Summary: What God has to say to wives about their relationship to their husbands

Studies in The Christian Family

God’s Word for Wives


This evening I want to begin a short series of studies on the Christian Family based on what Paul has to say about this subject in his letters to the Churches at Ephesus and Colossae. We will of course be looking at other relevant portions of scripture but our main focus of attention will be Eph 5/22-6/4 and the parallel passage in Col 3/18ff.

Why take up this particular subject? Well there are a number of reasons why I decided to preach on this subject. First of all, having finished the series on Joseph I was wondering what portion of scripture or what subject I ought to take up next in our evening studies, and in the course of my own personal devotions I had started reading some books and listening to some tapes on the subject of the Christian family. As I read those books and listened to those tapes I was challenged in my own heart and was forced to make a personal assessment of how I measured up to what God required of me as a husband and as a father within my family, and I believe that it was good for me to be challenged in this particular area of my life as a Christian. I was not only reminded of my God ordained duties and responsibilities to both my wife and to my children but was also humbled before God when I thought about how easy it is to become lax and undisciplined in this area of ones Christian life. And then I thought to myself well if this is something that proved to be challenging and spiritually beneficial to me personally I am sure that under God a study of these things would also prove to be of some spiritual value to others in our congregation.

The other main reason why I decided to take up this subject was because of the environment in which we live and the responsibility that falls to us as Christians who live in such an environment. And what I have in mind here is the fact that we are living in a social environment in which, tragically, family breakdown has become all too common. In many homes there is little genuine love and respect shown between the husband and the wife. In far too many homes one partner in the marriage relationship is regularly abused by the other, abused verbally, abused physically abused sexually, abused psychologically. In many such homes and indeed in other homes besides children refuse to show any kind of respect for or obedience to their parents and parents have abdicated their responsibility to give any kind of moral lead to their children or to exercise any kind of discipline over them. In many a house in Limavady this evening, behind those closed doors, there are wives husbands, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters for whom family life is a nothing but a source of misery, of discontent, and of unhappiness. The primary reason for this of course is because people are not ordering their family life according to the blueprint that God has given in His Word, a blueprint which when followed will produce a stable and happy family life.

There are different reasons of course why this is so. Different reasons why people don’t follow God’s directives. In the case of many at least part of the problem can be traced to ignorance. We live in an age in which most families in our society are woefully ignorant of what God has to say on this subject. This might be because they have never read the Bible for themselves and never go to Church where they might receive instruction in these things, or it might be that although they do attend Church fairly regularly they have never heard their minister preach a series of sermons on the subject. There is a widespread ignorance of God’s blueprint for a stable happy family.

Now what is our responsibility as Christians, living as we do in such an environment where there is this widespread ignorance of God’s blueprint for a stable happy family life? Well brethren I believe that our responsibility in such circumstances is summarised in Matthew 5/13-16. In other words we as Christians are to so order our family life that we will be salt and light in our community. We are to so follow God’s directives, God’s blueprint for family life, that we will be living examples of what family life should be like. People who have never read the Bible, people who have never had God’s directives explained to them should be able to see in your family and in my family not only what the Bible teaches about family life but also the blessings and benefits that are the by-products of ordering ones family life according to God’s blueprint. We are to bring light into the darkness. And we are to seek by God’s grace to have such an influence by our example that we might even be the means that God might use to have such an impact upon the lives of people around us that they might have a longing for and genuinely seek after and find that which we possess thereby bringing about a slowing down in the decay and disintegration of family life that we see all around us.

Of course if we are to be salt and light in our community in this particular area of family life then we will have to ensure that our own family life is being patterned after and lived according to the blueprint that God has given us in His Word. We will have to be the sort of wives and husbands, the sort of parents and children, that God wants us to be. And as we are going to see when we begin to look at each of these areas, this is something that isn’t easy. It is fairly easy to live the Christian life at Church, it is more difficult to do so in the world – say at school or at work or wherever, but the hardest place of all to live as a Christian is at home. For too many of us the old saying ‘he is a saint abroad but a devil at home’ is far too near the truth for comfort. Many a Christian husband and wife, many a Christian young person leave their Christianity sitting in the pew when they leave Church on the Sabbath day. Their home life is very different to what others see when they are at Church. But brethren it is here, first and foremost, that we have to ‘work out our salvation with fear and trembling.’ It is here first and foremost, that we must ‘live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ.’ As I say most of us will find that this isn’t easy, but brethren whilst it is not easy, it is nevertheless essential, essential for our own family well-being and essential as part of our Christian witness to those around us.

