“Likewise ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands.” (1Pe 3:1)
Is there a topic that is more intimidating and controversial than this one — that wives ought to be submissive to their husbands, obedient to them and under their authority in the home? Just mentioning the topic makes many of us uncomfortable, and perhaps even angry.
In spite of this, I find it needful to write on the subject, to describe what I see in Scripture, because I think it is very important that we are fully informed about what God says … and I don’t find any current literature or teaching that squares with what I see for myself in the Bible. Christians of earlier times seem to me to have understood these things pretty well, but not today. I am afraid the Church has lost her way here: believers in modern western culture no longer understand God’s pattern for the home because no one seems willing to teach it.
Whether or not we like what the Bible says is not the point: my concern lies in our ignorance of what God says. Once we fully understand God and his ways we can ask Him to change our hearts to conform to His will. But we cannot do this intelligently, grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ, if we are deceived about His will and His nature.
My primary role then is an informer … I am primarily a messenger. I didn’t write the Good Book, I am merely a student of it, reading it for myself and trying to understand it. However, I also believe it is the Word of God, so I will not apologize for what it says. I want to obey it, in every way that I can, and to encourage others to obey it as well.
I hope you will consider the facts I present here and honestly evaluate the evidence for yourself. You are the only one who will die with your beliefs; God will hold no one else accountable for your thinking except you. We need to challenge each other to pursue God’s ways and help each other out when one of us goes astray in some way. If you think I am in error in how I am interpreting Scripture, if I have misunderstood or misrepresented the Word in any way, or if you think my spirit about this is wrong in some way, then I would very much like to know and I invite you to help me see His way more clearly. Personally, I find no joy in getting beat up for promoting a lie … or for promoting the truth in a prideful, arrogant or self-serving manner. If I am going to suffer … I’d much prefer to do so innocently.
A Word of Caution
To My Brothers
Before we get into this together I would like to offer an obvious word of warning to disgruntled husbands and to men in general: one must be very careful to resist any desire to control and manipulate another with Scripture. Any husband reading this with a mind to manipulate his wife and make her feel guilty is being both hypocritical and extremely unwise. Men should not spend their time trying to get women to behave, but rather in wrestling out their own calling and responsibility before God as husbands … until the truth has humbled them and set them earnestly on the path of servanthood. Then, as servants, we may rightly pursue truth for ourselves and offer it humbly to others who are also seeking it.
The standards of God’s Word are very high for all of us, both for men and women. As we fall into disappointment or grief when the holy standards of God are not met by another, we should first stop and examine our own hearts. How would it feel if others looked down on us or complained because we do not love our neighbors as ourselves? Very few of us do this well.
Jesus Christ said He “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:28) Those who follow Him do not leverage the scriptures to try and get others to serve them. Believers search the scriptures in order to know and obey the truth for themselves, and to help others who are seeking truth to find it. The only holy motivation I find in pursuing this topic is love of the truth, springing from a faith that all of God’s commands are for our welfare and that obedience to God brings our Lord pleasure and honor.
To My Sisters
Finally, I must offer one more gentle word of warning … and this is for my devout sisters, especially those who are married, and even more especially to those married to callous men. To the best of my knowledge, I am writing to honor God by re-opening the door of God’s Word as wide as I can on this subject, but I am painfully aware that this presents a danger to honest souls in a culture such as ours.
In this particular area regarding the duty of a wife our culture is now extremely broken. You probably don’t have an accurate sense yet for how broken it actually is: personally, it takes my breath away. As you read on, you may begin to see how far off the mark even the most conservative teaching on the home still is here. When we are faced with the truth in all of its fullness in the midst of such a wicked and perverse generation it can indeed be entirely overwhelming, especially at first, even for the most holy souls among us. For this I would like to apologize in advance, and offer a perspective that may help to reduce your frustration.
If in response to reading this you are moved beyond common cultural and religious expectations, as I encourage you to pursue God’s way, the reality is that you may be doing so entirely on your own, without the support of others in the Church, or in your extended family, or among your friends, or in society at large. This makes a difficult task nearly impossible without miraculous help from God.
In moving forward in your pursuit of God, I encourage you to move very slowly, very deliberately, and in a way that you can be assured of the grace and leading of God as you go. Take your time and make it a journey, a healthy one; be patient with yourself and do not let the enemy beat you up as you fall along the way. We all do.
You may find yourself treading alone, forging an untamed trail in a rugged wilderness. Even the sturdiest souls need company on such a journey. Please, do not become bitter in obedience: if the way becomes too much for you to handle, take a breather and wait for strength to keep moving ahead. Just keep getting up and going on after God and His ways as He gives you strength to do so as unto Him. Hopefully your example will encourage others to follow, and you will be able to comfort and encourage them. May God have mercy on you, and on us all. We definitely need it.
In speaking the truth in love, it is my hope that believing wives may be led to carefully ponder God’s full instruction for personal application, come to know the truth, start obeying it more and more fully, and in this be set free. I enjoin all other believers to seek an understanding of God’s ways in order to know and worship Him in spirit and in truth, and to equip themselves in discipleship to help others establish godly life patterns and beliefs.
A Brief Survey of Biblical Content
Let us begin by looking briefly at the three key passages in God’s Word that address the mutual responsibilities of husbands and wives: Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 3:18-19 and 1st Peter 3:1-7. Each passage addresses the wife first and then the husband. Each passage tells the wife essentially the same thing: she is to be subject to her husband.
Ephesians 5:22-4 says: “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 savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” God directs the wife to yield to the headship of her husband, to submit to him and to be subject to him, in everything, just like the Church is subject to Christ. He concludes by instructing the wife to, “see that she reverence (phobeo, fear) her husband.” (Ep 5:33) God says a wife is to be sure to have a wholesome, godly fear of her husband, which is not the same as saying she should respect and honor him. We are all commanded to respect and honor each other (1Pe 2:17) … she is being called to something much more here.
Colossians 3:18 says the same thing: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” The Greek word for submit (hupotasso) is the same as in Ephesians, and describes how a church leader is to have his children “in subjection with all gravity,” (1Ti 3:4) and how God the Father has subdued all things under the dominion of Jesus Christ: “Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet.” (He 2:8)
We find the same in 1st Peter 3:1-6, where we began:
“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.“
God exhorts the wife to have a chaste fearfulness about her that is plainly visible to her husband, a demeanor that is so striking and appealing to her husband that she wins his heart to godliness, should he be taken with some fault or sinfulness, without so much as a word from her. She should strive to be meek — not easily hurt or offended — and quiet as a manner of life.
Toward the end of this passage God indicates that it is appropriate for the wife to address her husband as her lord. He uses the Greek word kurios, the word He uses hundreds of times to refer to the Lord Jesus Christ, and translated “master” in the master-servant relationship. (Ep 6:5)
If I read the end of the text correctly, when God concludes by saying, “as long as ye do well,” he is stating that a wife should only consider herself to be a daughter of Abraham if she is following God’s pattern here. Evidently, this concept is so fundamental to the calling and role of married women that to violate it willfully is to resist the entire way of God Himself; evidently this is something no child of God can do, on purpose anyway, as a manner of life.
The above three texts above do not appear to me to be unusual in their content; the entire tenor of Scripture appears to be consistent with them. Let us briefly look at other relevant texts in Scripture to verify this.
1st Corinthians 14:34-35 says: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” God says it is shameful for women to speak in church, and that women “are commanded to be under obedience” (hupotasso) in any public meeting. He says this concept is expressed in His Law, the Torah, and that it is binding on the Church. He says that this principle is so important that a wife is to wait until she returns home before she asks her husband a question about something taught in a meeting.
1st Timothy 2:12-14 says: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” God says that a woman is not to take to herself a position of authority over a man or to teach a man with authority, but she is generally to remain silent. Instead of orienting His concern around local examples of public disorder, perhaps involving outspoken women in the churches at the time (which is a common thought in addressing the text now), God states that He has purposefully designed the woman’s role this way: He formed Adam first, then Eve. He adds as further warrant that it was Eve who was deceived, and that she was the first in transgression against Himself.
God elaborates further on such principles in this immediate context by instructing all women to walk in “shamefacedness.” (1Ti 2:9) This word means to have a tender blush in the countenance, as though in the presence of a superior.
Titus 2:3-5 says: “The aged women likewise, that they be in behavior as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” As older women disciple younger women in the basics of godliness they are to encourage them to be obedient (hupotasso) to their own husbands so that the testimony and witness the Church gives of God to the world is not disqualified, discredited and spoken of wickedly by outsiders.
We began by looking at instruction in the New Testament … where the loving kindness and mercy of God are perhaps more evident. What about the Old? In Exodus, in the Decalogue and immediately following it, God speaks of a wife as a servant to her husband, as his property, embedding this concept in the very first principles of Law. (Ex 20:17, 21:2-4, 21:7-8) Everything we find in the New Testament is evidently based upon this foundation.
Before the Law, even before the Fall, Adam names his wife: Woman, Eve. Elsewhere in the Word of God, when someone names another … it is evidently an expression of ownership, authority, and dominion (R.C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind, 2003), as when Adam named the animals, parents name their children, or when Christ gave new names to His Apostles … and as He does to each one of His saints. (Re 2:17)
According to the Biblical narrative, Eve was made explicitly for Adam. (1Co 11:9) Before and entirely apart from the Fall of Man, God has evidently provided an orientation for gender-based roles in the way He created Woman and presented her to Man. Her life came from Adam’s life; in Creation she was dependent on Man, sourced in and from Man. God then brought her to Adam without a name, without an explicit identity as a creature. As Adam gave to Woman identity, both as a kind of creature and as an individual, it seems reasonable to deduce that God also deferred to Adam the task of teaching Eve the names of the animals, the details of the garden paradise, and also His Word: God’s command concerning the Tree of Knowledge. God evidently designed Woman’s entry into the world such that everything she needed to know about herself and her world came through Man. Woman is taken from Man for Man, and depends upon Man for instruction and guidance. God appears to apply these basic principles repeatedly in orienting domestic, religious, and cultural behavior.
And as He does in the beginning, God concludes His revelation to us by pointing out that all twenty-four human names embedded in the eternal city, in its gates and in its foundations, are masculine names (Re 21:12-14). In concluding and summarizing earthly history, a history of God consistently delegating the leadership role to the male gender, God stamps an eternal reminder into the very structure of our eternal home. Though many godly women rose to places of great influence and public respect in God’s kingdom, as Miriam, Moses’ sister, and Deborah, a judge of Israel, not a single female throughout the biblical record was ever explicitly and formally appointed by God to a leadership position. I cannot find a single one.
An Early Exposition
To provide some historical context to our understanding of these passages, we do well to look at the opinions of devout men who provided their thoughts on them in times past, well before the rise of militant feminism. Take for example the commentary of John Gill, a widely read and well-respected Baptist theologian writing in the mid-eighteenth century, a contemporary of George Whitfield during the First Great Awakening whose congregation was eventually inherited by Charles Spurgeon, who says the following on Ephesians 5:22:
“This is an instance, explaining the above general rule; which subjection lies in honour and reverence (Ep 5:33), and in obedience; wives should think well of their husbands, speak becomingly to them, and respectfully of them; the wife should take care of the family, and family affairs, according to the husband’s will; should imitate him in what is good, and bear with that which is not so agreeable; she should not curiously inquire into his business, but leave the management of it to him; she should help and assist in caring and providing for the family; and should abide with him in prosperity and adversity, and do nothing without his will and consent: and this subjection is only to her husband; not to any other man, nor to her children, nor to her servants, or any brought into her house; and this consideration should render the subjection more easy, voluntary, and cheerful: and which is but reasonable that it should be; as may be gathered from the time, matter, and end of the woman’s creation, she was made after him, out of him, and for him; and from her fall, and being first in the transgression; and from her being the weaker and inferior sex; and from the profitableness and comeliness of it; and the credit of religion requires it, that so the word of God be not blasphemed: wherefore it follows, as unto the Lord; that is, either as the Lord has commanded, that so it should be, showing a regard to his precepts; or as in the sight of the Lord, and so yielding it sincerely and heartily; or in things pertaining to the Lord, which are consistent with the law of the Lord, and the Gospel of Christ; and in like manner as the church is subject to Christ, her Lord and husband.”
This exposition by Gill is one example of many which illustrate how earnest Christians have viewed the above biblical passages for centuries. It is only fairly recently that the Church has lost her way on this subject and ignored the plain teaching of Scripture, evidently being intimidated by an ungodly culture as it moves farther and farther away from God’s pattern for the home.
After such an introduction, perhaps it is a bit more obvious why I feel the need to write. I trust we can agree that what we see above, in both the Scripture and in early commentary, is no longer explained, taught, encouraged or practiced in our churches or culture. Instead, today we are confronted by very strong and common objections to any practical application of these concepts, ways in which Christian teachers take the Scripture itself out of context to entirely discount and ignore these texts. It does not take long to discover what these objections are; trying to address the above in any public context exposes them very quickly.
From my experience, in distilling all of the objections and separating fact from sentiment, there is only one compelling text that is used to dismantle all practical application of the above, and it is found in Ephesians 5:21. Just before telling wives to submit to their husbands, God tells us all to submit to one another: “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” (Ep 5:21) In this text, God uses the same word submit (hupotasso) to describe the general disposition that any believer should have toward all other believers.
Those who wish to discount everything we have just noted in Scripture about the role of women in the home (and in Church and society) generally go straight to this text and claim that husbands are to submit to wives — in just the same way — that wives are to submit to husbands. They then claim there is no final authority in the home and that no decisions are to be made without mutual consent.
I think the best answer to this objection is to note the fallacy in reasoning that God is calling us all to submit to each other — “in just the same way” — that wives are to submit to husbands. We can just apply this concept to the full scope of the text rather than just the marital roles and observe the obvious contradiction.
We may note from the wording of Ephesians 5:21 that there is no clear context to limit the relational scope of the command to submit to each other in the fear of God: parents are to submit to their children, teachers are to submit to their students, clergy are to submit to their congregants and parishioners, policemen are to submit to citizens, prison guards are to submit to inmates, and kings are to submit to their subjects. This is what the text is really teaching, for all of these types of people could in theory be present in a local assembly of believers. Is God telling us that there are no authorities in society, that there is to be no law enforcement, no government? It is not too difficult to see God’s intent if we use some common sense and think about how submission actually works.
When I take my dog for a morning run I find myself “submitting” to her. She wants to stop and relieve herself so she starts to drag on the leash and slow me down. I want to run and she wants to stop … but I defer to her and let her do her thing rather than forcing her to continue. But this deference, or submission if you will, is quite limited. When she wants to do more than relieve herself and starts sniffing here and there and forgetting we are on a run, I make a call to move on … and I exert some force on the leash if I need to.
When I interact with my children I often find myself submitting to them in a way, doing things they want when I’d prefer to be doing something else, and quietly tolerating behavior that I’d rather not. But they don’t run the family or even play a major role in many key decisions. There are clear limits to what I will allow and how they should participate. They seem to have a good sense for where this boundary is and they respect it. It would not be good for anyone if I neglected or denied my parental authority in our home.
I find the same is true with my wife, and with my brothers and sisters in the faith. I consider their needs before my own in many circumstances, and their interests and health as well as mine in most all circumstances. Even when I might think I have a “right” to exert my own will in a particular matter, I often defer to the needs and desires of those around me when I think it will benefit them. This is the call of basic Christian charity, and this is Ephesians 5:21: it is not a denial of authority.
A husband certainly is commanded to submit to his wife … in the same way that he is commanded to submit to anyone else in the church or in society – to other men, women and children in all walks of life. The context leading up to the command in verse 21 is not the family structure, but the local community of believers, which by extension has general application in any social context. In particular, the text is calling all the men within the local church to submit themselves to the community of believing men as a whole, deferring to each other in humility and love rather than exalting themselves and demanding their own way. That this is not a blind and unqualified submission in which men abandon their responsibility to think for themselves and provide direction for their families, but a directional call to facilitate loving, humble, interdependent accountability, is clear from looking at how the early church actually functioned, which we can study for ourselves in Acts and the Epistles.
