The submission of the wise woman
to her ungodly husband
“And the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail; and the woman was of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance; but the man was churlish and evil in his doings; and he was a Calebite.” (1 Samuel 25:3)
In our previous study, we saw how a godly wife of worth, or a wise and spiritually mature wife, looks like. In this study, we will see how all those characteristics of the godly wife will be applied in the various difficulties and challenges of her submission to her ungodly husband. This study will be like a detailed explanation of the decisions and of the behavior of Abigail which will be seen in the next verses of this biblical passage. So it’s important to understand what the Word of God says about the submission of the godly wife to her ungodly husband so that we may not be confused later when we see Abigail behaving in a way that would rather seem contrary to what we have seen about her in our previous study, although that’s not the case.
What does God say about this matter?
The passage that most clearly explains the case of the submission of a godly woman to her ungodly husband is 1 Peter 3:1-7. And just as it is the case with all passages of the Bible, this passage also should be studied in the light of Scripture and not according to our personal subjective superstitions or opinions. So let’s read this passage and study it together:
“Likewise, wives, [be] subject to your own husbands, that, even if any are disobedient to the word, they may be gained without [the] word by the conversation of the wives,
having witnessed your pure conversation [carried out] in fear;
whose adorning let it not be that outward one of tressing of hair, and wearing gold, or putting on apparel;
but the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible [ornament] of a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is of great price.
For thus also the holy women who have hoped in God heretofore adorned themselves, being subject to their own husbands;
as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord; whose children ye have become, doing good, and not fearing with any kind of consternation.
[Ye] husbands likewise, dwell with [them] according to knowledge, as with a weaker, [even] the female, vessel, giving [them] honour, as also fellow-heirs of [the] grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered.”
(1 Peter 3:1-7)
This passage is not primarily about the ungodly husband
The first and most important point that I want you to notice with me is this: Although I said above that this passage most clearly explains the case of the submission of a godly woman to her ungodly husband, yet this passage is not primarily about the case of a godly wife with an ungodly husband, but it is about any godly wife with any husband, especially with a godly husband. Actually, many people do not notice this clearly when they study this text, most probably because this passage is usually used to explain the case of a godly wife with an ungodly husband. Some hypocrite ungodly husbands take an opportunity from this vagueness of the commentators, as we will see later. Note in the first verse the expression “even if”: this means that the Apostle didn’t primarily mean to talk about the submission of a godly wife to her ungodly husband, but he explains that even if that is the case, then nothing will change in the submission of the godly woman in Christ. The submission should always be in Christ, whether the husband is a true believer or not. This primary purpose of the Apostle appears even more clearly when he compares the submission of godly wives to their husbands to the submission of Sarah to Abraham; you surely know that Abraham in no way represents an ungodly husband… Again, when the Apostle passes to give advices to husbands, he describes them as believers who are heirs of the Grace of life, and not as unbelievers (cf. 1 Peter 3:7). So the first purpose of the Apostle is not the submission of a godly woman to her ungodly husband, but the submission of a godly wife to her godly husband in particular, and to her husband in general. A good understanding of what I just said helps you understand the strength of my argument which you will read in the next paragraph.
Submission according to God’s Will
In this passage, God says that the godly wife should be subject to her own husband according to God’s Will. I emphasize the expression “according to God’s Will”, because that’s where people usually make the fatal error when they try to interpret this passage according to their imaginations, not paying attention to what this passage really says. I think the reason why many women believe the false interpretation of this passage is because they are disobedient in their hearts or they are afraid to obey God’s Will against their husband’s will, therefore they look for a biblical justification for their disobedience to God’s Will… Actually, if you read this passage carefully, you will understand that it can be summarized in the following way: “Wives, be subject to your husbands and, even if they are unbelievers, then win them to Christ by living a decent and a godly life“. Indeed, the Apostle didn’t just tell the wives to be subject to their husbands, but he also detailed how they should do that: by having a pure pattern of life (“conversation” = pattern of life) led by the fear of God; by a decent outward appearance that expresses a stress on the inward purity of heart; by a meek and quiet spirit. And then the Apostle summarizes all this by saying that this submission to the husband should be done in the same way all holy women did it in the past, by doing good. Read it in the passage: the Apostle clearly says “doing good”. What does this practically mean? This practically means that if the ungodly husband asks his godly wife to disobey the Will of God, she will not do that, because in that case she will not be subject to him according to God’s Will, and thus her behavior will not be a holy behavior that could win her husband to Christ, but on the contrary it encourages him to ungodliness. If her ungodly husband asks her to be immodest, the godly wife will not do that; if he asks her not to have the fear of God and not to obey Him by faith, she won’t do that. Brief: if you are a godly woman, and if your husband asks you to do things according to his will, and if those things are sinful and contrary to the sound teaching, and if you do them, then you are not being submissive to your husband, because your submission to him should be according to God’s Will and for the good of your husband, and not according to your husband’s corrupted will. I will even dare to say more: even if your husband is a godly man, and he commands you to do something against God’s Will, then you should not do it, as in that particular point your husband is acting in a fleshly way, and the Bible teaches you the following: “Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.” (Proverbs 19:27) So if an instruction causes you to do something against God’s Will, then you should not listen to it. In the beginning God created the woman to be a helper for man; do you help your husband if you encourage him in sin? So if you want to be submissive to your husband according to God’s Will, then you should do the useful things that will be helpful for your husband, even if those things are contrary to your husband’s will. After all, you are to be in submission to Christ in the person of your husband, and not to your husband against Christ. This is indeed what Abigail did, as we will see later. But note it well: in all these things, the godly wife should be mature enough to be able to obey God against the will of her husband, and yet by avoiding any quarrel with her husband. Note that the Apostle says that the godly wife should be of a meek and quiet spirit. But if the ungodly husband wants to make quarrels, then that’s not the guilt of the godly wife; the godly woman should not blame herself for the anger of her husband when she does the right thing; even when he is angry and quarrelsome, she should continue in her meekness with all patience. Prayerfully and with a meek and quiet and submissive spirit, you can win your husband to obey God’s Word, even if that obedience will be a legalistic obedience.
