better make sure it’s something that needs to be discussed then and it can’t wait until the next morning.

So, choose your time. And make sure the spirit is humble and gracious and gentle. It makes a huge difference.

But submission does not imply mindless, unquestioning obedience.

Number 6: Submission doesn’t mean that your husband is always right.

Au contraire. Sometimes he’s not right. Your husband is not God—news flash! Now, you knew that, didn’t you? He’s a sinful man, just as you are a sinful woman.

And biblical submission is not based on how wise or godly or capable or qualified your husband is. You may be a lot better at a lot of things in your marriage than your husband is, and a wise husband will draw on that experience and that wisdom and that input. But submission doesn’t mean that he’s always right. He isn’t always right.

Number 7: Submission never requires you to follow your husband into sin.

Your ultimate allegiance and loyalty are not to your husband but to God, to Christ. If your husband abuses his God-given authority as role of the head of that marriage and requires you to do something that is contrary to the Word of God, you must obey God rather than your husband, but do it with a respectful and a humble attitude. Don’t let his sin make you sin.

In my observation from listening to a lot of wives, reading a lot of emails we’ve received from women over the years, a lot of wives in difficult marriages, is that in many cases, it’s not actually a matter of a husband requiring his wife to sin but rather that he’s giving direction that she just doesn’t agree with.

Now, she may be right about that, but there’s a difference between him requiring you to sin and him making a decision that you just don’t agree with. And when it comes down to it, you need to submit in that—not to sin, but to something that’s just a matter of preference or wisdom. It’s important to distinguish between the two when responding to your husband’s direction.

Number 8: A wife’s submission never, never gives license for her husband to abuse her—ever.

And I want people to hear me say that because people have taken things I’ve written, things I’ve said, a line here and there, and have come after us full force, mowing us down. This happened, actually, when this Adorned book came out.

Somebody who had read something I had written years ago, which is a biblical statement, but I didn’t surround it with all the caveats, and they came on Twitter after me hard and fast. This happened within just the past couple of weeks. And, you know what? You trust that to the Lord.

But I don’t want to give people ammunition. I want to make it very, very clear that a wife’s submission NEVER gives license for her husband to abuse her.

There are women sitting in this room today whose husband or dad or another man, their view of a man’s role—what’s macho, what’s manly, what’s the head of the home—caused them to treat you in ways that were not biblical, that were abhorrent to God. And that cannot be in any way justified.

Whenever women are instructed in Scripture to submit to their husbands, there’s always a corresponding command for husbands to love and cherish their wife. There’s no possible justification for a husband to lord it over his wife or to abuse her, whether it’s in overtly, physical and verbal ways or in more, shall we say, respectable ways, hidden ways of manipulation and intimidation.

So if you are being abused or believe that you are, you must get help. And I know for the woman who’s in that situation that may seem like an impossibility. “How can I ever do that?” Well, first of all, you cry out to the Lord who is the defender of the helpless, and He will come to your rescue, if you cry out to Him, in ways that perhaps you can’t imagine.

There is nothing in the biblical teaching on submission that permits or condones or allows such treatment. If you or your children are being physically harmed or threatened, you need to get to a safe place and contact both civil authorities and spiritual authorities for protection.

I know that may be difficult, so find a woman that you can trust, if you can’t bring yourself to make that phone call. If you can’t bring yourself to go to that pastor or make that call to the civil authorities, then find a woman that you trust who will help you do it, who will go with you.

Don’t say, “I’m just supposed to sit here and be submissive to this.” That is not God’s way. That’s not right.

Number 9: Submission is not mere outward compliance.

Submission is not mere outward compliance. It’s not just what I do that is submissive. It’s my heart, my heart attitude, the spirit with which I submit. We’re called to submit to human authorities—our husband’s leadership and headship—in a Christ-like manner.

And you read about this in 1 Peter chapter 2, how he submitted himself to those who wronged him, but without being angry or resentful or hateful or having a rebellious attitude. In fact, his attitude was one of compassion for those who wronged him, one of forgiveness.

Now, again, there’s not time in this session to go into this whole thing of what forgiveness looks like in this situation. Forgiving your husband who has sinned against you in this whole issue of submission and headship does not mean that you stay there and take sinful behavior on his part. You can forgive, and you can still call the police.

When you forgive, you’re just saying, “I’m not the one who is going to adjudicate your case. I’m not going to hate you. I’m not going to be bitter toward you. I’m not going to be angry and hateful toward you. (Angry, yes, at the sin, but hateful toward the person, no.) I’m not the judge. I’m not the jury. I’m not the court. I’m turning you over to God’s court. So I’m releasing you from my court. I’m releasing you from my courtroom.”

But, submission is not just the outward actions of submission. It’s the heart attitude.

A friend said to me years ago,

I used to view submission as not directly violating my husband’s instructions. If he drew a line, I would do it. I thought that was submission. My understanding of submission was focused more on outward actions than on the inner humility of a surrendered heart.

My husband is a very kind and gentle leader and rarely puts his foot down on any issue. But early in our marriage, if he made a decision I didn’t want to follow, I would comply but with a resistant spirit. I might go along with my husband’s decisions, but it was with a begrudging attitude. And if I had the opportunity, I was ready to point out to him why this was not going to work.

As a result of my strong-willed personality and my husband’s fear of confrontation [which is true of a whole lot more men than you might imagine], much of our marriage has suffered under the inverted dynamic of him looking to me for leadership.