In summary then, we may answer the only real objection to the biblical concept of the woman’s role by noting that there are degrees of submission, and that it is our duty to look at the general context of any particular command, and to the whole of Scripture, to determine the kind of submission that is appropriate in any given situation. We all are to consider all others as better than ourselves (Php 2:3) and in that sense to be “under” everyone else, or in a generally submitted posture, but we are all evidently not to submit to each other in the same way and to the same degree that we are to submit to government officials. There are differences in the nature of the submission that is required in each case.
The kind of submission applicable to wives is explained in the immediate context and is illustrated by the way that believers (the Church) submit to God Himself … which is evidently an extreme degree of submission, perhaps the most extreme we could imagine. Yet in looking at the whole of Scripture we shall see that even this type of submission is not absolute: a wife’s ultimate submission is finally to God and not to her husband; she should never sin against the plain commands of God or against basic human decency even if her husband demands it. So how do we know the godly counsel for a wife in any particular context? We need to proceed carefully and thoughtfully if we are to rightly divide the Word of Truth.
Perhaps it is good to follow this initial overview by considering some common examples of current Christian teaching on this topic and compare each one with what we have just seen in our overview of the Word. How well does each teacher seem to apply God’s design and what do we think is the ideal counsel in each situation? Perhaps this will give us a context in which to flesh out our initial thoughts on the duty and role of the wife and help us find a wholesome place to stand in the complexities of life as we face it today. We can then evaluate and refine our initial reaction to each scenario as we go deeper in our study and become more thorough in our understanding of God’s ways.
In the spring of 2001, as I listened to a famous Christian financial expert taking calls on live Christian radio, a woman called who was in conflict with her husband over a decision concerning his work.
The wife related that her husband wished to leave his current job, take a job with less compensation that he felt he would enjoy more, and have the wife go to work outside the home to help support the family. They had a young child and the wife wished to stay at home, but the husband wanted the child in day care while his wife worked to supplement his income. She did not want to leave the child in day care, she felt that neither she nor her husband would be comfortable on the reduced salary if she did not work, and she was calling the counselor for his advice.
Without hesitation, the host advised this woman to resist her husband, claiming that her desire to remain at home with her young child was good, and that her husband was being irresponsible in the matter of this job change. The advisor instructed the wife to tell her husband that she would only agree to cooperate with him if he would be willing to live for four months on the equivalent of the reduced income and try it out with her before he gave up his present job. Only then – if she consented after the four-month trial — should her husband be permitted to make the change.
Under no condition was the woman advised that she should go to work and leave her child at day care as her husband wished; this was not considered an appropriate outcome of the trial period. She was told that no major decisions in the home were to be made unless both she and her husband were in complete agreement on it. She was offered materials and literature to assist her in following through with this course of action, and the counselor was more than willing to speak directly with the husband on national radio and tell him the same thing before the Christian public.
The host seemed to take for granted that any reasonable Christian pastor would have counseled this woman similarly and that she could obtain equivalent encouragement practically anywhere in this effort to resist her husband. Indeed, there was no hint that this counselor was countering the normal standard of the Word of God or of the church in his advice, but the whole of it appeared to be offered as wholesome and godly counsel to the wife in her dilemma.
No one called in to the talk show host to disagree with him; the host offered no biblical texts in support of the advice he gave.
So what do you think of this counsel? What scripture encourages a wife to resist her husband in such a circumstance, when she thinks he is being irresponsible, or asking her to do something that is against her better judgment? We have already looked at all of the relevant biblical texts in our overview, so we have all the information we need to begin to sort this out.
Telling a wife to submit to her husband only when she agrees with him is empty — the command is only relevant when there is a real difference of opinion between a husband and wife. Putting children in day care is no small thing and may not be best for most families, but is it a sin? Can the wife look for ways to help out financially without leaving her children? Is there a way for her to help her husband take a job that he will enjoy more while they all live happy and healthy? We should first make suggestions to this end and see what she says.
Perhaps it will eventually come down to the fact that the husband actually is selfish and irresponsible and is unilaterally demanding his own way in this case. Can we read 1st Peter 3 honestly and still tell her to defy him? I cannot. I’d agree that day care is probably not best for kids, all else being equal, but I’d say that her defiance of her husband would be much worse for the general health of the family and for her own spirituality. Failing any appeal to reach a compromise, submitting to her husband and doing as he demands, while praying for God to change his heart, appears to me to be the only correct biblical response.
As I sat in a marriage conference the summer of 2001, I listened to a renowned pastor tell how he was called to the home of a couple in the midst of separating. The wife was packing her bags and the husband was in a panic. The pastor arrived at the home, and was passionately informed by the wife how she had lived in destitution with her husband for many years … with him controlling her every move. She had been reduced to begging for the car keys whenever she wanted to go about town, and to begging for money whenever she wanted any small thing. She was told when to go to bed, when to rise, what to cook … and that afternoon she had happened upon one of her husband’s bank statements. She had had no idea that they were … wealthy.
Just one of the husband’s bank statements reported a balance in excess of one hundred thousand dollars. The wife was exploding in exasperation. The husband looked to this pastor for help: “Tell my wife … ”
The pastor, author of a very conservative book on the biblical foundation for marriage (Marriage On The Rock), who ministered on national television restoring God’s design for the marriage relationship, who had helped many thousands of couples avoid divorce … looked alarmingly at him. “Sir, you have a BIG problem on your hands … and if I were you I would do something about it right now! I would not blame this woman at all if she left you. I’d not blame her one little bit! She has as much right to all this money as you do!” This was his simple counsel.
The pastor happened upon the couple in a restaurant several weeks later. The husband was not at all pleased to see him and was obvious about it. The wife was delighted, however, and informed the pastor that they were doing quite well. She was spending a LOT of money! And very glad to be doing so … much to the pastor’s pleasure.
This minister of the Word of God gave no compelling biblical text to justify his counsel. No one in the conference challenged him.
Again, if we look at the Word, was this godly counsel? Was this husband, miserly and overbearing as he appears to have been, requiring his wife to sin, or to violate common decency? Does the wife have the right to spend his wealth as she pleases?
Clearly, when a man understands the one-flesh principle of Ephesians 5, which was at the root of the counsel offered, he will not be so unreasonably domineering, unilateral and selfish in his marriage. But what should the wife do until he gets on board with God in this? Can we read Ephesians 5 and still tell her she is free to rebel against him? I cannot.
However, that said, if I were actually in this teacher’s shoes and confronted with this couple in the midst of their distress, knowing what I know about western culture and current domestic law, I don’t think I would have responded much differently, at least at first. If a man can’t see the stupidity of treating his wife like this, especially in western culture today, hiding his wealth from her and thinking she will never find out, much less the unhealthiness of doing so in light of God’s calling for husbands in Scripture … it is unwise at this point to honor his request and harass his wife, trying to coerce her into submitting to him. When she is heading out the door thinking about which attorney to call, there is not much of an option left. I would not have used this pastor’s same reasoning, but I think the sentiment of my response would have been very similar.
However, that said, I suggest that if the laws of our land did not allow a wife to strip her husband of half or more of his wealth, separate him from his home and children and force him to support herself and the children from a distance, as an outsider and a visitor, as she invites another man into the home to take his place, all at her whim and insistence, then I expect this scenario might have played out much differently, and the counsel of this teacher would not have worked at all.
The proper response here, as I trust we shall soon see, is to invite the husband into community with believing men who love their wives and who will challenge him to do the same, not encourage or support the wife in rebellion against him. The only godly counsel I can see for the wife, if she will hear it, is to continue to submit to and pray for her husband, and to ask God to give herself the grace to be thankful for him as she does.
A friend of mine went to his pastor … my pastor, at the time … for counseling on behalf of his wife. She was not interested in serving her husband or obeying him, and it was evidently generating some conflict in their home. My friend was hoping that our pastor would counsel with his wife and give her sound instruction in her proper duty in the home, for she refused to listen to his own teaching and she would not search the Scriptures for herself.
It was in fact both true and well known that a number of women had approached our pastor with similar complaints against their husbands, accusing their husbands of emotional neglect, insensitivity and harshness. Without exception, these women had been offered great encouragement and their husbands soberly counseled and warned. Our pastor had openly confronted a number of men in this regard and had counseled them plainly after the words of God to walk in love with their wives, to give them honor as unto the weaker vessel and to cherish and nourish their wives unconditionally as Christ does the Church. What was my pastor’s response to this man’s unusual request?
Instead of approaching the wife, my pastor scolded my brother for his selfishness, reprimanding him for his insensitivity and cold-heartedness. My pastor never spoke with his wife. Rather, my pastor gave this husband instruction in how to minister to and serve his wife, as Christ serves the church, and informed him that this was his most important task in life. He stated that all of the problems in his home and his wife’s unhappiness were entirely his own fault, and that he was evidently a selfish and ungodly example in his home. He told the husband that until he would give himself to ministering to the needs of his wife in a godly way, he should not expect things to get any better, but to get even worse.
My pastor assured my friend that if he would sacrificially and unconditionally minister to his wife that she would gladly fulfill her role and that their home would then become happy, peaceful and orderly. But, should she not respond for some reason, he was to continue in this selfless service to her unconditionally for the rest of his days.
My friend did not tell me this story … my pastor told me himself … with an apparent sense of bewilderment and dismay that any man familiar with the Word of God could be so blind and selfish as to have asked him for such help.
What of this pastor’s counsel, or lack thereof? Here, I might tend to agree with him in a sense: one spouse asking an authoritative figure to press the other for their own personal benefit does seem unhealthy and contrary to the spirit of Christ, unless the situation is severe. However, the pastor was evidently a bit one-sided about it; he should have responded similarly when wives complained against their husbands, encouraging them to examine themselves to see if they were being respectful, pleasant, submissive and quiet. It seems to me better to provide extensive teaching on both marital roles in friendly, non-confrontational contexts, and leverage godly community and personal accountability to encourage all spouses to strive to fulfill their own roles as well as they are able.
The Way of the Lord
Applying God’s Word in our lives definitely requires wisdom. The Bible must be taken in its entirety, and significant cultural differences between present-day and biblical times must be taken into account. If we contemplate the harshness and unreasonableness of wicked men, and meditate upon the injustices committed against women in patriarchal societies in order to justify departure from the standard of God and improve the lives of women, we will not redeem such men … nor truly improve the lot of women. Departing from God’s ways will only decimate the home and bring further ruin to the lives of all. God’s commandments are not grievous and following them ourselves when others do not is not only best for all in this life, it is eternally best for all as well. However, if we apply God’s principles blindly, without compassion and wisdom, we can also miss the mark quite painfully. We must humbly commit the keeping of our souls to God in well doing, even in the face of wickedness, as unto a faithful Creator … One that knows what He is doing and loves us deeply
When society strays from the truth, bringing those who come to faith into complete alignment with holiness takes time and should generally be done by degrees, considering their frame. In western culture today, it is common for one or both spouses to come to marriage without a biblical expectation or orientation. Bridging the gap between cultural moorings and spiritual and emotional health often requires significant changes deep within, in both genders, and may be very difficult. Allowing time for such a transition rather than demanding immediate compliance is an art, not a science. Ultimately, deep dependence upon the Holy Spirit’s guidance and a deep appreciation for and an understanding of the grace and mercy of God is an absolute necessity.
We should, for completeness, certainly also look at the extremes of domestic sin through God’s eyes, according to His Word, and understand the limits of what God calls a married woman to endure. We must establish when divorce is appropriate, and we must explore and understand God’s commands to the wife in all of the relevant conditions pertaining to these limits. This topic of divorce seems larger in scope than the purpose of this present work, and so is addressed separately in separately in Is It Lawful? Within the boundaries of marriage we have challenge enough. Let us thoroughly explore the Word of God to understand His command and call, and then let us cling to what we have found … and encourage others to do the same.
God commands a wife in Ephesians 5:22 to submit herself to her own husband as unto the Lord. What does this mean?
As we have noted in our thoughts on the general charitable disposition in which God enjoins us all to walk in Ephesians 5:21, one can submit to another person without being under the authority of that other person. This is consistent with the secondary definition of submit: “to defer to or consent to abide by the opinion or will of another,” (Webster) which inherently lacks the concept of authority. Certainly, this is the sense in which all believers are to submit to one another.
This secondary understanding of submit certainly applies in the context of marriage for both spouses and is mutual, and it might be reasonable in this context to conclude that this disposition comprises the duty of the wife were it not for the fact that the wife is explicitly instructed to submit to her husband … “in every thing.” (Ep 5:24) We find similar wording in the parent-child relationship (Col 3:20), in master-servant relationships (Col 3:22), and in regards to civil authority. (Ro 13:1-4) In each case, the primary relational context for such wording is not a mutually submissive one. Further, the wife is called to “be subject” to her husband in a way that is similar to the subjection of the Church to God Himself. This emphasis in the text is significantly problematic to merely employing this secondary definition: there is little if any sense of “mutual submission” between the Church and God.
At the very least, the wording of Ephesians 5 distinguishes the mutual roles of husband and wife and defines them uniquely in the kind of submission that is appropriate. At the very least it implies that the wife should generally yield to her husband’s opinions and decisions and defer to him most of the time, unless she is in desperate disagreement with him. Surprisingly, while considered quite radically conservative now, this behavior is perfectly acceptable even to some feminists, so long as it is perceived to be in the best interest of the woman and left, not as a moral requirement, but merely as an option for the wife if she is so disposed.
A well-known feminist, Laura Doyle, heartily promotes this kind of submission in her book, The Surrendered Wife, claiming that it is the fundamental key to a successful and rewarding marriage. She simply instructs wives to refrain from controlling their husbands, to consistently encourage their husbands to do as they think best, and to enthusiastically cooperate with their husbands in everything their husbands wish unless someone’s health, safety or emotional sanity is directly threatened.
Laura claims, both from personal experience and from successfully helping thousands of unhappily married women turn their marriages completely around, that any woman who is willing to do this — and has a reasonably sane husband — can completely transform her marriage into a relatively ideal one by simply following this simple principle. She teaches this concept as a feminist without apology in the face of militant feminism for one simple reason: it works! She testifies that women who are willing to do this generally find themselves treated wonderfully by their husbands and are very happy in their marriages … while those who will not are often quite miserable.
When the world is willing to follow more of God’s counsel than those who claim to be his people … it is indeed a very sad thing. If one could just get evangelical Christians to even come this far, just far enough in God’s direction to function, it would evidently be enough to restore fundamental health to the home and bring great blessing to the Church and society.
To move beyond this practical earthy notion of submission to the ultimate intention of God’s instruction to the wife, one may simply note that the primary definition of submit, according to Webster, is: to yield to governance or authority. This primary definition does not fit at all with most any notion of submission in the home that is accepted today. The concept of the husband having legitimate authority over his wife in marriage as a governor is totally foreign to the western mind.
However, this primary definition of the word submit, implying an authoritative scope, actually does appear to apply in the husband-wife relationship, as seen in the definition of a stronger English word, subjection, used in English texts of Scripture to define the fundamental duty of the wife. Subjection is defined as being in a position or in circumstances that place one under the power or authority of another or others.
So, in order to understand what it means to be subject to another in an authoritative sense, we must also take a moment to consider the concept of authority itself, which is not as easy to define or understand as we might at first think. What is authority, exactly, and where does it come from?
Our dictionary defines authority as follows: “the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.” If we think carefully about this definition, it is not describing something obtained merely by having the strength to enforce our own way, to get what we want by intimidating and threatening others. Authority implies the responsibility and also the ability to decree that certain behaviors are morally appropriate or inappropriate for another, not merely undesirable to those in power. As such, all authority is a spiritual gift: it is an instance of God delegating to human beings the privilege and responsibility of representing Him before others.
