Tuesday, March 08, 2011
Recently a young woman (Susy) seemed to have found herself conflicted between doing what her husband wanted and doing what her parents wanted. Her parents quoted Ephesians 6:1, “Obey your parents in the Lord.” And her husband quoted Ephesians 5:22-24, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.”
It all began one day when her husband, I’ll call him Bob, asked Susy to take the garbage out every time it got full. Susy did not want to take out the trash. She explained that taking out the trash was a husband job. So she called her parents, who told her that she did not need to take out the trash since that was something husbands do.
Soon the argument blew up into a major issue with Bob coming to the church because his wife wouldn’t submit to him as the head of the home and her parents coming to the elders because their daughter was living with a tyrant who demanded completely unbiblical things of their daughter, especially that she not listen to her “meddling” parents.
Then came the charges, she was not a submissive wife because she would not take out the trash. He was a tyrant because he was asking her to asking her to take out the trash and to stop talking to her parents.
What is going on here? What needs to be considered? How can this situation be resolved? Where do you begin?
First and the simplest place to start is to determine the biblical place of God given governments. God has given three governments to us: State, Family, and Church. In this example the State is not an issue, unless the thing blows up further and someone does something to bring them in some way. This leaves the family relationship and the church relationship. This actually has three parts in our scenario. The Family situation involves two families, Bob and Susy’s family and Susy and her parents’ family. And the church must be involved.
As noted above, there are two verses that seem to be at odds with one another, Ephesians 6:1 and Ephesians 5:22. Of course they would not be at odds with one another in every circumstance, but in a situation like this they might appear to be in conflict. However, the Bible never contradicts itself and so a harmonization needs to be recognized.
There are a couple of ways to put these two passages together. First, Ephesians 6:1 is in a context of families working together to honor and glorify the Lord. Paul has just explained how wives and husbands are to work together, now he has turned his attention to parents and children and then he will talk about masters and slaves. In the context of 6:1 Paul is not talking about grown children, he is talking about young children who still live at home with the parents. How should children who live at home with their parents behave toward their parents? They should obey them in the Lord.
The passage that should govern grown children and their parents is Deuteronomy 5:16, “honor your father and mother, as the Lord your God commanded you….” This verse and Ephesians 5:22 may still seem to be at odds with one another until you realize that a daughter can honor her parents without necessarily obeying them. In our situation, submitting to Bob by taking out the trash did not necessitate dishonoring her parents. She could have respected them just as much and still done what Bob had requested. Bob’s is a new home, with new house rules. Adopting Bob’s new house rules does not in and of themselves dishonor Susy’s parents’ rules.
Another way to harmonize these two verses, which is related to the first, is to keep all of scripture in mind when viewing what makes up a family. The Biblical view of marriage and family begins with “a man will leave his father and mother and take a wife and the two will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). This means that the man leaves his family and starts a new family. He takes his bride from her family and they create a new family. In our culture we show this change in relationship in two ways: first, the bride is given by her parents to the groom at the beginning of the wedding ceremony. Second, she drops her father’s last name and takes her husband’s last name. She is no longer a Smith, she is now a Jones. These two actions literally, legally, ecclesiastically, and covenantally move the woman from her father’s household to her new husband’s and now they have created a new family.
This change affects everything with regard to family government. Her parents are no longer the authorities in her life. Her husband is. She must continue to honor her parents, but she may no longer submit to them because they are her parents. She belongs to her husband and he to her (1 Cor. 7:4). This is a covenantal belonging, not a property belonging. This is because both spouses belong to God.
The other governmental issue is just as simple. The primary role of the church in the life of families is to teach them to live according to the Word of God and to help them live that way by godly example. This is a priestly function. Church leaders represent God to the people and they represent the people to God.
When people have interpersonal difficulties it is the leaders’ responsibility to help the people resolve those difficulties in a godly way. These difficulties include those that happen between family members. So a situation like Bob and Susy’s, if not resolved peacefully by them, should naturally come to the elders of their church for assistance in reconciliation.
It should be noted here that by difficulties we are not talking about simple disagreements about the color of the curtains. We are talking about sin problems. The differences in the color of the curtains, in and of itself, are not sin problems. But it could turn into a sin problem and that is when the leaders of the church might be brought into the picture.
If the problem is sin, it is the elders’ ministry to the couple to help mediate the relationship so that if there is sin the individuals might recognize their sin, confess it, repent of it, and offer and grant forgiveness; thus restoring the relationship. This process should continue until all sin has been taken care of or until church discipline has been carried out.
