Should I ALWAYS Obey My Husband?
Since biblical womanhood involves submission to my husband, it makes sense that as part of that, I will obey him. Throughout all the years we have been married, my husband has never asked me to do anything wrong, which has made it very doable for me to submit to him – but I know this is not the case for all marriages.
What if your husband asked you to do something wrong? Or what if you had a serious disagreement with him over something very important to you? Should you obey him?
In this one article, it would be impossible to cover the whole range of different scenarios that might occur! However, I believe we can uncover some general guidelines that could apply to almost any situation.
I’d like to look at a couple of principles that I believe can help us navigate the issue of submission:
Principle 1: Submission to Authority – Except When Asked to Deny or Disobey Christ
Principle 2: Submission to Authority – Except When Asked to Disobey the Ten Commandments (or any other clear command of Scripture)
I could present you with a much shorter article by simply saying, “Obey your husband unless he asks you to disobey God.” However, that statement is so general that it could be hard for some of us to envision its practical application (especially since God commands wives to obey their own husbands, Titus 2:4-5). I think it’s beneficial to have a clear target to focus on, which in the majority of situations can eliminate doubt and confusion in our minds when we feel unsure.
I have tried to be both broad (so no clear command of Scripture is disregarded) and focused (to help avoid uncertainty).
I’ll introduce those two principles by first addressing the question: Who decides who has authority and over what areas of life they can legitimately exercise that authority?
Render Unto God the Things That Are God’s . . .
When the Pharisees wanted to try and trap Jesus in an error, they put to Him what they thought was one of their best trick questions:
“What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” Matthew 22:17
I love Jesus’ masterful response, which left them all speechless:
“Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:18-21
So, Caesar’s image is on the coin. As a civic ruler, he has the right to demand tribute. “Give it to him,” says Jesus.
But what belongs to God which doesn’t belong to Caesar?
Worship. Adoration. Our hearts.
Caesar has a legitimate right to require his subjects to pay their taxes, but he has no legitimate right to require them to worship him. Many Christians were later martyred because they refused to give to Caesar what only belonged to God.
The government has authority over civil matters but not spiritual ones. Just as “Caesar” can’t force us to worship him, neither can “he” (the government) tell us whether we can or can’t gather together to worship God, for example. I’m sure we’ve all heard of Christians in various parts of the world who gather together to worship and read the Bible together in secret, directly violating their country’s laws prohibiting it.
God is supreme over all His creation. He is the ultimate Authority. Under Him, He has delegated authority to certain entities and people for certain tasks. They only have as much authority as He has given them – no more, no less.
Take the justice system, a branch of the government which manages civil disputes, as another example. Though one of the Ten Commandments says, “Thou shalt not kill,” God has given judges the authority to administer capital punishment (Genesis 9:6; Romans 13:1-7), if they deem it necessary. By doing so, they are functioning within their God-given sphere. If any of us regular citizens were to turn into a vigilante, roaming the streets at night to track down criminals and shoot them down without a trial, there would be a problem with that! Why? Because God has not given us the authority to do so.
Parents have authority over their own children. Does the government have the right to teach our children spiritual matters? Or morality contrary to the parents’ beliefs? Or to tell parents how they can and can’t discipline their own children? No, it doesn’t. When the government tries to sneak its way into these affairs, it has overstepped its bounds. But, on the other hand, can parents criminally abuse their children? Can they force them into sex trafficking? Turn them into drug mules? Ask them to steal for them? Absolutely not! Their authority does not extend that far (nobody’s does!).
And husbands have a sphere of authority that belongs to them, as well. They have a God-given right to request certain things, but not others. They have the right to ask their wife to stay home and keep the house clean. They have the right to intimacy with their wife (within normal, natural, limits). They have a right, as husbands, to expect many things. But they are not God. They have no right to demand their wife do anything that God has clearly prohibited.
So to summarize: Just as God has given certain entities (such as the government) and certain people (such as parents) authority over some matters but not others, He has given husbands authority over some matters but not others.
Now, let’s look at the two principles which I think can help us clarify when a wife should and shouldn’t disobey her husband.
