I was never in the military. My dad was career Army, so I spent my childhood in that environment. When I met my wife she was in the Navy, later got out, then got back in, and is now retired. My oldest son did seven years in the Air Force and youngest daughter did the same in the Navy. So, while I have no personal experience as a soldier/sailor/airman I do understand the culture. And obedience is a large part of it. A military unit – whether on the ground or at sea – has a clear hierarchy of command. Everybody understands it and everybody is expected to follow it. Without obedience the structure collapses and, in a time of war, people die.
I have had many jobs. In all of them there was a clear chain of authority. A boss. Sometimes many layers of bosses. Employees were expected to carry out the commands of the boss(es) because implicit in the idea of getting paid on Friday is the understanding that there is an exchange for that paycheck – specific work for a specific amount of money. Now I am self-employed and have no boss. I answer to me – and my clients. Because there’s no sense kidding myself, I work for them. As a matter of fact, a real estate client has an agency relationship with me that promises that I will “obey their lawful instructions.”
Like most of you reading this I live in a western society. In our case, a Constitutional Republic. We have a guiding document that guarantees certain things and provides for a system of governance to ensure those rights are protected. When the President makes a decision, he may have Constitutional protocol to follow (checks and balances) but we expect him to lead without getting the permission of the rest of the population. The military is expected to obey his orders – but just like in real estate, they need to be lawful. Because the soldier has sworn to uphold the Constitution first.
Finally, I have been married nearly thirty-four years. My wife and I get along just fine, we share the work load, take responsibility for different aspects of our life (I do all things related to food and she does all things related to laundry). When faced with a decision we usually put our head together and come up with a solution that works for both of us. Occasionally, rarely, we cannot agree or compromise. But rather than be stuck I will take the lead role. Our wedding vows, that we both agreed to, state that. And our Christian faith provides for that leadership role.
What got me thinking about these things is a friend posted a status on social media asking for comment on the idea of “love, honor, obey.” The response was mostly push-back. Apparently, obedience is a dirty concept. Yet we all routinely agree to it – in the military, at work, in society and even in many marriages. So what’s wrong with obeying? Why the instant rebellion to the idea?
I think it’s a matter of context.
The soldier obeys a lawful order and the chain of command is structured so that rarely is the soldier put in the position to have to decide. If you don’t like obeying your boss at work you can quit your job and find another. In civil society you have the freedom to protest and vote in order to overcome what you may see as bad policy. As a matter of fact, that’s what this passage of scripture really means:
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good.Romans 13:1-4
Did you catch that? Obey governing authority as a minister of God for good. Now, if that is not the case then there are avenues of civil disobedience available, as noted above, in our country. Not so in many other countries but the individual is free to live by conscience, although the price may be high. God is not for evil government.
Since we are all okay with being obedient in the military, at work, and in society I have to assume it’s the marriage part that bugs people. It probably stems from a heavy-handed abuse of this verse:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.Ephesians 5:22-24
Yikes. I can see the problem.
Unfortunately, too many ignore the very next passage, which is in complete context to the above:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.Ephesians 5:25
Husbands, we have a problem. While we are busy being Christ-like to our lovely wife we lost sight of exactly what Jesus did. He gave Himself up for all of mankind. He had the complete right to the universe, absolute power from on high, no other chain of command. Instead, he chose to show His love for us by laying all that down and giving up His own rights in order to make sure we had every opportunity to live a full and rich life.
Passionate military members leave the armed forces every day because they cannot respect and obey what is often poor leadership. Hard working folks quit their job and go looking for greener pastures because their boss(es) suck. Yep, I said it because it’s true. I have fired clients rather than put up with them. There are always movements in society to protest and resist the actions and policies of whoever managed to get elected.
Which brings me to this conclusion. There is pushback from the word “obey” in relationships because the obedient one is not reaping the true benefits of that command structure. I’m talking to you, husbands. If you are leading as designed, giving up your own rights as clearly commanded, and doing everything in your power to make life good for your spouse, then we probably don’t ever have to expect someone to obey.
Personally, I cannot fathom a relationship in which I had to command my partner to obey. But I do know if I go to my wife with an idea and a plan I can expect her to love and honor my ideas. And even obey. After her own input and fine tuning, of course.
Love, honor, obey? Not old fashioned, unworkable or undesirable. Just a matter of good context.