The Bible’s Viewpoint
Wifely Subjection—What Does It Mean?
GOD’S WORD, the Bible, states at Ephesians 5:22: “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord.” Exactly what does this mean? Must a wife submit to everything a husband wants, regardless? Can she never use her own initiative or have opinions differing from his?
Consider the Bible account of Abigail. She acted wisely but contrary to the wishes of her wealthy husband, Nabal. Despite kindness shown Nabal by the followers of David, who was God’s choice to be king of Israel, Nabal had “screamed rebukes at them.” David, outraged at Nabal’s ingratitude, was out for blood. Abigail realized that her whole household was in danger. She got David to relent. How?—1 Samuel 25:2-35.
Abigail admitted to David that Nabal was a “good-for-nothing man” and gave David the provisions that Nabal had withheld. Normally, it is wrong for a husband or a wife to publicize the faults of a mate. Was Abigail a rebel in speaking and acting in this way? No. She was trying to save the lives of Nabal and his household. There is no hint that she made a practice of being disrespectful or independent. Nor had the hard-to-please Nabal expressed any dissatisfaction with the way she helped manage his large estate. But in this crisis situation, wisdom dictated that she follow her own initiative. Moreover, the Bible speaks approvingly of what Abigail did.—1 Samuel 25:3, 25, 32, 33.
Long before Abigail’s day, there were times when the wives of the patriarchs expressed viewpoints and took actions different from what their husbands wanted. Yet, these “holy women who were hoping in God” are held forth as models of subjection for a Christian wife. (1 Peter 3:1-6) For example, when Sarah sensed that Abraham’s son Ishmael had become a threat to their son, Isaac, she decided that Ishmael must be sent away. This was “very displeasing to Abraham.” But God said to Abraham: “Do not let anything that Sarah keeps saying to you be displeasing to you about the boy . . . Listen to her voice.”—Genesis 21:11, 12.
It would not be a good thing, then, for a wife to feel pressured to do what she knows is very unwise or in violation of godly principles, in the name of subjection. Nor should she be made to feel guilty for taking initiative in some essential matter, as did Abigail and Sarah.
Wifely subjection does not mean that a wife must always comply with everything a husband wishes. What makes the difference? When right principles are at stake, she may have to disagree with her husband. Even so, she should still display the overall spirit of godly subjection.
Of course, a wife should be careful not to bypass her husband’s wishes out of willfulness, spite, or other wrong motives. She must be discerning, “good in discretion,” as was Abigail.—1 Samuel 25:3.
When the Husband Avoids Responsibility
The primary goal and spirit of a wife’s godly subjection is to please Jehovah by cooperating with her husband and supporting his decisions. This is fairly easy when a husband is spiritually mature. It can be a challenge if he is not.
In this case, how can she cope? She may appeal to him earnestly or suggest what decisions will benefit the family the most. If she lets him ‘steer the ship,’ he may become more skilled at it. Constantly nagging the husband violates the spirit of proper subjection. (Proverbs 21:19) Yet, if the family’s welfare is clearly jeopardized by his policy, she may choose to recommend, as Sarah did, a corrected course.
If the husband is an unbeliever, the challenge to the wife is even greater. Still, she should be in subjection as long as he does not ask her to violate Bible laws. If he does that, the reaction of a Christian wife should be like that of the disciples when a court asked them to violate God’s commands: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
Because of lack of experience and limited wisdom, however, even well-meaning husbands and wives can overstep their roles. The husband may lack consideration; the wife may press too hard for her preferences. What will help? A modest view of self is important for both, since “we all stumble many times.”—James 3:2.
Many men will come to appreciate a wife’s honest initiative if she uses it judiciously. And cooperation is enhanced if both apologize when they make mistakes. As Jehovah forgives our everyday shortcomings, so we should forgive others. “If errors were what you watch, O Jah, O Jehovah, who could stand? For there is the true forgiveness with you.”—Psalm 130:3, 4.
“Subjection to One Another”
In our mutual best interests, then, the Scriptures advise: “Be in subjection to one another in fear of Christ.” Accord each other loving mutual respect; neither hinder nor compete. The text continues: “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife as the Christ also is head of the congregation.”—Ephesians 5:21-23.
The Greek word used by Paul at Ephesians 5:21, 22 implies subjecting oneself, not being forced into subjection. And the subjection is for the Lord’s sake, not just for the harmony of the marriage. Christ’s anointed congregation subjects itself voluntarily, joyfully to Christ. When a wife does the same for her husband, then the marriage will very likely be happy and successful.
The Scriptures also state: “Let each [husband] so love his wife as he does himself,” unstintingly. (Ephesians 5:33; 1 Peter 3:7) The husband should keep in mind that he too should be in subjection to his head, for the Bible states: “The head of every man is the Christ.” Yes, the man should be subject to the teachings of Christ. Christ, in turn, is in subjection to his head: “The head of the Christ is God.” Thus, everybody except Jehovah has a head. And even he binds himself to his own laws.—1 Corinthians 11:3; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18.
Christian subjection is balanced and beneficial to both sexes. It brings to marriage the harmony and the contentment that only our loving Creator can provide.—Philippians 4:7.
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