What does it mean “to gain” your ungodly husband?
Here I want to make a comment about winning or gaining the ungodly husband. I wonder why those who study the verb to win (or to gain) in the first verse of this passage usually do not take into consideration that what is won could be an unworthy wood as well as worthy gold. Don’t they know that “in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor” (2 Timothy 2:20)? So you could win your husband to obey God’s Word, and yet his obedience could be a legalistic obedience. Indeed, the verb to win doesn’t always come in a context where the person won is won to Salvation (i.e. to Christ), but this verb is also used to mean that the person is won for something that he refused before, as it is the case in Matthew 18:15 where the person who is won is not an unbeliever who needs to be won to Christ, but a believer who needs to be won to repentance from a sin that he committed. Although in 1 Peter 3:1 the Apostle mainly has in mind the winning to Christ, and yet he didn’t totally dismiss the option of a fake conversion about which he himself talked in other passages, like 2 Peter 2:22. So a godly wife can win her husband to obey the Word of God concerning modesty and a godly pattern of life and the fear of God, and all this by doing good (i.e. the right thing) with her meek and quiet and submissive spirit. For example: if your husband forbids you to pray, you can win him to allow you to pray by a wise and mature way by which you win the heart of your husband to allow you to pray, although he himself doesn’t pray. And if you win him to pray himself, that will be even better. In all cases, you should not stop praying in order to be submitted to your husband; that’s not the biblical submission; you should continue to pray so that your husband may see your righteous pattern of life and so that he may value prayer; if you just obey him against God’s Will and you stop praying for his sake, then your husband will not value prayer and he will say to himself: “Look! Prayer is not a so essential thing for which my CHRISTIAN wife would be ready to sacrifice all what she has, so why should I give it any importance?” So you don’t win your ungodly husband if you do the wrong things that he commands you to do.
How does this submission practically look like?
The godly wife should do God’s Will, even if it is against her lost husband’s will (or even against her godly husband’s will when he acts in a fleshly way), because it is only in this way that she will be truly submitted to him. She was created to be a helper for him; he doesn’t do the right thing, so she must do the right thing herself even in his place, thus filling the place of her husband’s unwillingness to obey God, because she is one flesh with him. If she doesn’t do the right thing, then she doesn’t serve the purpose of her creation, i.e. to be a helper for her husband and thus to be submitted to him. Of course, all this needs much maturity, therefore a godly wife of an ungodly husband needs to grow in Grace and in maturity in order to be able to find the wise way that solves the problem with her husband without making her disobey him or rebel against him or have an indecent or a quarrelsome behavior. That’s why the text that we are studying says that Abigail was of good understanding. In some particularly difficult situations, a godly wife may need to do something against the will of her husband and yet according to God’s Will, and she may not have the opportunity to prepare her husband or to take permission from him and to win him before she does that; this was the case with Abigail, as we will see; in this case, she should find a wise way to tell him after she does the right thing, just as it happened with Abigail. In some cases, the wise thing to do may be not to tell him anything. We will see more about this when we reach that place in our study. All this can threaten her of punishment and persecution from her husband’s side, but she should do the right thing, having before her eyes the fact that all those who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (cf. 2 Timothy 3:12), and that the enemies of a person will be the members of his household, even a spouse (cf. Matthew 10:36). You should realize that much tears and troubles could be necessary before you win your husband… Meanwhile, you should obey God. There should be no compromise in this. But you break this obedience to God if you impose this obedience on your ungodly husband without being meek and quiet in spirit. You also break this obedience to God if you obey your ungodly husband against the Will of God.
Here I want to give a biblical example of how the submission of a godly wife should look like, even when her husband is seemingly a believer (note that only God knows the hearts and knows who is a true believer and who is not; and He gives the testimony in the heart of the true believer, and He does not teach that other people can know who is a true believer and who is not; they can only see the fruits of people and they can know them by their fruits). The Bible gives us an account about a Christian man called Ananias and his wife Sapphira, and the Holy Spirit shows us how the heart of Ananias was in the world (a bad fruit). As all the disciples in Jerusalem who had some tract of land sold it and brought the money to the Apostles, so Ananias decided to do the same. What was the purpose of his heart? We will know the answer as we consider what he did: he sold a piece of property and kept back some of the price for himself (cf. Acts 5:1-2). Note that the error was not that he kept some of the money for himself, because the Apostle Peter later told him that he had the right to do anything he wanted with that money (cf. Acts 5:4). The sin was that he lied to the Holy Spirit, claiming that that was the whole money. He saw Christians bringing all what they had, so he seemingly thought he could look righteous by showing that he was doing like them. This is hypocrisy about which our Lord warned us (cf. Luke 12:1). Hypocrisy is so dangerous that the Lord warns us against it very much and with very strong words. Now, here the Holy Spirit gives us an instruction about how a godly wife should act in such a case. The Spirit tells us clearly about Sapphira that she knew about what Ananias did: “and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge“ (Acts 5:2). Of course, many people pass without noticing this important note of the Spirit (“with his wife’s full knowledge”), and yet there is nothing in God’s Word which is secondary or unimportant. So Sapphira knew about it all, and the Spirit wants to tell us that she should have acted in a godly way if she were not hypocrite like her husband. That’s why she was judged like her husband, as we will see shortly. If Sapphira did the right thing and proved to be right with the Lord in her heart, she would not bear the same judgment. When the Apostle Peter revealed the truth to Ananias about what he did, he fell down and died (cf. Acts 5:3-6). Note that his wife Sapphira was not judged until she had the opportunity to repent and to prove that she is not hypocrite like her husband. But when she came and she was asked by Peter about what really happened, she stood with her husband in his hypocrisy (cf. Acts 5:7-8). If in 1 Peter 3:1-6 Peter meant what hypocrite false teachers teach today, Peter would commend what Sapphira did, as that would be a sign of submission of this woman to her husband’s will. Has not Ananias decided to lie and to keep some of the money? Then if submission means that his wife should obey him according to his will, then she should stand with his hypocrisy. So if 1 Peter 3:1-6 means this false kind of submission, then Peter should have approved of what Sapphira did. But the exact opposite happened! Peter blamed Sapphira for obeying her husband’s corrupted will and for standing with him in this hypocrisy (cf. Acts 5:9-11). He told her: “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test?” (Acts 5:9). The teaching is that Sapphira should have not agreed with her husband in this hypocrisy! So the godly woman should do this: she should do the right thing, according to God’s Will. If she agrees with her husband on what is wrong, then she bears the same judgment, as she proves to be hypocrite like him. This is serious! This is what the Word of God teaches!