Having authority means having the right to define a moral duty or boundary that others are obligated … before God … to acknowledge, honor and obey. In a very real sense, it is being placed in a position to cooperate with God in defining moral behavior, to act as His representative within a certain sphere or context. Within that context, God allows human beings to define what His will is for others; He allows men and women to represent Himself in ways that are outside the context of general moral law.
God defines several types of authority in Scripture and has provided a clear limit to all authoritative privilege: no authority may define boundaries that contradict or violate Moral Law as He has revealed it. Rather than explicitly naming every kind of behavior that is acceptable in every conceivable context, God has established authoritative figures to represent Him in key relational contexts. We may identify these authority figures by understanding the kinds of people God tells us to obey and in what context or spirit we are to obey them.
God gives civil government authority to define moral boundaries within a specific geographic area in order to promote public safety and general welfare within that region. The Bible does not say, for example, that it is a sin to speed down the highway or to drive while intoxicated. Instead, God says that it is sinful to violate civil law. (Ro 13:3-6) So within the context of a society in a given geographic area, civil law becomes moral obligation through divine decree; God allows government officials to represent His authority in this context.
However, officials may not decree that lying, stealing and fornication are acceptable. God has not given government the freedom to entirely redefine morality but requires government to operate in a manner that is consistent with His moral law. This can be seen in the Apostolic response when they were commanded to stop preaching the Gospel: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Ac 5:29) When any type of authority commands us contrary to the revealed will of God, our obligation is to God, the ultimate source of authority. When sinful men in positions of authority abuse their power before God by commanding us in ways that are contrary to God’s revealed will then we are responsible to recognize this and to disobey them instead of disobeying God Himself.
Similarly, parents have authority in their home and can define moral boundaries for their own children. The Bible does not tell children, “Thou shalt keep thy room clean,” but it says, “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.” (Col 3:20) Parents have authority from God to define behaviors that are appropriate for their children: God treats violation of these boundaries as moral problems even though they are not explicitly enumerated in Scripture. Like civil government, parents have the right to represent God in the home before their children, but this authority is certainly limited: parents cannot rightly demand that their children sin against themselves or others.
In the same way, when God commands wives to submit to their husbands in every thing, He is giving each husband the right to define moral boundaries for his wife. The English word subjection or subject in Ephesians 5:24 expresses the idea of the wife yielding to authority vested by God in her husband: “as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” To be subject is primarily, again, to be under authority or control. The Greek word, hupotasso, generally embodies this idea of being under authority, quite often indicating a subservient-authoritative relationship when it is used in other places in God’s Word. It is comprised of hupo, meaning under, of inferior position or condition and tasso, meaning to arrange in an orderly manner. (Strong)
Hupotasso describes how a deacon is to have his children under obedient control: “One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;” (1Ti 3:4) how servants are to be fearfully yielded to the will of their masters: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward;” (1Pe 2:18) how the entire cosmos has been brought under the dominion Jesus Christ: “Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him;” (He 2:8a) how all believers are obedient to God, their heavenly Father, pictured in how we reverently submit to our earthly fathers: “Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (He 12:9) This word is also used to describe the general disposition required of women in the church: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection;” (1Ti 2:11) “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.” (1Co 14:34) In each case, the context helps us to extend and flesh out the implications of this word subjection. It is this word that God uses to define the primary duty of the wife in her relationship with her husband.
God powerfully illustrates the scope of this authoritative aspect in marriage when He likens marriage to the relationship between Christ and the Church: Christ has the right to define moral boundaries and responsibilities for the Church. In this same kind of way, the husband has the right to define behavior that is appropriate or inappropriate for his wife, and she is to be under the authority and control of her husband in these things. However, as with any other type of authority, in no case is the wife to voluntarily violate the plain commands of God. Further, since her husband is under civil law, a wife should not cooperate with her husband in any illegal activity. Apart from this, the scope of the husband’s authority appears to comprise every aspect of domestic life, in the same way … “as the church is subject unto Christ” comprises every aspect of the life of the Church.
There is no matter in heaven or in earth in which the Church is not to be completely subject unto the authority of Jesus Christ with all reverence, fear, and joy. Though she is His bride, even of one flesh with Him, she is His servant and should abide under His explicit control and authority. Jesus Christ is absolute Lord of the Church. Though Jesus Christ loves, protects, ministers to, and serves the Church in an amazingly selfless way, no one can properly say that the divine relationship is a mutually submissive one. The fact that we are one flesh with Christ (Ep 5:30), or that He has called us friends (Jn 15:15), or that we are in covenant with Him (He 12:24) does not mean that our consent is required when He moves, that He is abusive in commanding us, or that we should not passionately and selflessly serve Him and obey His every command. We are to “serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” (Ps 2:11, He 12:28-9) In giving us a context to support the spirit of His instruction to a wife in her relationship with her husband, I do not see how God could have given us a more radical illustration; He made no effort whatsoever to temper it.
In considering how believers are to serve the Lord with fear, it is significant that God concludes Ephesians 5 with an admonition to the wife to reverence her husband. Very little attention is given to this word reverence in modern commentary or in a public discussion, but the word is translated from the Greek phobeo from which we get our word phobia, which is an extreme or irrational fear or aversion to something. It suggests a demeanor in the wife with her husband that is much different than respect or honor, which Christians are generally enjoined to express in any social context. (1Pe 2:17) The term is significantly revealing in God’s definition of the marital relationship; it strongly suggests, perhaps even directly implies, that the husband occupies an authoritative role in marriage.
Phobeo is often used to express a response of deep concern when violating an authoritative will, as indicated in the following (from the same root word): “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? … If thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” (Ro 13:3-4) “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.” (1 Pet 2:18) Evidently, the wife is generally called to respond this way to her husband, with fear, due to his role in a positional sense, rather than in a practical or relational sense. In other words, God is not telling every wife to be afraid of her husband because he is malicious and dangerous (though some husbands are) — God is evidently telling the wife, even the wife of a kind and gentle man, to fear the position of her husband, his role, his authority. She should fear crossing or disrespecting him because of the authority God has given him in the home. Even if he is kind and gentle as an individual and does not respond violently, there is very real danger, both in temporal and spiritual consequences, in violating authority delegated by God himself.
The husband evidently has the right to define moral boundaries for his wife in their marriage and home outside the context of moral law, a context that implies that this subjection is of a significantly different nature than that mutual submission enjoined between brethren in Christ (Ep 5:21, 1Pe 5:5, also hupotasso). Men in the church do not retain this kind of responsibility over one another. The marital relationship may consistently retain the concept of authority and jurisdiction whereas relationships between brothers in Christ may not: “the head of every man is Christ.” (1Co 11:3a) Although authoritative relationships exist within each gender, as between mothers and daughters, headship implies a type of authority that applies across the gender boundary rather than within it: “the head of the woman is the man.” (1 Cor 11:3b) This is particularly evident in the way that God has designed the marital relationship, as boldly illustrated by God in Ephesians 5:24.
Woman Is the Glory of Man
The concept of a husband’s authority in marriage, suggested in both the authoritative relationship between Christ and the Church, in the use of phobeo, and in the definition of hupo: meaning to be of inferior position or condition, is further reinforced by the explicitly stated biblical concept of Man’s superior position in the divine order embedded in Creation itself: “For a man… is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.” (1Co 11:7-9) Man reflects the glory of God since he is made directly in the image and glory of God: only Man was created in the image of God, Woman was not created in this same manner. It is never said in the Bible that Woman was made in the image of God. Woman was taken out of Man: she reflects the glory of Man, not the glory of God. This shows us that the woman has a lesser glory than the man. Woman reflects the glory of God in a lesser degree; she is a likeness of a likeness of God.
This lesser glory is a matter of position, a type of spiritual rank: “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.” (1Co 11:3) In this ranking Woman is beneath Man and subject to him, just as Man is beneath (angels, who are also beneath) Christ and subject to Him, and as Christ is beneath the Father and subject unto Him. As God is the Head of Christ, is positionally greater than He (Jn 14:28), and directs the work of Christ (John 5:30), and as Christ is the Authority in charge of every man, positionally greater than every man, and the Head of every man, and is Lord of Man, so Man is the head of Woman, positionally greater than she, and has a type of authority over her by God’s decree and design.
Woman’s very purpose in existence, from an earthly perspective, is defined to be one of ministry and help to Man: “Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.” (1Co 11:9, Ge 2:18) Woman is thus of an inferior glory, in a subordinate position and in a subservient role to Man in the order of Creation. Each of these concepts is certainly brutally offensive to feminism … and subject to the sad abuses of proud, self-serving men.
This superior rank of Man is certainly not a matter of eternal spiritual worth or value. It may even be temporary … though Christ’s subordinate relationship to the Father is evidently timeless, as well as the angelic position … suggesting that both the angelic-human and male-female differences may also be timeless. It is evidently not merely coincidental that all twenty-four names embedded in the fabric of New Jerusalem are distinctly masculine. (Re 21:12-14) The odds of this occurring by chance (if perchance God left it to chance, in spite of what it implies) are about 1 in 17 million. It was evidently deliberate … and it will be an eternal reminder of God’s present order during this earthly age.
If a Woman Vow A Vow
In confirmation of the authoritative aspects of the marriage relationship, the authority of a husband in the home is profoundly illustrated in the fact that God allows him to intervene in his wife’s spiritual life in a practical way, covering her, protecting her, and partially managing her spiritual walk. The exact same principle is applied between a father and his daughter as between a husband and his wife. This power is given to Man by God as His authority in the home and is explained in Numbers 30. The entire chapter is as follows:
 “And Moses spake unto the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded.  If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.  If a woman also vow a vow unto the LORD, and bind herself by a bond, being in her father’s house in her youth;  And her father hear her vow, and her bond wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her father shall hold his peace at her: then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she hath bound her soul shall stand.  But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth; not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand: and the LORD shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her.  And if she had at all an husband, when she vowed, or uttered ought out of her lips, wherewith she bound her soul;  And her husband heard it, and held his peace at her in the day that he heard it: then her vows shall stand, and her bonds wherewith she bound her soul shall stand.  But if her husband disallowed her on the day that he heard it; then he shall make her vow which she vowed, and that which she uttered with her lips, wherewith she bound her soul, of none effect: and the LORD shall forgive her.  But every vow of a widow, and of her that is divorced, wherewith they have bound their souls, shall stand against her.  And if she vowed in her husband’s house, or bound her soul by a bond with an oath;  And her husband heard it, and held his peace at her, and disallowed her not: then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she bound her soul shall stand.  But if her husband hath utterly made them void on the day he heard them; then whatsoever proceeded out of her lips concerning her vows, or concerning the bond of her soul, shall not stand: her husband hath made them void; and the LORD shall forgive her.  Every vow, and every binding oath to afflict the soul, her husband may establish it, or her husband may make it void.  But if her husband altogether hold his peace at her from day to day; then he establisheth all her vows, or all her bonds, which are upon her: he confirmeth them, because he held his peace at her in the day that he heard them.  But if he shall any ways make them void after that he hath heard them; then he shall bear her iniquity.  These are the statutes, which the LORD commanded Moses, between a man and his wife, between the father and his daughter, being yet in her youth in her father’s house.”
The making of a vow is perhaps the most intense form of spiritual, emotional, and cultural expression that exists. Vows are binding on the person who makes them and God holds the person making the vow accountable for keeping the vow regardless of its impact on themselves or others.
The male authority in a woman’s life, her husband or her father, may intervene in either establishing or nullifying a vow made by her if and when the male authority becomes aware of the vow. Widows and divorcees do not have such a covering. Men have no such covering at any point in their lives; only women in a domestic environment have such a covering and they always have this covering so long as they remain part of an household with male authority present.
Clearly, only vows that such a woman makes public can be managed in this way, which naturally includes any vow she makes openly and any private vow that affects others in the home (such a vow may become evident when her behavior is noticed and called into question, even if the woman does not openly inform others of it). When the father or husband hears of the vow he may speak against it and disannul it, or he may approve of it and establish it by speaking to confirm it or simply by remaining silent. God respects the decision of the male authority and accordingly either holds the woman accountable for her vow or forgives her and releases her.
The fact that a man can intervene in such an intense expression of any woman under his sphere of domestic influence is evidence of his authority in the home. If he is called upon to give order to the most intense, sacred, and profound expressions of life when they affect him and others under his care, he is certainly in a position to give order to general aspects of domestic life. By God’s design the will of the man is the pillar upon which domestic order rests.
This benevolent headship does not imply, however, that the man is to intrude into and manage every single aspect of a woman’s personal or spiritual life, as if she had no personal privacy and no individual walk with God. An overly fastidious, intrusive, overbearing dominance in the husband is not expected and is harmful and unhealthy. Laws prohibiting sexual activity when a woman is menstruating (Le 18:19) indicate a woman’s general right to at least some limited personal privacy. Further, the fact that a woman could evidently make a vow that goes unnoticed by her husband, dealing with issues in her own life in a manner that does not directly and noticeably affect those about her, and that she is never explicitly commanded to reveal such personal things to her husband to obtain his approval, indicates this general principle in the spiritual realm. A woman is certainly a unique, precious and responsible individual in her own right. However, any outward behavior is subject to the rule and management of proper domestic authority. This authority is her father while she remains in his house and her husband when she is married.
Adam Was First Formed
These general concepts apply across all racial, religious, cultural and chronological boundaries based upon the order of God in Creation: “Adam was first formed, then Eve.” (1Ti 2:13) God presents to us this principle, that Adam was formed first, before Eve, as evidence of divine order and the reason for different requirements in both the public and private conduct of men and women. The implications of the timing of the first husband and wife have not been given adequate attention in recent times, and it appears that this neglect is related in some way to the blurring of gender-based functions and roles in the church and home. God evidently intends for us to see great significance in His order in Creation as a principle to guide the behavior of women in both public and private domains. How is it that God expects us to see such significance in the fact that Adam was first formed? Perhaps we do well to ponder this deeply for a moment. With a little imagination drawn from the implications of the narrative, we find some interesting possibilities.
In the dawn of the sixth day God forms Man of the dust of the ground, breathes into him the breath of life, defines him as a Man and gives him a personal name: Adam. Adam becomes a living soul (Ge 2:7) … the only earthly creature named by God in this manner (as far as we know) … and begins at once to commune with his Maker.
Adam and God enjoy a rich time of experience together as God introduces Adam to his new surroundings, perhaps even giving him a global tour — a bird’s-eye perspective of what he is soon to govern.
God plants a splendid garden and places Adam within it, causing every kind of plant to grow for him, plants beautiful to behold and delicious to eat. Perhaps Adam names all of these plants, as ruler of this virgin earth, as he will soon name all of the birds and the beasts when God presents them to him. Whatever Adam calls any living thing … it is.
God gives Adam his work: he will husband the garden … dressing it and keeping it groomed. (Ge 2:15) This will be his home, the place where God will commune with him and enjoy the fruit of his creative labor with him. God also plants two special trees in the midst of the garden: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil … and the Tree of Life. (Ge 2:9) These are named by God and are not subject to Adam’s dominion. These are evidently the only beings beyond the authoritative scope of Adam, they have a spiritual nature in them that is other-worldly; perhaps they represent God’s ultimate sovereignty in the universe, over Earth and over Adam. He gives Adam the first command, and warns him of the consequence of sin. (Ge 2:17)
God, in communion with Adam, perhaps as they observe together the workings and wonder of Creation, the ecosystem, the water cycle, the sun and moon and stars, all of the birds and beasts … it seems that He reveals to Adam His intention to create a helper for him. They evidently discuss the topic in such a way that Adam begins considering the nature appropriate for such a helper. God proceeds to make anew each kind of beast that roams the fields and each type of bird that graces the air, brings each one to Adam for review and accepts his reaction as they commune together in rich exploration and discernment. (Ge 2:19) Adam names each animal appropriately but rejects each one as a suitable help mate. (Ge 2:20) Man is reasoning, judging, applying creativity and wisdom in working with his Maker … anticipating the nature and appearance of his new mate. A rich experience is being planted in him during this time that he enjoys only with God … Woman does not yet exist, though it seems that she is being discussed at length, conceptually at least.
