image courtesy of free-extras.com
Yesterday I wrote about marriage being both a partnership AND a hierarchy. That post has generated some good discussion and I especially appreciate Tisha’s comments and questions (nothing against the rest of yours). I penned a reply in the comments section, but decided it might itself be worth publishing as a post. NOT because it’s a brilliant answer, but because I’d like to invite further discussion on the matter. I’m unsure of my conclusions regarding Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7, and welcome any input you guys have.
Here are Tisha’s words (with portions edited out):
[Brett said:] “A wife who is in submission to Christ cannot conceivably offer full submission to a husband who is not. No man — or woman — can serve two masters.”
I was wondering if a woman is truly unable to fully submit to her husband if he is not in submission to Christ, as long as he is not asking her to contradict her responsibilites as a follower of Christ. Couldn’t him being sanctified through his wife, or being won by her conduct be partly due to her benevolent submission to him?
I was thinking those verses about serving two masters were in regard to serving God vs money. Do you believe they can be applied in the context of marriage as well?
Tisha raises some excellent (and difficult) points. I want to float my reasons for making the statements as I have, and then welcome your thoughts:
First, though, let me clarify that I was not offering the husband in the above scenario as one of the “two masters.” Rather, I was meaning to imply (and probably was unclear) that a man who is NOT in Christ is necessarily serving the world. And a man who IS in Christ is serving Christ. So a Christian woman, it seems, could only submit to the latter, as in doing so (if he loves her as Christ loves the church) she would be submitting to both husband and Christ in one fell swoop. So my two masters here are the same as in Matthew 6 — God versus the things of this world.
In 1 Cor 7:12-14, Paul urges the Christian woman not to divorce her unbelieving husband IF “he is willing to live with her.” In this situation it sounds to me like the non-believer husband is being forced to choose between 3 options:
- submit to his Christian wife and her Christian ways,
- have her divorce him, or
- leave (and i’m not sure this one is really any different than the one before it).
The Christian woman in this situation has firmly decided to serve the Lord, and if her husband wants to live under that kind of roof with that kind of wife and kids, let him; she shouldn’t divorce him. It seems the roles have now been switched. The wife in this situation is called to love her husband as Christ loves the church, while the husband is choosing to be in willing submission to her — and therefore even to Christ.
Sanctification of the Unbelieving Spouse
I believe this is how “the unbelieving husband will be sanctified through his wife.” So I would suggest it’s not a wife’s willing submission to her husband that convinces him to accept Christ or makes him holy. Rather it is his willing submission to Christ THROUGH HER that sanctifies him. This is exactly the opposite of what I’ve been taught. But it seems to me to make more sense of the text. Also, it’s interesting to note it works the same way for a believing man with an unbelieving wife — though in that situation the roles would not be switched.
[If you think about it, loving an unbelieving husband despite his unbelief is incredibly similar to Christ loving the church. Being submissive to him, though, would not at all be.]
The Christian woman, we’re also told, is not bound to a husband who doesn’t want to live with her (and her faith). If he leaves, she is to let him; and she’s in no way required to chase. This section seems to further support the above ideas. Marriage between a believer and an unbeliever is not what was intended, but if the non-Christian submits to Christ through his/her spouse, it will work. It will not, though, be successful any other way.
So in the situation Tisha mentions — where the husband “is not asking [the wife] to contradict her responsibilites as a follower of Christ” — I would say there are three ways that could happen:
- She is leading, and he is submitting — which will work fine. Great, even. And he will be sanctified in the process. But she is not in submission to him in this case.
- They are agreeing to live their lives as if they weren’t married (Christian marriage anyway), with neither in submission to the other. This may make for a peaceful coexistence, but it’s not what marriage was intended to be. And still she’s certainly not in submission to her husband. She may let him make some decisions, but she’s not following him as he follows his ideals and worships his gods. Because his god is necessarily going to be money, power, or even something good like family. But for her to submit to him (and his god) would be to submit to a second master.
- She doesn’t think she’s being asked to contradict her service to God, but in actuality she is. She is attempting to serve two masters without realizing it. [I’d argue this is probably even where most Christian marriages are — not because the husband is an unbeliever, but because it seems most Christians today are “3rd soil christians.”
What do you guys think?
Next post in this marriage series: marriage as a (misunderstood) play