Principle 1: Submission to Authority – Except When Asked to Deny or Disobey Christ
The Bible says to submit to authority:
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” Romans 13:1
“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors . . .” 1 Peter 2:13-14
Yet we are meant to understand that this sort of submission is not the type that would cause a conflict between obeying those in authority and following Christ. For when it comes to situations that would cause a conflict, we have this example to follow:
“And when they had brought them [Peter and the apostles], they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly [strictly] command you that ye should not teach in this name? And, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.
“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:27-29
Which is what they promptly proceeded to do, as soon as they were set free.
“And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” Acts 5:42
They couldn’t stop teaching about Jesus because that would have involved denying Him:
“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33
And if they stopped teaching about Jesus, they would have also been disobeying Jesus’ direct command:
“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Mark 16:15
How Can We Apply This Principle to Marriage?
If your husband asks you to do something that would involve denying or disobeying Christ, then you should follow the example of the apostles and not do it.
For example, if your husband wanted you to become a member of a religion that clearly rejects the essentials of the faith (such as the deity of Christ), then you must put Christ first. If your husband himself decided to become a member of that religion, then you can’t control his decision – you can only control your own.
What if he didn’t want you to go to church at all? Does he have the right to force you to disobey God’s command to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25)? To demand that you disobey God in this matter is beyond the limits of his God-given authority.
Your husband can’t biblically prohibit you from reading the Bible, praying to God, sharing the Gospel, or going to church – and neither can he force you to follow a false religion.
However . . .
If your husband wanted you to join a church that simply holds religious views on secondary issues contrary to your own but does not reject the essentials of the faith, the situation becomes less clear-defined. My thoughts are that if you are not being asked to deny or disobey Christ, then you should submit to your husband’s desire for you to join or attend that church.
It doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion of your own – it just means you value the health of your marriage.
I once heard a woman say she had stopped going to the same church where her husband was a pastor because the requirements of that particular denomination were “too oppressive.” Basically, they believed in women wearing long skirts and dresses, wearing a veil to church, not using makeup or jewelry, and having long hair. She didn’t feel she should have to go along with something she herself didn’t believe in, but as a pastor’s wife, she knew she had to be a model of what that denomination believed. She had been following “the rules” for some time, until she got tired of them; I suppose she thought she would be a hypocrite if she were to keep on doing so.
When she told me her husband was gone to a week-long convention for that church while she was attending a separate special service for the other church she had chosen, I felt sorry for their marriage. I couldn’t understand why she would risk the health of her marriage in order to “follow my convictions.”
She wouldn’t have needed to give up her convictions, which she could have continued to believe in her heart. She wouldn’t have been a hypocrite. Sometimes, we need to make small compromises for the greater good. That’s not necessarily “being a hypocrite” or “sacrificing your individuality” – it can be viewed as “being wise” and “having a vision for the larger picture.”
Principle 2: Submission to Authority – Except When Asked to Disobey the Ten Commandments (or any other clear command of Scripture)
In the same chapter of Acts where Peter and the Apostles were commanded to deny and disobey Christ but refused to do so, we find another story that relates to this article’s topic: the sin of Ananias and Sapphira, his wife.
Many of the believers were selling their land and possessions and giving the entire profit to the Apostles. Ananias didn’t want to be left out, apparently, so he sold his land, too. However, he didn’t give the Apostles all the money from the sale but held some back for himself. Now, this would have been all well and fine, except for the fact that he tried to make it appear as if he had sacrificed everything he had in order to impress the other believers.
When Peter found out, he said to him,
“Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou has not lied unto men, but unto God.” Acts 5:3-4
Then Ananias fell down dead.
Shortly afterward, his wife came in. Peter asked her what had happened concerning the sale of the land. She lied, too, following what her husband had done and “submitting” to his scheme.
“Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.” Acts 5:9
And she fell down dead, as well.
There seems to be a lesson here, and that is this: it is not okay to agree with other people to lie. Lying breaks one of the Ten Commandments:
“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Exodus 20:16
And just as it is not okay to lie, it is not okay to break any other of God’s Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:1-17 for the full list of them).
