10 November 2006

Calling him "lord" -- or, Blacks and women

by Dan Phillips

PREFACE: Looking at the title, the blogiverse starts taking bets on the depth and diameter of the hole I'm about to dig and occupy. Unfazed (some would say "clueless"), I clear my throat, and....

I've noticed a connection between public persons who are black, and public women of any color. Here it is:

When they buck the "party line," the repercussions can be vicious beyond belief.

Let a black writer defy conventional "party line" opinion, and come out for conservative, applied-Bible values, and he's not merely wrong. No, he's a traitor to his race, a turncoat, a Stepin Fetchit, an Uncle Tom, an Oreo. And those are just the nicer sobriquets. Ask our dear sister LaShawn Barber, I'm sure we'll hear an "Amen."

But similarly, let a woman buck the party line -- let her write or speak in favor of loving and respecting one's husband, of being a mother, of opposing abortion -- and she, too, is a traitor. She gets hate mail, abuse, all sorts of vitriol. Once again, poor LaShawn gets a double helping, as have many of the good sisters who post here.

One who has had her share is Christine, of I'd rather laugh than cry. Last August, she posted a little narrative with the beguilingly innocent title my path to women's ministry (don't blame me that Christine doesn't like capital letters). In it, Christine relates a visit to a Bible Study attended by a number of professingly Christian wives. Christine writes:
A junior in college and not a single date to boast of, I was not qualified to partake in a discussion on the matter, so I sat back to listen as the women discussed the topic of *how* they could show love to their mates. I began to squirm at the blatant disdain most of the women felt towards their husbands. They were failures as husbands, fathers, and men. I clenched my fists.
To Christine's discomfort, she was eventually asked to share her opinion. She tried hard to dodge the question, but was pressed to answer. So she said this:

"I believe that a man feels most loved when he knows that he is respected."

She expanded on this before the silent audience of Christian wives out for a Bible study. When she was done, the silence turned to hoots of condescending laughter. She was dismissed outright.

I was so struck by the insight and wisdom of Christine's observation that I posted on it. Christine caught some flack for this post, and had her (!) attitude questioned and challenged. She felt the pressure put on someone who'd buck the party line.

Glutton for punishment that she is, she's back with calling him "master", her reflections on 1 Peter 3:5-6. You know the passage:
For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
Christine's thoughts are worth a read, and she's "asking for it" again -- but I'm actually using this as a launching point to offer my own.

On the face of it, the passage is plenty challenging. For decades, many have put their shoulder to the fool's task of muzzling the Biblical exhortations to wifely submission and respect. It can't be done, shouldn't be done; but as long as folks haven't really grasped Jesus as Lord, they'll buck against acknowledging anyone else as an authority.

So still on the (honest) surface, Peter calls wives to be "submitting," which would be better translated "subordinating [them]selves" (hupotassomenai) to their husbands (v. 5), "as Sarah obeyed [hupekousen, submissively listened to] Abraham" (v. 6). Even in terms of apparently outward behavior, there's a standard above the norm all in itself.

Could we read this, and come away thinking that outward obedience is all that is called for? If a woman can say that she technically "never disobeys her husband," is she done? If he crosses her will, will a curt, curled-lipped "Yes, lord!" followed by angry, grudging compliance suffice?

As God is He who searches the hearts and minds, as His word pierces to the very depths of us (Hebrews 4:12), so we find that Scripture probes deeper still.

While preaching/teaching through 1 Peter, I lit on this passage. I paused to ponder that expression: "calling him lord" (v. 6). I wondered, "When did Sarah call Abraham 'lord'?" So I did a search, and the results were revealing.

Searching then, and re-searching now, I could not find any passage where Sarah addressed Abraham as "lord," nor any in which she referred to him as such in speaking with others. The only canonical occurrence I found was in Genesis 18:12 -- So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?" Presumably this is the passage that the apostle has in mind.

What stands out from this passage? What struck me then (and now) is that Sarah is not talking to Abraham, she is not speaking to someone else -- she is talking to herself. This is the way she thinks of her husband, in her own secret, private thoughts. She thinks of him as her lord.