Finally, at some point on the sixth day, perhaps quite late in the day, after exhausting all external possibilities in their mutual search for a mate for Man, Woman is finally fashioned and brought to Adam. God makes her while Adam is asleep. When he awakes … she is the one type of being he has not yet seen … this is what he and God have been pondering together, anticipating for most of the day. God brings the new creature to Adam, just as He has all of the other creatures, to see what Adam’s reaction will be. (Ge 2:22)
God does not name His new work; He acts as He has with all of His other creatures. As has been His pattern, God presents this last creature to Adam for his review, just as He has all of the other animals. As far as we know, this creature has no independent definition or purpose, she has only design and potential — and she has never heard a spoken word: the first word she will experience will be from her husband … the one who will define here and give her purpose by either accepting or rejecting her, himself being the one she is so well designed to help.
When Adam sees his mate next to God, he immediately recognizes her as his perfect companion, more wonderful and beautiful than he had imagined. He enthusiastically receives her as his companion and helper — and instinctively yet thoughtfully names her … just as he has all of the other created beings. (Ge 2:23) He does not ask God to introduce them, ask God what He has named her or who she is. Adam has already been taught that he is lord of all, that he has dominion over all things. He knows deep within that this is Woman, uniquely his, taken from him and made just for him: he names her “Woman,” accepting her as his own. Adam defines her and gives her purpose as he names her, knowing from within both who she is and why she is. Adam also gives his wife a personal name, Eve, just as God has named him. (Ge 3:20)
In this way Adam receives his wife and gives her a unique identity with himself. She is part of him, one with him. She finds her purpose and her identity in relation to her husband as he interacts with her and expresses her name and explains her purpose. He is her teacher from the very outset, and God calls them both together, simply, Adam. (Ge 5:2)
Adam communes with Eve as he has communed with his Maker, evidently discerning that his mate knows nothing of what has transpired before her creation, and realizing that he must do for her as God has done for him. He evidently takes her on a tour of the Garden, teaches her the names of the plants and the animals, and carefully explains the vital restriction of the forbidden tree.
Adam has become his wife’s mentor, teacher and protector … introducing her to her new world because he was there first and gave much of it identity. He has already had vast experiences with his God that she has not known, and he shares his understanding with her as they become one.
The whole arrangement and timing of their creation, as well as the express purpose of her creation, gives order to their marriage relationship. When God returns after the Fall to continue His communion with the newly wedded couple, He calls to them by calling to Adam as a man, as the representative head of his home. (Ge 3:9) Adam’s precedence and prerogative and responsibility upon the earth is clear, and predates sin.
God would have us see and accept the precedence of Man in the order of created things. Man’s precedence and position and prerogative in the divine order predates the Law, and even the Fall. There is nothing “cultural” about its applicability today. It applies in society, in government, in the Church, and in the home. It is a matter of authority and precedence and function.
To violate the concept of a husband’s authority in the home, to detest it, or to resent it is a profoundly wicked thing. The order of created beings, including the husband’s position of authority over his wife, is of great significance in the spiritual realm.
Its importance can be seen in the interaction between angelic beings, which are also part of the divine order and submit to it, being above Man and below Christ. Within this order the angels respect the higher position of one very wicked being … none other than Satan himself … who yet retains an exalted position in the divine order.
All men are of an inferior position to all angels (Heb 2:7a: “Thou madest him a little lower than the angels“), and therefore to Satan in the divine order, and must be deeply respectful to Satan for this reason. Very few understand or walk in this truth today, in this day of unbridled rebellion, bringing upon themselves great wrath. Such frowardness was common in the early churches as well. Consider the following text in Jude 8-13:
 “Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.  Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.  But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves.  Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.  These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots;  raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.”
One of the highest angels in the heavenly ranks, Michael the archangel, still respects the dignity of the position of Satan, who apparently still has the highest angelic position in the cosmos, being under God and second only to Christ Himself, such that Michael will not personally rebuke Satan nor speak with him in a disrespectful manner.
Clearly, Satan retains a position in God’s established order that is completely independent of his character and disposition. Even so, ignorant men and women trample such divinities under foot. They despise the concept of dominion in any aspect of divine order, and are not afraid to speak evil of those in higher positions than themselves.
Those who despise God’s order in creation, as any feminist will by definition, despise Him: “He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.” (1Th 4:8) God does not speak well of such sinners, especially those who pollute the church of God: “Woe unto them!” (Jud 11) This principle certainly applies to domestic order as an integral component of the whole scope of divine order.
The principle of a wife being subject to her husband as an authority figure, of her being fearfully reverent toward him in the same way that the Church is under the authority of Jesus Christ and honors Him, is seldom if ever mentioned, even in the most conservative settings. The concept is not very well understood, taught, or accepted in our culture today and one will certainly find this idea to be generally rejected. This is the one aspect of God’s design in marriage that is the most offensive to feminism: it is intolerable to feminists. Even so, the Church should not be silent about it, or refuse to speak of this as a topic in its own right. There can be no legitimate question here, in my opinion, that God has intended for the husband to have formal authority over his wife.
These distinct roles in marriage for the husband and wife are not a matter of differing human value or worth: God does not love or value men more than women. Christ is equal in value to God (Php 2:6), but of a lesser position and totally subject to Him in divine headship. Christ does not personally prefer or receive anyone to Himself based on gender — in Christ there is neither male nor female. (Ga 3:28) What is clear is this: God has given husbands and wives distinct, clear, unique positions and roles in the home, in the church, and in society. Subjection uniquely defines and characterizes the woman’s role, and implies that the wife should obey her husband and fear his displeasure, honoring him as her leader and representative. These respective positions and roles are to be received in earnest, heartfelt thanksgiving and fulfilled as unto Him.
“Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, ‘Why hast thou made me thus?‘” (Ro 9:20) No. Certainly not. God is the Creator. The creature stands silent before the Creator. God has placed Man as the head of Woman, and has defined Woman’s place in the home, in the church, and in the culture as that of a follower, that of a servant, that of a helper. Woman is to meekly receive this role and fulfill it as unto her Creator.
General teaching given to all women is consistent with this submissive, reverential demeanor. A woman is to be “under obedience” in public assembly as well as in the home, in a sense that is different than that required of a man. The Law of God is clear, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak, but they are commanded to be under obedience (hupotasso), as also saith the law.” (1Co 14:34) Being “under obedience” is equivalent to subjection and consistent with holy shamefacedness.
Note first that this command is given to the men of the church concerning the conduct of “their” women. Women are not even addressed directly when giving order to the church … the men are told how their women are to behave. In this command, women are referenced as belonging to and under the authoritative jurisdiction of men and are not addressed as part of the decision making body of the church. God addresses the men concerning how women should conduct themselves in public. The men, in turn, must pass this instruction on to their respective women.
Further, this directive of God explicitly requires women to refrain from public speech in the assembly of believers. This command is more than a call to a common courtesy applying to all believers; it is a call for women in particular to be subordinate to the men of the assembly in the context of divine order. God says the same thing repeatedly in three different ways here: He says it positively — women are to keep silence ; negatively — it is not permitted unto them to speak; and in conclusive summary — they are commanded to be under obedience. The command is given both as a common natural law and also as a formal legal requirement. How could this principle possibly be stated with more clarity, directness or strength? I cannot see how it might be.
God makes certain that we are aware that this instruction is not simply a matter of local prudence in managing ancient congregational order: it is a principle that is clearly stated in God’s Law, Torah. (vs 34c) Where is this stated, that women are to keep silence in the congregation of believers?
The congregation of the Lord is mentioned many times in Torah. (De 23:1-3, 23:8, Jos 22:12) It is a reference to the entire assembly of men that were to appear before God thrice annually as a collective national assembly. (Ex 23:17, De 16:16) Women were not invited to this assembly, and all of the able bodied men were commanded to attend. Three times in a year all of the men were to come together to worship God and commune together, and would doubtless form long-lasting friendships with men from distant communities and share concerns and insights regarding national welfare and spiritual truth with each other over the years. When there were difficulties or concerns that arose during the course of the year these men would likely discuss them and encourage and challenge each other when they came together. It was an elegant system to strengthen the men of the nation, to call them all into ownership in the spiritual welfare of the nation, to recount and reinforce the commands of God to the nation, and as a check against corruption in the Levitical priesthood.
An example of the national unity provided through these regular meetings and how they engaged the men of the nation in its leadership and governance can be seen in Judges 20, where the entire nation of men gathered together to discuss and resolve a national disgrace. They acted purposely and successfully to rid the nation of a disgusting sin that had sprung up unchecked in one of their tribes and thereby threatened the very survival of the nation.
Despite the evidence that this principle of male leadership and female silence and submission has been grounded in Torah itself, the precept is ignored in most assemblies today, as if this were an inexplicable aberration, some ancient cultural anomaly. Apparently, modern feminists feel that being in subjection implies a dis-valuing of woman and an encouragement to unhealthy weakness. However, this is neither a contempt for the value of Woman nor an attempt to bring her into weakness — this is a call for Woman to yield her strength to divine control.
No mature Christian is weak in Christ, whether brother or sister. No, this is not weakness nor sickliness described here, but vibrant and wholesome submission to the will of God in the home and abroad. The godly wife is “under obedience,” continually subject to the rule of her husband and other authority, and content to function within it. She is quiet, compliant, cooperative and helpful in any matter legitimately directed or initiated by her husband.
Silence is found in godly women in the presence of those leading the assembly of the saints; even when there is a question they would like to ask, godly wives will “ask their husbands at home, for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” (1Co 14:35) This expression of the subjection of women in the church and in the home is repeatedly and abundantly made clear in God’s Word. “Let the woman learn in silence, with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” (1Ti 2:11-14) She is not to be leading, teaching, directing, coaching, manipulating, criticizing, mocking, interrupting, challenging, or even publicly inquiring or interjecting her opinion in the open meetings of the church. The woman is simply to learn in silence.
While it is certainly appropriate for a woman to participate in public prayer and singing (Ex 15:20-21, Jdg 5:1, 1Co 11:5), to offer personal testimony in the church (Jn 4:29, Mt 28:10), to offer appropriate comments and insights during personal discipleship and saintly communion in the presence of men (Ac 18:26), and to offer her opinion and counsel in difficult situations when approached by others for it (Jdg 4:4-5) it is also abundantly clear that she is to continually maintain an attitude of quiet meekness and cooperative helpful submission, certainly not imposing herself as an authoritative or forceful presence in the assembly of the saints (or in the presence of any man) or seeking to initiate, direct or correct the flow of worship, exhortation or teaching in the congregation. In any mixed group, silence is to be her general choice and humble reverent subjection is to characterize her general disposition and demeanor.
As Unto the Lord
Dear wife, this submissive disposition, this fearful reverence that you are to maintain before your husband, in heart, in word and in deed, is not a light thing nor a superficial and casual tendency. You are to earnestly and deliberately “submit yourself unto your own husband as unto the Lord.”
This God-honoring motive is perhaps the single-most important facet to remember in all of God’s instruction to you. The fact is plain: your husband does not deserve this reverential treatment. He never will. The Lord Jesus Christ deserves it; every thing that you do to your husband or for him is done as unto Jesus Christ and for Him. Remember that He — Jesus Christ — is the primary recipient of your attitude and ministry in the home… not your husband.
Jesus Christ is your heavenly Lord, and He has given you an earthly governor to minister to as unto Him. Not with eye-service, as a man-pleaser, only outwardly concerned for your husband’s pleasure while under his inspection, but always from your heart, as unto the Lord Himself, whether your husband is about or not.
Such godly motivation is earnest and sincere and persistent, actively seeking the will of your husband in everything and looking to please him in all things. It goes beyond a grudging compliance with commands, or a careless ignorance of his good pleasure; it is a deliberate seeking of your husband’s will. What is it that your husband wants of you? That is your duty, and should be your daily pleasure.
Does your husband want you at home, or working outside the home? Be where he would have you to be. Do not usurp his authority because you think you know better. Submit to him even if you think he is being unwise, and pray fervently for him.
Does he desire physical intimacy with you in some manner which you find unpleasant, at times or seasons that are not convenient, or more frequently than you find comfortable? That is his right and you should not deny him. Do all that you are able to do to please and satisfy him, and seek God for grace to do it joyfully, passionately, aggressively, willingly, and heartily. This is fundamental to your calling in God. You do not have authority over your own body in marriage; you belong to your husband. (1 Cor 7:4a) Render unto him due benevolence, loving kindness, and sincere intimacy as frequently as he desires and according to his pleasure.
Does your husband like your company when he is fishing? at a football game? on the golf green? camping? Go with him. You are his companion, called alongside him to commune with him, minister to him, encourage him, and comfort him. Become acquainted with his interests, become aware of his concerns, share his dreams and his hopes. Be quick to share his burdens and carry them with him. Encourage him and promote him. Be one with him in work and rest and play as much as he desires and as you find that you are able.
Does he wish to employ your daily creative efforts in home schooling your children? Do your very best to train and educate his children as would please him in all diligence and wisdom. Be where he calls you, doing whatever is his pleasure. Your service to him is as unto Christ; resist your husband only as you find it righteous to resist the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Does your husband want your hair long? Does he like it short? Does he find your dress immodest, or unappealing? Does he find your makeup loud? gaudy? too light? What is his pleasure? Correct it with his guidance if it is of any concern to him at all. You are to be discrete and chaste, pure and upright, altogether godly and virtuous. Make yourself as attractive in his eyes as you are able. You are his representative in the home and in the culture. If your appearance is of any concern to him, yield to his discretion and seek his pleasure. He should not find any trace of discomfort in your appearance or in how you conduct yourself in public.
Is the home too messy? Or are you spending too much time over-cleaning it? What is your lord’s pleasure? That is your way.
Seek to know your husband’s will in every matter that you can know it. Seek his pleasure and find his will, as though it were God’s will for you: it is… unless your husband’s intent for you is plainly sinful. This is your primary calling in God.
There is nothing outside the bounds of your Heavenly Lord’s domain in your life, thus nothing outside the scope of your husband’s legitimate concern: you obey your husband in all things even as unto the Lord: He has plainly said… “in every thing.” (Eph 5:24) Count your husband’s will as the will of your heavenly Master in all things, so long as your husband is not forcing you contrary to the plain commands of God. Obey your husband in reverence and godly fear, not grudgingly, but heartily, as to the Lord. Be faithful, dear one, in your service to your King, by serving your husband as a king.
Head of the Wife
“The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands…” (Eph 5:23-24a) As Christ, the Head of the Church, owns His bride and all that she is, rightfully ordering her conduct and service, so does your husband have at his disposal all of your ability as a woman in Christ. This, essentially, is the nature of servanthood. Your energy and skill, your talents and industry, your wisdom and gifting are all of God and are given to you for the purpose of ministering to the man He made you for, the man God Himself has set over you as your head.
Your husband is your head; he is, “the head of the wife.” As such, he owns you; all of what you have and are belongs to him as his property, his domain … even as Christ owns the church. Your husband is responsible for his ordering of your life and where you spend your time. As your head, under whom you are placed as a subject, your husband rules over you as part of his household. (Esther 1:22, 1 Tim 3:4,12)
The head rules the body. The arms and legs and feet and hands, they all work in harmony with the head. Bodily members have no disconnected will of their own but are an extension of the mind and will found in the head. The body is the servant of the head in any healthy individual, being instantly and willingly at the disposal of the mind. When there is unity between the head and the body there is tremendous agility, mobility and strength. When there is any disconnect at all between them, the whole body is weakened and incapacitated… paralyzed – “A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones.” (Pr 12:4) A rebellious woman incapacitates a man much like a broken neck… or very brittle bones in the body, which buckle painfully under the weight of any mild strain. No man can function fully and well in this condition. It is this way in the human body, between Christ and His Church, and between the husband and his wife.
