Sarah, The Bible’s Poster Child For Submission

I’ve noticed there is a lot of articles in Blogosphere recently about wives being submissiveto their husbands. I think if

Abraham, Sarah and Hagar Русский: Авраам, Сара...
Abraham, Sarah and Hagar Русский: Авраам, Сара и Агарь (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

you were to poll the Christian wives, you’d find that this little nugget of wisdom being preached to them from a man is kind of an irritant to a lot of us. It isn’t because there isn’t truth in it…It is from the Bible. Instead, though, there is the assumption that the definition of submission is about the same as the definition for a door mat. And some women are not equipped to be door mats. I personally had to sit down and really decide what exactly my beef was with these sorts of sermons.

1 Peter 3:1-7

3  In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and [a]respectful behavior.  Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of GodFor in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right [b] without being frightened by any fear.

 You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with [c]someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.”

Now, let me be clear. I do believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and as such, I am not disputing the validity or truth of this scripture. Instead, I’m wondering if people truly understand what it means to submit.

Growing up, I had a front row seat to watch a few women in my family “submit” to their husbands, and it was their attitudes, and the attitudes of their husbands, that first caused me to doubt that the definition of submit was correctly being preached.

The main person that really caused me to question this was an aunt of mine. Actually, she was some sort of step-cousin, but because of her age, I just considered her an aunt. We’ll call her Evelyn. I went to live with this family while I was pregnant with my first daughter, so I had a chance to sit back and actually see what this dynamic looked like.

Evelyn and her husband owned a cattle ranch in Texas. Each morning at 4am, Evelyn would get up and cook breakfast for her husband and her daughter. The husband, Milton (not his real name), would head out to do ranch things…move cattle from different fields, feed them, etc., while Evelyn would head in to town to work at her job as a bank teller. For upwards of 10 hours a day, she would stand on her feet. Milton would return sometime around 10am and sit in his easy chair, always falling asleep for approximately 4 hours. Around 2pm, he’d head back out and do other ranch things, or go into town to get ranch supplies, and return about 5 pm. Evelyn would return sometime after 6pm, and would then cook dinner for her family, and then clean up afterwards. Somewhere around 8pm, she would finally get off her feet, watching television with her family for a little bit, and then go to bed. While I was there, I did take care of a ton of the house-cleaning, but my cooking skills were such that no one enjoyed my meals, so I wasn’t able to put much of a dent in Evelyn’s routine, except when it came to cleaning the kitchen after breakfast and dinner.

 

Most evenings, Evelyn would mention how badly her back hurt, or how swollen her feet were, and all she got was some uninterested grunt from the easy chair vicinity of the livingroom, and I would instantly be irritated. I know what the Bible says we women should be doing, but I also knew what the men were supposed to be doing, too, and frankly, watching how this was playing out, I was fine not having a husband. Who wants to be a slave?? It seemed to me that if a husband was loving his wife like Jesus loved the church, then cooking a couple of meals a week was the least he could do. I mean, Jesus DIED for the church..right?

 

After some time passed, I ventured out to ask Evelyn why she didn’t at least ask for some help from Milton, and her answer was simply, “I’m being a submissive wife.” Hmmmm…I thought. So this is what a submissive wife looks like? Yuck. Not only did I wonder if this was really how submission was supposed to look, but I wondered if their somewhat cold-looking marriage was what I had to settle for in order to be a good, Christian, submissive wife.  It wasn’t likely I was going to succeed… 🙂

 

On top of how uncaring her husband seemed to act towards his wife, I was equally put off by the martyr-like attitude that Evelyn seemed to have. It was the loud, though silent, “Poor Suffering Me,” that made me wonder if there was something deceitful about what satan was doing with the definition of submission. When a biblical principle is applied in its correct interpretation, the result is always that we become more like Jesus, and we don’t end up on a side road of self-pity or false righteousness.

 

So, I decided to get to the bottom of this question. First, I pulled out the dictionary, and looked up the definition of submit:

 

sub·mit http://img.tfd.com/m/sound.swf (sb-mt)

v. sub·mit·tedsub·mit·tingsub·mits
v.tr.