Does the godly wife have the right to witness with words to her ungodly husband?
Note it well: when you obey God against the will of your husband, then you should not impose your way on your husband. You should not teach him in words as if you are trying to be his leader, harassing him each day with a new sermon… The passage that we are studying says that your godly life will gain your husband even without a word… So if you do the right thing by obeying the Lord, then that will be enough; that’s the way God wants submissive wives to win their husbands. Of course, you can tell him the truth in words when needed, but that should not be as if you are teaching him as a teacher teaches his students; all what you do and say should be a testimony about the Lord who saved you. But if you are not doing the right thing, then you may feel the need to harass your husband with sermons about Salvation, because you know in your heart that your life is not being a good example for him. Believe me: if you compromise in one truth, justifying that by saying that you are being submissive to your ungodly husband, then you give a sermon thousands of times stronger than any sermon, but in the negative way! You encourage your husband to ungodliness in a way that thousands of sermons would not be able to do it!
Here I want to comment about the expression “without [the] word” in the text that we are studying, more precisely in 1 Peter 3:1. Another translation renders it as “without a word”. In both cases, the meaning is that the ungodly husband can be won without the need for the wife to tell him words about Salvation. But it is sad that many understand this as being a commandment for the wife not to tell her husband words about Salvation . Actually, Peter is not saying that the godly wife should not tell her husband about the truth with words. Nowhere does the Bible ever say that a Christian woman cannot witness with words about Christ… nowhere! Peter is saying that even if the ungodly husband doesn’t want to be convinced with words, he will be gained by the godly life of his wife. People who say that a Christian woman should not witness about Christ with words to her husband misunderstand some verses of the Bible that talk about worship in church service. I will not enter in a discussion of those verses in the limit of this article. The same people usually think that a Christian woman cannot witness with words to any man, as they consider that as “teaching” him (and they misunderstand the verb “teaching” in the contexts where women are forbidden to teach). But if what they believe is true, then Abigail did wrong when she told David the truth with words…
So don’t be afraid to witness to your husband, but make sure that your life will back up the honesty of your words, because an ungodly husband will look more to reality rather than to words, because for him God’s Word is not reality. So if you tell your husband that we should love the Lord Jesus more than we love our father and mother and husband and children, and then you obey the will of your ungodly husband against the Will of Christ, then you give a very bad testimony and you disprove what you told your husband about the fact that you should love Christ more than you love him… But make sure that you don’t tell him the truth like someone who is trying to be his teacher or his leader, because the Bible teaches that the woman should be in submission to her husband as her head.
The submission to an ungodly husband and the submission to any human authority
The case of the submission of a godly wife to her ungodly husband is like the case of the submission of any Christian to an antichrist human authority. So if we understand well how a Christian should be submitted to an antichrist human authority, we will also understand how a godly wife should be submitted to her ungodly husband. Let’s read together how the Bible describes the submission of a Christian to human authorities:
“Let every soul be subject to the authorities that are above [him]. For there is no authority except from God; and those that exist are set up by God. So that he that sets himself in opposition to the authority resists the ordinance of God; and they who [thus] resist shall bring sentence of guilt on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to a good work, but to an evil [one]. Dost thou desire then not to be afraid of the authority? practise [what is] good, and thou shalt have praise from it; for it is God’s minister to thee for good. But if thou practisest evil, fear; for it bears not the sword in vain; for it is God’s minister, an avenger for wrath to him that does evil. Wherefore it is necessary to be subject, not only on account of wrath, but also on account of conscience. For on this account ye pay tribute also; for they are God’s officers, attending continually on this very thing.” (Romans 13:1-6)
Who wrote these words? The Apostle Paul wrote these words by the Holy Spirit when Nero was that human authority to which he said that we should submit. You know that Nero was one of the fiercest enemies of Christ’s Church; he persecuted the Christians and killed them in very barbarous ways. So Christians should submit to the authorities, even if they are against God, paying the taxes and obeying the laws. The same should be done by the godly wife with her ungodly husband: she should give him all what is due to him as respect and love and obedience in everything. But note that this same Paul who wrote these words about submission to the authorities was beheaded by the authority of Nero for not obeying Nero’s command not to preach about Christ… So what’s the problem here? Why didn’t Paul just obey Nero and his authority, thus avoiding all those troubles and even his martyrdom? It’s because the principle is this: that we should obey the authorities for God’s sake. If that authority asks us to disobey God, then how can we obey it for God’s sake?? It is true that we should give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, but we should also give to God that which is God’s (cf. Matthew 22:21); you should not give that which is God’s to Caesar, so you should not obey any human authority at the expense of your obedience to God. Note in the above text that the human authority is God’s minister (servant), an avenger to him that does evil. So if the authority does not serve the purpose of opposing evil, but on the contrary stands with the evil against Christ, then we will be disobeying God if we obey that authority in that particular thing in which the authority opposes Christ. In the same way, the woman was created for man, to be a helper for him; so if she does something bad to him according to his will, then she will not be serving the purpose of her creation, and thus she will not be truly in submission to her husband.
