This week we’ve been talking about how books like Love & Respect go so far off base.
I started with showing how the view of sex in Love & Respect is very wrong. And then yesterday I showed how the concept of a wife giving a husband unconditional respect is flawed.
While I’ve been critiquing that book, though, I don’t think Love & Respect is the only book that goes astray. I think many books fail because they ultimately have the wrong starting premise.
I received this comment on Facebook from a woman:
I am currently separated from my husband. The goal is reconciliation, but there are a lot of things that need to change before he comes home. The part that sort of leaves me feeling sick, though, is that the first eight years of our marriage were fine. We didn’t start having real problems until he became a Christian and started reading books like this. I’m pretty sure conversion isn’t supposed to work that way.
How could this happen? How could a marriage that was good go bad when the husband became a Christian and started listening to big Christian teachers about marriage?
I think it’s because a lot of Christian teaching actually empowers men to act badly, and that’s because of that faulty premise.
So let’s step back from Love & Respect and other books for a moment and look at the big picture.
I believe that if a marriage wants to honor God, the starting point needs to be GOD. The big question we should always ask ourselves in marriage (and in life!) is “what honours God in this situation?”
Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and then all these things shall be added to you.
However, that’s not the starting point in many of these books. Instead, the starting point is “what does the husband want?” You see, Love & Respect (and many books like it) centre around the premise that the husband has the final say, and thus the wife must do what the husband wants, and let the husband make the decisions.
Marriage, to the wife, then becomes about following the husband, rather than following Jesus.
Many of you may balk and say, “But Sheila, the Bible does say women are to follow their husbands!”
Yes, there are a few verses that can be interpreted that way. But if we look at what the rest of the Bible says about:
- following Jesus no matter what else is going on around us;
- never having anything come between us and God;
- obeying God, not man
then the idea that a woman should focus on what her husband wants rather than what God wants falls apart.
Similarly, if we look at all the stories in the Bible about marriage, women are often commended for going against what their husbands were doing (1 Samuel 25), or they’re punished for following their husbands (Acts 5:1-11).
When we interpret the Bible, we’re supposed to let the complete story of Scripture inform our view of certain verses, not create doctrine out of certain verses out of context from the rest of Scripture. And those who say that women must concern themselves with what their husbands want rather than what God wants ignore the wide breadth of stories from the rest of Scripture; the teaching from the rest of the Scripture about the supremacy of God; and even the verses that surround the very ones they use (they quote Ephesians 5:22 but ignore 5:21)! There are much better ways to interpret those verses that keep Christ at the centre, rather than man.
Another Way to Look at It:
Many may reply: “We’re not saying follow the husband not God! God tells women to follow their husbands, so we ARE following God when we follow our husbands.”
To them I would say: You are treading on very thin ice with idolatry.
If we ever ask a wife to seek her husband’s will first rather than God’s will, then we are putting the husband in the place of God in her life. In fact, we’re actually placing our husbands above God, because we’re saying God’s will is to do our husband’s will. If God’s will is to do whatever our husbands want, then God’s will is thus subordinate to the husband’s will, something that God would never, ever allow:
“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.” (Isaiah 42:8)
Or there’s this:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18)
All authority rests in Jesus. He should be our ultimate aim (Hebrews 12:1-3; Philippians 3:12-14).
When Love & Respect asks women to defer to their husbands in everything, no matter what a husband does, then it asks women to follow a husband’s will rather than to seek out the Spirit’s will. Indeed, Emerson even tells women not to listen to that still, small voice inside them, but rather to listen to a husband’s intuition, because a woman is more easily deceived. That is unbiblical. That is wrong. That is the opposite of “seek first the kingdom of God.”
Now some may say, “Okay, Sheila, that may be true that we shouldn’t follow our husbands into sin. But in everything else, we should defer to him, because that is what we are called to do.”
To that I say, where in Ephesians does Paul tell wives there are conditions for submission?
Ephesians 5:22 does not give conditions for when a woman should submit. In fact, nowhere in the Bible does God give wives conditions for when to submit. So either the woman submits (as in, obeys and follows authority) in all situations, even sinful ones, or Eggerichs (and others) has a faulty definition of the word “submit.” I believe it’s the latter.
Submission is putting others’ needs ahead of our own. It is to be committed to the best interests of the other, and to point the other towards Christ even when it brings discomfort to ourselves. You can do that even when they are in sin, and you can do that in good times. Sometimes, that means being quiet and letting the other have his way. But in other situations it means tough love, making him face the consequences of his actions, and not enabling selfishness.
And how do we know when to do what?
When we put Jesus back at the center.
God’s aim is not our husband’s happiness; God’s aim is that all of us look more and more like Christ (Romans 8:29).
When Christ was on earth, He always sought to glorify God in everything He did. And He calls us to follow in His steps—and that calling included women. We are not called to follow in Christ’s steps in every relationship except marriage. No, we are called to follow Christ everywhere, at all times, no matter what. So let’s love sacrificially as Jesus did! Let’s spur each other to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). Let’s spur each other on to look like Christ.
But that is not what these books teach.
If we revisit the wet towel story from Love & Respect that I shared yesterday, does this incident in any way spur anyone on to love and good deeds? To recap, Sarah was upset because husband Emerson and their sons were slobs, and left wet towels on the bed. She kept asking them to stop, and they didn’t listen to her. She went away for a week, and when she came home, she found the family didn’t miss her because they were happier being able to be slobs without anyone stopping them. So she learned that she should stop asking them to pick up their wet towels, because she was being disrespectful.
Is anyone in that situation looking more like Jesus? Is anyone spurring anyone else on to love and good deeds? Or are Emerson and his sons just rewarded for their laziness?
What do you think it does to men to be constantly told that their wives should make them happy and do what they want?
If the man is a good, Spirit-filled man, he likely will walk humbly with God and love his wife wholeheartedly anyway. But not all men are like that. And that’s why these marriage books don’t work. If anyone other than Jesus is at the center, then it’s all too easy to create a disaster.
The stark reality is that according to the Love and Respect book, Pontius Pilate’s wife was in the wrong when she spoke up against her husband when he was condemning Jesus to death. She didn’t carefully suggest what she wanted; she didn’t speak with deference in her voice. She used commanding language and said,
“Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” (Matthew 27:19)
Maybe the reason that verse is in Scripture is to show that women can–and do–hear God’s voice, too, and men ignore that at their peril. Being a Christian wife doesn’t mean just being quiet–it means pointing your husband to something more.
Let’s start elevating Jesus. It really is that simple. Seek after Christ. Do as Christ would. Point others to Christ.
If you do that in your marriage, then you’ll end up glorifying God. And that, ultimately, is all that matters.
That’s all I’m going to write about Love & Respect! Tomorrow on my podcast I’ll be talking about it, and on Friday I’ll be sharing many of the comments that you all have left over the last few days.
As always, I welcome your comments!
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Since posting these reviews of Love and Respect, many people have asked me how they can share their concerns with their churches and community.
We created a report of the hundreds of comments we received (including good and bad reviews) which is available to download together with a sample letter to send to churches.
You can download both and send them to whoever you think needs to read them here: