Where Do We Place the Emphasis?

This past weekend my wife spent some time in the great state of Georgia, helping some of our friends get packed up for a big move. While she was there, the couple she was helping went out to dinner with friends, and one of the ladies at the dinner table was a very vocal Deist. My pal engaged her in a conversation about Christ, and his wife said later that she spent the entire evening biting her tongue instead of joining into the conversation. Her father praised her to the highest heavens for being such a “good, submissive wife”.

Huh?

In seems like in certain segments of the confessional Presbyterian and Reformed sub-culture there is an over emphasis on the “submission” aspect of our marriages, and a real lack of emphasis on the “helper” aspect of our marriages. Too many “Reformed” men are frothing at the mouth over having wives that are adequately submissive, instead of asking how their wife can fulfill the role of helper.

וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהִ֔ים לֹא־ט֛וֹב הֱי֥וֹת הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְבַדּ֑וֹ אֶֽעֱשֶׂהּ־לּ֥וֹ עֵ֖זֶר כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper who corresponds to him. – Genesis 2:18, author’s translation.

While the translation of עֵ֖זֶר (ezer) is somewhat disputed, what isn’t disputed is this: Eve is created by God to be an indispensable companion to Adam. That is the role our wives are to fill in our lives. You shouldn’t be able to ‘get along’ with out your wife – her input and her godly advice should be indispensable to us.

The reality is that ‘helper’ is actually part of the woman’s identity, as she is created by God; in this she is unique from the man. I find it interesting that, in all of our conversations about submission and headship, God’s command that “wives submit to their own husbands as to the Lord” doesn’t get grounded in her created identity, which is where it belongs. The woman’s essence, at the moment of creation, is to be a helper to her man.

It is out of this essence that the commands to submission and respect flow; I also find it interesting that nobody seems to mention that these imperatives are placed on us in areas we are weak in. Men don’t have a problem respecting the jerk they work for. But women do struggle with respect in relation to men. Women don’t have a problem expressing love for their spouse. But men do. This should point us to the reality that submission is going to be quite difficult.

Perhaps, if we were to focus on the nature of ‘helping’, and let the command to submit to [your] husbands flow out of that, the concept of submission would be less odious.

Any thoughts, ladies?

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2 thoughts on “Where Do We Place the Emphasis?

  1. “Men don’t have a problem respecting the jerk they work for.”
    However, some (perhaps more than not) do have a problem with respecting their own wives.

    Men have a natural desire for respect. Many of our natural tendencies are unhealthy and destructive when not brought into subjection to the Word of God. Both men and women should be respected, and both men and women have a responsibility to show respect. Contrary to popular belief, respect is not one dimensional (NIV 1 Peter 2:17).

    Sometimes, you need to SOW a thing in order to REAP it. No offense, but in my personal experience and observation, men who are constantly complaining about feeling disrespected are usually very disrespectful to others. They practice the very same disrespectful behavior that they accuse others of. There seems to be this sort of unspoken consensus that says husbands deserve respect from their wives, but husbands don’t have to give it. This is a common misgiving. Many wives desire respect from their husbands, and husbands are actually admonished to treat their wives with respect (NIV 1Peter 3:7). Many translations use the word “honor” here; the lexicon lists the word “respect” as an appropriate synonym for the original Greek word.

    I’ve read plenty of articles about how a husband FEELS in relation to the issue of respect. Everyone has feelings. However, as Christians, we are not to be led or controlled by our feelings. We are human and our feelings will often betray us (James 1:14). That’s why our feelings need to be brought into subjection to the Word of God.

    Many men and women alike believe that respect and absolute submission are synonymous. If a wife disagrees with her husband’s actions or decisions and expresses it, she is somehow being disrespectful, even if she chooses her words wisely. Any expression of disagreement is disrespectful. This ideology is extremely insidious, and many husbands use it to guilt/manipulate wives into submitting to destructive, foolish and/or sinful behaviors. But contrary to popular belief, it is very possible to respectfully disagree or non-comply with authority, as long as it is done peacefully and without slander or contempt. It’s also very possible to disrespectfully submit to authority. How so? Submitting to a behavior/decision that is foolish, destructive or sinful isn’t HELPFUL and disrespects a wife’s role and mission as EZER. Just ask Haman’s wife Zeresh or Annais’ wife Sapphira. Most of what some husband’s classify as disrespect really isn’t disrespect at all, but a failure to satisfy their own pride.

    Job’s wife, Solomon’s wives and Jezebel were all disrespectful to their husbands. However, they were disrespectful because they sought to lead their husbands away from God. Truth be told, many Christian wives never try to lead their husbands away from God!

    I don’t believe that most Christian wives struggle to respect their husbands. However, I do believe many husbands (Christian included) struggle with a desire to have complete submission from their wives, even when their commands prove foolish, destructive or sinful.

    I strongly believe that husbands should be respected, but I also believe that husbands should be admonished to show respect to their wives and children. There aren’t nearly enough articles written about that.

    • Howdy KM! Thanks for reading my blog, and thanks especially for leaving such an erudite comment!

      I’d like to add a couple of things by way of clarification and rejoinder:

      1. I would whole-heartedly agree that there are plenty of men that have a problem showing their wives the proper, biblical amount of respect. Ultimately I think that’s an issue that falls under Peter’s admonition to husbands in 1 Peter 3:7 to “live with their wives in an understanding way”. I have a post languishing in draft format (along with about twenty-five others) on this very subject. And yes, ‘respect’ is a perfectly acceptable gloss for Peter’s use of τιμὴν in 1 Peter 3:7, although in my opinion, ‘honor’ or ‘reverence’ is a better rendering in the context. However, that doesn’t negate my point that most men, considered as a generic whole, don’t struggle as much with respect.
      2. You’re absolutely right that as Christians we are to subject our feelings to the Word of God; would that more of us would do so! When we’ve done so, however, many may find that according to the Word, their wives are guilty of disrespect.
      3. I don’t think respect and absolute submission are synonymous. My wife and I find ways to disagree respectfully about all sorts of decisions – and she’s right pretty dadgum often. Nonetheless, that doesn’t change the biblical admonition that “wives ought to be subject to their husbands in everything (καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐν παντί.)” Clearly that “in everything” doesn’t include sin (which you’ve rightfully called ‘disrespectfully submitting to authority, because it shows a lack of respect for God), but that’s still an amazingly broad statement on Paul’s part! This is where, again, “living with [our] wives in and understanding way” comes into play.
      4. Yes, there are husbands who sinfully desire absolute submission, “even,” as you put it, “when their commands prove foolish, destructive or sinful”. Those husbands are guilty of sin and deserving of a strong rebuke to bring them to repentance.

      All in all, I don’t think we’re that far apart on this subject. I look forward to hearing from you again!

      BMPalmer.

"I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve." (Romans 16:17-18) Please read "The Comments Policy."

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