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Sunday, May 1, 2011
I’ve seen various comments against Kate’s decision not to include a commitment to obey William in her vows. (If you don’t know which Kate and William I am referring to, what hole have you been in?). Some of the discussion has been rather caustic. Equally caustic has been the counterargument from those who are horrified at the thought of a vow to obey.

As near as I can tell, despite what I’ve seen claimed by others, obedience of a wife to her husband is not commanded in the Bible. Submission, yes, but not obedience, and to me these are different but related things. In Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, children are directed to obey their parents, but in these same chapters wives are directed to submit to their husbands. For me, the scripture’s choice of a different word is meaningful.

Now, I realize that there is almost as much contention over the question of submission as there is the issue of obedience, so maybe for some it’s a moot point. In the next few weeks I want to revisit this topic in full, but for now let’s stick with looking at the difference between submission and obedience.

As I often do, I look to the relationship between Jesus and the church (the bridal paradigm) to provide insight into this question.

Does Jesus command our obedience?

I don’t have space to completely unpack my argument for this, but I believe that Jesus is more interested in relationship than rules. I’m not saying that obedience does not matter; but that Jesus would rather have an intimate relationship with us than have us simply dutifully following a bunch of rules.

But doesn’t scripture say we are to obey? Let’s take a closer look.
Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
John 14:23

If you read the context of that verse, to me it clearly conveys that what Jesus is essentially saying is, “If you love me, then the things that matter to me will matter to you.” The goal is dwelling together in intimacy (make our home together); obedience is a byproduct.

And this is exactly the attitude I think we should have in marriage. Rather than obeying because obedience is demanded or pledged as part of a wedding vow, we should strive to understand the things that matter to our spouse (I believe this applies to husbands and to wives) and strive to honor those things in the things we do and say.

Here’s a tiny example. I happen to hate gum – pretty much everything about it. I don’t like where it often ends up, the smell, the way it looks when people chew it, or the way it sounds when people smack it. I know that I am slightly irrational in this, and I do my best not to hold my gum-prejudice against others. However, my wife knows this about me, and she offered some years ago to give up gum chewing around me. I never demanded it or even asked her to do this. She offered of her own volition because she knew it mattered to me. She happens to like gum, but out of respect for my wishes, she was willing to sacrifice her own preferences. She has also insisted that the children not chew gum around me as well (they are children and requiring obedience is appropriate and scriptural). She even told me the other week that she has decided to give it up altogether for my sake. She has chosen to honor me in this. It really has nothing to do with obedience.

Surrender vs. Obedience

A mutually surrendered marriage, which is the model I espouse here at Journey to Surrender, more or less takes obedience out of the question.

A husband’s surrender takes the form of loving, sacrificial leadership of his wife and home. It’s not about controlling or subjugating his wife, but serving her and cherishing her. Commanding obedience has little place in walking out a husband’s God-given authority. Building intimacy and displaying Godly character come first. I believe there are few, if any, circumstances that call for a husband to use his authority to demand obedience. That’s just not how Jesus loves us and therefore not how husbands should love their wives.

A wife’s surrender, at least in part, takes the form of submission to her husband. Her priority is to show love for her husband by honoring and respecting him in all things. She does not require him to command or control her in order for her to serve him bless him. It is the desire of her heart and comes in response to the knowledge that he would lay down his very life for her.

He loves, leads and serves her. She loves, honors and submits to him. It’s a beautiful exchange that I have described like this in my “What is a Surrendered Marriage” overview page.

A bridal paradigm marriage is not a power sharing arrangement. Rather, it is a power exchange relationship. The husband’s power is given in the form of the sacrificial and selfless way he loves and leads his wife. The wife’s power is given in the form of loving submission to her husband. The beauty of the bridal paradigm lies in what it calls you to give rather than what it permits you to demand. Asserting your “rights” [such as demanding obedience] has no place in the bridal paradigm because by design it is uncalled for. In fact, demanding that your partner adhere to their side of the bargain runs in opposition to the bridal paradigm itself.

I added the [ ] about obedience in order to put this in the context of today’s discussion.

So what do you think about the question of wifely obedience? Do you agree or disagree with my perspective? I would love to hear your thoughts either way.


Meghashyam Chirravoori said...

I think the way you have explained it simply awesome. You have said that in the end leading or submitting are simply words to describe the pure feeling of love felt in different ways by a husband and a wife. And the fact that it is natural and NOT forced makes it even more beautiful...

I loved the chewing gum example you gave...

Thank you for the insight. :)

Strong Man said...

Interesting discussion. I'm with you that obedience should not be demanded on the part of a husband, and I like your concept of dividing the two issues along the lines of individual agency.

The only problem is, in today's heavily feminized society, a man who continually thinks primarily of ways he can "surrender" to his wife can end up abdicating his responsibility to lead his family "As Christ Loved the Church." I don't think Christ regularly thought of "surrendering" to the Church--as much as many modern believers are trying to bend His directions to match their current habits and desires.

Of course marriage itself and the marriage vow is a choice. Since at least 1662, women and men have interpreted Biblical direction to include "obey" in the vows, and in Christian western society it has always basically been a free choice.

In fact, omitting "obey" is news because the omission is unusual historically in royal weddings. Although Diana ommitted it in 1981, Fergie vowed to "obey" in 1986. Here's one 1960 article that speculates the decision to include "obey" must not have been the man's, but "It must have been Margaret and maybe like a lot of other strong willed women she really in her heart wants to obey some man."


I've written about the difference between "obedience" and "submission" in my post here.

Essentially, I share that submission is a higher law–not contradictory to the idea of obedience, but supporting and enhancing it, and adding to it the principal of free will. . . Submission is an active, voluntary effort to go above and beyond obedience–to actively seek for ways to align your will with another person, even if they’ve not told you a thing to do, even if you have no specific direction from them that you could obey.

I'm just concerned that suggesting a wife should submit, but NOT obey (of course of her own free will and choice), can be confusing.

Strong Man said...

I made a comment about this a couple of days ago, and now it looks like it is gone.

Is that intentional?

If you have concerns with something I said, It would seem courteous to respond to those concerns with another comment or at least send me an e-mail to explain.

I've made a recent post on my blog about this issue.

Scott said...

I am very sorry but I have no idea what happened to your comment. I assure you that I did not delete it. I'd appreciate it if you would re-post it. I felt it was helpful to the discussion.

Strong Man said...

I like how you've separated the idea of submission and obedience along the lines if individual agency. interesting post.

However I believe the vow to obey has always been the woman's choice. It's in her vows, not his. He promises to lead and love, not to force.

I worry that men raised in our overwhelmingly feminized society who are told they must also submit can be led astray from their god-given leadership responsibility.

Remembering Jesus as the model bridegroom, Christ does not submit to His Church, but to His father.

I've written more about this in obedience and submission. I suggest that submission is a higher law that includes obedience.

Also in my recent post wedding vows to obey I share the idea that the traditional vows are not oppressive but are something that many women want.

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