As your head, your husband has stewardship over you in all things, and is responsible to God for how he governs you and for the manner in which you are occupied. If he gives you liberty and bids you to occupy according to your own judgment in areas wherein he has no preference, then seek the Lord’s pleasure directly in these things and be accountable directly unto Him. Otherwise, there is nothing about you that you may reserve for yourself, any more so with your husband than with your Lord in the heavens. You are dead to yourself, denying yourself and taking up your cross daily. You do your husband good and not evil, all the days of your life together. Do this as unto Christ, in your love for Him, and He will reward you. Your husband also will very likely praise you. (Pr 31)
This responsibility the husband bears in his stewardship of your time and energy is not an explicit thing, but implied as you, in your submission to Christ, make yourself available to him as a resource. Certainly, a husband is not ultimately responsible for his wife’s behavior in any legalistic sense. (Rom 12:14) Neither is a husband in any sense justified in forcing his wife to submit to him or in coercing or manipulating her. If he ever does so it is expected that most any woman will resent this as an unreasonable intrusion and respond negatively. However, as you submit yourself to obey Christ and seek to know and fulfill your husband’s will, this implies a natural responsibility on his part to direct your helpfulness in a godly way and provide appropriate guidance and direction for you. This response in your husband will be your primary means of direction in a healthy relationship.
In addition, it is evident that a godly wife will also see things that her husband needs that are not communicated directly by himself, things revealed directly to her by the Lord via that extra-special perceptivity God usually gives to Woman. A devout woman will undoubtedly perceive things that her husband may not be able to perceive or understand; Father will reveal to a prayerful wife ways in which she can lovingly assist her husband to become all that God intends for him to be, and this direction will not be revealed directly by her husband. However, such ministry will never be something that irritates or grieves or discourages her husband, and will never contradict or undermine the direction provided explicitly through him. The idea is certainly not contentious manipulation, but loving completion and humble influence in her husband’s life.
Every man has his blind spots, weaknesses of which he is unaware, sins and bondages of various kinds that limit his effectiveness for Christ and his husbanding of his wife; a faithful wife will be alert and sensitive to such things in order to protect her husband and lift him up. It is not her job to point out her husband’s weaknesses explicitly, but to quietly minister to him as the Lord leads her. God has given her as an appropriate helper to her husband and her husband needs her … he is not all that God intends for him to be alone without her, and therefore cannot provide ALL of the direction she needs in her ministry for him … she must primarily seek wisdom and grace from the Lord to understand and perceive her husband’s needs at all levels and for the strength to meet those needs in a godly manner.
There is certainly mutual dependence in this relationship (1 Cor 11:11): independent dictatorship on the part of the husband is certainly not the healthy norm intended by God. If the husband flaunts his authority in a demeaning dictatorial manner and resents his wife’s help in areas where he is weak, he obviously damages and limits himself, as well as degrades his wife. Intrusive disrespectful, suspicious micromanagement of the wife is likewise destructive. Many men may be prone to this at times and this is certainly not a good thing. It is not an excuse for women to rebel, but cause for earnest prayer. It is easy to perceive that marriage will only work ideally when both the husband and wife submit to and follow God’s pattern. Do your part in faithfulness to Christ and pray diligently for your husband that God will perform the same in him according to His pleasure.
This is the context of being a servant to your husband. You belong to your husband even as both of you belong to Christ. In every way that the Church is owned by and is devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ, find it so in your heart toward your husband.
In Every Thing
It is certainly natural for the carnal mind to arbitrarily limit the extent of the wife’s yieldedness to her husband’s desire. Many would claim that the examples and application given above are extreme and illegitimate, cultish and unsettling. However, God places a conclusive phrase at the end of His instruction to the wife to specifically develop this end: “As the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing .” (Eph 5:24) It cannot be stated more clearly. There is no matter in heaven or in earth in which the Church is not to be completely subject unto Jesus Christ with all reverence and joy. His call to His bride includes suffering for His name’s sake … He never promises her pleasure and ease. Even so there is no area of a wife’s life in which she is not to yield to the will of her husband and to seek to please him, regardless of the difficulty or discomfort, unless he is directing her to violate an explicit command of God. There is no more room for a wife to maintain a resistant disposition toward her husband than there is for the Church to resist Jesus Christ. It cannot be said in the English tongue with more direct clarity than God has just said it.
A reverent, devoted, submissive, quiet heart will not correct, rebuke, resist, defy, disdain, or disregard her husband. She will not be casually remiss in obeying his intent in any manner of her service to him. A reverent wife will be attentive to the needs and desires and interests and ideas of her husband as a first and singularly primary priority. There is no distraction or worldly interest that moves her from his side or calls for her attention unless he bids her leave. All of her time belongs to her husband, and she is busy about those things that are pleasing to him. She will sacrifice her own interests and pleasure for his, and dedicate all of her energy and creativity to pleasing her husband as much as she possibly can in righteousness. She will listen carefully to his instructions, respectfully consider his opinions, and meekly receive his rebuke and correction. There is no inconvenience or discomfort that she is unwilling to endure for him, in seeking his welfare, lifting him up, encouraging him, and ministering to him. God will never reprimand a woman for serving her husband too much, making him too happy, or being too good to him, so long as there is no direct violation of any explicit command of God. Her service to her husband cannot be too great, any more than her service to God can be too great. They are one and the same… she is to submit to her husband, “as unto the Lord.”
However, obviously, we may not press this picture too, too far. The husband is not Jesus Christ and there is a very significant difference between a mortal sinful husband and the living God. The husband is not Christ to his wife. Certainly, there are some extreme cases where a wife should not walk according to her husband’s wishes. It is clear that a wife is to maintain her ultimate allegiance to Jesus Christ and to refrain from cooperating with her husband when he is encouraging blatant sin. Incidents such as described in Acts 5, where Ananias and Saphira his wife agreed together to lie to the Church, indicate that a wife is morally responsible for her own decisions regardless what her husband wishes.
Saphira was aware of her husband’s intention to deceive the Church and she agreed to support him in his deception instead of making an appeal to her husband to refrain from the sin and refusing to participate in it herself. While she should not have tried to actually prevent her husband in his plan if he chose to persist in it, which would have been to assert authority over him or to become insubordinate, she should certainly not have personally approved of the plan nor should she have participated in it. When questioned by Peter as to how much money her husband had obtained from the sale of their land, Saphira had a decision to make: to tell the truth or to lie. She should have told the truth. When she lied to Peter according to the sinful agreement she had made with her husband Peter pronounced judgment upon her and God struck her dead, as He had her husband moments before.
When a husband encourages behavior that is blatantly wicked, sinful, or immoral, the wife should voice her objection in a meek and quiet manner, refuse to engage in the sinful behavior herself, and pray fervently for her husband. If the sin is of such a nature that God would grant her freedom from her husband and marriage because of it — as in the case of incest, abandonment, or extreme violence, it is reasonable to expect a wife to take practical and appropriate steps to actually prevent her husband from continuing in his sin. Apart from this extreme, a godly wife will act in her husband’s best interests, encourage him in righteousness, subject herself to his authority in her life for Jesus’ sake, and serve him well in loving humility and reverence.
The Wife See That She Reverence Her Husband
A wife’s fundamental disposition in marriage is to be one of reverence toward her husband. This is key: “The wife see that she reverence her husband.” (Eph 5:33b) This reverence is a deep respect, a humble quiet fear, a reverential awe, a gentle honoring of her husband. Reverence suggests a self-denying acknowledgment of what has an intrinsic and inviolate claim to respect. (Webster)
A wife is to “see” that she reverences her husband. That is, she is to make a diligent and careful effort to maintain a respectful mind and heart toward him at all times. This is, by definition, a matter of the heart, not something that can be mechanized or put on for show. Of the abundance of the heart one’s mouth will speak … or refrain from speaking, as the case may be. A wife is to talk softly in her husband’s home … speaking softly and reverently. It is not a casual or light thing for a wife to be disrespectful, irreverent, or condescending with her husband in thought, word, or in deed. It is a grievous sin.
The Greek word here for reverence is actually phobeo, meaning to be frightened or alarmed. (Strong) This fear is a true fear, rooted in a wife’s respect for her husband’s authority, causing her to be deeply concerned when she is cause for any displeasure in her husband. This reverence moves her to be careful to please her husband in her general demeanor and to obtain and maintain his regular approval of her choices and behavior. Her fear is legitimately derived from her husband’s right to require obedience from anyone under his authority and to correct anyone in his home who violates his commands or disrespects his position.
And what place does fear have in modern evangelical teaching on the home? Absolutely none, frankly. Yet godly fear is the over-riding disposition that God directs women to retain in the marital relationship. What we find, sadly and consistently, is that modern marital counselors and teachers have largely missed the mark concerning God’s plan for the home.
Honestly, in my opinion, there can be no mistake here, friend. God’s Word is very plain to anyone who is willing to receive this truth. The principles being elaborated upon are timeless and godly, neither miss-translations nor the perverse disputing of corrupt minds. A wife’s fearful reverence for her husband is not optional, it is commanded. The command is not dependent on the husband’s obedience or holiness. The husband’s love is not positioned as a necessary context in which a wife is to relate to her husband, neither will any other lack in her husband’s demeanor diminish her duty. Reverence is truly of a singular, unconditional priority in a wife’s relationship with her husband. The word phobeo is generally translated “fear,” “afraid,” yet here uniquely in an encouragement to every married woman in her walk with her husband: “reverence.”
Reverence is akin to fear, being much deeper than admiration or even honor, yet consistent with such a heart, and blends nicely with the other dispositions promoted in women: the “chaste conversation coupled with fear,” (1 Pet 3:2) the “ ornament of a meek and quiet spirit,” (1 Peter 3:4), being “under obedience,” (1 Cor 14:34) “shamefacedness, and sobriety.” (1 Tim 2:9) Reverence is a disposition that orders a wife’s heart as she yields to her husband’s pleasure and will, as she protects his interests, lifts him up and edifies him. It should permeate all that a wife does and all that she is as a servant of Jesus Christ in her marriage. Dear sister, as a daughter of Abraham, see to it that you reverence your husband.
In a final comment in this first text of Ephesians, let me say plainly, lest perhaps I be misunderstood, and to counter the inevitable misrepresentation that is so handily nurtured here, that as a wife you are not being called to a loss of your individuality as you subject yourself to your husband. Truly you are a unique and precious individual in Christ. In her subjection to Jesus Christ the Church does not lose her unique identity, her infinite value, and her intrinsic individual character. A godly wife does not stop thinking, worshiping, praying, and feeling deeply as a unique individual in Christ, and she is not being called to a slavish neglect of her personal dignity as a servant of God while she serves her husband. There are also times when submission to her husband’s will is sinful: a wife retains moral responsibility before God, just as her husband does, and should never participate in blatant sin.
The illustration of the Church’s subjection to Christ shows how there must be a hearty desire for unity and communion and a general tendency towards compliance in a wife’s disposition toward her husband, but there is nothing about God’s call to you as a wife that degrades you or infers that you should be treated … or treat yourself … like an animal. As a servant of Jesus Christ, you are infinitely precious and ultimately designed for and created for Him, for God, to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Your husband being your head does not imply that you are not a unique and fully functional and valuable person in your own right or that you are not morally responsible for your own decisions in life; it implies that your womanhood is to be centered in ministry to your husband for God’s sake.
This first text in Ephesians is certainly rich with instruction to every wife. Though it touch relatively lightly upon her role in comparison to the emphasis placed on the husband’s role, there is profound and abundant direction given to any married woman who is willing to receive it. It is instruction that she will likely only find in the pages of the Bible.
As It Is Fit In the Lord
The second passage of the three that address the duties of husbands and wives together is Colossians 3:18-19. God says to wives, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” This short text briefly reinforces what we have just seen in Ephesians, using the same word hupotasso, and adds that such submission on the part of the wife, though contrary to the way of the world, is wonderfully appropriate when viewed in the context of her relationship with the Lord.
When a woman resents this call, and thus disdains the order of God in the home and culture, she not only destroys her marriage, church, and family … she witnesses loudly to her rejection of divine order, of divine principle, and of divine authority. She flaunts, as a rebellious generation against the divine hand, a blatant stubborn blasphemy in her life and words that drowns any other witness to the living God she might attempt. Any woman who does so while claiming Christ gives great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.
However, it is “in the Lord” that a wife’s submissive disposition is found superbly fitting … appropriate. In the Lord, a woman’s obedience to her husband brings temporal blessing that extends into the spiritual realms. When a wife finally moves beyond herself, not walking in obedience merely because it works for her, but taking in the symbolic importance of her role in the home, she becomes a living picture of spiritual reality.
A woman who is living in the Lord, who lives out the truth of the divine headship of God over Christ, and the divine headship of Christ over the Church, will naturally also find it a pleasure to see this picture extended into the natural realm in the headship of Man over Woman, and more specifically in the headship of husband over wife. She will not find marital subjection to be appalling or distasteful, but a thing of beauty and wonder. It will move her more to worship than disgust.
Yes, it is fitting for a wife to be a living picture and example of the submission of the Church to God, and by her example to encourage all men and women to submit themselves similarly to the LORD God. In fact, there is no other picture in the cosmos of this divine relationship to replace the wife should she fail in her duty. In accepting her role symbolically, she puts on display for the world, for angels and for men (1 Cor 4:9) her selfless devotion to her husband for God’s sake, reminding all of God’s authority in her life and of her respect for God’s authority in her husband, bringing both God and her husband great honor.
Likewise, Ye Wives, Be In Subjection
The last passage to consider that addresses mutual responsibility in marriage is 1st Peter 3:1-7. The first six verses of this text explicitly address the wife’s demeanor in her marriage in much the same way that Ephesians emphasizes the husband’s role and disposition. This text is not often used as a key text in developing concepts of marital responsibility, even though this is the most penetrating section found anywhere in the Bible pertaining to the wife’s role. It is, in fact, entirely undermined by the likes of J. Vernon McGee, who claims the text contains no command to wives, but rather is “voluntary …” sort of … suggestions from God. ( Notes and Outlines: 1 Peter) Once explored in depth, perhaps it will become apparent why this particular text is so troubling to feminists.
Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel, But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.
First, note carefully the use of the word, “likewise,” introducing the above text. The reference takes us back to an earlier text in the midst of the second chapter: 1st Peter 2:18-20. As God introduces the principles of obedience and subjection for the wife in using the word “likewise,” God is saying that the submission of the wife to her husband, her subjection to him, is similar in some respects to the subjection evident in another relationship.
Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently: but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently this is acceptable with God.
The submission of the wife to her husband, her subjection to him, is in essence very similar to the submission of a servant to a master. As we have seen, this is not inconsistent with our definition of the word “subjection,” or with its use in other biblical contexts, or with the general teaching of the Word of God. The concept of subjection generally implies being under the explicit and formal control of another, placing us in the context of dominion and authority and being much stronger than merely deferring to the interests and disposition of another.
The word “likewise” at the beginning of chapter three suggests that the wife should submit to her husband with a disposition akin to a godly male servant’s submission to his master, and this manner is very carefully explained here in the second chapter. The two texts in chapters two and three are intimately linked in proximity and in content: both texts encourage the hearer to “be subject to” their “master” in a fearful and respectful way.
Certainly, there is much more to the relationship between a wife and her husband than that between a common servant and a master, but there are apparently fundamental similarities as well … especially if the concept of servanthood is understood properly in its ancient setting. This relationship was not a license for one person to recklessly abuse another, and it did not ever connote inherent inferiority or diminished personal value in the servant; it was a common relationship retaining basic human dignity and mutual equality. It was similar in some respects to employer-employee relationships today, but explicit ownership by the master and his right to use corporal punishment were embedded in the economy of servanthood.
