The Woman’s Role as Wife and Mother (1)
July 25, 2004 / No. 3212
Dear Radio Friends,
Not long ago a major Protestant denomination met and deliberated over a wide variety of issues that were relevant to the life and ministry of their denomination. While the various media reported on the gathering of that denomination, nothing received more press than the denomination’s reaffirmation of the biblical command for the wife to live in submission to her husband. Some of the reporters simply reflected the denomination’s position as a statement of human interest. But most reports were extremely critical. The general consensus of the reporters was that no wife should be required to submit to her husband. The idea was that any view that would require submission of a wife to her husband is antiquated, abusive, and absurd. Rather than present in a carefully thought out argument against the wife’s submission, reporters simply scoffed at and promptly dismissed the biblical view of a wife’s submission as being irrelevant. It was argued that if a wife’s role is being viewed as being subordinate to her husband, then she must logically be viewed as inferior, and that simply cannot be the case.
What do the Scriptures teach concerning the calling of a wife and mother? Do you know? Are you, as a Christian wife, living according to the Scriptures toward your husband? Are you living in submission to your husband?
What is the biblical basis for this submission, and exactly what does it mean? What is the calling of a Christian wife and mother? How does the church’s submission to Christ set the pattern for the wife’s submission to her husband? And what will be the result of a Christian wife’s failure to live in biblical submission to her husband?
These are important questions. And the questions must be answered today. They must be answered from the living and abiding Word of God.
Once again the Reformed Witness Hour is privileged to have a special speaker on our program today. He is the Rev. James Slopsema, pastor of the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is going to speak on the subject of the Christian wife and mother. His speech was first given in a marriage conference held in October of 2003. His comments, you will find, are based upon the living Word of God and, specifically, upon the Reformed, biblical faith that finds the source of all things in the glory of God. I believe that you will find his remarks wholesome and refreshing.
Without further comment we want to hear today the first half of Rev. Slopsema’s remarks on the calling of a Christian wife and mother.
To follow up on the introduction, I will speak on the roles of woman both as wife and as mother, especially the latter, because that today, in our society, needs to be emphasized.
The position of wife and mother is an honorable one. That is not the viewpoint of society today. When society sees a woman with a number of children, the question is: “Is that all you are? Is that all you do? You’re a wife, you’re a mother. You raise these children, you put them to bed at night, you wash their clothes, you nurse them alone. Is that all you do?” The attitude of society today is that a woman really does not have a rich and full life and really is not of much worth unless she has some kind of career outside the home.
What I want to emphasize is a different viewpoint — God’s viewpoint. Proverbs 31 speaks of a godly wife and a godly mother. It is introduced in verse 10 with these words: “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price (or, literally, her worth) is far above rubies.” And, towards the end of that section, verse 28, we read, “Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.” If we go to God’s own law, who are children (and all of us) taught to honor? Is it the career woman that is to be honored? I am not saying that is not honorable. That certainly can be. But whom does God teach us to honor? Honor father and mother.
Let not the young women who contemplate marriage think that the role of wife and mother is an inferior one. And let not the young women here who are married and who are mothers of children think that their place in the home is somehow less than honorable, less than fulfilling, less that pleasing. Wives and mothers are highly honored and valued by God and should be by us exactly because the covenant and the kingdom of God depend on the work that mothers do in Jesus Christ. And I want to show that now.
Let us look at the all-important role that God has given to wives and to mothers. Let us start with the role that God has given to wives in marriage.
The primary role of the wife in marriage is to be a help to her husband. That is obvious from Genesis 2, which speaks of the institution of marriage. That whole section is introduced in Genesis 2:18 with this: “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” And to show Adam his need for help, He had Adam name the animals. Adam then saw that they were male and female and that he had no female counterpart. Then God put him to sleep and, out of his rib, made a woman, Eve, and joined them together in marriage.
From this chapter we learn very clearly that, though there are exceptions, the man ordinarily is incomplete. He alone, by himself, is not able to perform the work that God has for him to do. He needs a woman. He needs a female counterpart who is joined to him in one flesh — in marriage. In that marriage-relationship, therefore, his wife complements him, fills in his lot, and makes him complete in every way.
So it is that, with a few exceptions (and those are men whom God has ordained to be single and have another place in the kingdom), the man with the help of his mate is able to do, for example, these things: obviously to bring forth covenant seed (he cannot do that by himself) but in marriage he can. And, not just bring forth children, but train them in the covenant. My wife and I have nine children. More than half of them are married and starting their own families. But there is one thing that I have learned from experience: there is no way that I could have trained them alone, without the help of my wife.
The man also needs a wife as he generates income and manages income in order to support the family and the poor and the gospel and the church. It is not just a matter of the man going off to work, but it is a matter of managing one’s affairs so that there is enough to eat and to provide for the home and the church and the school. A man alone cannot do that effectively. He needs the help of a mate.
Without the help of his wife, the man is not able to fill his place in the church, whether it is the office of minister or elder or deacon or some other important place (and everyone has an important place).