Now the way I want to approach this subject of God’s blueprint for family life, is quite simply to look at what God, speaking through the apostle Paul, has to say first of all to WIVES, then to FATHERS, then to CHILDREN and finally to PARENTS. And we will see that in each case God has one particular word that he gives to the group of people he is addressing, a word which both summarises and is the very kernel of their particular responsibility within their family.

Now whilst I want you to pay careful attention to all four sermons I want you to be particularly attentive to the sermon that has specific reference to you in relation to your role within the home. The reason I say that is because it is all to easy to listen attentively to and to make notes on, mental or written, what God expects of the other members of your family, your spouse or your children or your parents, and to store up all that information in your mind and to use it to challenge or to criticise the other members of your family when things in your family life are not going too well. Now of course we all need to know what each others primary responsibility is within the context of family life and if there is a failing on the part of someone to live up to those responsibilities that should of course be pointed out to them in a spirit of love. But, husbands, the question that I want to be foremost in your minds as we undertake this study together is not ‘what sort of a wife should my wife be; what are God’s directives for my wife?’ But rather ‘what sort of a husband does God want me to be. What are God’s directives to me as a husband?’ Similarly with you wives. Your chief concern as you come to this series of studies should not be ‘I hope my Frank listens to what the minister has to say about being a good husband’ but rather ‘ I had better listen to what God’s word has to say to me about being a Christian wife.’ And the same principle applies for parents and for children. The way for a Christian home to operate is not for me to ask what God expects of him or her or them, but to be clear about what God expects of ME. Stuart Olyott in dealing with Christian family matters writes “The way forward is for each person to weigh up before God what are his or her own responsibilities and to take them seriously. Such is the perversity of the human heart that we are always more interested in the performance of other than our own. Family breakdown has already started when we criticize others for their failures and stop examining ourselves in the light of God’s Word. [When we stop] asking what is expected of me. Homes are changed forever when each person [does] what God expects of him or her personally.

Now with that in mind let us turn our thoughts this evening to what God has to say to wives.

Turn with me please to Eph 5/22,23. READ

I said earlier that God has given a particular word to each person within the family. A word which sums up that persons primary duty and responsibility within the home. Well here in Eph 5/22 we find God’s word for wives – it is the word SUBMIT. “Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord…”

Now we want to consider this divine directive under four headings. First of all we want to consider

1) The Nature of The Wife’s Duty:

God says wives are to SUBMIT to their husbands. But what exactly does that word ‘submit’ mean? Well in seeking to unfold the meaning here let me begin by saying what it does not mean.

It most certainly does not mean that the wife is to be the slave of the husband. The husband’s dogsbody. Someone whose sole role within the family is to do whatever her husband requires of her. Sadly there have been those in the past who have understood this passage in this way and have used it, or should I say abused it, to justify their authoritarian and oppressive treatment of their wives by which they have made life thoroughly miserable for them.

Nor does this injunction mean that the woman is in any way inferior to her husband. Submission does not imply inferiority. The woman like the man is made in the image of God and as such occupies a place of equal status, equal worth and equal dignity of personhood before God. So in seeking to understand what this word ‘submit’ means it must not be understood as in any way implying or as giving any credence whatsoever to the view that the woman is in any way inferior to or of less worth or value than the man.

The word ‘submit’ here has to do with the wife’s function, her God ordained role within the marriage relationship, not with her status or worth as a person.

And in order to underscore that turn with me please to Luke 2/51 – context = Jesus returning from temple at 12 years old. “and he went down to Nazareth with them and was (NIV has obedient unto them, the KJV more accurate) subject to them.” The word ‘subject’ is the same word that is used in Eph 5/22. And the point I want you to note is this that although Jesus was in subjection to his parents, such subjection did not in any way undermine, diminish or contradict the dignity of his person as the eternal God manifest in the flesh.

