Women as Wives
Today, we look at the biblical definition of submission. I’ve titled the message, “Women as Wives.” The larger context of this teaching is how we as followers of Jesus are to walk in His will. The specific context is His will for the wife in a marriage. This study is the mirror to the one we had earlier on “Loving Leadership” that dealt with the husband’s role in the home.
Our text is Ephesians 5:22-24.
Let’s follow the STEPS Paul lays out to help us understand the principle of submission. Together, we’ll discover why God ordained this principle and its applications.
The First STEP is,
The Command for Submission
It is interesting that whenever the New Testament writers were led by the Holy Spirit to address the relationship between husband and wife, they always begin with the wife. Some would immediately respond by saying, “yes, that’s because they lived in a patriarchal society.” That claim does have some merit, but not like they think. A patriarchal society was not a development of civilization or culture; it was God’s plan from creation. From beginning to end the Bible supports the concept of male leadership. Man was created first; women was to be a helper suitable for him. We discussed that last week in our study together.
Because many contemporary Christians find this command so offensive, there are a variety of ongoing attempts to either explain it away or to weaken its implications. We hear things like, “Her husband is not a Believer, so God certainly doesn’t expect her to submit to him!” Or maybe, “Her husband is really going to make a foolish decision unless she intervenes. If she submits to his leadership, the family will suffer.”
I want you to notice, however, that the command has NO qualifiers; it just says, submit. Let me quickly say that a wife should NEVER do anything that violates Scripture. There are times when an unbelieving husband will ask his wife to do something that violates God’s Word. But even in refusing to disobey God she can demonstrate a submissive attitude. First Peter 3:1 gives specific instruction in this regard. “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives…”
People who present the kind of excuses I listed a few moments ago are forgetting something very important. God works through structures of authority regardless of whether they are Christian or not. This truth is illustrated many times in both the Old and the New Testament. A Christian wife who submits to an unbelieving husband is following this principle. God is still able to direct her life through her husband because he is her God-ordained leader.
Let’s go back to the situation where the husband is about to make a very unwise decision. Is it wrong for the wife to raise questions? Of course not! Don’t you and I raise questions when God is doing something in our lives we do not understand? But we do not, or should not, raise those questions in a demanding or arrogant way. We simply want more information so we can be better equipped to obey and serve Him. So, it is with the wife. Her husband can tell if she is sincerely trying to clarify the issue so she can better serve him.
But what if the husband goes ahead in spite of his wife’s warnings? Should she take matters into her own hands to prevent what she sees as a catastrophe? Not according to Scripture. Whenever a wife disobeys her husband there are always negative consequences. That began in the Garden of Eden when Eve ate of the forbidden fruit. They may not be as readily seen in the short term, but they will appear as time goes on.
Notice with me the last part of verse twenty-two. Here we learn HOW the wife is to submit to her husband; in the same way she submits to Jesus Christ. This is an extremely important part of this command. The most important thing is not that she is obeying her husband, but rather, that she is obeying God when she obeys her husband. By obeying her husband, she acknowledges that God’s plan is to direct her life through her husband. That does not mean she has no personal, direct, relationship with God. It simply means she understands God’s order of authority and the blessing that comes to those who function within that order.
The first step in understanding the mission of submission is obeying the command.
The Second STEP is,
The Concept of Submission
Verse twenty-two gives us instruction on the HOW of submission. This next verse gives instruction on the WHY of submission. Contrary to what we may think, God does not do anything arbitrarily. Everything He does springs from his perfect holiness, love, righteousness, and justice. He did not ordain this principle of submission simply to make life difficult for wives, but rather, to give them security and protection.
God’s order is seen from the very beginning when he created Adam first, and then Eve. God did not directly give Eve the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he gave it to her through Adam, her spiritual head and protector. Neither did she seek his advice when she was tempted to disobey. We are still experiencing the results today. Women, who are more intuitive than men, are apt to be guided more by emotion than reason. The husband’s leadership is a protection for them.
Paul bases the command for submission on the principle of the Church submitting to Christ as its Head or leader. The husband is the leader, not because he is more worthy than the wife; not because he is more intelligent than the wife; not because he is more spiritual than the wife; not because he is more __________. You fill in the blank with whatever you want. The husband is the leader because that is the position God has given him. The first sixteen verses of First Corinthians eleven reminds us that God’s creation order is God, Christ, man, woman.