1. To yield or surrender (oneself) to the will or authority of another. But not have an opinion or ask for help? No.
2. To offer as a proposition or contention: I submit that the terms are entirely unreasonable. Interesting!!!
v.intr.

1. To give in to the authority, power, or desires of another. See Synonyms at yield.
2. To allow oneself to be subjected to something.
And on the surface, it did look to me like Evelyn was following the definition to the very letter. Bummer. But then I focused a bit more on the reference to Sarah calling Abraham Lord part and the fact that this scripture seems to refer to unsaved husbands, and that no where did it say we were to be silent and martyr like.
And then my take on the situation kind of changed.
I’ve heard the sermons about Sarah calling Abraham Lord about 1 million times now. And not even once has anyone mentioned what else Sarah did in her marriage. In fact, I can honestly say that because of Sarah, we have jihads today. Sarah counseled her husband Abraham, numerous times, incorrectly, but yet she is the poster child for submission? She laughed when God promised her a child, and then when she figured God wasn’t going to follow through, she gave Abraham Hagar to have a child with. It was bad advice, but it was advice. Then, after Ishmael had been part of the family long enough for everyone to actually bond and love him, she has Isaac, and again, she directs Abraham to pick between his sons, and Hagar and Ishmael are sent away from the family. In case you weren’t aware, Ishmael is the father of Islam. Hence, Sarah is a primary reason there is enmity between Israel and the Arab nations, who are the descendants of Abraham and Hagar.
What I learned from the stories of Sarah was that Abraham made the final decisions, but Sarah was an adviser, not a doormat. I can hear her now:
” My Lord Abraham, I don’t think God is going to give me any sons after all, so I think you should take my maid so I can have kids through her…” Sarah has never seemed like a doormat to me, not even once. She just seems like a wife that was vocal about her opinions, but willing to let Abraham have the final say. He was the Chief…She was the Medicine Man of their little family-tribe.
In my own marriage, when Chef began having his midlife crisis, I felt that God told me to stay out of His way. One of the things I had to stop was trying to run interference for Chef with God. I’m not to step into the gap for my husband…Jesus is. I took this directive to be some sort of discipline for not being submissive, thinking that my rebellion had somehow manifested itself in my marriage. But I was wrong. I had messed up in this one area, yes, but over all, I’ve been a submissive wife in a biblical sense..not a martyr sense.
As I like to do, I’ll give you a little hypothetical story to explain. This is just the simplified Dances With Wolves version and isn’t a reflection on the true history of the American Indian. It is just the 1960’s John Wayne kind of story.
A family is like a tribe of Indians. Every tribe has to have a Chief, but they also had a Medicine Man. Once upon a time, the Medicine Man advised the Chief that the White Man is coming and they need to move further west. The Chief says no, he doesn’t believe that the White Man is coming and the hunting is great where they are. So, what is the tribe to do? They stay put. The Chief is the boss. Three things can happen. Either God will deal with The Chief and change his heart, or maybe the Medicine Man is just wrong, and nothing happens at all. Or maybe the Medicine Man was right, and the White Man does show up and wipes out the tribe. The ultimate decision, in the end, belongs to the Chief, but the Medicine Man is obligated to inform him when there is reason to be concerned.
If the Medicine Man had decided the Chief was wrong, and tried to lead the tribe against his will, they might have escaped the White Man but they would surely have split the tribe in half, some choosing to follow the Medicine Man while others choosing to stay with the Chief. And the Medicine Man and his followers probably would have escaped the White Man, but instead starved to death slowly. The moral of the story is that there only can ever be one Chief. Period.
I’m distressed when women, who were created to be help-mates to mankind, embrace this martyr-like submission and thus abdicate their jobs, letting men make all decisions without the benefit of counsel and shoulder all the responsibility of those decisions.
I discussed this subject in length with my own husband this morning, and what stuck out from that conversations were  Chef’s words said here:
” A different perspective is always essential when making a good decision. To let yourself off every single hook about every single decision in the name of being submissive is kind of lazy to me, and it leaves me hanging in the wind, always responsible for every decision without you having to shoulder any of the burden. Aren’t you always saying women were created to help us? Then help us! I can’t make sound planning of any kind without the input of my partner. I am ultimately responsible, but because it is a big responsibility, I’d be stupid to not listen to someone who might see things from a whole different perspective and whose motivations are for the good of our family, the same as mine.”
I recently re-read a book called “Love Must Be Tough” by James Dobson in which he advises that true submission from a wife is not martyr-like at all, but is instead the ability to be gentle, kind, respectful but also have boundaries on what women are going to allow their husbands to do to them. And it is those boundaries that cause men to respect and love, and be attracted to, the wives of their youths. For example, a man insisting his wife accept his poly amorous ways because she has to submit is not biblical, and a wife is essentially destroying her marriage when she allows him to do as he pleases, to the detriment of their family.
It is an extreme example, but I know quite a few women going through exactly this same problem. There are going to be a lot of people who are happy and content with the accepted version of submission of wives, and hey! whatever you decide is best for you and your marriage, that is fine with me. But I think the whole concept should be studied individually and in-depth if one truly wants to have a marriage that is dangerous to the kingdom of hell.
— Bird
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Author: Catherine aka "Bird"