So lets make sure we are very clear on that, submission does not entail inferiority. Husbands and wives have equal dignity and worth as regards their personhood but as we are going to see that within that equality of personhood there is a God ordained diversity of function, diversity of role.

What then does this word ‘submit’, as used by Paul here in Eph 5/22 and Col 3/18 mean? What is this duty that God is setting before wives? Well it is quite simply this – God requiring the wife to humbly acknowledge and to willingly accept that within the context of the marriage relationship and with a view to the effective functioning of the family unit as a whole and for the personal well-being and ultimate happiness of each of the family members, God in his wisdom has established a particular order of authority and responsibility that must be observed. The nature of that divinely established order is such that the husband is entrusted with the task and the responsibility of leadership within the family and all that is involved in that, while the wife is called to accept and willingly yield to and support her husband in his leadership role. That is what is in view here when Paul says ‘Wives be Submissive to your husbands.’

Now I am very much aware that such submission as is envisaged here in this verse is totally out of fashion in our modern society. It isn’t popular, indeed it is very unpopular today. There is hardly any other subject that is more likely to stir up the emotions and get the hairs on the back of women’s necks standing on end in rage than that of talk of a wife having to be submissive to her husband. Such has been the impact of the feminist movement over the last thirty to forty years that many, perhaps even most women would be vehemently opposed to such an idea. They would say that such submission is demeaning, that it is degrading, that it is a step back into the dark ages of male chauvinism and is nothing but an attempt by men in the name of religion to keep women under the thumb and to maintain a patriarchal society, a society in which men domineer women

And the danger to which you are exposed ladies and which you must guard against is that of so imbibing the godless, unbiblical feminist philosophy with which you are being bombarded every day on the television, in the newspapers and magazines, on the radio, even perhaps from your colleagues at work or wherever, that you begin to loose sight of or even rebel against the Biblical pattern that God has established in his Word in relation to your role and responsibility within the family particularly in relation to your attitude towards and conduct with respect to your husband.

Wives be ‘SUBMISIVE to your husbands

Well having seen what God requires of the wife – the Nature of The Wife’s Duty. Lets look secondly at why God requires this of the wife, in other words lets consider

2) The Grounds of The Wife’s Duty:

Look at v23. “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his own body of which he is the saviour, now as the Church submits to Christ so also wives should submit to their husbands…”

The word ‘for’ at the beginning of verse 23 shows us that Paul is now gong on to explain why the wife should be submissive to her husband. Now I want you to notice that Paul does not say that a wife is to be submissive to her husband ‘for this is the accepted cultural norm of the society in which you are living.’ Nor does he say, wives be submissive to your husbands ‘for sociological investigative research has shown that the family functions better when the wife is submissive to her husband.’ No! Paul bases what he has to say to about the wife’s attitude towards and duty with respect to her husband on two things – first of all the principle of male headship as established in God’s order in creation and secondly the example of Christ’s headship over the Church.

Let’s consider these. He says wives be submissive to your husbands ‘for the husband is the head of the wife…’ Now Paul doesn’t elaborate here on this point. He simply states it as a given fact. ‘The husband IS the head of the wife…” No doubt he felt that he didn’t need to prove this point to the believers in Ephesus to whom he was writing at this particular time. He must have been fairly certain that this was a principle that they accepted. However when he wrote to the church at Corinth he did feel it necessary to explain and reinforce this teaching. And living as we do in days when militant unbiblical feminism is exerting such an influence upon the thinking of many people, even people within the Church, both men and women, I think it is important that we take a minute or two to underscore this Biblical principle of male headship.

