Wives Who are Subject to Their Husbands

January 30, 2011 / No. 3552

Dear Radio Friends,
Is there trouble in your marriage? Are you at odds with your spouse? Are you not talking much these days? Are you wondering how all this happened? You were once so in love and your future looked so bright, but now things just get worse and worse in your relationship. And you wonder, can these things ever be turned around?
There are a number of different causes for marital problems. It could be poor communication. You do not share your lives and you do not listen well. Another cause can be difficult circumstances and the frustrations that result—with money, with children, with intimacy. Still another cause can be religious differences. Or the cause can be the heart attitudes of selfishness, pride, jealousy, hatred, and so on.
But, perhaps the biggest and main cause for marital problems is simply this: disobedience to God’s will for marriage—a refusal to live in marriage according to the Word of God—the idea that we know better than God and we will figure it out our way. I say that this is perhaps the main cause of marital conflict.
Often, soon after a young couple marry, maybe a few years, they find their marriage on the rocks. Before they married, they saw others with marriage issues, but they never dreamed that this would happen to them. After all, they were madly in love. But now they are in trouble. How did this happen? This way. Your marriage cannot survive on the feeling of love. More important in marriage than love for your spouse is obedience to God. Marriages end up on the rocks because men and women do not prepare themselves for marriage by discovering God’s will for marriage and resolving to follow that in their marriages. Instead, they think they can live simply on their feelings.
On this radio program, we have been talking about marriage and the family. God designed marriage, and He has clearly defined the position and role of husband and wife. When we follow God’s design, our marriages will bring honor to God and will be a blessing to us.
Last week we looked at the position and duties of the man in marriage. His position from God is that he is to be the head and leader of his wife and home. His main duty as a husband is to love his wife. In his position, he must model himself after Jesus Christ, who as head and leader has a servant’s heart and who, in His love, gave Himself for His church.
Today we want to look at the place and duties of the wife. In this message I am not going to be giving you what are simply my opinions. I want to bring you the teaching of the Word of God. God, in the beginning, made the woman. He is the architect of the woman. We want to see what His purpose and design is for the woman.
The Bible’s teaching on this is not popular. You might even find yourself reacting negatively to it as you listen. But I believe that the godly woman, the woman of faith, who believes in Jesus Christ for her salvation and who uses the Bible as the guide for her living, will agree with and want to obey God’s will for her from the Bible.
So, what is God’s will and design for the woman in marriage? What is her position in relation to her husband?
The New Testament is very clear on this. Corresponding to the husband’s calling to be the head of his wife, the wife is called to be in subjection to her husband. Consider these New Testament passages: Ephesians 5:22ff., “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as…the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” Let “the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Eph. 5:33). Colossians 3:18: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” I Peter 3, the first 6 verses: “Ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands…[as] the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.” I Corinthians 11:3 says that the head of the woman is the man. I Timothy 2:12 says that the woman should not usurp authority over the man. And Titus 2:4 and 5 says that the young women should love their husbands, love their children, be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. One cannot read the Bible any other way than that the woman’s position is to be subject to the headship of her husband.
So, what does this mean for her and what does it look like?
First, it does not mean that the wife becomes a slave to her husband, or that she may never open her mouth to express an opinion or to question her husband or that the wife becomes an introvert whose abilities lie dormant. This may be the way women are treated and viewed in Eastern religions and Islam. But this is not, most definitely not, the way of the Bible. Christian men who treat their wives like this ought to be ashamed and to repent of such unloving and sinful behavior that arises from their own insecurity and pride. Just read what Proverbs 31 says about the virtuous woman and you will see that she is resourceful and intelligent, that she takes the initiative, and that she is respected by her husband and children.
