The Wife's Core Role
May 07, 2017 | Randy Smith
The Wife's Core RoleEphesians 5:22-24
Sunday, May 7, 2017
Pastor Randy Smith
We now begin one of the most famous sections in Paul's letter to the Ephesians. And the opinions of people regarding this section reach their most divergent conclusions: timely or outdated, hope or oppression, cherished or despised. The expectations stated in God's Word are clear. Yet the question we must answer is two-fold: Are they applicable for today and if so has the church rightly interpreted these verses over the past 2,000 years?
Today we will study the core role for the wife. Next week we will study the core role for the husband.
Before we jump into our passage, let's take a look at the context. As we have been learning in chapter 5, Paul goes out of his way to make sure we understand who we are in Christ. The biblical commands are not arbitrary. They are rooted in our new nature. They are rooted in God's character. They are rooted in Gospel traits. Obeying God is simply living out who we are in Christ. In other words, obeying God will not only bring us joy, but it's also what will give evidence we are saved.
Near the end of chapter 5 we are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit (verse 18). Evidence we filled with the Spirit is then provided in verses 19-21. It will be seen in how we speak, sing, cherish Christ, give thanks and (verse 21) "be subject to one another in the fear of Christ."
As I told you when we last studied this verse, the common interpretation of verse 21 can be summed up in two words: "mutual submission." In other words, in every relationship there needs to be a little "give and take." We need to submit to the needs of others and not always demand our own way. We need to "give preference to one another" (Rom. 12:10), "regard one another as more important than yourself" (Phil. 2:3). We are talking about love, humility, selflessness in relationships. Yes - important, godly and definitely biblical instruction. Only problem is I do not believe it is the biblical instruction being taught here in verse 21. We call this "right doctrine from the wrong text."
You see, all of chapter 5 is an outline that gets further fleshed out with additional subpoints. Subpoint - be filled with the Spirit. Five subpoints from there end with the need to be subject to one another. Then further digression. There are further subpoints (three to be exact starting in 5:22 and ending in 6:9) explaining the domains where God wants us submissive.
You must see the expectations for the family (in 5:22-6:4 - husbands, wives, parents, children) listed not merely to have a more cohesive, joyful and productive household. That's definitely true and we will honor God in that regard, but ultimately they are listed to exalt Christ, to proclaim His name as King over all creation.
Ephesians 1 says the Father has put all things under Christ (Eph. 1:10). In that regard, He has established levels or spheres of authority all under His authority. When we recognize the authorities over us, we are ultimately submitting to Christ and honoring Him for His appointed chain of command. God has established authorities in the government, the workplace, the church and the home. God expects us to know and submit to them when appropriate. In doing so, 5:21, we give evidence we are being filled by the Holy Spirit.
Today we will look at the home, specifically, the role of the wife.
We have the Lord's Table today and a lot to cover so let's jump right into the passage. For some, it's the most detested, ignored and misunderstood verse in the Bible. Let's see what the Bible has to say for itself. Verse 22, "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord."
1. Christ's Supremacy (verse 22)
Let's first look at this from the supremacy of Christ perspective. I'll put these in eight thoughts.
One, submission is not a "bad thing." Elsewhere in the Scripture we read that the Son of God is always submissive to the Father of God. For example, 1 Corinthians 11:3, "Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ." We also know that the Father and the Son share the same principles of deity in the Godhead. To say that the Son is inferior because He submits to the order in the Trinity is heresy. Same essence, different function or role.
The same can be said of the marriage. Women are not lesser, second-rate or substandard to the man. After all, Paul just went through great lengths in chapters 2 and 3 to celebrate the reality that we are all one in Christ that all dividing walls have been abolished. Women have equal worth and are equally loved by God. There are 1 Peter 3:7, "a fellow heir of the grace of life."
Two, the Greek word used here for submission is the word, "hupotasso." Literally it means "to place yourself under." Children in 6:1 are called to "obey" ("hupakouo"). There is a big difference between the two words. Submission is a voluntary action on the wife's part to acknowledge the leadership role that the husband has been given by God and to encourage him and support him in the process. It should be done intelligently, willingly and joyfully.
And the motivation for the wife is not on the husband's Christlike leadership (although that certainly helps!), but rather the fact that she has been commanded this by the Lord and she ultimately seeks to obey her Savior. You see how verse 22 ends? "As to the Lord." Submitting is not because the husband is worthy of it. No man is! Submitting is the wife's desire to be obedient to Christ. It's in a sense seeing through your husband with your eyes primarily on your Savior.
Three, what submission is not. Submission does not mean that a wife can't express her disagreement. It does not mean that she can't offer her opinions. As a matter of fact, if a husband is a good leader and respecting of the "one-flesh" principle with his wife, as it pertains to decisions, he will wisely solicit her input. He will seek wise counsel along with her. He will give her time to think about it. He will pray with her over decisions. He will maximize her giftedness. He will help his wife reach her full potential. He will at times in preference issues give way to his wife's desires.
Yet when it comes to spiritual matters, the husband must take the decisive stance as to what He feels the Lord is calling Him to do in the best interest of the family. After all ladies let's remember, God is and will hold the man accountable. Remember Adam and Eve? Eve was mainly at fault, but God called out Adam for the sin. Adam brought on the curse, something forever known as "Adam's sin." It took none other than God in the flesh (the "second Adam") to fix the mess.
Four, submission of a woman to a man is only in the context of marriage. I do a lot of weddings and before the wedding conduct many sessions of premarital counseling with the engaged couple. When we go through this material, I remind the young man that I as her pastor and her father right now technically at this point have more authority over his fiancé than he does.