A similar commandment was written by the Apostle Peter:
“Be in subjection [therefore] to every human institution for the Lord’s sake; whether to [the] king as supreme, or to rulers as sent by him, for vengeance on evildoers, and praise to them that do well. Because so is the will of God, that by well-doing ye put to silence the ignorance of senseless men” (1 Peter 2:13-15)
This passage more clearly expresses what I said above: that the submission to the authorities should be for the Lord’s sake, and not for the sake of the person to whom we are submitted. So as soon as we can’t obey that authority for the Lord’s sake, then obeying it will be a non-submission to that authority. This passage clearly says that the submission should be “by well-doing”. And note that the passage that we are studying (i.e. 1 Peter 3:1-7) is a continuation of this passage about submission to authorities (i.e. of 1 Peter 2:13-25). The submission of the wife to her husband is an example of the submission of believers to every human institution for the Lord’s sake. So Peter is saying that, just as we submit to human authorities, the wife also should submit to her husband. And how did Peter himself submit to the human authorities? Is it by doing their will against God’s Will? Not at all! Indeed, the Apostle Peter who wrote these words, he himself was in submission to all human authorities. But look what happened in the following passage when Peter and John stood before a human authority that was opposing Christ:
“And having called them, they charged [them] not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answering said to them, If it be righteous before God to listen to you rather than to God, judge ye; for as for us we cannot refrain from speaking of the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18-20)
Why didn’t Peter obey this human authority as he taught us to do? Well, he did obey the authority. But look what he said: is it righteous before God to listen to humans rather than to God? This is the point: we should obey human authorities for God’s sake and according to His Will, and not for their sake and against God’s Will. That’s why Peter refused to obey Caesar when he commanded him not to obey Christ, and thus the tradition says that he was crucified upside down. Peter didn’t obey Caesar against Christ, but he submitted to Caesar according to Christ’s Will. The same should be done by a godly woman with her ungodly husband.
Note that both Peter and Paul opposed the will of the human authorities with a meek and quiet spirit. They both were ready to bear all kinds of persecution and beating from those authorities for the Lord’s sake. But in all that, they didn’t give up their obedience to Christ. They didn’t call for a rebellion against that bad authority. They didn’t call for a revolution. They just submitted to the authority to the end, but they obeyed it according to God’s Will.
And how many other examples I can still give about godly men and women who opposed the authorities for the sake of God, and yet in all meekness and submission to those authorities! I can mention Moses who opposed the Pharaoh (cf. the whole Book of Exodus); if he just obeyed the Pharaoh with a false understanding of the submission to the authorities, he would disobey God, and Pharaoh would not see any testimony about the true God. I can also mention the midwives who also opposed the Pharaoh (cf. Exodus 1:17), and whom God blessed for obeying Him against Pharaoh’s will (cf. Exodus 1:20-21); if they obeyed the human authority they would be disobeying God. Daniel also opposed the king Darius (cf. Daniel 6:10), and that became a great testimony for Darius who thus saw that Daniel’s God is the true God; if Daniel just obeyed Darius in what is wrong, God would not be glorified in Daniel’s life before Darius. And we also have the three friends of Daniel who were thrown in the furnace (cf. Daniel 3:16-27); they didn’t obey the king against God’s Will, and thus they had the opportunity to witness to that king… (Please, read our article Beware! Leave your windows OPEN!). You see how all these were saved by God as they obeyed Him against the will of the ungodly authorities. The same should be done by the godly wife who has an ungodly husband: if her obedience to Christ will cost her to bear all kinds of mistreatment from her husband and of all those who stand on her husband’s side, she should be ready to bear all that with joy for Christ’s sake, whether it is physical or psychological attacks, even threats of divorce. In all these extreme cases, the godly wife should keep doing the right thing according to God’s Will, not agreeing with what is evil and doing all the loving things, thus making the conscience of her husband convict him as he sees her godly and uncompromising behavior. But if she compromises, she encourages her husband to ungodliness, because that makes her husband justify his bad behavior by telling himself: “See? Even those who say they obey Christ cannot obey Him to the end when they are threatened; so I have the right to sin, as no one can obey God to the end”… Thus the godly wife brings dishonor to the Name of Christ who in fact saves us to the end (or to perfection).
How a servant of Christ explains this matter
John Piper explains all this in a wise way in his sermon Marriage: Pursuing Conformity to Christ in the Covenant. We have posted this sermon on this blog previously. I will quote here from that sermon the passage that most closely studies our topic:
Treading on Dangerous Ground
I realize that at this point—no matter how I come at this—I am treading on dangerous ground. I could be playing right into the hands of a selfish, small-minded, controlling husband who has no sense of the difference between enriching differences between him and his wife and moral and spiritual weaknesses or defects that should be changed. Such a man will likely distort what I am saying into a mandate to control every facet of his wife’s behavior, and the criterion of what he seeks to change will be his own selfish desires cloaked in spiritual language.
But an honest look at this text does not lead us there. It leads us to a very different attitude. Consider three observations:
1) The Husband Is Like Christ, Not Christ
The husband is like Christ, which means he is not Christ. Verse 23: “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.” The word as does not mean that the husband is like Christ in every way. The husband is finite in strength, not omnipotent like Christ. The husband is finite and fallible in wisdom, not all-wise like Christ. The husband is sinful, not perfect like Christ. Therefore, we husbands dare not assume we are infallible. We may err in what we would like to see changed in our wives. That’s the first observation.
