“Slaves, obey your masters in everything,” Paul writes (Col 3:22). Well, perhaps Matt Redman hadn’t read this, for he has just launched a CD to help the 27 million human beings unjustly enslaved at the moment.
Or perhaps, Redman assumed that Paul was writing to a first century audience in the Roman Empire, not a 21st century audience. As we tacitly do, when we hear Paul insist on women wearing head-coverings in church, or not speaking in church, or having authority over a man.
But then, things get all weird and wonky when we come to “Wives, submit to your husbands in everything.”
Whole ministries have built around this idea, ie. Bill Gothard who has done untold damage in America by his dangerous and unbalanced insistence that women should submit to their husbands, no matter what. Whole books have been written on this precept like the embarrassing and misogynistic “The Excellent Wife” which was popular in some Christian circles when I lived in America. I distrust ministries or churches which major in just a few precepts. They are unbalanced (and often spring from some deep psychological or emotional disturbance on the part of their leaders.)
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Logos and Rhema. I find these concepts helpful in reading Scripture. Logos is the written word of God, and we engage with it in its entirety. Rhema is when the word comes alive for you, when the Spirit, so to say, underlines sentences as the word of God spoken to you.
I read “Wives, submit to your husbands in everything,” and it’s not a rhema word; the spirit does not convict me. I truly believe Paul was writing to the women he knew, uneducated, unemployed, with little experience of the world. Just as when he talks about long hair or head covering or slavery, he is, perhaps, not talking to all people of all time.
We were discussing this in my North Oxford women’s group which I am co-leading. I looked around the room, at these professional women–professors, doctors, writers, nurses, administrators, whose wisdom and grace and intelligence, and in many cases, experience, was the same as their husbands. Were they to submit in everything to their husbands?
And I thought “No, no more than slaves are to submit to their masters.”
And if their husbands were to insist on submission, well, the more fool they!! They would be depriving themselves of the wisdom, experience, insight, right-brainedness of half of the partnership.
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So then, in a marriage between equals, the way forward is dialogue and compromise.
And what if it cannot be reached?
Well, if you can do it and not die in the attempt, there is a kind of freedom in giving up your own way, in not being a slave to having to get your own way by manipulation, bullying, heavy-handed persuasion or continual nagging. In an impasse, you shrug and yield in some areas, and get time and freedom and emotional energy to invest in other areas you care about equally, or far more.
And then, it’s kind of nice to claim the scriptural protection. “Lord, ultimately I am not insisting on my own way in this impasse, because scripture is inspired and you said, “Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.”
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When would I personally not submit?
In anything I consider morally or ethically wrong, because submission to God comes first. (The issue hasn’t arisen!)
I sometimes refuse to go along with a decision or wish if it is made out of fear, let’s say, rather than faith, or is a decision of staggering stupidity, IMO.
For instance, at a volatile juncture in our lives, we got some marital counselling from an retired Anglican clergyman and psychotherapist who happened to be gay (The good friend who recommended him, a female priest, being politically correct, did not tell us this initially.)
Well, he helped us a lot with common-sense practical solutions to many areas of minor unease and dysfunction in our lives and marriage. The issues we had begun to see him for resolved. Each week, I would hope this was the last, and then he’d say, almost shyly, “When would you like to see me again?” I began to wonder if he was lonely, or needed the money. Our hearts would sink when it was the day of counselling, because we often would have nothing much to discuss, and it took precious time.
And then, I realized something. He almost always took Roy’s side. If I said something like, “Well Roy lost his temper spectacularly,” he’d ask, “Well, what was the trigger?” rather than deal with the spectacular northern lights, and thunderstorms.
If Roy mentioned something I had done, the counsellor would explain how annoying that was, and that his mother did the same. Once, I spoke rapidly and sharply to Roy as we were trying to resolve an issue. And this man said, “Do you know what you sound like?” and did an imitation, leaning forward, snapping his fingers, shouting.
I looked at him with a cold shiver of disgust. I had done none of those things. Hadn’t raised my voice, or clicked my fingers, or used his body language. But obviously that was what I had sounded like to him. He was replaying ancient scripts. Seeing himself as a cowering five year old before a domineering mother. He wasn’t hearing me; he was hearing a woman who gave him a fear and hatred of women. He needed to deal with his own mess and demons!
I changed the topic. “Slippery footwork,” he said. “Aren’t you going to engage?” What rudeness! “Actually, I am not,” I said, somewhat contemptuously.
I had had an epiphany.
“The man’s a fool,” I said to Roy. “I am not going to take the counsel of a fool. I am particularly not going to pay to take the counsel of a fool.”
How does one know a wise man from a fool? Proverbs has various suggestions, which sometimes makes me cringe. “A fool gives full vent to his fury, but a wise man keeps himself under restraint.” What I find most helpful is Jesus’ metaphor of the house. How have you built the house of your life? What remains in the end? Intelligence is neither here nor there. If you want to gauge a person’s wisdom, look at their life. How have they built the house of their life?
As we walked in out of the sunshine to his dark, cluttered office, full of unwholesome books like “Oral sadism in the vegetarian personality” and “Sadomaschoistic sex and ….” my spirits would sink, and I’d feel uncomfortable and miserable. I’d feel a sad, inward shudder. Instantly depressed. When we left the man’s office, my spirits would rise, I’d be happy again–and I’d like Roy again! We’d both relieved and happy.
One of my key principles for accepting advice is that I need to respect the person. I need to see a greater wisdom and maturity and sweetness and goodness and holiness in their lives than in my own.
This man was self-protective, not a risk-taker. His life was governed by caution and common-sense. And so he landed up in a dark house and office, living an isolated, friendless, safe, commonsensical, joyless life, as I surmised from various tidbits he divulged and what from I observed. Risked little, loved little, made v. few mistakes, lost little, gained little.
No, no. I want to live fully, even if I take on too much, over-commit, make mistakes. I want to love. I want to take risks if that’s what I hear God saying. I want to hear God and obey, which is, of course, the opposite of leading a safe, orderly, predictable life.
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Roy got very cross, at this abrupt ending to our counselling. Well, it was a love-fest for both of them; he was always explaining Roy to me, though it was me who’d lived with Roy for two decades plus. “He’s helped us so much; we’ve changed so much,” Roy said plaintively.
“I simply cannot continue to take the counsel of a fool,” I said, firmly.
And I thought of Ephesians 5:22. “So was I wrong, Lord?” I ask. “You know it became impossible for me to step into that man’s dark office again.”
And I felt absolutely certain that Christ did not think I was wrong either. Did not want me to continue either. After all, I know a guy in whom is hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3). If I burrow into his heart, I will be safe.
And, praise God, since I refused to see that counsellor, we have not had an issue we haven’t been able to resolve ourselves. But if I hadn’t put my foot down, we would have been seeing him for years and years—well, if he had anything to say about it!!