Gods Command to Husbands and Wives

December 16, 2012 / No. 3650

Dear Radio Friends,
Paul has laid out the mystery of the church. God has graciously blended the Gentiles into the church together with the Old Testament saints. They became fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God.
That was a matter of great joy to these Ephesian believers. But Paul reminds them that their lives now were different from what they were when they were yet lost in their sin. They were a new people. And that required of them new behavior. They must now view the wicked world, and the place God now had given them in His church, through enlightened eyes, through the eyes of faith. This means that all their preconceived notions about marriage had to be discarded too. We studied that in our last broadcast, if you recall. Marriage is a bond into which a man and his wife enter for a lifetime. It must be honored highly as an institution of God. God instituted marriage to picture the intimate union of Christ and the church.
Believers are given to know what marriage is. The Spirit works that in them. The simple command of Christ is heeded: “What God has joined together, let not man divide asunder.” Marriage is for life. And believers are willing to work at their marriage to make it last. Even if that marriage may not be all that happy, the tie that binds holds firm.
But this mandate taught us in Ephesians 5 is couched in other instruction. That instruction is given to believing husbands and wives as well. It speaks of the place and calling of husbands and wives in marriage. In other words, to be one flesh, and to live in the joy of being one flesh, are two things. God binds. He glues together into one. But husbands and wives are also called to live as one flesh. And if they live as one flesh, they will discover the joy of marriage.
The instruction given in the verse we consider today is a summary of what Paul teaches about marriage. That verse is Ephesians 5:33, where Paul writes:
Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
Husbands are called to love their wives, and wives are called to submit to husbands. The world laughs at that. The world mocks. The feminists burn up inside. Who listens to this instruction any more today? We live in a modern society; it is an enlightened one! These are all culturally-conditioned commands of a bygone era. The prescription given in this verse is null and void today, they say.
No, it is not. It is God’s Word. And God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His Word does not change. If we want to be happy in marriage, we must follow what God tells us to do in marriage. Otherwise our marriage is doomed before it even starts.
You see, our God is a God of order. As the highest authority, God establishes in the various institutions of life a chain of authority that must be followed. This chain is set forth for us in I Corinthians 11:3. There we read, “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” In this chain God triune has authority over Christ, who exercises His authority over man, who exercises his authority over the woman. This does not mean that every man has authority over every woman. Neither does it mean that all women must submit to every man. There are certain spheres of life in which a man is given by God to rule over the woman. One such sphere is the home and in the marriage. The husband is given by Christ the authority to be head over the wife. This is explicitly mentioned by Paul when addressing the wife. We read in verse 23 of Ephesians 5: “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church.” The husband is given by Christ to be the head of his wife and of his family. He must govern and rule his wife and family. We find in I Timothy 2:4 and 5 that a man who is able to do this well in his own home and family also shows good qualifications for an office bearer in the church.
The term “head,” of course, implies authority. A head is one who rules over others, that is, makes decisions for himself and others. He has the right to tell a person what to do or not to do. He is given the authority by Christ, his head, to lead and guide others in the way he believes is best for them. In short, a head is given by God the responsibility of leading, protecting, and caring for those placed under his rule. Since Christ is head of man, and God is head of Christ, ultimately a man who is made head over his wife is held responsible to God for his actions. The head must give answer to his head.
I understand that it is argued that the rule of the husband over the wife and family was very much a part of the Greek and Roman culture. Men did not have to be prompted in that society, it is said. They had the rule over their wives. But life in a wicked society was little different then than it is today in our own society. The proper headship of a man over his wife was not being exercised properly. Men were not exercising authority over their wives and children in the way that they should. In fact, men in the Roman culture, just as today, were tyrants in their homes. Wives were being treated with very little respect. Men ruled their homes selfishly, for themselves alone, and not for the welfare of their wives and children.
This is why the instruction here in Ephesians 5 was new to recent converts to Christianity. They had not been taught the proper rule of a husband over his wife. They were not taught in their heathen homes how to be responsible in their rule. They were taught by unbelieving fathers only how to use the institution of marriage to serve their own ends and their own gratifications. There was no true rule, no proper authority exercised in the home, even though fathers may have forced their wives and children into obedience.