2) Conformity to Christ, Not to the Husband
The aim of the godly husband’s desire for change in his wife is conformity to Christ, not conformity to himself. Notice the key words in verses 26 and 27. Verse 26: that he might “sanctify her.” Verse 27: that he might present the church to himself “in splendor.” Verse 27 again: that she might be “holy.” These words imply that our desires for our wives are measured by God’s standard of holiness, not our standard of mere personal preferences.
3) Dying for the Wife
The third observation is the most important: What Paul draws attention to most amazingly is that the way Christ pursues his bride’s transformation is by dying for her. Verse 25-26: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her.” This is the most radical thing that has been or could ever be said to a husband about the way he leads his wife into conformity to Christ in the covenant of marriage. Husbands, are we pursuing her conformity to Christ by lording it over her, or by dying for her? When we lead her, or even, if necessary, confront her, are we self-exalting or self-denying? Is there contempt or compassion?
If a husband is loving and wise like Christ in all these ways, his desire for his wife’s change will feel, to a humble wife, like she is being served, not humiliated. Christ clearly desires for his bride to grow in holiness. But he died to bring it about. So, brothers, govern your desire for your wife’s change by the self-denying death of Christ. May God give us the humility and the courage to measure our methods by the sufferings of Christ. (See Titus 2:14; Revelation 19:7.)
Wives Changing Husbands
Now let’s turn to the wife’s desire for her husband’s change. This is not a message about what headship and submission are. But to make the points I am making I have to touch on what headship and submission are not. I have already said that a husband’s headship is not identical to Christ’s headship. It is like it. Similarly, therefore, the wife’s submission to the husband is not identical to her submission to Christ. It is like it. When verse 22 says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord,” the word as does not mean that Christ and the husband are the same. Christ is supreme, the husband is not. Her allegiance is to Christ first, not first to her husband. The analogy only works if the woman submits to Christ absolutely, not to the husband absolutely. Then she will be in a position to submit to the husband without committing treason or idolatry.
One of the things this implies is that a wife will see the need for change in her husband. And she may and should seek the transformation of her husband, even while respecting him as her head—her leader, protector, and provider.
The case of a hypocrite ungodly husband
As you can see in this text from John Piper’s sermon, there are cases where the husband of the godly woman can be a hypocrite “Christian” who uses the biblical texts against God. When you read the Gospel Accounts in the Bible, you will surely notice that the people to whom Jesus addressed the toughest words were the hypocrite Pharisees and scribes, because what the Lord hates the most is the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy (cf. Luke 12:1), and because that “leaven of the Pharisees” is the doctrinal evil which is the most dangerous, as we will see after some lines. The Pharisees used to interpret the biblical text against God, thus honoring God only with their lips, i.e. worshiping God in vain, teaching as doctrine the precepts of men (cf. Matthew 15:3-9). It is really bad to interpret the Bible as meaning something against God’s Will. And that’s in fact what a hypocrite “Christian” husband does: he tries to declare himself as the teacher of doctrine in the house, basing his argument on a false interpretation of biblical passages that talk about the submission of the godly wife to her ungodly husband, claiming that he has the right to teach doctrine to his wife, because he wants to lord it over her… Dear Christian sister, beware of this leaven of the Pharisees, because it is the greatest evil and could make you be lost if you compromise with it, thus proving that you were never saved and that you prefer to listen to the evil one rather than to the Good Shepherd to whom alone the sheep listen (read John 10). Doctrinal evil is worse than moral evil; so if you let your ungodly husband become your teacher in doctrine, thus accepting the leaven of the Pharisees, then you will fall in the worst situation.
Doctrinal evil and moral evil
Let me explain to you why doctrinal evil is worse than moral evil. First, let me define the expressions. By “moral evil” we understand all the corruption of sin, like hatred, immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. The Word of God calls the moral evil “deeds of the flesh” (cf. Galatians 5:19-21). This is the “leaven” in the moral sense (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:6). Of course, this moral “leaven” is a part of the one and inseparable “leaven” of all what is opposed to pure doctrine, because the Christian doctrine is inseparably one, including pure teaching and pure life. As for the doctrinal evil, it is the false teaching, which is once again described by Paul by the term “leaven” in Galatians 5:9. In the context of Galatians 5:9, you see that the topic is the false teaching by which some Galatians were persuaded and deceived, and that resulted in moral evil. In the same way, the Lord Jesus described false teaching (or doctrinal evil) by the expression “leaven of the Pharisees” (cf. Luke 12:1). So doctrinal evil is any false teaching which will naturally lead to moral evil. Actually, in the Bible there is no separation between doctrinal evil and moral evil, because the Christian doctrine itself is both the true words and the right living, and one cannot separate them from each other. Thus in Titus 2 the Apostle Paul explains the “sound doctrine” by talking both about moral virtues and soundness in Faith and in words of doctrine. In our Faith, sound doctrine directly means sound living. You can’t separate the life from the doctrine. But there is a huge error today: people think that if they have some good morals, i.e. some beautiful virtues like love and tolerance and patience, etc. (I mean, virtues according to the world’s standards), then it is not of importance if they don’t have a sound doctrine. This corrupted opinion practically denies the very important biblical doctrine of righteousness by faith alone, as it dismisses the Person of Christ who is the Truth, and claims to be able to be good before God by the works of self-righteousness without the need to obey the Truth. So I will now put a distinction between doctrinal evil and moral evil, because I want to show the difference between Christian morality which is based on sound doctrine and the worldly morality which is based on false doctrine. Indeed, if you see a person doing good and having a good character (I mean as you see it outwardly), then does this necessarily mean that this person is a child of God, saved from sin to be a child of obedience? Of course not, because God says in His Word that Salvation is not by good works or personal merits, but by faith in Christ. Again, if you see a true child of God doing something wrong, then does this mean that he is lost and that he is not saved by the blood of Jesus Christ? Of course not, because the Bible does not teach that those who