How Can We Apply This Principle To Marriage?
If your husband wants you to agree with him to lie or to break one of the other Ten Commandments (or any additional clear commands of Scripture), then you shouldn’t submit.
Someone might ask, “Well, doesn’t the Bible tell women to submit to their husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:24)? How, then, can she be found at fault if she is simply following his wishes? Won’t he be held accountable, and not her?”
Yes, the Bible does teach wives to submit to their husbands:
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” Colossians 3:18
And not only to submit, but to obey (the word “obey” feels more drastic to us, doesn’t it?):
“That they [the older women] may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” Titus 2:4-5
And yet, as important as it is to obey one’s own husband, this does not apply to situations where he wants you to disobey one of the Ten Commandments (or any other clear command of Scripture). Remember, we must “obey God rather than men.”
In the previous section where we discussed how the Apostles defied the Pharisees’ command to stop teaching in Jesus’ name, they did so despite the fact that 1 Peter 2:13-14 says to “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors…” From this scriptural example, we can plainly see that “every” does not include any ordinance that is in conflict with one of God’s clear commands. And in the same way, when the Bible says for wives to submit to their husbands in “everything,” we should understand that there are limits to that, too.
So, for example, if my husband wanted me to view porn with him, I would outright refuse. Adultery is forbidden by God in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14), and Jesus taught that adultery of the heart is just as bad (Matthew 5:27-28).
Not only that, but if I saw my husband disobeying one of the Ten Commandments himself, I wouldn’t stand idly by and enable him by pretending it was okay. So, to follow our previous example, if he were a porn-viewer, even though I had already done the right thing by refusing to join him, I would still insist he get help. If I saw that he was encouraging our sons to watch it with him, I would take action in order to protect our children.
Recently, someone my husband knows was found guilty of viewing pedophilia online. He was arrested and incarcerated. His wife worked relentlessly with their attorney to try and set him free, despite the fact that he was already known by many to be a die-hard porn addict – he had even introduced it to their son at a young age. And now this. Did she think that “submission” to her husband meant protecting him from the just consequences of his depraved, adulterous, addiction?
Even if she told herself that she was seeking to honor God by supporting her husband, her actions actually enabled him to hurt others, disgrace himself, and dishonor the Lord. God’s Word speaks repeatedly of the necessity and benefits of discipline. Often, the most loving thing we can do for someone is to allow their sin to receive the consequences and discipline it deserves. And the most loving thing we can do for the victims is to call the authorities.
One lady I met had been raped and became pregnant by her father when she was 13. Her mother refused to believe her and stood loyally by her father. Even when later genetic testing proved the truth, her mother wouldn’t accept it. Is that what this wife thought “submission” was supposed to look like? To blindly believe her husband’s lies? To cover up his incest (a crime by both biblical and secular legal standards; see Leviticus 18:6-18 and Luke 17:1-2)?
Another lady I knew had a husband who attempted to choke her, then threatened to deport her if she reported him (she was an illegal immigrant, and he had “papers” – his legal immigration documents). She kept quiet at the risk of her life. Is that true “submission”? To be so afraid of your husband that you can’t protect your own life and health? He had plainly intended to violate Ten Commandment #6, “Thou shalt not kill,” but the Bible gives us the right to protect ourselves in matters of self-defense. In such cases, God has provided the government to function as His arm of protection for the innocent (1 Peter 2:14).
Let’s say your husband wanted you to agree to lie on your joint tax return that he had earned money last year in a fake side business you knew he didn’t have? My husband and I once met a tax agent (true story) who was suggesting that his clients lie in this way to get extra on their returns (through deductions they could claim as part of their business expenses). Does “submitting to your husband in everything” include agreeing with him to commit fraud?
What if your husband wanted you to have an abortion or to use birth control methods that could lead to early, undetected abortions (such as birth control pills, which can function as abortifacients)? Should you comply because you are “supposed to obey him”? That would be agreeing to murder!
Duty to God Above Marriage
I cite these real-life examples to try and clarify that it is not ever okay to go along with your husband if he is disobeying one of the Ten Commandments or any other clear command of Scripture. Further, it is often your responsibility before God to take an active role in seeking to turn him from sin (Galatians 6:1) and to secure protection for those who are vulnerable.