To the opposite extreme, the media today makes husbands out to be major bunglers when it comes to headship. Husbands and fathers are portrayed in the media as wanting to take the lead but bungling it all up so that the wife has to take over and straighten everything out. Men are idiots who do not deserve the place of head in the relationship, since the wife can do so much better than he. So much influence does our wicked media have, that husbands and wives actually begin to think in this way. And husbands simply relinquish their headship to the wife. The feminist movement today is not dead.
Scripture corrects us in this way of thinking. It admonishes the woman: the husband is the head of the wife; he rules over his household. And whether he is willing to take the lead in this or not, God will, in the day of judgment, hold the husband responsible for what takes place in his marriage. The husband must lead and guide his wife. He must care for her and nurture her. He must protect and provide strength for her to depend on. Such is the husband’s calling. And every godly husband must exercise himself in that in his own marriage.
This is done in one way. It is not done by force or coercion. It is not done by yelling or by physical abuse. Proper headship is not dependent on one’s being the stronger of the two. Headship of a husband over a wife is accomplished in one way: love. Verse 33: “Let every one of you in particular so love his wife….”
Every husband in his own particular relationship must see to it that he loves his wife even as himself. That is the key to proper respect and honor as head in marriage. Love. That is how a husband exercises his headship. Amazingly simple, is it not? It is given that we are to rule over our wives, husbands. But that does not mean that we are mighty rulers in the home. The fact that we rule over our wife does not make us more respectable in the eyes of God. God places a husband over a wife in marriage in order to show her His love and the love of Christ toward her. We all know what it is to love. If we are believers, we know. Love is both knowledge and affection. It is not one to the exclusion of the other. It is both.
This is what God’s Word tells a husband in I Peter 3:7: “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them [that is, your wives] according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” That is the knowledge we must have of our wives. Number 1: my wife is a vessel that is given to me by God. She is a precious vessel. She is a priceless vessel. The worth in gold cannot even be measured. Number 2: she is a weaker vessel than I am. She is fragile, a fragile vase, that can easily be broken, even when she wants to leave the impression that she is rough and tough. I can hurt her easily enough. And I can break her in spirit and in body. Number 3: I know my wife to be an heir with me unto the grace of life. She is so precious to me because she is a believer together with me. We pray together. We seek God together. We make decisions together. I know all these things about my wife, and as a proper head I am called now to lead her spiritually. I take headship over the spiritual welfare of my own. I take the responsibility that I might direct my wife in the ways of God. That is loving my wife.
And I show to my wife proper affection, too. We know what that is all about, do we not, men? When we dated our wives, we did everything to make them happy. We went out of our way to show our girlfriends our affection. We were on the best of behavior when we were with them. We spent hours looking into their eyes and talking with them. We showed our affection in so many different ways. Well, that does not change, or it ought not to change, after we are married. We must love our wives. And although that affection may mature with age, nevertheless, the affection must still be there. This knowledge and affection of love must be given in all faithfulness. Husbands, by all means, we must be faithful to our wives. Unfaithfulness spells instant failure—instant! Adultery takes an axe to the marriage relationship. Love means trustworthiness, devotion to our wives alone.
The love we will show our wives is the love that has been shown to us by God. There is the key. That is the key to all true love. When we were lost in unbelief, all we cared about was self. We loved ourselves. But God in His grace so loved us that He sent His Son into this world to die for us. And that love of God Christ revealed to us in that He laid down His life for us. He gave of Himself completely for His bride, the church. In doing so, He has shed abroad His love in our hearts. We are united to Christ in that living bond of love that cannot be broken. And it is that love we now in turn must exercise in our headship over our wives.
When we do so, then our relationship is established in Christ. We are faithful, even as Christ is always faithful to His bride. Our eyes are focused on the beauty of our wife, the inner beauty that shines in her as an heir of the grace of life. And we are firm, strong, wise. Oh yes, we are. Yet at the same time we are kind, gentle, and patient heads.
When this is done, then a wife’s submission to her husband is not forced or coerced, but is a willing and happy submission. And that, wives, is now your calling to your husbands in the Lord. Notice once again, verse 33: “And the wife see that she reverence her husband.” This is supported by the context of these verses as well. We read in verse 22: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” Unbelieving wives make it no secret that they will have nothing to do with this command of God. The feminist movement underhandedly has done a marvelous job of undermining what God’s Word teaches us here. An unbelieving woman is not willing to reverence her husband with a meek and quiet spirit. She rebels against God.