are saved become perfect in themselves and do not ever fall in errors, but on the contrary the Bible teaches us that if we sin we have an Advocate, Jesus Christ (cf. 1 John 2:1), and that every true child of God needs to get more mature by growing in Grace day after day (cf. passages like 2 Peter 3:18 and Philippians 1:9). So having a moral evil doesn’t automatically mean that we are lost. A true Christian may have some moral errors that the Lord will correct by His Grace. But if you have a doctrinal evil, i.e. you believe wrong things about Christ and things that are inconsistent with the teaching of His Word, then that’s fatal. The Lord Jesus said: “I said therefore to you, that ye shall die in your sins; for unless ye shall believe that I am [he], ye shall die in your sins.” (John 8:24) So if you don’t really believe in Christ for who He really is, then you are lost. And all what is written in the Bible is about Christ, for the prophets of the Old Testament talked about Him (cf. John 5:39), and the men of God who wrote the New Testament wrote it by being moved by the Holy Spirit who took from Christ and disclosed it to them (cf. John 16:14 and 2 Peter 1:21). Sound doctrine is all what is written in the Bible, and all what is written in the Bible is about the Person of Jesus Christ. If you have a wrong doctrine, then you believe wrong things about who Christ is. So sound doctrine is very important, and doctrinal evil kills you. Imagine that someone believes that moral evil is not bad and will not surely lead you to Hell (cf. Galatians 5:21 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10); so this person has a wrong doctrine about morality, because he has a wrong doctrine about who Jesus Christ is and about His sanctifying power; so how can you make this person have a good morality?… Thus doctrinal evil is worse than moral evil. Of course, for God both doctrinal evil and moral evil are bad, that’s why Christian doctrine does not separate true morality from sound doctrine. However God makes it clear in His Word that all sins can be forgiven except the sin against the Holy Spirit. I will not go here into the details about the sin against the Holy Spirit, but let it be sufficient to say that one of its implications is that if you refuse the truth about the Person of Christ then you will not find forgiveness and you will die in your sins, as the Lord said. So although both doctrinal and moral evils are evil for God, yet doctrinal evil has more catastrophic consequences than moral evil. If you believe what is wrong, you will surely practice what is wrong. But if you believe what is right, then even if you do something wrong, you will surely repent of it by the Lord’s Grace, as you have the sound faith. So if someone teaches you wrong doctrine, he will be hurting you much more than if he does some moral evil.
How bad it is when a godly wife’s teacher is her ungodly husband
Keep in mind that all this was said in relation to our study, so remember that you should understand this distinction between doctrinal evil and moral evil very well in order to understand how bad it is to let your ungodly husband be your teacher in doctrine. If your husband has a moral evil, then you will easily notice it and it will be easy for you to take a stand against it as being immoral. If your husband beats you, persecutes you, says wrong things about you, dishonors you, disrespects you, commits adultery, and does all immoral acts, you will be able to stand against all that with Christian love and holiness, because it will be easy for you to realize that those acts are evil and to separate yourself from all those evils as 2 Corinthians 6:17 teaches. Your husband will not be able to convince you to walk in those evils with him, because you know that they are bad. Even non-Christians notice that some of these acts are bad! So it will be easy for you to notice that and to oppose it without compromise. Note that in the matter of moral evils there is no teacher who will tell you openly to commit moral evils in order to be obedient to your husband… For example, there is no teacher who dares to tell you openly that if your husband asks you to steal then you should steal in obedience to him… But look now how it is possible to make you commit moral evil… Satan, the enemy of God and men, knows very well and often better than the believers, that if he succeeds to destroy the sound teaching, the foundation of a sound life of faith is simultaneously undermined. Read again what I just said: Satan, the enemy of God and men, knows very well and often better than the believers, that if he succeeds to destroy the sound teaching, the foundation of a sound life of faith is simultaneously undermined. What does this practically mean? Well, consider with me how it will look like if your husband is hypocrite and applies the doctrinal evil. Doctrinal evil is often, if not always, subtle and hidden; it comes to you in a beautiful package claiming to be an “acceptable option”. Jesus said that this kind of wolves come to you in the clothes of sheep… You are deceived to think that they are sheep… In this case, your husband will try to convince you that there are many optional interpretations for a certain doctrine, and that — note this well — all of those optional interpretations can be right… With this lie, he begins to destroy the wall of your spiritual immunity… Then he may try to convince you that true biblical teachers disagree with each other on a given doctrine, and that you can’t listen just to one of them. Note how he is trying to turn your eyes from Christ to human teachers… Thus, step by step, he convinces you that you should give the doctrines some personal interpretation that would agree with your situation, as if God’s truth were not absolutely true in all times and places and conditions… Simultaneously to all of this, your hypocrite husband tries to take the place of Christ in your life, trying to be your teacher in doctrine. We have seen above how this can be the case: such a hypocrite husband gives you his own false interpretation of the passages that talk about the submission of a wife to her husband, and he takes an opportunity of the vagueness of commentators, and thus he places you before the following “dilemma”: “If you’re a true Christian, then you should listen to these passages and you should obey your ungodly husband in all things just as you obey Christ, even if your husband commands you to do things that you think are wrong”. Imagine what will be the consequences of being deceived by this!! As soon as you swallow this deception, you will begin to put your husband in the position of Christ, and you will begin to disobey Christ more and more each day, thinking that you are obeying Him by obeying your ungodly husband’s sinful will, and you will go down in a dangerous spiral of immorality until you begin to do all the deeds of the flesh which you previously refused to do, convincing yourself that you are being a submissive wife… We have seen above how this is not true! You have been deceived! You are disobeying Christ! All this happened to you because you were deceived with a doctrinal evil… Thus you see how a doctrinal evil is worse than a moral evil. Your ungodly husband couldn’t convince you to follow his moral evil, but as soon as he used the doctrinal evil, he succeeded. But let him not be so happy! For if you are truly a child of God, then the Lord will save you from this deception.