Essentially, the concept of servanthood implies one person’s ownership of another’s time, talent, and strength. The servant’s ultimate purpose is to minister to and advance his or her master… just as servants of Jesus Christ are dedicated to Him. For earthly servants, service to the master is equivalent to service to Jesus Christ. (Col 3:22-4)
The exhortation given to servants in 1st Peter 2, that they be subject to their masters with fearful respect, is repeated to wives in their conduct with their husbands in chapter 3. Both common servants and wives are encouraged by God Himself to walk in fearful reverence to and be explicitly obedient to their masters regardless of their master’s disposition. Sarah, God’s model for a wife in her conduct in her home, accepted this role of servanthood, acknowledging her husband Abraham as her master, and walked faithfully in it.
When Ye Be Buffeted … Take It Patiently
The extent to which a wife should submit to an unreasonable man is partially developed in this context. As servants are to be subject to their masters with all fear, even when they are unjustly physically punished, in the same manner and to the same degree wives are to be subject to their own husbands in all things. This is the natural implication of the word “likewise” introducing this text, theoretically comparing the duties of wives and servants while plainly calling servants to patiently endure unjust physical suffering.
In between the texts we have considered here in 1st Peter, we also find the example of Jesus Christ as He set the standard for all believers in being willing to suffer for righteousness sake. How far did our Lord, our Example, go in His obedience to God? “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:” (1 Peter 2:21-25) Our Lord went to the cross for us, suffering fierce injustice in all humility and patience. He uses His own example to encourage servants to render due obedience to their masters even when treated most unjustly. How far should a godly wife go in yielding to her husband for the sake of Him Who died for her? We dwell here for a moment to find some context to the extent to which a wife should continue in subjection to her husband when he is less than he should be.
As servants are to be subject to their masters with all fear, even when they are unjustly punished, in the same manner and to the same degree wives are to be subject to their own husbands. The limit established by God is when the abuse actually results in some permanent disfigurement: the wife is maimed in some way, or when the abuse is malicious, arbitrary or wanton. In such cases it is appropriate for proper civil authority to end the relationship and set the woman free from her husband. (Additional detail on the topic of divorce can be found in Is It Lawful .) But apart from this degree of severity, a wife is to tolerate harsh treatment patiently and submissively. Although such treatment is unjust and clearly inappropriate on the part of a husband, as well as being unspeakably painful for the wife, God is actually calling a woman to endure being physically abused by her husband as her ruler, and to continue to submit to him rather than to leave him unless this abuse is as devastating as abandonment (leaving her with insufficient food and clothing to function properly, or on her own to fend entirely for herself).
Without The Word
Dear daughter of Abraham, when your husband errs, do not correct him – that is God’s work, not yours. “If any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives.”
This text speaks to the general manner of persuasion that you are to use with your husband. If your husband is an unbeliever, you are to seek to win him to faith in Christ and to obedience to Christ through your own godly example. It is not generally with your tongue that you are to win your husband to righteousness, it is with a godly behavior that is so holy, so reverent, and so chaste that it catches his attention, draws his interest, and wins his admiration.
The power of a woman’s tongue is profound. God’s Word makes many references to it, and illustrates its devastating power in extremes (Pr 12:4, 27:15-16, 21:19, 30:23, Ecc 7:26). Death and life are in the power of your tongue, dear sister. God records men being vexed nearly to death under its lethal tortures. (Judges 16:16) You are forbidden to use your expressive powers to correct your husband and manipulate him. Your influence of him is to be, “without the word.” You are to use your behavior and example, not your words, to win your husband to righteousness.
As this principle applies to a wife in relation to an unbelieving husband, so it does as well to the wife of a believer. The principle of godly submission applies still – do not think that once your husband comes to Christ that you are free to chide him. “And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.” (1 Tim 6:2) If it be true that you are to respect an unbelieving man, how much more so when your husband is also a joint-heir with you in Christ!
If your husband is disobedient or careless, your duty is to pray for him and to seek to win him over to wisdom and obedience through your own chaste and fearful conduct. Your reverent subjection to your husband, your godly fear of his authority, your chaste modesty, your holy manner of life, are to be so genuine, so unique, so compelling that your husband’s heart is won over to obedience to Christ without so much as a word from you. Certainly, there will be times when a respectful appeal is appropriate, and with God’s wisdom in your quietness, your husband will certainly come to know and value the helpfulness of your counsel. But he should never feel pressed by you, never harassed, never afflicted, never domineered … Never.
Won by the Conversation of the Wife
Given God’s guidelines for divorce and separation, and God’s stated expectation that you be in subjection to your husband within these guidelines, I suppose it goes without saying that your husband should not be afraid of you, should never find a trace of sharpness in your tongue, no shadow of betrayal or disrespect in your heart. He should never feel disdain nor resentment from you in public or in private in the slightest, more than any master should tolerate from his servant, or what Jesus Christ should endure from His Church.
Though you are much, much more than a mere servant to your husband — you are his friend, confidant, lover, and dear companion … indeed, you are one flesh with him! — yet there is nothing about your closeness to your husband that gives you liberty to molest his heart. While it is quite common today for women to correct, contend with, rebuke, and chide their husbands over the most paltry things, in public and in private, your husband should find this strange when he hears of it. It should not be something he is ever threatened by, or even considers.
The solid loyalty of your heart toward your husband should be unquestioned, passionate, and immovable for the sake of Jesus Christ. It is not that your husband is perfect, or that he does not make mistakes, or that he does not badly miss the mark at times, or that he need deserve this type of honorable treatment from you. He need not act in a becoming way or deserve this place in his home in any degree, any more than you must deserve his love and provision for you.
Truly, you are not trying to earn anything from your husband in your service to him, nor should you demand a reward from him for your work beyond your basic necessities. If you do, anything you receive will be your only reward, and his failure to give you what you demand will merely cause resentment, bitterness, and contention. No, your primary motive in this is to please your Heavenly Father, and you are content with His purpose in you, His provision for you, and His pleasure in you.
When you fail your husband, repent and make it right with him at whatever level the offense. If it were in the privacy of your own heart that you moved against him, keep that between yourself and your God and turn from it in sober prayer. If it were in his absence but involved the children, make sure they are fully aware of your repentance and contrition. If it were with your husband openly, ask his forgiveness and tell him your grief over your sin as soon as you are aware of it. If he comes to you with a grievance over something that escaped your notice, listen with all patience and tender humility to salve an offense or purge a misunderstanding. If it were, God forbid, a public embarrassment of your husband or an open defiance of him in some manner, seek and follow his will in how you should resolve it, and submit yourself to his correction with all meekness.
If your husband is disobedient or careless, your duty is to pray for him and to seek to win him over to wisdom and obedience through your own chaste and fearful demeanor. It is God’s job to formally correct him, and God may not choose to use your example in doing so. It is possible that God may not correct him at all in this life, and leave his judgment for the next. Certainly, there will be times when a respectful appeal is appropriate from you, as Sarah fervently appealed to Abraham in the matter of Ishmael (Gen 21:10). However, let it be seldom that your advice is unsolicited, and often that your prayers are silent ones. It goes without saying, clearly, that your husband should never feel pressed by you, never harassed, never afflicted, never controlled, never dominated.
Your Chaste Conversation, Coupled With Fear
As your husband observes your walk with Christ, rather than feeling threatened by you, or harassed, or domineered, he should, “behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.” (1 Pet 3:2) There should be a carefulness and a caution about you concerning your relationship with your husband that is obvious to him. This fearful reverence does not mean that you cannot be warm and intimate as a lover and a friend, but it certainly implies that any froward, presumptuous or contentious spirit must find no place in you at all.
First, you are naturally expected to be chaste. If you are a believer, God is moving you toward cleanliness, sexual purity in mind and body. You are to be discrete, modest, and altogether faithful to your husband. A godly wife gives her husband no cause whatsoever to doubt her purity or the reservation of her love and affection for him alone. Do not discover your physical beauty to another; do not dress yourself in a provocative manner in public, to draw the attention of other men to yourself, yet do not hide yourself from your husband or refuse to open yourself to him when the two of you are alone. Dress in a way that is attractive to your husband and according to his pleasure, but not sensuously before the eyes of other men.
Your chaste appearance must be the outward evidence of an inward chastity in soul and heart. The modest exterior will only be a delight to your God and your husband if it expresses the essence of who you are.
Couple this chastity with godly fear. As we have seen, fear is a primary quality that you are to develop. This is a godly reverence, a gentle quiet submissiveness. It is not a dread, an outright terror or an unhealthy fear, but one that avoids your husband’s displeasure, understands his authority and rule in the household and seeks his favor.
Are there areas of your husband’s home where you have contentiously usurped his authority? any area at all where your husband dare not move freely without your consent? God forbid! Would you dare treat your Lord Jesus Christ in this manner? Would you contemptuously forbid God’s control in any area of His home? require His consent? oppress Him with your self-will? pierce and wound Him with an unholy tongue? I think not.
Do you regularly fashion your agenda without your husband, setting your own priorities and going your own way? Do you not blush at the thought of reprimanding the man God has set over you, if in fact you have ever done so? Do you not grieve at the thought of arguing with him? of resisting him? Of telling him you are too busy to do as he wishes, or that you have other things planned and cannot meet his request? Or even oppressing him and wounding him when you cannot make him cater to your own pleasure? This type of behavior is entirely unacceptable: “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt 25:40) If in any way you have grown callous or disrespectful toward your husband, seek the infusion of the fear, meekness and quietness of the Holy Spirit again from the Father, which is in His sight of great price. Order your heart and spirit continually before the Father of Lights and let Him fill you with the joy of obedience. Do not be found trampling under foot the Son of God.
A Meek And Quiet Spirit
In your servanthood, your attitude should be chaste, obedient, and deeply respectful to your husband. So far from a sharp and condescending tongue, a Christian wife puts on and adorns herself with “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” (1 Pet 3:4)
To be meek is to “endure injury patiently and without resentment.” (Webster) This is a mildness of manner that makes you difficult to offend, such that you are not easily wounded and hurt in spirit. While women of the world are frequently distressed, discontent, hurt, angry, and quarrelsome … it is not to be so with you.
A godly woman adorns herself with a holy respect, a godly quietness, a deep sense of the authority and dignity of her husband. Your attitude should be one of cooperative and patient love, humble service, and quiet submission in all things: a quiet spirit. It is a calmness of spirit, one that is not easily undone or unsettled, but one that trusts in the sovereign protection of God generally provided in and through her husband. As this quietness is rooted in the spirit and in the heart, it also affects the tongue.
A woman’s tongue is an instrument of great power and a righteous woman will use it with discretion and holiness (Jas 1:26). It is not that you should not speak with your husband freely, for you are very likely more prone to words than he, but you must be deliberate and edifying in your conversation with him. This is so contrary to mindless chatter and verbiage, as you have been oft told is natural and healthy for you. It is as true for you as it is for men, that “in the multitude of words there wanteth not sin, but he that refraineth his lips is wise.” (Pr 10:19) “Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” (Jas 1:19). Learn to control your tongue, and only speak in a manner that will be edifying to your husband, that you may minister grace to him. (Eph 4:29)
It is in this manner, with a meek and quiet spirit, that you are to adorn yourself. Not merely with gold, pearls, and costly array. You are to be much more concerned with your inward beauty than the outward, adorning yourself with obedience, self-control, and holy quietness. There is no cause for you to put these graces off, but persevere in them day by day by the grace and power of God.
In your manner, you are not to be loud and confrontational, you must not be brazen and impudent, you cannot be assertive and aggressive and boisterously talkative or constantly chattering. It is true, your meekness dons a remarkable beauty: shamefacedness. Women are to, “adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety.” (1 Tim 2:9) What is this thing: shamefacedness? It is a concept completely lost on our adulterous and sinful generation.
The basic idea, taken simply from a dictionary, is a blushed and tender countenance, as though moved to sober, reverent quietness in the presence of a superior. It appears only here and in Hebrews 12:28-9 where it is translated reverence, “Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.” It is akin to the concept of shame, but need not convey a sense of guilt or necessarily of inferiority. It carries with it an awesomeness, as one perceives in this text in Hebrews, where Moses says, “I exceedingly fear and quake,” in reference to God’s voice shaking Earth and Heaven. The awesome majesty and splendor of our God, the terror of His power, this will put a blush upon the countenance of every saint of God and hold them speechless and trembling in His holy presence. This is shamefacedness. It will be moved in Woman due to the divine purpose and order in the roles given to Man and Woman, and will spring from a sense of reverence for God’s order and His ways.
Shamefacedness is the opposite of careless confidence, of intrusive presumption, of bold familiarity, of confrontational effrontery. It is the blush of Queen Esther as she stands before her king, her husband, and awaits the golden scepter to spare her life for an unsolicited approach to regal authority. It is the meekness of John the Baptist, the greatest mortal born of woman, as he cries out in bewilderment, “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” (Matt 3:14) It is what we feel in the presence of a holy God when He has lifted the veil of our sinfulness, when we cry with Isaiah, “Woe is me, for I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips!” (Is 6:5) It is the humble cry of the perfectly obedient servant, “I am unprofitable, I have merely done that which was my duty to do .” (Lk 17:10) It is the blush of the publican, who would not so much as lift his eyes to heaven, but cries out, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” (Lk 18:13) It is the blush of the woman of God.
This puts an end to the manipulative glare, to the bitter word, to the cutting tongue that women so frequently use to carve their way through life. It brings an end to the froward complaint, the relentless resistance, and the stubborn opposition of the impudent, shameless will of feminism. Shamefacedness is not a mask, not a façade, but the widow to a holy heart, a heart that is broken and contrite, faithful and loving, gentle and meek, quiet, pure, submissive, and genuine. This, my dear sister, is in the sight of God of great price.
Of Great Price
Of what singular beauty is such a shamefaced woman to God? What is it about a godly woman that is so exceedingly precious to Him? This phrase, “of great price,” is itself a precious and rare one in the Word of God. It is found descriptive only of three other things in God’s Word and all are inanimate: the precious ointment with which Mary anointed the head and feet of Jesus Christ (Mk 14:3, John 12:3), the expensive jewelry which women cherish and with which they adorn themselves (1 Tim 2:9), and the unique pearl “of great price” found by the merchantman seeking goodly pearls. (Matt 13:46) A meek and quiet spirit in a godly woman ranks with these? Yes, it does! Is it then something to be loathed and hated? Is not this an exceedingly precious and practical topic we consider? What brings the God of heaven more delight than a quiet, godly woman, walking in subjection to her husband? Does He delight in what he sees in our homes today? Oh, that wives would carefully follow after this holiness in our homes to bring delights to the heart of God!
After This Manner, In the Old Time
It is in this type of quiet submission that the godly women of old, “adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands.” There was no different expectation placed upon wives under what we think of as the old economy than there is what we now call the “new.” What God commends in our godly female heritage He looks for in every wife today. He looks to find each one, “being in subjection” (again, hupotasso).
These women of ancient times, “trusted in God,” and this is what enabled them to continue in such a godly walk, a walk of subjection that is so precious in the sight of God. They did this in a day when women were bought and sold, when Woman was discounted and belittled. How much more should women of today be willing to walk after God, when the culture is so very much disposed to protecting them and seeing to their welfare!
What makes it so very difficult for any woman to walk in holiness in her home is fear, an ungodly fear, a lack of trust in God. There was more to fear in Sarah’s day, more discomfort to shrink from, more danger facing her than facing most any woman today. What can we see by looking closely at her life?
Any casual reading of the life of Abraham, mixed with the slightest bit of imagination, places one next to the sturdy heart of Sarah in the windy sands of the Arabian Desert. God called her husband, in his seventies or eighties, to leave everything they knew, and to venture out into the wilderness … with no certain provision, no protection, no map … and no particular destination in mind. Abraham left, with little more than his tent and his sheep, to wander in a strange land, a strange culture … never to return home to Ur. Sarah left her home, her extended family, her friends, her natural security. She left all she knew and felt comfort in, for the sands and transience of being a nomad … merely because her husband said so.