In marriage, the work God places upon the man really becomes a joint work of husband and wife. That is what it is. It is not his work alone. It is a joint work of husband and wife, with the man taking the lead and the wife being an invaluable help to him in that work. Without the woman helping her husband, the kingdom of God, the church of Christ, would literally suffer shipwreck.
That is how important the wife is in marriage and in the church and in society.
Now the second thing I want to emphasize in that connection is that the woman can fill this all-important role only as she submits to the rule of her husband. It has been emphasized a couple of times in this conference that God has ordained marriage among us to be an earthly reflection of the beautiful relationship between Christ and the church, which is the real marriage of the covenant. Christ is the Bridegroom and the church is His bride. And it is the calling, therefore, of the wife to reflect in the marriage relationship the position that the church, redeemed by grace, has with Christ her Bridegroom. That is taught in Ephesians 5:22-24. This is, again and again, what God lays before wives: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” Many today, even in the church, consider that this views the woman as inferior and is thus degrading. She must submit herself to the rule and authority of the husband. I know of many young girls who consider this to be unacceptable as they contemplate marriage. “What!? I have to let a man rule my life? How degrading!”
Let us stop and look at that a moment. I would like to know if anyone here is not under the authority of someone else. There are a few officebearers in the church here. The rest of you are under the authority of your pastor, elders, and deacons in the church. I do not see anyone in government here, a government official. I would dare say that all of us here are under the authority of the civil magistrate. And many of us are, in the work-a-day world, under the authority of our employers placed there by God. Is that degrading? Does that make you inferior, because you are under some else’s authority? Are you inferior to President Bush and the town mayor here in Hudsonville because you are under their authority? I think not. To be under the authority of someone else does not imply inferiority, it is not a degrading thing. It is simply a part of life, a necessary part of life. And God, in His wisdom, has placed the wife in a position of being under the authority of her husband. Only when the woman in marriage willingly submits to her husband’s rule and authority can she be of any real value and help to him or to the family or to the church or to the kingdom of God.
Because sin has entered into the human race and sin has its place in every one of our lives, it is the tendency of the wife in marriage to ignore, to chaff under, the authority of her husband. Her tendency is to challenge his authority: “I don’t want you to rule me. I don’t want you to tell me what to do.” And that shows itself in rebellion, disobedience (sometimes overtly, sometimes in a sneak). But it is a temptation that every woman has to fight, as every husband has to fight the temptation to be a tyrant. There are some cases when women, under sin and sinfully even, try to usurp the authority of their husbands by taking the rule over themselves. Whenever a wife does that, she is not a help to her husband. She is not a help to her family. She becomes a detriment, and she loses her value in the home, in the marriage, in the church.
Having said that, I want to emphasize this. The wife, as she submits to her husband, must submit not as a child submits to his parents, but she must submit to him in her place as a God-given help. That means especially two things. It means that she not only may but she must advise her husband in all matters. You know, a child is under the authority of the parents, but a child is not in a position to advise his parents (“I think you ought to do this and I think you ought to do that”). That is not the position of a child. But a woman is not a child. A woman (in a Christian marriage) is a mature saint whom God has given to the husband to help. That means she has a voice. She must use it and give advice. A husband who will not listen to his wife and who thinks that his wife has nothing to tell him is a fool and sins, not only against his wife but against God.
Secondly, the husband must not rule over his wife in such a way that he micromanages her life. That is how parents have to deal with little children. They have to tell their children when to get up, what to wear to school, when to go to bed, what to eat. I saw a man once treat his wife that way. His wife had to ask permission to go to bed earlier than he did! That man was a fool. Marriage is a partnership. God gives, in marriage, a wife to the man to be his partner. In that partnership, decisions are made jointly, especially on every important and significant matter. And there are many! They are made together. When there is not agreement, there is discussion. Often there has to be compromise. If a man is wise, he will find a way to meet his wife halfway so they both can live with it, if he loves her and is not a tyrant. If there is disagreement nonetheless, then he, ultimately, makes the decision. But in that framework, he trusts her. Looking at his abilities and her abilities, he decides (and they decide together) how things are going to be done. And she is given freedom and liberty to carry out the affairs of the home and many, many other matters dealing with the family.
If we do not remember that, and the woman is denied her place, her place becomes intolerable.
In this connection, let us talk about the very important role that women have as mothers.
When a wife becomes a mother, she is greatly blessed. Children are a great blessing to marriage (Ps. 127:3, “Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward”). Yes, the Bible considers a large family to be a blessing. That same Psalm (127:5), “Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” And I can hear some say, “But, they take so much time and energy. They’re so much work! They require so much sacrifice!” Yes, they do, do they not? And a large family especially! I know. That is partly why they are a great blessing. Husband and wife gain a great deal of maturity, and they have to exercise a lot of virtues, as they raise their children. That, in part, is why children are such a great blessing.
As a mother, the woman helps her husband in training and rearing their children. In this area, she also has authority. It is not an authority apart from her husband. It is authority she exercises with her husband and under her husband.
And let it be known that the mother in the home has special gifts and special abilities necessary for the well-being of the home and the family. I am amazed, after thirty-four and a half years of marriage, to see that in my own wife, and now in my married children — the special gifts that they have for the family.