In the passage in 1 Cor 11 Paul not only states quite clearly and emphatically that the man is the head of the woman, “…the head of every woman is man…” 11v3 he also proceeds to take his readers back to the creation narrative of Genesis 2 to substantiate and prove his point – v8,9 “for man did not come from woman but woman from man. Neither was man created FOR woman but woman FOR man…” The whole context of Paul’s argument here is that of establishing the man’s God ordained and God given place of authority over the woman. His emphasis is on the order, the mode and the purpose of Eve’s creation in relation to Adam. He points out that woman was made after the man, that she was made out of the man, and that she was made for the man. And when you turn to the account of the fall in Genesis 3 you discover that one of the consequences of Eve’s sin in both eating the forbidden fruit herself and then subsequently encouraging Adam to join her in her sin, was that the initial pre-fall order of male headship is underscored and perhaps even in some way intensified by God; for God says to her “your desire shall be for your husband and he shall RULE OVER YOU.” Now it would take a whole sermon, perhaps even a couple of sermons to expound in detail the teaching of Genesis 2 & 3 and 1 Cor 11 and 1 Tim 2 on the subject of male headship and all that is involved in it according to the created order. But the point I think we need to note this evening is that it is to this principle, this Biblical God ordained pattern that Paul appeals as the grounds of a wife’s submission to her husband within the context of marriage and the ordering of family life. And brethren because Paul’s argument is based on the order of creation, it is therefore not something that is to be thought of as being linked to and limited by the culture, the time, or the sociological mores of the particular society and particular age in which he lived. Rather it is something that is applicable in every culture in every age, in every family. One of the main arguments that is brought against such teaching today is ‘Oh that was just the way things were in those days – it was the accepted culture for a woman to be subject to her husband. We live in different times now and our culture is very different from that of the 1st Century Roman empire. Paul was culturally bound in his ideas, ideas it has to be said that are a classic example of the predominant male chauvinism of his day. This certainly doesn’t apply to us today.’ Well friends the fact of the matter is it does apply to us today. It’s tap root runs through Paul’s times and culture right back through other times and other cultures and all the way back to God’s established order for husband wife relationships at the time of creation.

But Paul not only grounds the wife’s submission to her husband in the original divinely created order of man’s headship over the woman he also links it to Christ’s headship over the Church. “wives be submissive…for...husband is the head…as Christ is the head of the Church, his body of which he is the saviour. Now as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

The reason Paul draws upon this analogy of course is because Christ is depicted in scripture as being the bridegroom of the Church who is his bride so there is a fitting analogy to be drawn here. Jesus is the head of the Church. This is something that is beyond dispute. And because he is the head of the Church, the church, his bride, must be submissive to him. Well the same holds true in the sphere of the human marriage relationship. The husband is the head of the wife and that being the case the wife is to be submissive to her husband. Just as it is unthinkable that the Church should refuse to submit to Christ, its head, so it is equally unthinkable that a wife should refuse to submit to her husband.

However there is another reason why Paul brings in this reference to Christ’s headship over the Church at this point and that comes out in the little phrase that he includes at the end of v23 ‘Christ is the head of the Church, his body, of which he is the saviour.’ Now follow me closely here as I try to explain this. The word saviour here in v23, whilst it usually means ‘redeemer from sin’ it can also mean in certain contexts ‘the one who preserves, ministers to the needs of, the one who lovingly cares for’ In other words there are places in scripture where the word saviour is not being used in a redemptive sense, where it does not mean ‘the redeemer’, places where if you like one should read it with a small ‘s’ and not a capital ‘S’.

It is used that way for example in a number of places in the O.T. but one place especially in the N.T. is worth looking up – 1 Tim 4/10 where it says of God that he is “the saviour of all men, especially those who believe.” Obviously God is not the Saviour of all men in the sense that he redeems all men from their sins, for we know that all men are not saved from their sins, many already have gone to hell and others will yet go there. The word saviour here in 1 Tim 4/10 has a different meaning. It means that God is the one who in his common grace lovingly cares for and ministers to the needs of all men, especially those who believe. Now it is in this sense that Paul is using the word saviour here in Eph 5/23, and understanding it in that way you can see the logic and feel the thrust of Paul’s reasoning. He is saying that “Christ is the head of his body the Church of which he is the saviour, (yes, of course he is the redeemer of the Church) but in this context he is the saviour of the Church his body in the sense that he is the one who lovingly cares for it and ministers to the Church.’ And the point that Paul is stressing here is not only the fact that Christ as the head of the body exercises authority over it but that that authority is exercised in the context of and is always motivated by a loving concern for his body. In other words it is a headship that is exercised with a view to the well-being of the Church. John Stott puts it like this - “His headship expresses care rather than control, responsibility rather than rule.” Now he is not saying that there is no rule implicit in the headship, but he is saying that the element of loving concern for and care of that over which he is the head, namely, the Church, is an inseparable part of that rule. Stott then goes on to say of the wife’s submission to her husband “there is nothing demeaning about this, for her submission is not to be unthinking obedience to his rule but a grateful acceptance of his care…whenever the husbands headship mirrors the headship of Christ, then the wifes submission to the protection and provision of his love, far from detracting from her womanhood, will positively enrich it.”