Whenever her husband was minded, she would have to pull up the stakes again, pack up the tent again, get her things in order again, and climb back up on some cranky camel or donkey and ride along beside him. She would have to cook out in the open, fighting the blowing sands, the cold and heat, preparing and cleaning and managing a household that was constantly on the move. She would have little of the common comforts of this life … all because her husband said so … and for no other reason.
Abraham did not know where he was going, he had no agenda to accomplish when he got there, and he knew no one along the way. He simply said God had called him to leave the extended family and go. She went with him … and we have no indication that she complained as she did.
Sarah was a very beautiful woman. Should any king or captain see her, or any searching scouts return with a report of her to one, he would want her … and be willing to kill to have her. It was a dangerous time. There were no police, no secure borders. Roving bands of malicious criminals and pirates marauded and pillaged innocent travelers all the time. Kings did as they pleased with those that passed their way. What would Abraham do? How would he take care of her? What would happen to them? God would have to watch over them. She would have to trust Him.
Was it easy? Well, Sarah was so beautiful that when anyone important asked Abraham about her, he just said she was his sister… and asked Sarah to go along with it. She did … hoping it would all work out OK … she was his half-sister. Abraham was afraid; he was not trusting God, he thought he was saving his own life by doing this.
Once, a mighty foreign king took Abraham’s word on this and offered him a lot of money for Sarah. Abraham felt he could not refuse and risk exposing his lie. He sold his dear Sarah to be another man’s wife. He did this deliberately and purposefully and completely and permanently … and waved her good-bye.
How did Sarah deal with this vast failure of her husband? Her husband that was following God and taking her about in the desert all this time?
I don’t have any clue.
Was God faithful?
Yes. God was faithful. God plagued the house of this king severely because of the presence of Sarah within it, eventually revealing to the king the true nature of his problem by supernatural means since neither Abraham nor Sarah were willing to expose the lie. The king put Sarah back into her home with Abraham, and he rebuked Abraham for his lie … and Sarah as well. Sarah got settled back in her home, and forgave her husband.
Then along came another king … and Abraham sold his lovely wife again.
And God rescued her again.
Neither husband ever touched her … in God’s beautiful providence … and Sarah eventually became a mother … after many painful years of waiting and wondering and hoping … she became the mother of the child of promise.
God never said it would be easy. He just said that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God is faithful, Who has called you unto the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Obey Him. Trust Him. He is worthy of your trust.
Calling Him Lord
Let us notice a striking — and most often overlooked — facet of the conduct of the Christian wife; “Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.”
In the national bestseller, Power of A Praying Husband , in her chapter on Her Submission, Stormie O’Martian claims that the Bible never uses the word “obey” in the context of a wife’s submission to her husband (p. 99). She is very plain and sweeping in her insistence that God never intended for “obedience” to have any place at all in defining the marriage relationship and she centers her entire work upon the exclusion of this concept (her book would have to be completely rewritten to accommodate it) … and she apparently has the unqualified endorsement of the most influential conservative evangelical leaders of our day.
Doesn’t it make you wonder … just a little?
We read for ourselves … as so few apparently do. Abraham gave commands to Sarah and Sarah obeyed Abraham. It was not unrighteous for him to give his wife commands, and God was delighted in Abraham for the way he commanded his household. (Gen 18:19) When Abraham told Sarah to quickly prepare bread for some guests (Gen 18:6), during one of their many stops in their relentless journey, she did so. Abraham did not explain why he needed this, nor did Sarah ask. He did not ask her if it was convenient, seek her permission or her will in the matter, nor did he make sure he was not interrupting some other work she had planned for the day. He did not apologize for the short notice, nor make any excuses for needing to order her life. She promptly obeyed him.
It was clear to both Abraham and Sarah that Abraham owned all of Sarah’s time; Abraham’s priorities had become Sarah’s priorities. She regularly confirmed that she had given her life to him and for him, and he trusted her. She was an extension of him; they were one. She did not resist, hesitate, or even question her husband when he called her to the task, any more than his own arm or leg would have so done; knowledge of her lord’s will was clear and became her own.
Sarah often reminded Abraham that her life was dedicated to him, and encouraged him to use it as he saw fit in the Lord. She did this by calling him, “Lord.” Sarah addressed Abraham as her master, as her lord in this life, acknowledging him as the one she was devoted to serve and obey. Her husband’s desire and will was her duty before God, so long as it was not openly contrary to the direct commands of God. When she called him “Lord,” she was saying to him in so many words, “At your service.”
Sarah reminded Abraham and herself of this principle when she addressed him, and also when she spoke of him to others. When speaking to the Lord Himself about her husband, she naturally referred to her own husband as, “my lord.” (Gen 18:12) Her own will and desire were not the overriding concern in her relationship with her husband, any more than it was between her and her God. She saw that in God’s order her service to her husband and her service to the God of Creation were one and the same. She was not devoted to herself or to her own way, but was constantly looking to her earthly master for leadership and direction in the matter of raising his child of promise, faithful to him in guiding the affairs of his home, and she honored him when representing him to others, both within the home and without. You are encouraged to do the same.
Was this something that was particularly easy for Sarah for some reason? Sarah likely knew her husband Abraham as well as or better than any woman can know her husband. She was not only his wife, she was his half-sister and ten years the younger. She had known him and lived with him for as long as she could remember. If any woman might resent and resist submission, it might be a woman married to her elder half-brother. If any would find familiarity a difficulty, be tempted to disrespect, resent, belittle, and resist her husband, it might such a woman. If any woman would resist calling her husband, “lord,” we actually might have a good candidate in Sarah.
Certainly, it is clear that Sarah’s example to you in addressing her husband as “lord” does not necessarily represent an explicit command from God. God is not saying you are required to call your husband “lord.” Similarly, the Word of God does not command a husband to tell his wife that he loves her, and to tell her often and affectionately that she is the most important person in the world to him. Yet any husband that resents doing so exposes a severe heart problem in following Jesus Christ, for Jesus Christ certainly expresses His love for the Church in this way.
If following the example of Sarah in calling your own husband, “Lord,” brings grief to you, as with any hard-hearted husband who will not communicate love appropriately to his wife, your difficulty likewise exposes you as the rebel, like an unbroken horse or as the mule, which will not yield to the bit and the saddle, stiff-necked and rebellious, saying, “I will not have this man to reign over me.” (Lk 19:14) Don’t be this way. (Ps 32:9) This is casting off the rule of your heavenly Father in your life, saying, “My lips are my own, who is lord over me?” (Ps12:4)
As a wife you are encouraged by Sarah’s example to develop the regular habit of addressing your husband as your lord and master. This is entirely consistent and appropriate for you to do in following God’s command that you be in subjection to your husband and that you reverence, or fear him. It is equivalent to a husband giving consistent verbal affirmation to his wife that he loves and cherishes her in obedience to God’s command that he love his wife as Christ loves the Church. In the same spirit, call your husband “Lord” as often as you call him “Honey” or “Sweety” or “Sugar” or any other nickname you are fond of using. Call him “Sir;” call him “Boss;” call him “Master.” Find frequent use of addresses and titles that confirm to him you are working for him, that you are at his service, that you respect him and the position he holds, that you are seeking his welfare, and that you are committed to helping him, ministering to him, and pleasing him in every way possible.
When you verbally and thoughtfully acknowledge your husband as your lord you do several things. You probe the purity and tenderness of your own heart, ensuring that you are walking in the way of obedience, checking your self-will and unmasking and exposing the subtle encroachments of sin. You also encourage your husband in his leadership in the home, and you assure him of your loving loyalty and respect. You bolster his confidence, and enable him in the work God has called him to, and you remind him of your selfless devotion to him, that you remain at his disposal, by his side, naturally drawing out his appreciation and thankfulness to you and to God for your open subjection to the Gospel of Christ.
We also have here in Sarah’s example an explicit reference to the formal state of the wife in regard to her servanthood. This word translated lord is kurios, the same word used to refer to the Lord Jesus Christ throughout the New Testament. It means supreme in authority, controller. (Strong) It is translated God (Acts 19:20) and Lord (approx 600 times in the NT). It is translated masters: “And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven.” (Eph 6:9) In calling her husband lord, Sarah was formally acknowledging her husband as her master and accepting the place of a servant in his house. In this she was respecting divine order and following God’s pattern for the home. This order was established before the Law, when Sarah lived, and is expressed as the pattern of godliness now. It applies to every married woman in every age.
When a woman gives her life to serving the Lord Jesus Christ in her home like this, not only is it an unspeakable delight to the heart of God, in all but the foulest of men this type of quiet subjection will draw out a profound gratitude and thankfulness. Your obedience to God will very likely cause your husband to naturally cherish you as his most precious earthly treasure, and result in abundant overflows of thanksgiving to God. Render him the respect and service that our Lord calls you to render unto him, as unto Christ Himself. Remind your husband and yourself frequently that you are a willing servant to him, calling him lord for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This walk of obedient faith, where the husband leads in wisdom and love, and where you follow in quietness, subjection and love, is how the two of you are designed to function. When two walk together in this way there is profound beauty, satisfaction, and health. Walking outside of this way, especially when the wife does, brings conflict, shame, and a reproach: women are to be, “good, obedient unto their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” (Titus 2:5)
That The Word of God Be Not Blasphemed
When a married woman claims to belong to Jesus Christ and is not generally fearfully obedient to her husband the Word of God is blasphemed. That is why it is so important for older women to be a godly example in their subjection to their own husbands, both in word and deed. Elder women are to, “teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” (Titus 2:4-5)
When this foundation of divine order in the home is destroyed in the church the Word of God is discredited in the world. Domestic disobedience is an open testimony to the world of a practical rejection of the authority of God over the Church, and this broadly proclaims an open, public rebellion against His principles. When the Church does this it brings God great dishonor and robs the kingdom of God of its innate power, as when Israel went a whoring after the gods of the nations about them and learned their wickedness.
Satan goes after this end, this goal, seeking it with a relentless, deliberate, constant vengeance. He wants to have the Word of God blasphemed legitimately and viciously. There is little that can accomplish this like rebellion in God’s own people. That is evidently one reason why there is such a common rage against the truth here, against the principle of divine order in the home, especially within the walls of our churches, and why it is so very important for saints to repent, and become obedient and faithful to the Lord in this matter. It is absolutely essential that we internalize these truths and teach them to others who look to us as mentors.
Any time that a wife purposes to violate the authority of her husband, she opens the door of her life and home to demonic invasion just as if she were to resist any other duly appointed authority in her life. Whether we understand it or not, the principles of the kingdom of God are rooted in God’s order, and godly authority is intrinsic to His order. Civil authority, parental authority, and spiritual authority in the church are commonly developed as areas where saints should remain in respectful submission so that they will be protected from attack and devastation by the enemy. It is in the key area of marriage that authority as been crushed by feminism and the church silenced, leaving consistent open access to demonic invasion of the Christian home. In restoring this order to the Church and home, we close the doors to satanic access. The enemy will not retreat easily.
In my opinion, one of the main reasons that the Word of God is mocked in western society is the refusal of professing Christian women to walk in obedience to God in their homes, and the refusal of nearly all professing Christians to say or do anything about it. The relationship of obedience to God’s ordained authority in marriage to the health of both the home and society is clear, but this text brings to light the fact that disobedience in the home significantly impacts the health and effectiveness of the very kingdom of God. When God’s Word is being legitimately blasphemed in the world, it is because the kingdom of God is effectively paralyzed. Only the children of God can wreck such havoc on the kingdom … because it is chaos from within. Truly, the gates of hell cannot withstand the attack of the kingdom of God … but it need not worry about a kingdom in disarray, boasting an army that cannot find its hands. (Ps 76:5) Disobedient saints are not a threat to the darkness: they are its most powerful friends.
This is not a peripheral, academic subject that we are neglecting as a Church, as the living body of Christ upon the earth. The subjection of the wife to the husband deeply affects the very foundation of our temporal existence and of God’s spiritual kingdom. We do not well to stand by in silence as feminism mangles the foundations of all that we hold dear.
As Long As Ye Do Well
This concept is so central in the design of God that He actually associates it with salvation. The text we have before us here implies that only so long as a woman generally continues in what many would consider to be this deeply unhealthy submission in her home … should she even consider herself to be a Christian at all … “whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well.”
It is not that a wife need earn her salvation by being subject to her husband, but it is a simple plain fact that any true saint of God is … Elect Unto Obedience (1 Pet 1:2) … obedience to the design of God for their life. This is the defining of a Faith that saves by a Faith that works. A faith that does not work is not faith at all. For the saintly wife, her work of faith is oriented in and about her husband.
Is there room for error in a Christian? There most certainly is. Is there room for blatant, persistent, willful, prolonged, deliberate rebellion against the principles of God as a manner of life? No, there is not room for prolonged and deliberately defiant rebellion in the life of a believer. Such sinners are not of the Lord’s sheep, for, as our Lord said, His children, “hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) “But unto them that are contentious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness,” is the reward of “ indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish.” (Rom 2: 8-9) “Let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil … In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God.” (1 Jn 3:7-8, 10a)
The general manner of life of a married Christian woman will be characterized by a certain obedience to God in the home, a “doing well.” Quite simply, those women who refuse to walk in this way of obedience as a manner of life are not to consider themselves Christians: servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, any more than men who deliberately and maliciously abuse, misuse and neglect their wives may have assurance of eternal life. Encouragement that one is a child of Abraham is not available outside this walk of obedient servanthood; it is only, “as long as ye do well” that assurance of an eternal inheritance in Christ may be enjoyed. This walk of obedience is fundamental to God’s call upon the woman; for the saintly wife whom He has begotten, it is part of the very fabric of her being.
Be Not Afraid with any Amazement
Further, in walking in respectful submission to your husband, you should not be dreadfully fearful or amazed, as many a lost woman might surely be in such a state … as God exhorts you, “be not afraid with any amazement.” This command strikes at the root of why so very many married women refuse to walk in the ways of God in the home: they are afraid. They are afraid that if they let go of their very stranglehold on their husbands’ necks, that they themselves will become very unhappy. Such fear is often caused by disappointments early in life that promoted a controlling spirit as a defense to further hurt. Regardless, whether a woman’s fear is culturally acceptable or not, her subjection to her husband is commanded and expected. She is also commanded to put away her fear, as Sarah did.
In being an example to other women, in giving them sound instruction to bless their homes, to understand the extent of God’s commands and how far God would actually have a wife go in this submission to a husband, in her being subject to him and honoring him when he is not obedient to God, you do well to take a good look at the example of the chaste and brave Abigail. (1 Samuel 25) We have here a very unusual story in the Word of God, an extreme case of a pious and reverent woman submitting to a profoundly proud, foolish and arrogant man: her husband Nabal.
Abigail’s story is set during the days when king David was a very young man, after he had been anointed king of Israel. It was commonly known in Israel that Saul, who still reigned as king, had outlawed David due to his jealousy concerning Samuel’s prophecy that David would be the next king, and that Saul diligently sought to slay David. Saul’s persecution rendered David incapable of providing for himself and forced him to constant evasion and a dependence on foraging in the wild or on the occasional kindness of those he chanced upon in his escapes.
At one point, David encountered the herds and herdsmen of Nabal, Abigail’s husband, and became a shield to his shepherds and flocks, protecting them from thieves and wild animals. After the safe return home of Nabal’s goods, David meekly asked Nabal for some provision. Instead of being generous and hospitable, Nabal was arrogant, selfish, rude, condescending, and cruel to David. This angered David so deeply that David purposed to vindicate himself and annihilate Nabal and his entire family and community.