Then also, submission does not mean that the wife is inferior to the husband. The concept of submission or subjection does not make the wife inferior. Jesus Christ was not inferior to Joseph and Mary. And yet we read in Luke 2:51 that He was “subject to them.” He remained God, their creator, and their Savior. And yet, He was subject to them. This did not take away any of His dignity as God. This is true in real life in other relationships. In society and in the workplace, we are under authority of government and employer. This does not make the citizen inferior to those in government or the employee inferior to his boss. No, it is simply a part of the way that God has ordered society. And so it is in the home, too. The role that God has given the woman takes nothing away from her status and position before God.
So God has clearly ordained that the wife be subject to her husband. This means that she willingly places herself under his authority and headship and that she will obey him in all things lawful. This submission is primarily an attitude of her heart toward her husband and toward God. Or, at least, that is where this behavior begins.
As Jesus came to do the will of the Father, He said, “I delight to do thy will, O my God” (Ps. 40:8). That is different than a begrudging attitude of resignation. And so it should be with the wife’s submission. Proverbs 31 tells us that the virtuous woman works “willingly with her hands.” She finds great satisfaction in using all her God-given resources to meet the needs of her husband and family. Ephesians 5:33 says that she should “reverence,” or respect, “her husband.” That is an attitude of admiration and esteem for her husband. This has to do, not just with her attitude toward her husband, but ultimately her attitude toward God. The submission of the wife is a spiritual matter, a matter that has to do with her relationship to God. She must do it (Eph. 5:22) “as to the Lord.”
The wife must look on her calling to submit as a test of her obedience and love for God. Jesus said to His disciples, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” And one of His commandments to the wife is to pattern herself after His bride, the church, who is subject to Him. You see, ladies, it really has little to do with your husband and his demands and expectations. It has little to do with his abilities and talents and wisdom, his education, or even his spiritual state and the way that he treats you. But first, submission is about God and His expectations of you as a wife.
A woman will do this. She will submit out of love for God and for the honor of God. Titus 2 says that she does this “so that the word of God is not blasphemed.” Sometimes we can live in a way that brings dishonor to God’s Word. The Christian wife will love her husband and be subject to him for the sake of God’s name and honor. And the only women who will do this are those whom God helps, whom God has changed by His Holy Spirit, so that they have the grace and inner strength to do this because they love God. I Peter 3 says that the believing woman who adorns the hidden man of her heart with the incorruptible ornament of a meek and quiet spirit has adorned herself with that which is in the sight of God of great price or value. This is what God looks for in a woman.
The pattern for this, according to Ephesians 5, is the church’s relationship of submission to Jesus Christ. Now, sad to say, today much of the church has become a rebellious bride. But the idea is that, just as a church will submit to the rule of Christ by following His word, teaching His truth, following and submitting to His rule, and living for Him alone, so ought the wife in relation to her husband. This relationship of the church to Christ helps us to identify a couple of characteristics of submission.
First, this submission is voluntary. By voluntary, I do not mean, optional. If it is commanded of God, there really is no other option. But this is what I mean. The church is not subject to Christ because she is forced against her will. Rather, she is subject because of the wonderful grace of God that changes her from being a rebel to being a beautiful wife. Psalm 110:3 says that God makes His people willing in the day of His power. And so it is here. So overpowering and overcoming is the love of Christ that the church wants to submit to Him. Nowhere in the Bible is the husband told to force his wife, physically, into submission. It is the wife who is commanded to make herself submissive. And this she will do willingly in an environment of love.
Second, this submission is complete. Ephesians 5:24 says, “as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” In every thing! There is no area where the church is not subject to Christ. The church may not say, “We will be subject to Christ in the area of doctrine but not worship.” The church may not say, “We will obey the command of Christ to teach our children but not His command to preach the gospel to all nations.” The church may not say, “We will submit to Him at certain times, but the rest of the time we are free to think and to do as we please.” In every thing the church should be subject to Christ. Her submission is total and comprehensive.
And Ephesians 5 says, so it should be for the wife. Her submission is not to be selective, a choose-what-you-like and reject-what-you-don’t-like kind of attitude. The wife should not say, “I will be subject to you so long as you give me what I want,” or “so long as you are nice to me.” No! In every thing she allows her husband to be the head, the final decision-maker and leader in the home.