The goal throughout is to restore fellowship between people in the church. Families are people in the church and therefore this is a legitimate and necessary area of church ministry to families.
Once these philosophic issues are understood, we can get back to Bob and Susy. First, let’s talk about the home. What is the aroma of the home? Is Bob a tyrant? How do we know? Does he regularly ask Susy to do things that are sinful? Is he asking Susy to do something sinful now? How did the edict come down the pipe to Susy? Was Bob harsh when he asked her to take out the trash? Did he tell her or did he ask her to do it? What other things has he asked her to do that would indicate that he has overloaded her? These are all questions that should be asked and answered before trying to help.
Another bunch of questions that might be asked are: Why did Susy call her parents? Why didn’t Susy want to take out the trash? If she had wanted to take out the trash, would she think Bob was still a tyrant? If her parents had said, “don’t take out the trash, that’s a man’s job” but she wanted to take it out, would she have obeyed her husband or her parents? Was Susy’s issue doing something she didn’t want to do, or was she having trouble with a house rule that was different from the house rules she grew up with? What is the trajectory of Susy’s submission life? Is she submissive to God in other areas of her life? At other times when Bob has asked her to do things that were not sin, did she willingly and joyfully do what he asked? What happened in the past when he asked her to do something she didn’t already want to do?
Also, where is Jesus in all of this? What kind of spiritual life do Bob and Susy have? Are they even interested in walking with God? Do they understand what “let love cover a multitude of sins” means? What kinds of things have they already done to “fix” their situation? What kind of examples do they think they are setting for their children? What other help have they tried to find? Did they follow the advice they heard from others? Are they members of your church? Are they likely to become members? Are they involved with any other godly Christians in your community? What are those folks saying about Bob and Susy? Are Bob and Susy interested in being coached through this? Or are they interested in “winning”? Or something else? What would they want life to be like if they could have anything and everything they want?
Things to Notice
As you re-read the situation, notice that Susy didn’t want to take out the trash. Her attitude was not one of ready love, respect, and submission to Bob. It might have been that Bob really was a tyrant, you’ll need to check that.
Second, it is important to notice that Susy’s parents did not point her to her husband, nor to her church leaders. They wrongfully assumed authority in Susy’s life by telling her what she should and should not do. The insertions of their illegitimate leadership into Bob’s family eroded and undercut Bob’s headship and leadership in his family. Unless this stops it will destroy Bob’s family because it steals his wife from him and inserts a huge wedge into their relationship. Her parents do not understand that they gave Susy to Bob and they need to get out of the way.
An Important Question
The question might be raised that if Bob is really a tyrant shouldn’t Susy’s parents try to rescue her from him? Under certain circumstance that might be a legitimate course to take, but parents need to be very careful when they make such moves. They should assume first that their daughter is Bob’s wife before she is their daughter. This means that they are further down the chain of command than the church. If the church leadership is involved, they need to back off until the church asks for their help. If it turns out that Bob is indeed a tyrant and Susy needs somewhere to go to be protected from him, then let the church leaders ask for that kind of assistance. For Susy’s parents to jump in and “rescue” Susy too soon makes reconciliation almost impossible. This is because if Bob is not a tyrant, then something strange is going on, and it is likely that Susy simply doesn’t want to do what she doesn’t want to do. “Rescuing” her too early simply prolongs the sinful state and maintains the lack of real fellowship.
If there is no help from the church and there is legitimate concern that Bob is asking Susy to do sinful things, then it would be fine to intervene. But there is a huge difference between asking Susy to take out the trash and asking her to sin. The Bible tells wives to bow down and worship their husbands, even calling them lord (1 Pet. 3:1-6). And this is the case when their husbands are in sin. The point of this is that life in Christ is a higher calling than being comfortable. It requires us to lay down our lives for the sake of others and to lead them to godly living by our good example. If Bob is in sin, but not asking Susy to sin, then her role is to lay down her life to Christ, take up her cross, and submit to Bob as if he were Christ.
And of course, if it turns out that Susy is being self serving and manipulative in all of this Bob should likewise lay down his life for her and love her anyway. The Bible is a book written about a God whose wife is a piece of work and he loves her anyway to the point of sending his own son to die for her, even allowing her to kill him in the process. Bob needs to love his wife as Christ loves the Church, making her lovely in the process.