Marketing Specialist Recruiter Freelance Writer Blogger

63 thoughts on “Sarah, The Bible’s Poster Child For Submission”

  1. Hey, I don’t mind being submissive. In fact, we had Ephesians 6 read at our wedding (where Paul spells out what submission is). I will be submissive as long as Kelly is following HIS part of the deal: to love me as Christ loved the church (in other words, Kelly would give his life for me).

    In other words, I come first. It’s hard not to want to be submissive to a man who puts you first.

    I know, however, that this is not the case for everyone. I had one husband who never put me first. In fact, I’m not sure I ever crossed his mind. And he (and his entire family) wondered why it didn’t last!

    Then I dated the guy I’ll call “future preacher” (FP for short). FP was a nice guy. We shared the same beliefs. After about a year, we began talking marriage. He, in his vast love for me, said, “You know I love you, but if a church were to consider hiring me and then decided that because you’d been divorced I wouldn’t be the biblically correct choice, I don’t know that I could ever forgive you.”

    Well, he didn’t get a chance to see if that would happen. And I wasn’t real Christian about if when I broke up with him. Funny part is, he never became a preacher. Perhaps he wasn’t “biblically correct.”

    I loved this post, Bird. It says something important. I’m printing it out and letting my youngest son (the one with the daughter) read it. I’ve been discussing this same thing with him because he and his gf have talked marriage. After all, they do have a daughter together. But you know information that comes from a source other than Mom is sometimes more effective. Sandy

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    1. That is a high compliment, Sandy! Thank you. I don’t mind being submissive to Chef, because I do know that one) he is not a stupid man who just Forest Gumps his way through decisions, and two) I know he has the best of intentions when it comes to me. He does love me, even when he gets off track sometimes. But all the time, I’m there pointing out the arrows being lodged at us. I defer to his decisions, but I’m in the fight. 🙂

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      1. I agree. I think Chef and Kelly are probably a lot alike. Kelly doesn’t want me to just let him make every decision, and I believe women are supposed to be helpmates. But when I’m in a situation and don’t know what to do, I defer to Kelly. I trust him with my life.

        On the other hand, Steven (and I love this son of mine so much, but he does have his faults) has taken up a certain “B” word because all the men he works with say this word as a term to describe ANY woman. I hate it, hate it, hate it because he NEVER heard Kelly use such language to me or any other woman. I’ve heard Steven “playfully” say it. His dad had a long talk with him just this week about dropping that word. He used the 1 Peter and Ephesians scripture because Steven remarked that Casey never listened to him. Kelly said, “If you called me “B” I wouldn’t listen to you either.” Steven called ME (I have no idea why he thought I’d take his side on this) and said, “I’m was just playing.” Still trying to get this concept throught his head, so you just don’t know how timely this is. Sandy

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        1. lol…That totally reminds me of something that happened when my son was a teenager. It was the one and only time I hit one of my kids…And he remembers it to this day and will NEVER call me a name again. Some men don’t understand how this makes us feel…but with you as a mom, he’ll eventually get it!