The inconsistency in the position of this hypocrite husband
This hypocrite husband tries to lord it over his wife and treats her as a slave and not as a helper (remember that the purpose of the woman’s creation was to be a helper for man, and not his slave…) To impose on her his ungodly principles, he uses a biblical passage like 1 Peter 3:1-7, and this is inconsistent, because the Bible doesn’t teach his ungodly principles. Thus, he forgets that he doesn’t have the right to take God’s Word in his mouth and to teach it to his wife: “But to the wicked God says, “What right have you to tell of My statutes And to take My covenant in your mouth? For you hate discipline, And you cast My words behind you.” (Psalm 50:16-17) As he hates discipline and he hates to make his life comply with the teachings of the Bible, then how can he claim to be a teacher of the Bible?? Indeed, we read in verse 7 of the passage that we are studying: “[Ye] husbands likewise, dwell with [them] according to knowledge, as with a weaker, [even] the female, vessel, giving [them] honour, as also fellow-heirs of [the] grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7) Another passage says: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Does this hypocrite love and serve his wife in this way? Does he seek the change in her by dying for her, i.e. in a self-denying way? Not at all! On the contrary, he humiliates her and tries to make her conform her character to his ungodly wishes by lording it over her, because he is “churlish and evil in his doings”, as the text of this series says about Nabal (cf. 1 Samuel 25:3). So he opposes the same biblical passages that he uses to justify his demand for his wife to submit to him according to his false interpretation. The worse is that he uses passages that teach about how a godly wife should submit to an ungodly husband, thus indirectly admitting that he is ungodly! You see the inconsistency?! So once again the Spirit of God tells this hypocrite: “But to the wicked God says, “What right have you to tell of My statutes And to take My covenant in your mouth? For you hate discipline, And you cast My words behind you.” (Psalm 50:16-17) This hypocrite man should understand that it is not his wife who is sanctified because of him, but that it is he who is sanctified because of his godly wife: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife” (1 Corinthians 7:14). He would not have anything to do with the visible Church if his wife were not a believer! It is his wife who should be teaching him what is right, through her godly living, and not him! The unbelieving husband has absolutely no spiritual authority on his wife; the blind cannot lead the blind , if indeed his wife is blind (cf. Matthew 15:14). Actually, the believing wife is the spiritual example in this case, and 1 Peter 3:1-6 explains how she will be that example: by obeying Christ and walking in the way of the Gospel of Grace. As the unbelieving husband is not the spiritual leader, so he doesn’t have the right to ask his wife to obey 1 Peter 3:1-6 as if he were the one who has the right to interpret 1 Peter 3:1-7… He should understand what it means that “There is no Jew nor Greek; there is no bondman nor freeman; there is no male and female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
The Lord saves you from the trap
If you have fallen in the trap of a hypocrite husband, and if you wake up and repent and do the right thing, then you will be saved from that trap. If you have fallen in this trap, then you are surely experiencing now a lukewarm life… Stand up, stand for Christ, and do the right thing again, and thus submit to your ungodly husband in the right way. Remember your first love for Christ, and live for Him and not for your ungodly husband and for his ungodliness! For instance, why are you afraid to take your husband’s place before God and before His people and confess his sin of hypocrisy?? Why are you afraid to submit to your husband in this godly way?? Consider what Abigail did: she went to David and told him things against her husband: “Upon me, my lord, [upon] me let the iniquity be; but let thy handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine ears, and hear the words of thy handmaid. Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, Nabal; for as his name is, so is he: Nabal is his name, and folly is with him; and I thy handmaid did not see the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send.” (1 Samuel 25:24-25) And she continued: “I pray thee, forgive the transgression of thy handmaid” (1 Samuel 25:28) Was she being disobedient and disrespectful towards her husband when she said that her husband is a fool and a man of Belial (i.e. a child of the devil)?? Not at all! Look how she placed herself in the place of her husband! She confessed the sin of her husband as being her own sin! So she was actually calling herself also a fool, and asking for forgiveness in the place of her husband who would not want to ask for forgiveness. If Nabal foolishly refuses to do the right thing, then his godly wife chooses to take his place to do the right thing! This is in fact true submission according to God’s Will. God created the woman for this purpose: to be a helper for her husband. If her husband does the wrong thing, then the best thing for her to do is to take his place and to do the right thing in order to do good to her husband! Don’t you want to do like Abigail? If your husband is a hypocrite who subtly opposes the Will of God, then you should confess that hypocrisy as your own sin and you should work against that hypocrisy by breaking it with love before the cross of Christ. Trying to justify or defend the hypocrisy of your ungodly husband will only encourage him to sin and will even lead you to be a hypocrite yourself, and it will not be the godly submission about which the Bible talks when it tells the Christian wife to be in submission to her husband.