The Bible delves more deeply than outward behavior alone. For many women, including the women in Christine's "Bible study," changing outward behavior would itself represent a massive transformation. But in marriage as elsewhere, our righteousness is to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.

The lesson I find here is that the fountainhead is the heart, the mind, the center of thought and decision. From the heart flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23). If a woman wants to be a godly wife, this is where she must focus her consistent, prayerful, strenuous attention. She must focus on how she thinks about her husband. She must attend to and police the thoughts she indulges, and the attitudes in which she marinates.

How many women do not merely tolerate, but actively cherish, nourish, feed, and embrace thoughts of their husbands that are low, denigrating, demeaning, haughty, bitter, resentful, and disrespectful? How many such women wonder why their feelings and actions are so often so hard to control, or so hair-trigger fleshly? How many lament as to the lack of intimacy in their marriage, how "alone" they feel, how unhappy their marriage is?

I neither say nor believe that this is the root of all marital problems and unhappiness. I do suggest that it is the source of many and much, however. The wise woman, who would practice her Christianity in her marriage, would do well to do constant introspection along these lines (I once created a little aid towards that end).

It is a happy thing that single Christian women like Christine are already thinking about this, before marriage. This is the commitment you make, with the vows, sister. This is why non-Christian men, or men not walking with the Lord, are not even options. If you know from the outset that a man isn't up to that role, you know the bridge is out. Only a fool goes down that road.

The godly wife will soon learn what husbands learn as well: such change is beyond us. Our fallen nature hates God, hates His authority, direct or delegated (Romans 8:7; 13:1ff.). We love our fleshly passions. We cannot merely try harder. We must be born again (John 3:3), and then we must be filled with God's Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), and stop making enabling excuses for our flesh (Romans 13:14). Only by the Spirit of God can the righteousness of God start to work out in our lives (Romans 8:4, 12-14).

When it does, it will invariably look like what we find in Scripture.

AFTERWORD: what does any of this have to do with my title?

There's always an excuse for not listening to what you don't want to hear. I might be dismissed because I'm a man. But that wouldn't matter -- Christine is a woman, and her hearers dismissed her...um, er, because she was single. LaShawn's vicious critics call her terrible names even though she does have the "creds" for what she's writing, simply because they hate what she's saying.

For the Christian man or woman, whether white, black or green, there should be one focus only: what does the Word say?

Dan Phillips's signature


Andrew Wheatley said...

Way to go LaShawn and Christine!

SFB said...

The most amazing thing to me is that there are women who claim to have been born again that refuse to submit to the Word of God and what it says. Incredible. There were times and places in this world's history where stuck-up, worldly attitudes and Christ-professing women were diamterically opposed. Not so anymore, it would seem, especially if the woman in question is the typical Ameri-Christian.

Thank you, Dan, for an insightful post. Thank you, LaShawn and Christine, for being Christians in the face of false professors and self-deceived "sisters".

Marcia said...

Thanks for linking to christine. I have a feeling I'll be doing a lot of reading there.

Trinian said...

"Religious" women have excused my wife's identical opinions on the subject first because she was single, then because she was in love, then because she was newly married.
I wonder what new excuse they'll come up with in another few years.

Kevin said...

Check out this article by when Grudem, "The Myth of Mutual Submission"


Kevin said...

Sorry, didn't post the complete url:



Lance Roberts said...

Very insightful post.

MSC said...

I couldn't agree more hardily with this post. well done. However, I find it intersting that you should speak of obedience from the heart, while eschewing mere outward obedience. This seems to go against the post you made some weeks ago that engendered such impassioned discussion about joyless obedience. Can a woman truly honor, respect and subordinate herself to her husband if she does not do so joyfully (i.e. from the heart)? Can the same apply to obedience to God in general?

DJP said...

I didn't eschew outward obedience at all.

First, I said outward actions were not all Peter had in view. I never denied they were in view.