When I realized how my domination had emasculated him and paralyzed him with fear, I came to him in repentance, seeking forgiveness, but it has been an arduous task of rebuilding and developing new patterns of behavior and learning the attitudes of humility that are necessary in order to live out biblical submission.

And I’ve watched this woman and her husband go through this many-year process. It’s been a beautiful thing, a hard thing, but a beautiful thing.

She said, “For him, this process means having the courage to lead after years of following my lead.”

So to be submissive is not these nine things we’ve just talked about, but it is to be responsive to your husband’s leadership, to his initiative, to be inclined, to be leadable, to be amenable, to be bent toward following his leadership, which requires a willingness to trust God. And sometimes, to defer or let go of your own preferences, your own opinions. It doesn’t mean we don’t talk about these things.

Robert and I were talking about this the other day, and I said, “Honey, what’s been an issue of submission in our marriage?”

Now, we haven’t been married all that long, but, if you live as two humble people who are communicating, two people who love each other, two people who want each other’s best interests to be fulfilled, then it’s not going to be that often that you’re going to come to this impasse.

Now, when I say impasse, I don’t mean shrieking, shouting and yelling. That doesn’t have to be a part of this. But where there are just two different positions: “Where are we going to move? Where are we going to live? Am I going to take this job?” And you talk about it, you listen.

Robert is continually saying, as am I—we say it to each other, “I’ve heard your perspective, and, yes, I’m happy to defer on that.” We do that for each other.

So you shouldn’t often, in a healthy, growing, godly marriage, have to come to the place where someone has to make a final decision, and it’s going to be the head, the CEO. He’s going to get his wife’s counsel, his wife’s input, and he’s going to say . . . We had one of these shortly before we got married—I won’t go into the details here. It wasn’t a conflict, well, it was a different way of seeing things. And when it came down to it, we knew we were going to be shortly married, and I said, “You know what? I trust God to make this decision and to lead through you.”

I’ve seen so many times since how God gave Robert in that moment wisdom he didn’t even know he had. But you know what it did, my willingness to come and be submissive to that decision and to trust God to lead through my husband? It put on Robert a huge sense of responsibility to find out God’s heart, to pray and to seek the Lord.

So you have this dance, this give, this take, this flow, and it can be a beautiful thing when you do it God’s way.

Well, some women listening to this conversation are going to say, “But my husband just won’t lead.”

I had a friend say to me, “My husband doesn’t like conflict and confrontation, so he doesn’t tend to give direction that he doesn’t think I will want to comply with.”

I later asked that wife’s husband for his perspective, and he said to me, “At the core, if a husband feels like his leadership is going to threaten the relationship, he will protect the relationship and not lead.”

Another husband said, “If everything that a man says to his wife is challenged and questioned, if it’s more difficult to lead than to do nothing, a man may choose to do nothing instead of risking failure.”

So when you say your husband won’t lead, is it possible—it’s not true in every situation—but is it possible that he’s learned that anytime he steps out and ventures to lead, he’s going to get pummeled, he’s going to get pushed back. 

So you may find that, in your marriage, the dance step changes when your husband sees that you really are listening, that you’re leadable, that you’re pliable, and that you’re willing for him to take that place of headship.

Now, that doesn’t mean that he’s a better leader in every circumstance and situation. You might be a better leader in your organization than he is naturally as a leader. You may be more outgoing. He may be more quiet. You may have more oomph. He may have a softer, more tender personality. But God has given him this role, and he needs to know that you value you, that you’re looking to him, that you’re asking questions.

It doesn’t mean he’s going to give an answer or a decision about every detail of your lives. No smart husband would want that, and that’s not what God is asking. But it does mean that you are willing to trust God. That’s the ultimate issue, the fundamental issue, to trust God to lead through your husband. And, ultimately, your trust is not in your husband, but it’s in God.

Proverbs 21:1 tells us that “the king’s heart is in the Lord’s hand, and as the river of water, so the Lord turns that man’s heart in any direction that he wants.”

Your husband may misstep at times. He will. Give him room to do that because if you come and clobber him and make him feel like he’s gone from hero to zero, you think he’s going to be quick next time to venture out to give leadership? He needs to know that you value that, and that you trust—that you both trust—that God is sovereign.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth will be right back to pray. She develops this idea of biblical submission and servant leadership in her new book, Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together. We’d like to send you a copy when you become a supporter who helps make this program possible.

Just pitch in whatever you can to keep Nancy’s teaching coming, and ask for the Adorned book when you call. Here’s the number: 1–800–569–5959, or visit our website, ReviveOurHearts.com. You can donate easily there and you’ll find a place to let us know you’d like the book. We’ll send one copy of Adorned per household when you support Revive Our Hearts during this current teaching series.

Nancy’s back to wrap up our time.

Nancy: Well, tomorrow I want to talk about an important matter that applies to all of us in our marriages, and that is: What do you do when you disagree with a decision that your husband is making or a direction that he wants to go? And I want to also take a few moments to talk about the power of submission.

So, Lord, help us to get this. Help us to submit to You as You voluntarily laid down Your rights and submitted to Your Heavenly Father for the sake of redemption. Help us to see that this is a high and holy calling and to embrace it as a good and beautiful gift. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is showing you how to live out the beauty of the gospel. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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