Dear radio friends,
In the message today we continue Pastor Ronald VanOverloop’s part of the marriage conference held at Bethel PRC in May. He spoke on the biblical calling of a husband and wife. In this part of the message, Pastor VanOverloop is going to deal especially with the calling of the wife. We ask Pastor VanOverloop the following question: What do you believe to be the chief duty of a Christian wife according to God’s Word?
“According to God’s Word, that chief duty, in my judgment, is that which God described in Genesis 2 when He instituted marriage and when He explained why He made the woman for the man. That is to fill him out, to complete him, by being particularly a help that is fit for him. So the chief duty, according to Scripture, for every woman who is a Christian and a wife, is to help her husband, to help him spiritually, help him materially, help him psychologically.”
Now, you are referring there to Genesis, to the beginning. Yet the apostle in Ephesians 5 calls the wife to submit. You said the calling primarily is to be a help. Yet the apostle says, Submit. Is there a conflict here?
“No, there is not. If the duty is to help him, then the attitude that must lie behind that duty and the performance of it is one of submission, one of recognizing, first of all, that that husband is her God-given husband, so that what she is doing is submitting to God. Secondly, her role of submission is an attitude that reflects the beautiful attitude of the church in relationship to her head, Jesus Christ.”
So, what you are saying then is that the only way for her to help is to have a submissive attitude?
“Absolutely. When she submits herself to her Lord, and she wants to thank Him for the salvation that He has given to her so graciously and freely and please Him, then she, in gratitude to Him, is going to live in submission to her God-given husband recognizing his wisdom. That is what is meant by ‘as unto the Lord.’”
So submission is serving a higher purpose?
“Oh, yes, absolutely! With an eye not on that man only, but on the Lord, the Lord who bought her, the Lord who saved her, the Lord who controls her life.”
Here follows the second half of Pastor Ronald VanOverloop’s message on the calling of the Christian husband and wife.
Wives, you are Christians.
It is interesting that when the apostle comes to the wives he is coming to newly converted Gentiles. Just as in I Peter, it may have been that their husbands were not yet converted. Just because they were newly converted and had a newfound knowledge of what it meant not to have and to worship an idol but to be worshiping the one true living God and to know that their sins were totally forgiven and blotted out and they were justified and sanctified, they were not freed from the responsibility that God had given to them in marriage. In fact, as a Christian now, their responsibilities were greater. And Peter says, “Wives, submit.”
The primary duty of a wife is not that of submission. The primary duty is to help her husband, to be a help fit for him. But God says, “The manner in which you are going to fulfill that help is by submitting.”
Why does God come both in Ephesians and in Colossians and not talk to husbands first, but to wives? Why does He first say, “wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands,” and then go to the husbands? Two reasons.
One, very obvious in the context of Ephesians 5, He has just given the third way in which every Christian is to conduct himself as filled with the Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit means (1) they speak together with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (v. 19). Being filled with the Spirit means (2) that we give thanks always for all things (v. 20). And being filled with the Spirit means (3) that we submit ourselves one to another (v. 21). And having just said that, he turns to the wives and says, “Wives, submit” (v. 22). So the context makes that flow most naturally.
Secondly, from a practical perspective, no man, no husband, is the head unless the wife submits. If your husband is not a head in your house, sometimes it can be because of his nature and personality. But it is more likely that it is because you as a wife are not submitting, submitting according to his nature and personality. Not the way you think you ought to, but according to him, according to the man he is, the specific man he is. That is the specific person you are to help and submit to.
The Bible never tells a husband, “Force yourself to be the head. You are the head. Be the head.” A godly man is going to love and love and love. And with his love win her. But the wife must realize that if her husband is head it is because she is doing the submitting.
What does it mean, practically, to submit?
First of all, it means: to place yourself under, to defer, to follow the directives to you by another, to be in subjection to another. Submission does not degrade. Submission does not make one inferior. Do not let the devil whisper (or shout) that at you. Submission does not make you less than. Proof. The Lord of all, Jesus Christ, submitted Himself to His parents. Did that make Him less than? Did that make Him perform a degrading act? Absolutely not! It is a willing recognition.
Here is the parallel with the love of a husband. The husband looks at his wife and he sees Christ at work. The wife submits because she sees in her husband someone Christ has given to be her leader. She sees a God-appointed and ordained head, the best head that she could ever have, the right one, fit for her, too. There could not be a better one. Any day, any time of day, you could not have a better head than the one that God gave you. He knew what He was doing! You may wonder sometimes, but then you have to answer by saying, “No, He’s right. He is wise.”
There is a difference between submission and obedience of course. I am not going to go into that. Submission is the attitude. It is in everything. It is not once in awhile. It is in everything. Obedience is qualified. We do not always have to obey. Scripture will give us exceptions, but I do not want to spend the time on that. The key I wish to bring to you is here in Ephesians 5:22: “Wives, submit.” Now wait a minute, that is not all that it says. “Wives, submit yourselves.” Not something he does to you, but something you do to yourself. It is a voluntary, a willing action on your part. You know why you want to do it? Because the Almighty God, in abounding grace and through the multitude of His tender mercies, is pleased to take a hard rebel’s heart, and a give His Son to die for it, in order to save a wretch like me. And He did it through His Son. And His Son did it by submitting Himself to the Father. How is it that your and my salvation is accomplished? In no other way than the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ submitted Himself unto His Father’s will and delighted to do that will. You, so saved by that submitting of Christ to the Father, want in gratitude to please and thank Him, to obey Him by submitting yourself to the husband that God has given to you.