Second, I also described actions that were not from the heart, that were belied by an opposite attitude. ("If he crosses her will, will a curt, curled-lipped 'Yes, lord!' followed by angry, grudging compliance suffice?")

Nothing like the post you reference.

donsands said...

Good preaching. Nothing like the Word straight up.

"For everyone practicing evil hates the light ... But he who does the truth comes to the light".

Ebeth said...

Amen. I think that men have enough of a challenge living up to what God calls them to as Christian husbands, that it only follows [oops, that concept] that we as Christian wives do what we can to make their calling's burden lighter. I have gotten a lot of help in this from an Elyse Fitzpatrick book called HELPER BY DESIGN which a friend pointed me to a couple of years ago. The whole point of this as of what I am responding to at Pyromaniacs is, Follow the word of God by the power of God and He will be blessed, and so will husband and wife.

DJP said...

ebeth -- ...men have enough of a challenge living up to what God calls them to as Christian husbands, that it only follows [oops, that concept] that we as Christian wives do what we can to make their calling's burden lighter

As the kids say, "Word."

MSC said...

You never answered my question:
Can a woman truly honor, respect and subordinate herself to her husband if she does not do so joyfully (i.e. from the heart)?
Or to turn the tables a bit: If I show acts of 'love' to my wife begrudgingly and she is dissapointed at my attitude, have I truly loved her? Or does it suffice for me to say, "I don't have to like loving you as long as I perform outward acts that appear to conform to loving you."
I sense that you answer these questions in a way that is very unclear to me. I thought this post answered it, but from your response, I am not sure now. I am not trying to be snarky, I am just trying to learn.

Jared Wall said...

Not to answer for Dan, but here are some thoughts from John Piper on Jesus's command to love. I think they are relevant and applicable to the command to submit in marriage. What do you think? This is an excerpt from a post at my own blog you can click on in the "links to" section at the end of Dan's post (Submission and Marriage in the blogosphere).


Do we simply obey out of legalism and allow our hearts to remain enslaved and bitter to God and man? Of course not. This fits well with my reading from John Piper's book What Jesus Demands from the World. In demand #5, Piper writes:

I recall reading a book in college that argued: Love cannot be a feeling because it is commanded, and you can't command the feelings. In other words, love must simply be an act of the will or a deed of the body without involving the emotions or affections. But the problem with this argument is that the premise is false: Jesus does command the feelings. He demands that our emotions be one way and not another.

He demands, for example, that we rejoice in certain circumstances (Matt. 5:12), and that we fear the right person (Luke 12:5), and that we not feel shame over him (Luke 9:26), and that we forgive from the heart (Matt. 18:35, and so on. If a feeling is proper, Jesus can demand it. The fact that I may be too corrupt to experience the emotions that I ought to does not change my duty to have them. If Jesus commands it, I should have it. My moral inability to produce it does not remove my guilt; it reveals my corruption. It makes me desperate for a new heart--which Jesus came to give. (Emphasis Mine) (Piper p. 53)

S.G. said...

Dan, I enjoyed your and my wife said I could respond as soon as I finished the vacuuming.
I'll have more to say as soon as I get done putting away the dishes.

Suziannr said...

Thank you, Dan. Your words convict because they are Words of life. In every area of our lives, man and woman, its our thought life that reveals our rebellion to Him and His ways.

Mark 7:22 20He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' 21For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.

Thanks again for this reminder and for the link to Christine's blog.

Chris Ross said...

I hope women like Christine -- all Christian women, in fact -- have some grasp of how attractive the attitude she displays is to Christian men ... besides the fact that it is a good thing because it is God's will.

The irony that I think many believing women don't grasp is that most Christian men (unless they're moronically dysfunctional) won't be tempted to 'lord over' an obedient, respectful woman. On the contrary, they'll be compelled to value her views, opinions and interests, and provide her with whatever she needs to be happy in the relationship (within the bounds of propriety, of course).

Submissive Christian women rule.

Rebekah said...

