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A Wife's Submission

Esther 1

Lesson audio


On no topic is the evangelical church in America in more cordial agreement with the American left wing than this: a woman owes no obedience or submission to her husband. The evangelical church preaches that women need merely respect their husbands – nothing more. We have ceased to preach against adultery; we speak against fornication only to the young. Those who are in adult classes or services seldom hear about it. Divorce? It is now a commonplace in the church. As one woman in our church said, “It’s our job to stay around and pick up the pieces after the divorce. The thought that divorce might be sinful or harmful is discreetly shoved into the closet.

How far away we are, then, from the events shown here. Please observe how it used to be:

Now it took place in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, in those days as King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne which was at the citadel in Susa, in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his princes and attendants, the army officers of Persia and Media, the nobles and the princes of his provinces being in his presence. And he displayed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his great majesty for many days, 180 days. When these days were completed, the king gave a banquet lasting seven days for all the people who were present at the citadel in Susa, from the greatest to the least, in the court of the garden of the king's palace. There were hangings of fine white and violet linen held by cords of fine purple linen on silver rings and marble columns, and couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and precious stones. Drinks were served in golden vessels of various kinds, and the royal wine was plentiful according to the king's bounty. The drinking was done according to the law, there was no compulsion, for so the king had given orders to each official of his household that he should do according to the desires of each person. Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the palace which belonged to King Ahasuerus. On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown in order to display her beauty to the people and the princes, for she was beautiful. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command delivered by the eunuchs. Then the king became very angry and his wrath burned within him. Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times--for it was the custom of the king so to speak before all who knew law and justice and were close to him: Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media who had access to the king's presence and sat in the first place in the kingdom-- "According to law, what is to be done with Queen Vashti, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus delivered by the eunuchs?" In the presence of the king and the princes, Memucan said, "Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also all the princes and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. "For the queen's conduct will become known to all the women causing them to look with contempt on their husbands by saying, 'King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in to his presence, but she did not come.' "This day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen's conduct will speak in the same way to all the king's princes, and there will be plenty of contempt and anger. "If it pleases the king, let a royal edict be issued by him and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media so that it cannot be repealed, that Vashti may no longer come into the presence of King Ahasuerus, and let the king give her royal position to another who is more worthy than she. "When the king's edict which he will make is heard throughout all his kingdom, great as it is, then all women will give honor to their husbands, great and small." This word pleased the king and the princes, and the king did as Memucan proposed. So he sent letters to all the king's provinces, to each province according to its script and to every people according to their language, that every man should be the master in his own house and the one who speaks in the language of his own people.

(Est 1:1-22 NASB)


The Nature of Authority

If we are to understand this passage, we need to cast our minds back to a time where disobedience was not honored but punished. Protestors in the time of Xerxes would not have been praised as noble heroes – if they ever got out of prison. As is clear in this passage, Xerxes pretty much made it a point that the husband – from king down to peasant – was to rule his house. Women’s liberation is not under consideration here. We have not the space to pursue all the concept of authority has to teach us, but we will note these three points:

  • All legitimate authority descends from Christ.
  • Such authority is given for our own good and the good of the church.
  • Authority is often mutual. It is not uncommon to see two in authority over each other.
Legitimate authority

All legitimate authority stems from Jesus Christ.

  • It was prophesied in the Old Testament.[1]
  • It was proclaimed in the New Testament.[2]
  • It Is prophesied for the future.[3]

Christ in particular is the head of the church.[4] We may conclude two things from this: in general, authority comes from Him; in particular, all authority over the church is His. This latter point, as we shall see, is no longer proclaimed in the church.

For our own good

One of the essentials of true authority is that it is appointed for our own benefit. This gives us all the more reason to be obedient to whatever authority is over us.

  • We are to be subject to the civil authorities.[5]
  • We are to have rulers over us in the church.[6]
  • Fathers have authority over their children.[7]

The civil authorities include the fire department. Those over us in the church follow Christ’s example, and are servants to us. A father’s authority over his children is essential to children as they grow up. Authority, properly used, benefits those in submission to it. This does not say they’ll like it; just benefit.

Mutual authority

It frequently happens that two people have authority over each other. This is not a confusion; authority comes from responsibility, and it’s entirely possible for you to have a certain responsibility over me and vice versa. For example:

  • My body is not my own, but it belongs to my wife.[8] I may not have sex with whom I please because of her authority over my body.
  • We see much the same thing in the mutual accountability in the church.[9]
  • Indeed, we are told that those who desire authority in the church are actually asking for a lot of work.[10]
  • Finally, Paul tells us that we are to be in submission to each other.[11]

So the matter of a husband’s authority over his wife is not simply one of dominance, but of service. To say that a husband has authority over his wife is to say he has responsibility for and toward her. That authority is to be exercised for her good. In certain situations, the wife has authority over the husband. But the teaching of the church for the first 1900 years has been that the husband is in charge of the marriage and the home.