It is a command. It is not an option. But even though it is a command to which obedience must be given by decision daily, it is still voluntary. Submit yourselves. You do it to yourself. Is that action of submitting yourself any different, anything more, than the activity of the church submitting herself to Jesus? What you personally do in your responsibility to your Lord, do not you submit yourself to Him? That is why the next words in Ephesians 5:22 are “as unto the Lord.” It is not culture that assigns this responsibility to you. It is the One who bought you who does it. It is the One who loves you who gives you this responsibility. He does not do it in order to hurt you. This is an extension of His love. This is what He says is the best for you. Your feelings may be, “But I don’t understand it, and I don’t think right now that this is the best way.” But He says, “Yes.” So you, bowing to that greater authority, recognize that the one whom God has given to you is somebody you can submit to.
So you are submitting yourselves not only to your husband or for your husband, but you are submitting primarily for the Lord. There is no more compelling reason for any Christian to submit than to be concerned to please Him who humbled Himself for us.
Two reasons why a wife ought to submit herself now as a Christian.
First, she recognizes in her husband a created order: the head. Man was created first. That order, according to I Timothy 2, is very important and crucial in determining the roles. It sets what we might call a natural priority.
Secondly, when God created the woman, He did not create her next to the man as He created the man out of the dust of the ground. He created the woman, the wife, out of the man. He created her to be a help for him. Even before sin entered into the world, the God who said concerning creation that it was very good, looked at the male as he stood there as the only human in all of creation and He said, “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make for him a help fit for him, to complete him.”
So He made a wife to complement, to make up for deficiencies, to complete, to help, to support, to aid. And He made the two to be one. Creation order establishes the headship. And the fall into sin, in which the woman played an active role, only increased her calling to submit herself to her husband even when he is a usurper and a tyrant.
But again, that creation order does not make her a slave, it does not make her inferior, but rather, in recognizing the created order, a godly wife, thinking of her God more than of her husband, realizes that she brings honor and glory to God when she submits, when she does nothing less than Christ does to His Father.
The second reason why a godly, Christian wife, newly converted or long converted, is to submit to her husband is that she recognizes this relationship of Christ to the church and the church to Christ. The church is called to submit to the Lord. God hath put all things under Christ and given Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body. And the church fills Him. Can you imagine that? We think of Christ as perfect. Yet God so created and made Christ in His relationship to His church that He is not a Savior unless He has people to save. He is not a head unless He has a body. He is not a shepherd unless He has sheep.
Just as Christ needs the church to fill Him, though He fills all in all, He needs a church; so a godly wife recognizes her calling to fill her husband just as the body fills the head and the church fills Christ.
I emphasize this because it is so natural and so easy for a wife to live independent. Sometimes the nature of her husband is that she lives emotionally independent. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a physician who later became a minister of the Word of God, likened the actions of a wife who lives with degrees of independency from her husband to a body that has convulsions. When someone is lying on the floor unable to stand, convulsing, his head is not in control of his body. The body is trying to act independent of the head. Dr. Lloyd-Jones says that is what it is when a wife lives independent of her husband.
It is your husband that you must depend on. In I Corinthians 11:12, he must live through you. But even as you were created out of man, so you must live as a wife out of your husband. Not your mother, not your father, not your best friends. That is convulsing. You must live out of your God-given husband. “But he’s not doing….” Oh, are there conditions to the calling to submit? “He doesn’t act….” Whom are you obeying? Live out of your husband. And husbands, be ashamed. Recognize your failure to be that kind of a man so that your wife can live out of you. Be there for her so that she wants to. That does not change her calling. Regardless of how sufficient you are in providing emotionally and psychologically and spiritually for her, she must live out of you. But do you see the mutual calling and responsibility?
Do not live independently. We ought not, because the nature of the headship of every man is not to be the head, but to be the savior of the body. That is the next verse here in Ephesians 5 (v. 23). The nature of the husband’s headship is a saving headship. Let me put it this way. Those saved by grace are ruled by Christ. If Christ is not your Head then, He is not your Savior. That Savior, as your Head, commands you to see His headship in the husband that He has given to you.
This is not slavery, degradation, inferiority. This is the manifestation of the spirit of Christianity. This is what it means to be saved from your sins. This is what it means to be adopted as God’s child. This is nothing less than being in Christ.
Conclusion: This submission, according to Ephesians 5 is to be in everything. It is a lot more than what you women usually think it consists of. It is always more than what you feel like. It is always, and it is always to be done cheerfully. Yes, sometimes it is a cross to submit to that husband. You know what we pray for every time the Lord’s Supper is administered? That we may deny ourselves and cheerfully bear our cross. If that is the perspective that you have to take of the husband that God has given you, then do it cheerfully, as to the Lord.
The main point is that a godly wife must go to the extreme in submitting herself willingly to her husband for Christ’s sake.
Secondly, in that submission there is nothing more beautiful and supportive that you can give to your husband than those summarizing words in Ephesians 5:33, husbands love; wives respect. Psychologically, God’s wisdom is evidenced in the fact that husbands need nothing more than respect. Even if they are not loved but respected. They need love. But they need respect even more — that you show him respect for his God-given position, respect to him as God’s gift to you, respect to the tender conscience towards God.
Finally this. I have no doubt about the greatness of this responsibility as a husband or as a wife who is now a Christian. I am sure that there is not anyone here who is perfect and has done so perfectly. I also have no doubt that today you can decide, for Christ’s sake, in gratitude for forgiveness of all of your past failings, to recapture the spirit of Christ and of the gospel and to realize that in Christ you can do all things and He will supply all your need. And you can rejoice in the Lord who gave you the husband or wife that He gave you and to exercise yourself in that grace, that wonderful, unfailing, amazing, undeserved, saving grace that is ours just because God wanted to give it to us. No reason in us. You thank Him and do not stop thanking Him (you won’t in heaven!).
May God give us the grace to bow to His command.