God, in His sovereignty, decided this order would most clearly reflect His character and His purposes for mankind. We can obey and enjoy His blessings. Or we can refuse and suffer the consequences of our disobedience. If wives are to submit to husbands in the same way that the Church submits to Christ, what does that look like? Well, if we look at much of modern Christianity, we may not have a very good picture of what this submission looks like. There are a lot of Christ’s commands that are either ignored or minimized.
The best example I know of is to look at the life of Christ. In submitting to His Father, He modeled for us how the Church should submit to Him. He said things like, “I do only those things which please the Father,” and “I have finished the work you gave me to do.” His was total submission to the will of the Father. That is the pattern for the Church as it submits to Christ, and that is the pattern for the wife as she submits to her husband.
Again, let’s reflect a bit on the last part of verse twenty-three. It says, “And he is the savior of the body.” Who is the “he” Christ, or the husband? I conclude that both are in view. Just as Christ is the savior of His body, the Church, so the husband is the protector of his wife. Jesus gave his very own life to save the Church and to preserve it from loss. So, the Christian husband is given the responsibility to protect his wife and to preserve her from loss. He will anticipate her needs, wants, and feelings, readily and lovingly meeting those needs.
We see then that the concept of submission in the husband-wife relationship is based on the pattern given by Jesus in His relationship to His body, the Church. As we accept and apply this concept to daily living, we will better understand the mission of submission.
The Final STEP is,
The Constraint of Submission
As we come to the final verse of our text, the word, therefore, gives us a clear connection to the previous verse. Christ is the head of the Church. That is an unarguable fact. In His position as Head, the Church is subject to Him. Paul goes on to say that the wife should submit herself to her own husband in the same way.
How should the Church submit to Christ? In every way! How should a wife submit to her husband? In everything! This does not give the husband the right to be a tyrant. The following verses, which we examined earlier in this series of teaching, clearly indicate the loving leadership of the husband. However, the command for the wife’s submission is not dependent on the husband’s love.
A woman may have an ungodly, callous husband, but she is still commanded to submit to him as her divinely appointed authority. If he is physically abusive there may need to be a separation, but that should always be a last resort. In the same way, a husband may have an insubmissive wife, but he is commanded to love her anyway.
As I said earlier, I know this teaching is not popular. I also know some men have used this constraint of submission to dominate their wives. That is an abuse of their leadership, and it leaves a bad example of how God intended this principle to function. As is so often the case, Satan will take a biblical principle and have professing Christians twist it into something God never intended. But just because someone leaves a bad example by their abuse of the truth, we do not reject the command of the Lord. No, rather we apply the truth in the way God intended so that everyone who is involved will benefit, and those who are watching will see the blessing of this principle being lived out in our relationships.
Even though the constraint of submission is to be in every area of her life, we reiterate the point that a wife must not do anything that is contrary to God’s Word. This also is a constraint, a restriction that helps to protect her spiritually. Wives who’ve embraced this principle of submission have discovered that God honors their obedience. That should not surprise us because that is the promise God gives to wives in opening verses of First Peter chapter three.
As I close, let me state that the cases are few where a genuinely submissive wife will have a domineering, tyrannical husband. It does happen. But a wife who has learned how to submit to her husband’s leadership in a gracious and loving way generally secures for herself the love and devotion of her husband. It may take time, but God’s principles work, and His promises are true.
I appreciate this quote from Albert Barnes. “There should be such mutual love and confidence that the known wish of the husband should be a law to the wife; and that the known desires of the wife should be the rule which he would approve. A perfect government is that where the known wish of the lawgiver is a sufficient rule to the subject. Such is the government of heaven; and a family on earth should approximate as nearly as possible to that.”
Knowing and following the constraint of submission will lead us to a deeper understanding of this important principle.
Wives, at what level have you accepted this principle and applied it to your life? Would your husband say you are a submissive wife? More importantly, would your Heavenly Father say you are a submissive wife? If you will not submit to your husband, most likely, you have not submitted to the Lord Jesus. I do not know your individual circumstances, but Jesus does. Let Him search your heart as we pray.
Heavenly Father, I thank you for this clear teaching from your Word. And I thank you for every godly wife who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is submitting herself to her husband as the Church submits herself to Christ.
Father, I pray for those listening today who may understand what your Word says, but they are fearful to act on it. I pray you will give them courage to move forward and the confidence that your principles, applied consistently, do work! So, take your truth and bless it to my heart and the heart of my listening friend, I ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.