Of course, since that’s what “they” thought, it must be wrong. Or so argue the feminists among us.

A wife’s submission

Since approximately 1950 there has been a major change in the teaching of the church. We have abandoned a wife’s submission to her husband and instead teach that marriage is a partnership, 50-50. This has caused some difficulties.

  • If there is no senior partner in charge, the first time an argument reaches the point of no compromise, a divorce (now favored, of course) is the only solution.
  • In Scripture the husband’s responsibility is for the spiritual welfare of his wife. We no longer teach this, either, with the result that Christianity today has any number of wives single on Sunday, praying for their husbands return to church.
  • With spiritual authority abandoned, the Christian family has produced children who go astray in the same numbers as the rest of the world.

How did this happen?

The Debate

There are two sides in this question. The first side, by far the overwhelming majority, holds that all the verses cited by the opposition are merely “cultural.” That means that they applied in that time and place, but not ours. It is quite true that our culture is very different from that of the Medes and the Persians. So, quoting Ephesians 5:33, they argue that submission simply means “respect.”

Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

(Eph 5:33 NASB)


No submission in that verse, is there? How about examining the verses preceding it?

and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

(Eph 5:21-33 NASB)


There is the argument of most Christians deceased. The wife has her responsibility to be in submission; the husband, his to love her as Christ loves the church. See again the basic principles of authority:

  • It descends from Christ (in this instance via the Scripture).
  • It is for the benefit of the wife.
  • It is a relationship that admits of mutual authority.
The impact on the Church

It is quite clear that the “Respect Only” faction has achieved victory. No Bible teacher in our congregation (except guess who?) would dare teach a wife’s submission. But I submit to you that this change in doctrine has had effects not intended by its enthusiasts: If the wife is no longer in submission to her husband, then the church is no longer in submission to Christ. Do we see any evidence of this?

  • The Scriptures are cut and pasted at convenience. We have proclaimed that the message Paul gave in 1 Corinthians 6:19 (your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit) means that we should all join a health club and exercise.[12]
  • We have ignored the strict injunction about homosexuality and appointed such as priests and bishops.
  • When was the last time you can remember a sermon calling for obedience to the one you call Lord?
Marriage is a dance

Marriage, like other forms of authority, is composed of responsibility and the right reaction to that authority. If my wife were an excellent ballroom dancer, and I still the clod I am, when we get on the dance floor I would lead. That’s the nature of dance. Much the same may be said of marriage. Often enough she’s the brains of the outfit. No matter; he must lead.

What about the tyrant?

Of course, this all presumes that the husband is not an arbitrary tyrant – as Xerxes certainly was. What should a woman do in that instance? I submit to you three answers:

Submission as evangelism

If your husband is not a Christian, the door is open to witness evangelism.[13] Impress your husband with what a difference Christ makes. Indeed, Peter tells us that this can be done even without words.[14] But in this regard I submit two questions:

  • Are Christians today really “different?” If they are not, what’s to impress him?
  • If they are, is the difference attractive or repulsive?

This applies to the non-Christian husband. What about the Christian husband?

Church Discipline

If your husband is a Christian, the matter is different. You are to take the steps of church discipline[15]; which, by the way, is authority the wife has over her husband.

You are to talk to him privately first. (Much do I owe to my wife’s habit of closing the door and explaining something.)

If that fails, bring two or three others into it. Then, if necessary, go to the church. Go to the church, praying that she will do anything about it.

Suffering for righteousness

Sometimes you can’t see the solution at all. You find no choice but to suffer. This has its points as well:

  • We know that suffering for what is right finds favor with God.[16] Have the faith to know He will be your recompense.
  • If the matter is sufficiently bad, you are permitted to separate from him. Separate, not divorce.[17]

Sometimes you suffer for doing right, and you don’t see the benefit of it. This passage has an interesting history of interpretation. Most of the 17th century and later commentators will tell you that she was being asked to appear in royal finery to impress the king’s buddies. Her punishment for her disobedience is therefore appropriate. But if you go back in history, you will find that the Jewish commentators (in the Targums) add one little note: Vashti was to appear wearing her crown – and nothing else. It would be like your husband wanting you to prance naked at half time. She said no. She suffered for it. But not unnoticed by God.

[1] Daniel 7:13-14

[2] Matthew 28:18

[3] Philippians 2:9-11

[4] Colossians 1:15-18

[5] Romans 13:1-5

[6] 1 Timothy 5:17

[7] Ephesians 6:4

[8] 1 Corinthians 7:4

[9] James 5:16

[10] 1 Timothy 3:1

[11] Ephesians 5:21

[12] What to do with the context, 1 Corinthians 6:5-20, which clearly argues not for a health club but for men to shun sex with prostitutes, is just another cultural thing, I suppose.

[13] 1 Corinthians 7:10-16

[14] 1 Peter 3:1-2

[15] Matthew 18:15-17

[16] 1 Peter 2:18-20

[17] 1 Corinthians 7:10-11

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