Five, the man's leadership is not decided or based upon his giftedness, wisdom, intelligence, strength or spirituality. From my observations, quite often the wife exceeds her husband in many of these areas. It is decided by God and it is based on His design. Men are called to love their wives as Christ loves the church. Women are called to represent the church and follow their husbands as the church follows Christ. Husbands are called to love their wives enough to die for them. Wives are called to love their husbands enough to live for them. There are no role-less marriages. Someone needs to be in charge. For several reasons, God has appointed the man.
Six, should wives submit to their husbands in literally everything? Of course not! They submit to their husbands, verse 22, "as to the Lord." If they are ever called to sin they have a much higher allegiance to obey.
Seven, the fall has messed up these roles. The problem is not God's roles for marriage. The problem is sin. Genesis 3:16, husbands will want to dominate their wives and wives will want to usurp their husband's authority. Christ reverses this. Men lead though loving sacrifice, by service and example. Women submit through respecting and honoring their husbands. If wives are nagging, criticizing, belittling or acting independent of their husbands, not only are they disobedient, but they also will do nothing to encourage his spirit (see 1 Peter 3 and many Proverbs).
Eight, there is no way around this interpretation. An examination of the other passages in the Bible when talking about marriage roles (Colossians 3, Titus 2, 1 Peter 3) all say the same thing. 1 Peter 3 even says the principle is true even if your husband is an unbeliever. Also, the Bible's arguments for these roles do not go back to an ancient culture (whereby we can claim that they are outdated), but rather back to the creation order. And by the way, creation order, yes, Eve was created as the man's "helper," but when she was made Adam did not say, "Thank you God for this slave that I can dominate with my sinful, chauvinistic desires." He said, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man" (Gen. 2:23)
2. Christ's Church (verses 23-24)
So women submit to obey Christ and respect Christ's spheres of appointed authority and Lord over all in creation (our first point). Now let's look at this from the perspective of the church. Here is another reason (our second point) why God has established roles within the marriage.
Let's back up. A question for you. Why did God create marriage? Procreation? Good Companionship? Sure. But what is the primary reason? It's often overlooked. Paul says it right here in chapter 5 of Ephesians. In the context of human marriage he says in verse 32, "This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church." Our marriages are to show forth the divine marriage between Jesus and the church.
Think about all the verses that pertain to marriage. One flesh with our spouses. Why? Because we are one with Christ. Don't divorce? Why? Would Jesus ever divorce the church? One man and one woman. Why? Jesus and His bride. Sex after marriage. Why? Consummation (salvation with Christ) and then intimacy. No adultery. Why? Should we forsake Christ and run after false gods? Harmony in marriage. Why? To show peace with Christ. Men lead, women submit. Why? Christ leads the church submits.
You see, even the roles established in marriage are to show forth the Gospel! What we are saying is that your marriage has been designed for a grand purpose. Do people see your marriage and are immediately pointed to Christ and His love for the church that He purchased at the cost of His blood?
Look at verse 23. "For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body."
Do you see the comparison? As Christ is the head of the church, the man is to represent Christ and be head of the family.
So what does it mean to be "head?" Well, a lot of that we will cover next week, but for now the meaning in this verse has to come from the context. Twice, Paul has already used the word "head" ("kephale") in Ephesians. In both of those occasions (Eph. 1:22; 4:15) it emphasizes the fact that Christ has everything under His domain and stands as head over creation.
It never means "source" as some wish to assert. It means leadership. As Christ is appointed head over creation, now under the lordship of Christ husbands are appointed head over his family. Again, not because he is better, but because of God's divine design to show for the relationship with His beloved church.
In verse 23, while addressing the women, Paul does in a sense address the men in the final clause of the verse. What kind of head is Christ? He is a sacrificial head that dies for His subjects.
"He himself," we read, "being the Savior of the body." A Christian woman would always welcome Christ as her head (which He ultimately is), so in a lesser sense if the husband truly takes His cues from Christ (love, example, humility, protector, provider, gentleness, wisdom, self-denial, holiness, sacrifice) she should gladly welcome her husband as head as both the husband and the wife filled with the Spirit are ultimately submitting to Christ.
And if he didn't make his point clear, he says the same thing in a different way in verse 24. "But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything." Again, not anything that disobeys the Lord, but everything in the sense of every area of life.
So, some final thoughts. Wives, you heard the command. Do you see why God first called you to be "filled with the Holy Spirit?" Apart from His enabling, compliance in this area will be impossible. Remember, ladies, your role is there without consideration for your husband's behavior. Obedience to God is unconditional. Though you should never disobey the Lord nor should you subject yourself to physical abuse, following through is primarily aimed at honoring the Lord in everything. Therefore, keep your focus on Him. And always remind yourself that God is ultimately holding your husband accountable. Support your husband. Respect Him. Pray for Him. Encourage Him when he displays selfless, Christlike, loving leadership.
Single ladies, it all begins with your attitude toward your father. And by all means single ladies , marry a Christian man !
And men, you will get your turn next week. As a matter of fact, you will learn that your role is actually more difficult than your wife's role. That's why many pastors preach the man's role first. Yes, your wife has the responsibility to submit, but you can make that really easy or really difficult for her. Lead as Christ leads. Listen to your wife and include her in your decisions. Make wise, godly choices for the family to earn her trust. Lead mainly by example. Grow in Christlikeness. And so important, if you want your wife to submit, help her by showing an example of your submission to the government, submission to your boss and submission to the elders of the church.
My friends, God gives us His commands for our good. Trust Scripture and not society. When this is done right, it works! It given women true biblical freedom. It provides order in the family. It demonstrates and displays the Gospel. It exalts Christ who is the head over all authority.