Now, of course, that raises a question. What if the husband expects something of his wife that God forbids? Or, what if her husband tries to keep her from doing what God commands? Then the Bible teaches that she is to be subject first to the Lord. She obeys her husband “in the Lord.” The Bible does not tell her to obey in everything but, rather, to be submissive, to be subject in everything. And there is a difference. At times the believer may be called to disobey those in authority because obedience would mean sin. But even then, the believer must show respect to the authority-figure and even, sometimes, submit himself to consequences. I think, for example, of Christians who are persecuted for serving the Lord. The government forbids them to worship God. God commands it, so they go ahead and worship God and consequences come in their life. Still, they are called to respect those in authority. In such cases, the wife must maintain her meek and quiet spirit with the prayer that by her godly conduct, perhaps even her husband may be gained for the Lord. That is the teaching of Peter in I Peter 3:1.
Now, I want to conclude this message by pointing to several practical ways in which the wife may carry out this calling of submission. We must realize that this calling is positive. It emphasizes what the wife should do, and not what she should not do. That means that in submission the wife will put all her talents and abilities and resources and energy forward to promote the name and the well-being of her husband and family. Just as the husband, who is the head, must have a servant’s heart, so will she be in submission. She will see herself as part of her husband’s team—not his opponent, fighting to undermine his position and to undo his purposes. She is not an individual, going her own way, but she is a companion of her husband in the home.
And so, ladies, wives, here are some biblical suggestions on how to implement this in a practical way in your marriage.
First, in relation to your husband, be good to him. Proverbs 31 says of the virtuous woman, she will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. Show appreciation to your husband for who he is and for what he does. Care for him by showing an interest in his problems and concerns. As Philippians 2 says, “Look not on your own things, but also on the things of others.” Be trustworthy and dependable, as Proverbs 31:11 says, “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her.” Yes, offer suggestions and advice to him, but not in defiance of him. Let your communication be in love. Do not cut him down with humor or by constantly pointing out his faults and mistakes. Instead, show confidence in him and his decision so that he does not become indecisive or defensive or reactionary. Love your husband. Communicate your love with appropriate affection and giving of yourself to and for him. And so, first, in relation to your husband: be good to him.
Second, in relation to your home and family, make your house a home by creating an environment of encouragement and comfort, of understanding and a refuge. Be a housekeeper, so that the home is not a chaotic shambles full of disorder and confusion. But also avoid making the house a showplace where it becomes impossible to live. Be frugal, be industrious, be diligent, be ambitious, like the wife of Proverbs 31
. In the rearing of your children, cooperate with your husband rather than fighting against him and putting the children in the middle of your arguments. Be loyal to your husband in front of your children. Do not take sides with the children or complain against your husband to the children. Settle all your disputes with your husband in private, away from your children.
Third, in relation to yourself and before God, maintain a good spiritual life so that you do your work before the Lord. Cultivate the inner beauty of meekness. Work on an attitude of forgiveness and longsuffering in your relationships. Be honest. Have the love that believes the best about others. Be content and satisfied with your calling from God. Find joy in serving and not selfish ends. Do not be covetous of what other women might have in a husband. God has given you your man.
These are all things that can come only when, in relation to God, you have a proper heart of repentance and faith and submission. And that means examining yourself in light of these truths. Are you really living in submission to your husband? Are you really his helper? The calling that God gives you is very difficult, in fact impossible apart from the grace of Jesus Christ. In Christ alone is deliverance from our natural spirit of rebellion. Through Him you have forgiveness of all your failures of the past. In Him is the power in the present to overcome any sinful attitude and to become the wife that God wills you to be as a woman. In repentance, ask God for His grace. This grace is the same saving grace by which Christ prepares His bride so that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish. Knowing and experiencing the power of Christ’s love, you, too, can live this way with your husband.
Let us pray.
Father, we confess that marriage has been perfectly designed by Thee. Help us to live in the place designed for us, for our benefit, and for the glory of Thy name, Amen.