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  2. An excellent reminder for those of us who know, and a splash of cold water for those who never truly understood the concept. Great post Bird!!! We all just need to keep in ,mind that we were created to support and stand beside husbands (not that I have one. LOL!!!) not spend our time being the mat for their filthy shoes. Can I reblog this one?

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  3. The marriage contract is an equal partnership where both parties give 110% of themselves to make his or her partner happy.

    I was raised on an indian Reservation and believe me life is a lot different than off the reservation. The story it takes a village to raise a child is everyday life on the reservation and the thought that a woman submits to her husband Is a farce. They were equal partners and every decision was made together.

    Chef has it right and from what I see around here, he is the exception compared to most. You should be honored to have found such a man, and he that you chose him.

    Have a blessed day!

    Walk daily with God at your side!

    Ed

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    1. I love your comments, Ed. For one thing, I like to hear men’s points of views about what I write. Thanks for always letting me hear your thoughts!!
      Chef can be a mess sometimes, but I wouldn’t go back in time and change anything. He has been and always will be worth the effort. 🙂 And he says the same about me, so I think we’ll always be together!

      You have a blessed day too, Ed.

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  4. Awesome article!!!! I definitely tend to dominate my husband rather than be a doormat, so many of my articles look at submission from the opposite direction. But going too far either way creates a huge, ungodly mess!!!! Thanks for your insights! I completely agree that the wife must be fully invested, thinking, saying how she feels and what she wants it her husband can ‘t make the best decisions. Thank you for addressing this important and extremely misunderstood topic!

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  5. that is the kind of man i would like to marry. one who respect his woman words, loves her, protects her, but makes the final decision after hearing her comments. i don’t want to be controlled, or abused, but cherished and respected. i want my words to be heard, and not demeaned, i guess this is why i am not married. i can’t find a good christian based man

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  6. Very insightful way to differentiate between being submissive and being a doormat Bird. I love the way 1 Peter 3:1 reads in the NLT: “In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands. Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words.” And I especially like verse 7: “In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered.”

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    1. I love these scriptures, too. The ones addressed to women are the ones that people tend to misinterpret and the ones for the men seem to be taught separately…To me, one is no good without the other.. Thank you for your comment!

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  7. A really good blog about this subject!

    I believe the Greek meaning for ‘submit’ is ‘rank yourself under’ and this is more tolerable than a complete surrender, and more in line with other Scriptures.

    I don’t think any woman would have a problem with ‘ranking themselves under’ a husband who loved her as Christ loves the Church – that is, with self-sacrificing love.

    A practice we have followed for more than 50 years of very happy marriage is that all decisions are thoroughly discussed. My point of view has always been considered and often taken, but I am always happy to leave the final decision with him because he IS the head of the family. I have never been ‘ordered’ to do anything and there have been several times when he has sacrificed of himself for me – as I have for him.
    The two shall become one.

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    1. I agree with your assessment completely. No woman is going to have a problem submitting to a husband who loves her like Jesus loves His church. My husband and I are at 21 years, and we’ve discussed every single decision…Never once has he “pulled rank”… I don’t care that he is the head over me….I’m happy to help him with his job. But I won’t sit quietly and let him make every decision and shoulder all the responsibility just so that I can feel somehow submissive. It doesn’t feel correct to me at all!!

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        1. I feel submissive in a way because if my husband and I disagree on a decision, and simply can’t see eye-to-eye on what to do, I will submit to his authority…Maybe I will disagree to the bitter end, but we will do what he thinks is right. I can say, though, that this has just never happened in my marriage ever.