We have considered the Nature of the Wife’s Duty, - Wives be submissive’ we have considered the Grounds of the Wife’s Duty – The husband is the head of the wife. Consider thirdly and much more briefly

3) The Extent of This Duty:

Look at the closing words of v23 “So also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

Notice that it doesn’t say that wives are to submit to their husbands only when what there husbands require of them or what their husbands decide in relation to the family is exactly what the wife wanted anyway. No its says that you are to submit ‘In everything’. Now whilst it might seem as though this is an absolute demand that is being laid upon the wife, one has to qualify it by saying that the wife is to submit to and to willingly yield to the will and the decisions of her husband in his leadership role within the family in all cases except where his demands or his decisions would involve the wife pursuing a course of conduct that was clearly contrary to the revealed will of God in the scriptures and where obeying her husband would involve her disobeying God. The ‘in everything’ of v23 must be interpreted within the wider context of the scriptures demand that first and foremost we are to obey God rather than man. However if the husband is fulfiling his responsibilities before God as set out in the scriptures such instances ought to be rare and certainly the exception rather than the rule.

Here is a husband and wife and they have a decision to make. They have discussed it together. The wife has brought all her knowledge and experience to bear upon the matter and has given her point of view, the husband has done likewise. They cant agree. What is to be done? The husband is ultimately responsible for making the decision and the wife must go along with that decision (assuming that the decision does not involve her committing sin). She accepts and goes along with that decision knowing that howsoever the matter works out ultimately it will be he who will be accountable before God for the decision that has been taken.

What about those of you who have unbelieving husbands? Well the same principle applies. You too are to be submissive to your husbands and part of the reason for you doing so according to 1 Peter 3/1ff is that your submissive attitude and conduct might be a living witness to your unbelieving husbands and perhaps even under God a means to their conversion – “Wives in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the Word, they may be won over without talk by the behaviour of their wives when they see the purity and reverence of your lives…” You cannot submit to anything that involves sin, but other than that you ought to manifest a submissive spirit in your home towards your husband.

No doubt there are questions that have arisen in your mind as a result of this study this evening and perhaps I will be able to deal with them in pastoral visitation or in the ongoing preaching ministry in the days ahead, but let me bring this study to a close this evening by drawing your attention to one other point that comes out of these verses and that is

4) The Motive For the Wife’s Duty:

And for that I would ask you to look at that last little phrase in v22 “wives submit to you husbands as to the Lord’ And also in the parallel passage in Col 3/18 “wives submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”

And what Paul is saying here is this. Wives your submission to you husbands is something that the Lord Jesus requires of you as part and parcel of the practical outworking of your faith in him and love for him. In submitting to your husband you are showing that your are submitting to Christ’s will for you. And that which should motivate you in taking on board this responsibility within your family is your love for Jesus, that love which shows itself in a desire to honour and obey him in every area of your life, including your family life.

Wives in seeking to continue to implement this duty or in seeking to begin to implement from now on can I encourage you to keep your eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. Remember what he has done for you and find in his love for you your motive for bringing this aspect of your life into subjection to his will for you.

Now if you wives think that God is asking a lot of you in requiring that you demonstarte an attitude of submission to your husbands, let me tell you it is nothing compared to what he demands of husbands in respect of their attitude towards their wives. And that (DV) is where we will be taking up our study next Lord’s day.