The following account is based on a true story; the names have been changed for the privacy of those involved.
A mutual friend had suggested Ethel might be interested in our church. When I phoned, she seemed eager for a visit. One was scheduled for her husband Sidney’s day off so I might also meet him. However, just minutes before the appointed hour, Sidney remembered he had to run an errand. Ethel wasn’t surprised: “He has no use for churches and even less for preachers.” However, to my surprise Ethel wasn’t really interested in our church either. She already had one. Why, then, had she wanted this visit?
The answer became apparent seconds after the introductions and a few niceties were exchanged, and Ethel pulled out “a few questions” she had jotted down. Looking them over, I was impressed; they were really good questions dealing with basics of the Christian faith and life. She jumped at the suggestion that they could be answered directly from the Bible in four or five studies together.
“But,” I added, “it would be good if Sidney would be here, too.”
“He won’t do it,” she responded. “He thinks the whole religious bit is a rip-off.”
“Okay. But you have to get his permission to meet with me for a Bible study in this home.”
We wouldn’t have Bible study without his permission. ... I had made the request because I recognized Sidney as the head, even spiritual head, of that home.
Ethel agreed, though only because she understood: 1) we wouldn’t have Bible study without his permission, and 2) I had made the request because I recognized Sidney as the head, even spiritual head, of that home.
A week later Ethel opened the door and pointing across the room informed me, “I told him what you said. But I can’t make him understand. You tell him.”
No sooner had we introduced ourselves than Sidney asked, “If I don’t give permission, you won’t study the Bible with her?”
“Yes, sir. That’s right, not in your house.”
“What church are you from?”
After giving Sidney our congregation’s name and address, I explained that I needed his permission because according to the Bible he was the head of this home. In essence, I couldn’t teach the Bible in their house faithfully unless I was willing to submit to the Bible’s teaching concerning his authority as head of that house.
The idea absolutely blew his mind: “She goes to church all the time, four or five times a week. Generally, I don’t even know when she’s going or when she’ll be home. She’s never asked my permission before. When it comes to religion she’s the boss in this house.”
“Then she has a problem.”
In retrospect that could have been worded differently. Nevertheless, Ethel was no longer a silent observer: “But he doesn’t even go to church.”
Ethel acknowledged her needs to feel secure and to be loved. Both of these needs were obviously intended to be met as Sidney fulfilled his calling as the head of their home. Meanwhile Sidney admitted that, more than anything, he wanted Ethel’s respect, a key ingredient of submission (Ephesians 5:33).
Sensing a battle was brewing, I opened my Bible and suggested that the three of us sit on the couch and look at Ephesians 5:22-33. For almost an hour we considered our Lord’s commands: “Wives, submit to your husbands....Husbands, love your wives....” We talked about marriage being His institution. Therefore, He can structure it and have expectations for it as He pleases. When we noted “that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female” (Matthew 19:4)—and this difference goes far deeper than simply the ability to have or not have babies—finally Ethel and Sidney let down their defenses and began opening up. Ethel acknowledged her needs to feel secure and to be loved. Both of these needs were obviously intended to be met as Sidney fulfilled his calling as the head of their home. Meanwhile Sidney admitted that, more than anything, he wanted Ethel’s respect, a key ingredient of submission (Ephesians 5:33).
After the subject had been seemingly exhausted, Ethel looked at Sidney, “May I have your permission to meet with Pastor Jenkins to study the Bible in our house?”
You probably wouldn’t be surprised that Sidney gave us his permission. But you may be surprised, as was I, that for the next five weeks, Ethel, Sidney, and I met to study the Bible in their home.
From: “Wives, Submit to Your Husbands.” Lutheran Sentinel, July 1987, 11. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Rev. Paul Jecklin is a retired Lutheran pastor who lives in Fairhope, AL, with his wife Carol. He has served as pastor to congregations in the inner city of Chicago, Illinois; Savannah, Georgia; and, Silverhill, Alabama; and as interim pastor in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.