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    2. Meetingintheclouds,
      I love your story!!! That is how our marriage has been for about 3 years now. I used to try to MAKE my husband do things my way. And I “won” a lot of times. And I was a lonely, stressed out, resentful, anxious wife. My husband pulled away and unplugged and let me have all the responsibility and authority most of the time. If he ever did put his foot down, I would argue, cry, whine, and try to force my point of view. If he still held firm, I would concede but would make sure he knew I was UNHAPPY. That didn’t give me great results for some reason!
      Now, things are much more like you describe for us. I actually show him respect and he has blossomed into the most loving, selfless, godly leader. He always carefully weighs my opinion. I feel so loved and cherished, and all that weight is off of me! What peace and freedom! He is so careful to do what he believes is best for all of us. But I tell him my desires, perspective, feelings and thoughts. He listens carefully. I give him lots of time to think through and process his thoughts. And if he decides against my wishes, I accept gracefully and support his decision. The amazing thing is that I have seen MIRACLES happen when I do this. Some things have happened because I have supported his leadership that I would NEVER have been able to experience had I been in charge or made the decision. I am SO glad to know I have such a BIG, POWERFUL God who can lead me perfectly well through a sinful man. It is a romantic, exciting, peaceful, joyful adventure every day!

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  8. Awesome post. I agree with you totally! In this fallen world, the boundaries are easily crossed and women can be so abused or taken for granted. I believe submission is relative and women should be careful not to give up their rights in the name of submission. The relations between God and Adam and Eve in the garden is a perfect example of how marriage is to be. He provided for their needs and gave them freedom of choice and even when they fell he still made provisions for them. They in turn humbled themselves and followed His leading. Christ went on to say that a man should love his wife as Christ loves the church and gave his life for her. Mutual love and understanding is the key. If we disturb this balance, then there’s bound to be problems.

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  9. Great thoughts and great blog. I feel also that when women are taught or decide that to obey God they must obey ‘everything’ about their husbands and that I do not believe is meant by God to be the case. Husbands are to treat their wives as ‘fellow heirs’ to the grace of God. How could a ‘fellow heir’ expect total blind obedience to him. To me it seems that God is saying that even though the husband is the stronger in ways…scripture does not say in all ways…I feel when we marry we become one in spirit and therefore should appreciate and share in all that concerns us …and like your husband said make decisions together and counsel one another…just some thoughts…Diane

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    1. I agree with your thoughts, Diane. I personally think that because we are physically weaker (as a general rule) and emotion-driven because of the many, many more hormones our bodies have to have in order to make and take care of our children, we are weaker than men in some areas, and maybe not designed to make decisions in the same way as men. Men are designed differently and approach problems in a different singular, and almost unemotional manner. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but this is how I perceive men and women in general. Woman are Over-Thinkers, and able to see so many perspectives all at one time that I think it is actually harder for us to decide which avenue would be the best one..We see so many potential results of a single decision!! That being said, we are excellent advisers for those exact same reasons, in my opinion, even more so than most men…Period, and we should definitely advise. Just my own two cents..

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  10. More than an interesting read i must say and well spoken too. I personally value the input of females, whether they be young as little children or my elders. God took time to create man and He also took time to deliberately create womb-man/woman which means that man would do well to pay attention to God’s creation. Women have their function in life…and they are adapted for all these functions by their thinking, brain structure, etc etc… to compare man and woman and claim one is better than the other is nonsense to me because they weren’t meant to be the same in the first place. Adam could not reproduce without Eve when he was one man, alone. However, Adam became able to reproduce when God took the womb out of man and made womb-man. So it makes sense that man is only able to be productive in the presence of another or a helper… man cannot produce anything by himself, neither can woman. A wife must be submissive, especially if the man submits to God… the definition of the word submit… i like that, doesn’t mean slave or subordinate… but a wife is a friend, confidante, adviser and many other things that can enrich a man’s life. “He who findeth a wife findeth a good thing”… not necessarily that ‘wife’ is a thing… but the quality of ‘wife’ compared with other entities/things on this side of reality… (in a union that God desires)… is obviously valuable. (That’s just what i think)

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    1. This was very insightful..and I love to hear men’s perspectives, no matter what age. I see you are a friend of Adurna Blue…Welcome to my site, and I am looking forward to reading yours!

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      1. 🙂 yes Adurna is my best friend. I love discussions like these. My site hasn’t been around for more than a couple weeks lol, but you’re welcome anytime you wish. I’ll be checking on you regularly!

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  11. I can’t really add anything to the comments above, but wanted to thank you for writing it. I’ve reblogged this post, because I want to make sure my readers see it; you’ve said something important here. Peace be with you. — Kelly

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  12. I have always believed that that Bible is a collection of stories, histories, poetry of “the times” with intended lessons and admonishments to be learned for the ages. Perhaps we would be wiser to recognize that these stories were written primarily by men for men (there is some question if a woman “J” got her literary hand in the mix–but never proved). History is always written to the advantage of the winner. I’m relived to hold the beliefs that we continue to live in “continuing Revelation,” with “that of God in everyone.” Equally. Everyone capable of “ministering” to others. Thank you for opening such an emotional conversation. Barb

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  13. Great post,
    I would like to ‘steal’ your idea and ask my wife to write a post on our blog about how ‘submission’ to her hubby (me) as unto the Lord works in her situation and our marriage.
    What a wonderful opportunity to share with those who may not understand the subject. Thx again for your thoughtful and gracious dealing with ‘submission’
    In Christ
    Mike

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  14. Everyone here has pretty much said it all…”A great post”. I am most impressed with the way you write about a very sensitive subject with the true integrity of the Word. We women, or anyone for that matter, are NOT to be a slave to or a door mat for anyone.
    The only unconditional submission we are required in this life is to given our Lord God Almighty!!!
    So enjoy your blog~you are a real person!~
    ~streim~

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  15. Wow, nicely done, Bird. Again, very, very articulate. Sometime, lets talk about Eph. 5:21, that says “submit therefore one to another” and let’s watch sparks fly. Chris and I use to counsel for Crown Ministries, helping couples manage their finances Biblically, and teaching couples to submit to each other’s strengths in this area was a lot of fun. (For example, Chris was impulsive financially, I was deliberate. He submitted his impulsiveness to my discipline) But that’s another topic. You handled this one deftly, sweetie. Good work.
    Much love,
    Victoria

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  16. The scripture has give n take… wives b submissive n hubbies lovin em as Christ loved d church.. i.e., to d extent of giving life 4 d other… one-sided version or implementation of dis is sin against Jesus, coz He dwells in each of us.. so losing self-respect in d act of being submissive is insulting Jesus who dwells in each person…

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  17. I enjoy your stories, and your “down to earth” way of sharing your faith in God. Very uplifting and inspiring! I’ve nominated you for the “Very Inspiring Blogger” Award. You have been an inspiration to so many of us readers! Congratulations! You can read more about it at faithrises.com. 🙂

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  18. I think you are exactly correct about submission in a marraige that God is not only ‘in’ but leading it. However, I think that for relationships to find this balance they may have to go through the pendulum of ‘door mats’ vs. ‘control freaks’. Too many people (wives) refuse to be a ‘door mat’ – even if for only a season to the betterment of their husbands and marriage. I started my marraige as a control freak – I had to completely change to be a ‘door mat’ – at God’s Will and with His hand- so that I could ‘win him (husband) without a word’ – we are now able to enjoy a wonderfully balanced relationship. God used my being a ‘door mat’ to humble my husband. I respect the ‘door mats’ of the world – for God is using them and they are willing to be vessels when most wouldn’t.

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    1. I think there is nothing good about extremes. God is a God of balance, and if you are functioning in an extreme zone, it is probably better to run to the Lord and find out if you are where He would have you be. Know what I mean?

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  19. I appreciate the basic thought of this post, but halfway through it gets too dense and is unreadable. My eyes can’t take all these pixels.

    White space, Bird. Then we can engage the absurd idea that women are somehow less than men, and what we should do with Scriptures that date from a time when women were chattel.

    I most liked your talk about Evelyn, which reminded me of my Grandma. She died on the floor, up early as always, getting breakfast for the men.

    My Unca Deed stayed with her her whole life long, and didn’t marry until after she was gone; a Straight guy but a mama’s boy, whom we honor in our blogroll of saints every dang day.

    They’re two of the people who taught me Christianity.

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    1. I edited this post a million times trying to get that broken up, but WordPress was having none of it. I finally ended up giving up, and I agree, it is just too dense. It was probably WP’s message to me to keep my posts shorter!! Anyways, I have several family members that misinterpreted submission in sad, painful ways. Thanks for the comment!

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