Thanks for this meaningful post. And thanks for sharing Christine's words. Having been a wife now for 12 years, I'm not laughing at her comments, I'm applauding.

jerryb said...

As a pastor I used to feel uncomfortable in calling women to submission. I would be cautious and guarded. But then I caught the wonder and beauty of Peter's statement, "women who trusted in God adorned themselves in submission" (1 Peter 3:5). Sarah's faith did not rest in Abraham, it rested in God to deliver if He chose to. Submission to one's husband is a matter of faith towards God. And I really want to call godly women to greater levels of faith. I do so by calling them to joyfully follow their husbands. Our God is big enough to work through the details. So women are you living as daughters of Sarah (1 Peter 3:6).

DJP said...

Calvdisy -- sorry my answers are unclear to you. I believe I have answered your question, so I don't really have more to add. Sorry that doesn't satisfy you.

Kate said...

This was a very powerful post. I think you said what was true and I appreciate it.


Welcome! said...

I do not believe that the issue of submission is one only for wives. It is God’s order of authority for all His daughters at all times. We forget the following:

Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 1 Cor. 11:3

It is one of the ways in which we are identified as His children, by being Holy and separate from the world. It not just within the confines of a church building that a woman is to be submissive to men. Notice 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

Yes, Paul is speaking of what is proper in worship. But his reason for following that model within worship is because it is the model to be followed at all times. Why? He explains by referring back to God’s order of authority as established in the Garden for all His children at all times not just in corporate worship or within the marriage relationship. It is the basic order to which all His children must conform. He makes that clear when he states that for a woman to take the lead over a man is to usurp her role and disrupt God’s order of authority. It is when she is within her own role as God has ordained that she is restored in her relationship with God. It is the model that all Believers must follow.

Controversial as it is, it is still God’s commands and we must pattern our lives accordingly. It gets very difficult for women (married or unmarried) who are pursuing careers because they must choose positions that do not dishonor the Lord by exerting her authority over another man. Difficult? Most definitely…this is the world we live in…one ruled by a Liar who will make it as difficult as he can for us to honor the Lord and His Word.

Donette said...

This is a helpful and much-needed reminder, to the unmarried as much as the married. I know this is a common problem. However, by wise counsel such as this, and the work of the Holy Spirit, wives can change. I don't think it is necessary to question someone's salvation when they struggle with this, sfb. We all harbor sinful attitudes and actions and are longing for the day when we are totally free from our sinful nature.

DJP said...

I don't think it is necessary to question someone's salvation when they struggle with this, sfb.

As a brief note: "when they struggle with" it, I'd agree with you. What concerns me is those who don't struggle with it, who've just embraced (and perhaps wholly rationalized) the spirit of the age. If a professedly Christian man abused his wife, he'd be roundly condemned and called to repentance. But when a woman regularly is disrespectful and rebellious, tears her husband down... it's often either winked at, or defended.

natalie said...

Great post! It does no favor to women when the topic of submission is tip-toed around.

mdouglass said...

"I believe that a man feels most loved when he knows that he is respected."

That is precisely the point of a book entitled, "Love and Respect" by Dr. Emerson Eggerich. He takes a look at the Biblical marriage in places like Ephesians 5:22-33 and fleshes them out with anecdotes and practical examples.

My wife and I took part in one of his seminars at church and have gone through his book in a small group "Bible" study. Good practical resource.

Thanks for the post.

Leigh Ann said...

Thanks for the link and the post.

4given said...

Excellent post. I really like LaShawn Barber and Christine. I remember when you linked to Christine's post awhile back. It created some frustrating comments that were, quite frankly, inevitable in light of how our churches have so eagerly embraced the egalitarian or evangelical feminist mindset. (Biblically speaking, evangelical feminism is an oxymoron).

(I also remember someone having to remind me how to spell Chauvinist correctly after I was called one and posted about it... and I am a homeschool educator who apparently attended that discount Language Arts course.)

Kate said...

"But when a woman regularly is disrespectful and rebellious, tears her husband down... it's often either winked at, or defended."

This is 100% correct--and a shame.