True, biblical submission to your husband does not include allowing crimes to be committed against yourself, covering for criminal acts, or joining with him in his perversions. God has better for you.
Dear Christian lady, please listen to me: the Lord loves you with an unending, overflowing, never-failing love! (Romans 8:35-39). You are extremely precious to Him, and you deserve to be tenderly cared for, deeply valued, and treated with respect and dignity.
True, not everyone in life will treat us with the kindness we deserve. Christ tells us to love them anyway (Matthew 5:44). But “loving” them doesn’t mean enabling them in their sin, allowing them to force us to sin, or believing any lies they may tell us about our worth.
You are unique and special. God made you for a purpose: He made you to love and serve Him with all your being!
No man has the authority to come between you and God. No government. No other entity or person on the face of the earth. Yes, submission and obedience to things that would be normal for a husband to expect of his wife are your duty. But it is not your duty to sin or to participate in sin. Do not let anyone deceive you into thinking that it is.
If you are in an abusive situation, you need to seek help. Don’t think you can do this on your own. I was just browsing through our phone book the other day and saw multiple numbers for agencies (some governmental and some private) that are ready and wanting to help women in difficult situations. Your safety is most important, so if you are ever in immediate danger, we urge you to call 911. Otherwise, we recommend seeking advice and assistance from your pastor, visiting TheHotline.org, or entering your zip code on Salvation Army’s Domestic Abuse page to find local resources. Please don’t be afraid to reach out for help. It is not unsubmissive to do so. In fact, taking action in this way may end up being what your husband needs to finally “wake up” and change direction.
Focus on the Family offers free counseling consultation and referrals for licensed Christian counselors in your area (in the United States).
However . . .
Let’s distinguish between truly sinful abuse and less grave situations. Sometimes we simply have differences of opinion about what constitutes a “wrong,” like what constitutes a “lie.” Sometimes one’s husband believes that he shouldn’t have to tell someone else every detail about something, and no harm is done by the omission.
At times, certain things we feel very strongly about are not as clearly-defined as we think they are. There could be multiple, valid ways of interpreting the issue. Some Bible doctrines are like that. I always try to remember the saying:
In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things charity.1
We need to be careful that we don’t base disobedience on a mere difference of opinion. If we are going to go the route of non-submission, the issue at hand needs to be exceptionally clear.
In most cases, yes, women should obey their husbands. Many disagreements in marriage are based on mere differences of opinion or differences of scriptural interpretation over hazy matters, and in those cases the woman should submit to her husband’s wishes. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a mind of her own or is sacrificing her individuality but that she values the health of her marriage and wants to honor God’s command for her to submit to her husband.
For issues related to head covering, here are some ideas on how to approach a disagreement. My personal opinion is that head covering, though clear to many of us who have studied it thoroughly, qualifies as a “non-essential” and does not merit disobedience to one’s husband if he holds a contrary view. Much of the time, those who disagree with head covering don’t believe they are contradicting God’s Word but think they are being consistent with whatever explanation their pastor or other trusted teacher has told them, which seems logical to them at this point (though there could be other reasons for rejecting the practice). I think the best route to take is to have patience for growth to happen.
In the more unusual case where a husband wants his wife to do something that is definitely wrong, she should not submit. If she is unsure whether the situation qualifies as one that requires disobedience, she can ask herself two questions that can help her decide:
- Is my husband asking me to deny or disobey Christ?
- Is my husband asking me to disobey the Ten Commandments? (or any other clear command of Scripture)
If your husband is overstepping the bounds of his God-given authority by insisting you do something that is in direct conflict with God’s commands in Scripture, then you must obey God rather than man.
I believe that following those two guiding principles (which I have stated above in the form of questions) can help us avoid many unnecessary conflicts over lesser issues in marriage. And in the rare case where one is tempted to submit to (or cover for) a clear sin, following those principles can help us avoid falling into the same trap as Sapphira.
1 Quote by German Lutheran theologian of the early seventeenth century, Rupertus Meldenius.
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