But this injunction of Scripture must be taken seriously if we are going to walk in obedience to God. See, wife, that you reverence your husband! Reverence. That word literally means “respect.” You are to honor and respect your husband in the place God has given him in your marriage. This means you never degrade him. You do not mock him in the decisions he makes. You do not attempt to rob him of his manhood. You honor him and hold him in esteem in his decisions and let him be a man. And you strive to be his woman. You dwell with him according to knowledge. You must know him. That is how you love him. You must know him to be three things. Number 1: the one that God has chosen to lead and guide you in life. Number 2: an irreplaceable, stable rock in your life. One who is given to be firm and sure when, perhaps, you are in doubt and waver. Number 3: the God-appointed head for you that can lead you in prayer and in devotion to God.
This reverence for husband is revealed in one particular way: submission. This is what must adorn a godly woman, a believing wife. She is willing to submit her will to that of her husband cheerfully and without a gripe.
It is striking, is it not, that the Word of God here does not necessarily demand of a wife obedience. Certainly, when all is spiritually healthy in a marriage, obedience is necessary. But when the husband is an unbeliever, or if he instructs his family to walk in the ways of sin, the wife may not obey him. She must obey a higher head than her husband. If her husband disobeys Christ, she must disobey her husband in order to remain obedient to Christ. At the same time, however, she must quietly and meekly submit to her husband’s will. In other words, even in these instances the wife may not attempt to usurp the headship of her husband through rebellion and strife. She must walk humbly before her God in submission to the headship of her husband.
In the inseparable bond of marriage, the wife must live as one flesh by willingly subjecting herself to the rule of her husband. When the husband walks in love toward his wife, that subjection will not be hard to give. A believing wife will walk in happy subjection, just as the church, the bride of Christ, does toward her husband who treats His bride, His church, in love.
This is true because Christ lives in the heart of a believing wife. Christ has bound her to Himself in love. His love has been shed abroad in her heart, just as in her husband’s. It is not a matter, then, of the wife having to force herself to subject herself to her husband. Oh, it is true that the fall of Adam and Eve has made every man, by nature, a tyrant, and every woman a rebel. But Christ has, through salvation, overcome our sinful flesh. Sin no longer has dominion over us. As a result, the believing wife willingly walks in subjection to her husband.
“But that’s impossible for me! I’m not that kind of a woman. My husband needs me to be demanding and loud and to take charge.” This command of Scripture does not mean that a wife needs to sit quietly by and let her husband do all the talking while she sits there and listens with eyes fastened on the floor. That is not what we mean by submission. And certainly the wife may join in an animated conversation with her husband—even voicing her disagreements. That is OK. She is a help provided for her husband by God, after all. But this does not contradict the wife’s calling to be of a meek and quiet spirit, and to be submissive to her husband. Wives do well to listen to the wisdom of Solomon in Proverbs 21:9. He writes: “It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.” A brawling, contentious woman is not characterized by reverence for her husband. Your calling is clear in marriage, too, believing wives. See that you reverence your husbands.
When we live as one flesh, then we will discover the joy of marriage. Not that this is the reason we live this way in marriage. We walk in faithfulness in marriage because it is God’s command for us to do that. And we strive to reflect in a godly way that which marriage needs to reflect—the relationship of Christ and His church. We fulfill our calling, our place in marriage, in order to please God. We may not forget that this is the command of God here in the verse before us. God commands love and submission in marriage. But God does this because He knows what is needed to create a happy marriage. When we walk in the ways of God, the result will be a wonderful marriage. Not many in our day, even in the church it seems, discover the joy that can be had in marriage. But when we do, then a husband and wife know there is nothing better than marriage. It is fulfilling, even when times are difficult. There is joy to be had when a husband and wife dwell together in the love of Christ. It gives them purpose and direction in life—something both of them can work together toward. And it gives them the joy of tasting, in an earthly, limited way, the intimacy shared between Christ and His church. This joy of marriage will be made perfect in heaven.
Let us pray.
Our Father and our God, we are thankful for the bond of marriage and are thankful for marriage itself. As husbands we love our wives and as wives we love our husbands. We pray that Thou wilt guard and protect us as married persons. When we sin against Thee or sin against each other, we pray, be gracious to forgive us. And give unto us the forgiving spirit, too, so that we might indeed love each other; that wives might reverence their husbands and that husbands might exercise headship in their love toward their wives. Bless us now and keep us in this important relationship of our lives. For Jesus’ sake we pray, Amen.