The consequences of such an uncompromising life
Of course, when you submit to your ungodly husband in the way Abigail submitted to her ungodly husband, you may receive from him a bad reaction. Look what was the reaction of Abigail’s husband when she told him about the right thing that she did against his will: “And it came to pass in the morning, when the wine was gone out of Nabal, that his wife told him these things; and his heart died within him, and he became [as] a stone.” (1 Samuel 25:37) Yes, he became as a stone… Your ungodly husband also may get angry at you. He may even threaten you of divorce. We have seen above that if you’re a true disciple of Christ, then you will bear all this with love and patience. You will not agree to divorce if your ungodly husband asks that. You may need to bear much troubles… You may have to be separated from your children… You may have to be separated for a while from your husband… Each case has its wise way to be solved, and all should be done by the leading of God’s Spirit. But it is really dishonoring for God if a Christian woman should fear from the threats of her ungodly husband and if she should feel obliged to disobey the Lord! Remember the following wisdom from God’s Word: “And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to dwell with her, let her not leave [her] husband. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the brother; since [otherwise] indeed your children are unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever go away, let them go away; a brother or a sister is not bound in such [cases], but God has called us in peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, if thou shalt save thy husband? or what knowest thou, O husband, if thou shalt save thy wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:13-16) Examine well the passage that I emphasized: although a truly Christian woman will not accept divorce, and yet she should not lose her Peace and feel bound or guilty if her husband chooses to separate. If doing the right thing will cost you this, then let it be! Doing the right thing may even cost you your life! Is not Christ worthy of your life and of all this?… If you compromise and you do not do the right thing, you will lose your spiritual immunity and you will lose your joy and your eternity! You will prove to be a believer for a while (cf. Luke 8:13)… Are you not ready to cut and throw from you all what is dear to you for Christ’s sake (cf. Mark 9:43-48) so that you may not go to Hell?… Remember that the Lord said: “If any man come to me, and shall not hate his own father and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yea, and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). And He said: “Do not think that I have come to send peace upon the earth: I have not come to send peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man at variance with his father, and the daughter with her mother, and the daughter-in-law with her mother-in-law; and they of his household [shall be] a man’s enemies. He who loves father or mother above me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter above me is not worthy of me. And he who does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34-38) All this is very serious, for if you refuse to bear the cross and to be separated from evil, then you are not a true disciple of Jesus Christ, and if you are not His disciple then you are lost.
I will now share with you an important testimony about a godly Christian woman written in the French devotional calendar “La Bonne Semence, 2010” (“The Good Seed, 2010”). You can read it in French online here. I will translate it to English (I will not translate the biblical text, but I will quote it from an English translation of the Bible):
Wednesday, March 17
For the grace of God which carries with it salvation for all men has appeared Titus 2:11
But when the kindness and love to man of our Saviour God appeared, […] he saved us Titus 3:4,5
Capitulation behind the door
Since his wife has been reading the Bible and frequenting the Christians, George has not stopped fuming. Yet he didn’t have anything to complain about her. The more he was brutal and unjust, the more Matilda showed gentleness and patience. On one point she would make no concession: frequenting a Christian assembly was for her a necessity.
One day George gets quite angry: “If you ever return to this meeting of hypocrites, I will come to seek you and I will give you a correction which you will remember all your life”.
Matilda knows that he is a man who keeps his word, but this does not prevent her, a few days later, from taking advantage of an absence of her husband to go to the prayer meeting. George returns earlier than expected, finds the house empty, takes a big stick and heads for the meeting room. He passes the first door and stops behind the second. “Someone is talking,” he says, “let’s wait for him to finish”. But then he distinctly hears the words: “And we pray you, Lord, for the husband of our sister Matilda. You see that this man is not happy. Make him know Your great Love…” This is then what they do in this “meeting of hypocrites”: they pray for him, and with what fervor!
He goes out slowly and takes the path of the house. When Matilda also, all trembling, returns, she finds George on his knees. He too had met the Lord.
What a great testimony! It expresses in a summarized and a very impressive way all what I have been trying to explain in this article! (This reading came in a time when a sister who used to work with us in this mission was cutting her relations with us under the pressure of her ungodly husband…) Look how clear is the testimony:
Matilda never compromised in the essentials of her faith. She never gave up reading the Word of God and having fellowship with Christians, although that was against the will of her husband. She really understood what submission to her husband does not mean: submission to her husband does not mean to obey him against God’s Will. And although her husband treated her in a bad way, Matilda didn’t compromise in her biblical principles, and kept treating him with all respect and gentleness and patience. But this does not mean that she would stop doing God’s Will, even if that would threaten her life! Even when threatened by her husband, she kept doing the right thing according to God’s Will. And you see how the outcome was that her husband was gained to Christ, just as 1 Peter 3:1-6 teaches. If this woman just obeyed her husband against God’s Will and didn’t go to the church meeting, this blessing would not come to her husband, and thus she would not serve the purpose of her creation to be a helper for him. Again, if Matilda stopped reading God’s Word and stopped praying (as her husband wanted), she would not have all those virtues of gentleness and patience with her unloving husband, because love is the fruit of faith, and faith comes and is nourished by hearing the Word of God (cf. Romans 10:17 and Matthew 4:4). If she followed the doctrine of her husband, she would not give this beautiful testimony.
So God teaches the wise Christian woman to be submitted to her husband, even an ungodly husband, according to God’s Will and not according to her husband’s will, even if that will threaten her of persecution for the sake of Christ. The Christian woman should be wise enough to refuse to believe the false doctrine of a hypocrite husband, because false doctrine will cause false morals. She should oppose his hypocrisy and his false doctrine with meekness and with a quiet spirit, without rebelling against him or having any inappropriate behavior. But if she defends his hypocrisy and his false doctrine, then she will be hypocrite like him, and she will bear the same judgment that he will bear, just as Sapphira was judged with her husband who lied to the Spirit of God. We should understand that the submission of the godly wife to her husband is an example of the submission of Christians to every human institution for the Lord’s sake (cf. 1 Peter 2:13-17). This submission is explained in 1 Peter 2:13-3:7. So just as the Apostles didn’t obey Caesar’s will, but submitted to his authority according to God’s Will, and just as servants are to be submissive to their masters according to God’s Will (a Christian employee should not do something wrong if commanded by his employer to do it, but he should submit to his employer according to God’s Will and not according to his will), in the same way a godly wife should submit to her ungodly husband according to the Will of God our Father.
Dear Christian sister, will you not do like all the men and women of God whose examples we studied above? Will you choose to obey your husband’s will against God’s Will, thus not keeping the commandment of God who tells you to submit to your husband according to His Will?… Glorify the Lord by obeying Him alone, and thus be truly submitted to your ungodly husband.
Grace be with you!
Disciple of Jesus Christ