We used to have a saying in our house that I made all the big decisions and I delegated all the trivial ones to my wife. So I decided whether or not we should invade Iraq, whether anthropomorphic global warming is true, and what we should make of Intelligent Design, while she dealt with the minor matters of where the children should go to school, where we should buy our groceries, when the house needed redecorating and so on.
The role of women is controversial even in the secular world. Are mothers better designed to bring up children than fathers or is it just a cultural imperative? Can women ever be equal in the workplace? Is it fair on unmarried women that married women with children should always be taking days off because the children are off school or leaving early because little Johnnie is in a school play? And what about ideas of beauty? Nothing irritates a man more than those adverts that have some air-brushed beauty telling you that she's worth it.
A young girl may be crushed by an inopportune pimple. Tell me, did Ruth or Rachel have cellulite? Is it right to be driven to plastic surgery for fear of losing a boy friend's affections?
All men would approach today's passage in 1 Peter with trepidation. Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.
I can feel the flak from the feminists already. Peter is just following Paul, the misogynist, who keeps women in their place, covered up and silent. Women should be docile doormats. Remember how women from the 1960s onwards wanted the wedding service changed; no more love, honor and obey.
But Paul doesn't decree that women should obey. Examine the parallel passages in Ephesians and Colossians. Slaves are to obey their masters. Children are to obey their parents. But women are to submit to their husbands. Is there any difference between submission and obedience? I think there is. We are talking about functions, not value. In verse 7 of this chapter husband and wife are heirs together of the gracious gift of life. There is no suggestion that sons inherit before daughters. If Prince Charles and his two sons were to die in a helicopter crash, the heir to the British throne would not be Princess Anne who is older but Prince Andrew who is younger, but the Bible does not give men this precedence in inheritance - men and women are heirs together.
Note also that a wife is not to submit to any man, only to her own husband. The NIV has interpolated a bit of interpretation here. The Greek says 'submit' (active) not 'be submissive' (passive) and 'to your own husbands'; the NIV leaves out the 'own'.
The idea of submission is a military one. Who is to blame for the slaughter of millions in the First World War? Do we blame the foot soldiers who went over the top into a hail of machine gun bullets? Silly people what were they thinking? Didn't they know that a worsted jacket won't stop flying lead? Of course not! They were brave men, but they were men acting under authority. We blame the generals who were so pig-headed that they would not see the consequences of their orders.
There is a responsibility in leadership. My son has recently been promoted to the Board of the Care Quality Commission. Before he just ran the department than garnered the data and analysed the findings. But as a Board member he has to take responsibility for the decisions of the organization. He has to face the Press and the Government. He has to justify what he has done against those who have a different agenda. He may find his weekends taken up by e-mails and conference calls. Before he was covered by those in authority over him; now he is exposed.
The Bible has dire warnings for those under-shepherds who betray their pastoral duties and leave their flock astray. It is an awesome responsibility to take a leadership role in a church. It is equally a responsibility to take a leadership role in a family. I know a lot of women will struggle with this. I know plenty of marriages where the wife is cleverer, better organized, has more initiative, and is altogether more competent than the husband.
When I was working at the hospital I had a spell as Deputy General Manager, when I was Medical Director. Afterwards, I went back to being an attending physician and researcher. I got on well with the General Manager and although we did not agree on everything, we could always come to a decision that we could live with. He listened to me and made changes when I had a sensible argument, but ultimately it was his decision that counted and I had to submit to it - he outranked me. Later, when I had left management and he had moved on to higher things, there came a new ruler who knew not Joseph. I found it hard to accept his decisions sometimes, but the decisions were his responsibility not mine. I might well have though that I was more intelligent than he, that I knew more about medicine and knew the hospital better than he; but I still had to submit to his authority and what is more I had to try my hardest to make his decisions work. It would have been wrong of me to be subversive.
I know many very clever wives who go out of their way to make their less clever husband look good. I can guess that they put more input into decisions than their husband does, but they never take the credit. I learned as a manager that you can get almost anything done if you don't want the credit for it. This is the mystery of marriage. The two shall become one flesh. Submission is not absolute. Just as wives submit to their husbands, so husbands have those in authority over them. A wife should not connive at crime. The civil authorities are in authority over her husband. If he intends to rob a bank, she should try to persuade him to pass on this one, but if he will not, then she should go to the police. Similarly, the elders in the church are in authority over him. If he slips into sinful behavior and won't repent, she should go to the elders of the church. I have been an elder and I can say that the last thing elders want to do is interfere in other people's marriages. But supposing a man is a gambler losing money. As a consequence he neglects his children and the home that they live in. His wife as begged him to stop but he can't. It is the elders' duty to try and help the situation, which won't go away if it is ignored. However, suppose he is a rich man who likes to play a little poker with his friends. She may not approve but in reality the stakes are not high; sometimes he is a buck down, sometimes two dollars to the good. What is she to do? Taking it to the elders seems a little OTT. In these circumstances, I think she has to submit, even if she makes it clear that she is not happy about the gambling.
Submission is Christ-like. In Ephesians chapter 5 Paul likens the relationship of a man with his wife to that between Christ and the church, and in ! Corinthians 11 Paul tells us just as a man has authority over his wife, so Christ has authority over the man and God (the Father) has authority over Christ. Remember how Jesus prayed in the Garden, 'Not my will, but yours.' Jesus did not go eagerly to the cross. There was nothing gung-ho about it. He was reticent. 'Let this cup pass from me.' But he submitted to the will of his Father.
The world sees submission as weakness, but God sees submission as powerful. The submission of the Lord Jesus Christ rescued countless millions from Hell. Do you remember that incident in the Indian Ocean when special forces rescued the sailors captured by pirates? How we praised the strength of purpose of the rescuers, the resolution of their response, the accuracy of their shooting. What a powerful rescue. I bet the pirates thought twice about messing with them. How does that compare with the weakness of Christ's submission? When he surrendered to evil men, to the scourging, to the nails and the spear, he rescued not a handful of captured sailors; He led captivity captive. His rescue was limitless.
Husbands may be saved by the submission of their wives. People are saved though hearing, but having heard they are convinced by behavior. Seeing the purity and reverence of a Godly wife has brought many a husband to submission to Christ. How often have you heard people say, I want what you have? Then is the time to tell them what we have. Preaching can become nagging unless it is accompanied by submission.