As David was on his way toward their home to slay every male in their entire estate, from the immediate family members to the common servants, Nabal was feasting sumptuously in celebration of the successful return of his flocks … at David’s honest expense. The household servants, understanding the vulnerable strait in which they suddenly found themselves, came to Abigail and pleaded for their very lives. It was commonly understood in their midst, as these servants conferred with Abigail about the matter, that Nabal was such a fool that no one could even begin to speak reasonably with him about his rudeness to David. It was pointless for her to make an appeal to him. She knew what must be done.
To save her life, the lives of her servants, and – yes – even her husband’s own life, Abigail hastily prepared an extravagant present of food for David and his men, and personally rode quickly out to meet him before he attacked their community.
Abigail found David, in his hot displeasure, on his way up the hill with sword in hand to slay her family, and pled with him to take out his anger on herself, owning her husband’s sin before David. She understood David to be the legitimate king of Israel and she acknowledged him as such. She stepped between David and her husband, begging David to spare the rest of the family the anticipated vengeance upon Nabal’s foolishness. She pleaded with David to receive the present of food at her hand, explaining that she understood David to be a righteous man who was being pressed unjustly by king Saul, and that she had been unaware of David’s modest request for provision. She asked the Lord to protect David and his men, and to deal justly with her husband – bringing him into judgment along with all the rest of David’s enemies.
This was, obviously, totally against her husband’s wishes, but it was for his own life, and for the lives of their entire family. What she said was true, and it was said to proper authority above her husband … authority that he had deeply offended. Submitting to her husband’s wishes at that time would have been sinful, violating the wisdom of God in the context of the imminent and dreadful danger of their circumstance. In matters of life and death, in matters of blatant lawlessness where the husband is being deliberately careless, in such cases the rule of common sense, the Word of God and of basic divine charity prevails; one must obey God rather than men. Abigail prayerfully and reverently went before her king to ask the life of her sons, her husband and his men. She considered herself to be expendable in the matter.
Abigail fully sided with David in this situation, standing against her husband in his arrogance and sin. She did not pretend that her husband was anything other than what he had shown himself to be: a plain fool. (vs 25) However, she remained faithful to Nabal as his wife in her spirit even in this. Also, and more importantly, she was submissive to God and His uprightness in her, though it were to her own temporal destruction.
Though Abigail loathed her husband’s cold-hearted foolishness, she did remain submissive to him, even in her disobedience to what she knew he wanted. After she had appeased David and saved the lives of her loved ones, she returned to her home and told her husband everything that she had done, exactly how she had done it, and submitted herself to his hand to do as he pleased with her for her action. (vs 37!)
This was an extremely brave and upright thing for Abigail to do. The situation reveals the extreme differences between her and her husband in their character and disposition. It is plain that she was a woman of rare virtue, married to an infidel of unusual proportions. We see in this that God, in His sovereign pleasure, at times places two people together in a marriage who are at the two extremes of human nature: one very pleasing to Him, and the other very displeasing to Him.
We also see in this example the fullness to which God would have a woman submit to a man, regardless of his wisdom or character, and how God honors this subjection, as though it were unto Himself. This is the only example in the Word of God where a godly woman plainly dealt with an abusive and sinful man, and Abigail was properly submissive to her husband Nabal in all respects … even as he endangered the lives of an entire community of people. She followed God’s principles carefully and fully under extremely difficult circumstances, then returned to her earthly lord and submitted to his anticipated abuse, yielding to her master and awaiting his judgment for her well-doing. Though he had apparently never been deeply abusive with Abigail to the point of justifying a divorce, it is not unreasonable to expect that he would have, at this point, brutalized her for what she had done … had he been left to his own devices. Even so, without having any warrant to judge him so from experience, she submitted to him and trusted in God to protect her.
God did protect Abigail from Nabal’s retaliation, and struck her husband dead before he could even rise from his stupor to deal with her. David heard about this a short time afterwards, and sent to take Abigail as his bride. Her virtue and wisdom were no deep secret. She spent the rest of her days the wife of an incredible king, a man after God’s own heart, nurtured in the epicenter of God’s chosen people.
Abigail is perhaps the most profoundly righteous woman in all of the Word of God. There is certainly no record of any other woman called upon to deal with a situation as difficult as this, who evidenced such poise, wisdom, and perfect humility as this dear woman did in her response. If any woman has righteously endured an unreasonable man as a husband, Abigail has. If any woman was called of God to disobey her husband’s heart in righteousness, Abigail was. If any servant can be found such as this, to return to such a senseless master after having saved his life, to humbly submit to being destroyed by him in his rage against her for having done so well, I have not seen it. It is superbly fitting that she was delivered of this fool by the hand of God, and placed at the side of king David as his bride. Amen!
Yet in all this, there was no sharpness in Abigail towards her husband. She never reprimanded him, nor did she correct him, nor did she give herself to denouncing him to others (though she did testify truthfully and humbly concerning him before David, whom she knew to be the rightful king of Israel and a proper authority above her husband who had been deeply wronged by him, vs. 30). So shall it be with any godly wife. Before a wife engages in conflict with her husband, or puts him in a bad light with others, she does well to consider the extreme nature of this particular instance of a wife’s submission to her husband … and think again. A situation can hardly be expected with any remotely reasonable man that will justify a contentious, disrespectful, or uncooperative spirit in his wife.
Shall We Continue In Sin?
Far from an unhealthy, morbid thing, it is very good for us to be here … to consider the depth of this call for a bit. After all it is God’s call to us, not merely a human institution, an arbitrary thing. Who else calls us to meditate on this beautiful subject so bluntly and so plainly? The King of the Universe bids us in this as we seek his Holy Face, though none else be faithful here. That one living thing of “great price” to God is now sorely trampled under foot by most, but let it be cherished by us now.
Sister, the depth and degree of God’s call for you in submitting to your husband is far beyond what is commonly understood today and we do well to ponder these texts thoughtfully. There is great wealth hidden in this place, to us and to our God. To know the truth is to be set free. To disdain any portion of the Word of God, as many certainly do here, is to insult the holy origin of it and to lose the benefit intended therein.
Suppose you do disdain some portion of this counsel. What are your options as a wife? What godly options are apparent that differ from what I have proposed? “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom 6:1,2) How can a child of God consider such things? To rebel is to give place to the devil and to be taken captive by him at his will. (2 Tim 2:26)
Your husband is not perfect, to be sure. Neither are you. Feminism would strip your husband of his authority in the home, and it relentlessly undermines his confidence … teaching you to stand up, resist your husband, and take control when you do not like what is going on. If you are the dominant personality in your home, you will likely succeed if you attempt to do so. It is extremely likely that no one in the church will condemn you, and that no one in your community or family will think the less of you. Suppose you yield to this?
Should you for any reason resist your husband instead of walking in subjection to him you will grieve and anger him. This is given. Every time you speak against your husband, every time you loose your tongue to reprimand him, to correct him, to admonish him, to contend with him … you wound him just as he would wound you if he struck you with his fist. The wound cannot be seen, but it is just as real … and the fact that it is socially acceptable does nothing to justify or mitigate it … and rather deepens the wound than helps it to heal.
What principles of God will give you direction to resist your husband? Dare you indeed contrive some text to give you boldness here? If your husband is not demanding blatant sin, is the outcome of your rebellion against him any better for the cause of the Lord? Even if you succeed in having your way and manipulating your husband, achieving some short-term temporal comfort, can you pretend that God is pleased in this, and that some heavenly reward awaits you for doing so?
Suppose your husband is unfaithful to you? How does your departure from him improve anyone’s lot? Does it benefit your husband? your children? the church of God? Does it really even benefit you? Does it glorify the Lord? Should Sarah have left Abraham? Should Abigail have left David when he went after Bathsheba?
Even if your husband happens to strike you unjustly, would your earthly physical comfort be your primary concern? Is departing from your husband outside the bounds set by our Lord consistent with loving not your life unto the death? of taking up your cross daily in your pursuit of Christ? of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness? Have not many suffered so much more for the sake of the Lord Jesus, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection? Look down the roll call of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. Would you be counted among them?
Or do you wish to live in carnal pleasure at God’s expense? Only a walking corpse can do such a thing. (1 Tim 5:6)
In the end, looking back on your life from the bosom of Christ in eternity, would you prefer to look back with Him and hear Him say, “You were faithful unto death, I will give you a crown of life?” (Jas 1:12, Rev 2:10) Can you truly say that resisting your husband, or leaving him, is part of your abiding in Christ, that when He shall appear you will have confidence in this and not be ashamed before Him at His coming? (1 John 2:28) Are you willing to leave your husband … and your children too? Is your earthly comfort of more concern to you than the comfort and holiness of God?
Ye Serve The Lord Christ
The Word of God is clear. Dear sister, your duty before God as a wife is to submit to your husband in all things, as the Church herself submits to her Lord Jesus Christ in all things. This submission and subjection to your husband is to come from the very depths of your being; it is not a shawl to don and discard at a whim. You are to address your husband as lord and master and confirm your obedience and the purity of your heart towards him frequently. You are to walk with him in shamefacedness and in general silence, in meekness and in quietness, in all reverence and godly fear and subjection, honoring him and seeking his will instead of your own in all things, uplifting him and encouraging him and ministering to him as unto the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The children you bear are your husband’s, your time is his, and your energy and strength are his. This is for all of your days, “She will do him good, and not evil, all the days of her life” (Pr 31:12), until the Lord calls one or the other of you home.
As a servant to your husband, you truly are a partaker with your husband in his work as you minister to him and uplift him, and you will likely be given to enjoy the fruits of his efforts according as you give your life and strength to serve him. It is God’s purpose to enable a godly man through the loyal strength and devotion of a godly wife, and it is generally His way that the woman should be partaker in the results of her husband’s labor and success. This will naturally occur as your husband reaps the reward of his labor. As the Church reaps the benefits of the work of her Master Jesus Christ, this principle will generally hold for you. It applies in temporal matters as well as in spiritual matters.
If your husband serves the Lord God, be confident that you are enabling the Lord’s ministry through him and be joyful in that. If he be a prophet, and you enable him in your service, you receive a prophet’s reward. (Matt 10:41) If he be an evangelist, you will reap the reward of an evangelist. If a righteous man, his reward is also yours. If your husband be ungodly, yet watch your God use your selfless service to glorify Himself in countless ways, both in your home and in your community. He will likely use your chaste and fearful manner to convert your husband to holiness and to encourage other women to love and serve their husbands, bringing great glory to God and honor to His written Word. Even if not, be confident at least in the fact that in the last day, you will be justified and redeemed from all of the evil and abuse of your love. No sin will go unpunished in Jesus Christ. (Col 3:25) As you yourself remain faithful to God’s call to you, receive the greatest reward of all, the reward of a servant: “ He that is greatest among you, shall be your servant.” (Matt 23:11) Be it in your heart to hear Him say to you, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord .” (Matt 25:21)
Truly, it is not merely your husband that you serve in this walk of humble service; ultimately it actually is the Lord God Himself. In this calling, as you walk therein, you serve your God to the full; you cannot serve Him and be amiss in your duty to your husband. When you are in rebellion against your husband, you are in rebellion against your God, your eternal Husband. When you selflessly serve your earthly husband as unto the Lord God, you do serve the Lord Jesus Christ in truth. In the end, when you enter His glorious presence having ministered to your husband in this way with your full energy and devotion, you will hear the words, as much to you as to the Apostle Paul himself, “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matt 25:23)
She Shall Be Praised
What will be your temporal desert for this walk of humble service? Perhaps, in truth, it does not really matter… for your true taste is for the heavenly reward as you “esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of” this ol’ world. (Heb 11:26) But the Word of God does indicate that there will be a rich reward for you, heavenly and earthly as you purpose to follow Him. His design is for a reason: it is good for you, as well as for your husband. There is no instruction of God that is not designed to bring you health, peace and joy as you obey Him: “His commandments are not grievous.” (1 John 5:3) “A woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised … Her children arise up and call her blessed, her husband also, and he praiseth her. Give her of the fruit of her own hands and let her own works praise her in the gates.” (Pr 31:30b, 28, 31)
Let us be honest with ourselves here, friends. For all of the violent rage spewing forth from feminists against this doctrine, what reasonably sane man would not nearly die to have a daughter of Abraham by his side? “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies?” (Pr 31:10) What would a man NOT give to find such holiness and submission and oneness in a woman? Both his arms and legs would likely not be too high a price! Most any man, if he could ever find such a woman, would be like Jacob working for Rachel fervently for seven years to have her, and the time seemed to him, “but a few days for the love he had for her.” (Gen 29:20) She would be worth more to him than any fortune he could dream of having. It would render such a fortune needless to him, other than to please her with it – he would already have his treasure! “Her husband… shall have no need of spoil.” (Pr 31:11)
Godly submission in a woman’s heart captures the heart of a man as little else can. Such a woman is not only precious in the sight of God, she is the most valued treasure a man can imagine! As a friend of mine elated to me … in one rare unforgettable glimpse into the present glory of such a marriage … a real marriage with real people … right in my circle of acquaintance … that he simply finds himself weeping for joy as he thinks of the inward beauty of his wife … a wife that is truly in subjection to her husband as a manner of life. He literally trembles and weeps in bewilderment at the fantastic goodness of God, finding himself utterly unworthy of such love and devotion. He cannot find ways to express it adequately!
I have never heard such passion expressed anywhere else about anything else … other than that explosive consuming passion that raptures the hearts of sold-out saints for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Believe you me, this blessed husband knows he has no small thing! He has found what God has intended in His design for marriage. This is pure ecstasy … not transient and carnal, nor driven by sensual appearance and pleasure … but a joy that raptures both husband and wife into a unity and intimacy of the most profound degree: an abiding and vibrant and living and rich and deep and fulfilling and satisfying and transcendent and pure and holy … oneness! This is impossible apart from God’s way!! This husband’s eyes simply glisten with delight as he speaks of this dear woman … his own precious wife ! He will do absolutely anything for her … with the kind of robust passion that inspires bookstand fantasies … anything that is not itself a grief to his God.
Why would anyone disdain this??
What man, with any trace of godliness within, would not deeply cherish, preserve and protect such a fearfully obedient, selfless, attentive, compliant, peaceable and reverent woman? Verily, if he is a remotely reasonable man, he will boast of her in public (Pr 31: 28, 29, 31) and in private, and think of her constantly throughout his days with thanksgiving and deep rejoicing. He will be encouraged to do his best in his work and in his service to God, and in the end will say with all sincerity, “I could never have done this without my dear, sweet, loving wife! She is God’s greatest gift to me, next to Himself!” He will be thrice the man, with such a woman as this at his side, than he would ever hope to be by himself without her. Truly, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” just as the Father said in the Garden. (Gen 2:18) God has intended to complete Man with the virtue and power of you … a dedicated woman, one who has given her life to serving her husband unconditionally and fervently.
The alluring temptation from other women will be a disgust to such a blessed man, if he has any sanity about him at all. As one blessed husband said, “Why should I steal an old Volkswagen off the street when I have a brand new Cadillac in my garage?!” If he is a good man, instead of being tempted with wantonness, he will love you tenderly, and with the deepest passion. He will look for ways to express his love for you, unable to contain the intensity of it, and his love will not be merely for your outward fleeting beauty, but for the exceeding treasure of your heart.
Even so, your reverent submission will also move him to find your outward appearance to be so much more attractive as the years go by … and there will be no need for the superfluity of ornaments to adorn you … though he will likely see to it that you have them aplenty. He will enjoy providing for you, and be bolstered up to be all that His God has intended him to be through your service to him. If he is a bad man, it is likely that he will “be won by” your “chaste conversation coupled with fear,” (1 Peter 3:2) and become a good man, if you persevere in your love for Him in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Truly, when a woman walks in this way of humble service to her husband, “Strength an honor are her clothing, and she shall rejoice in time to come” (Pr 31:25). Her earthly reward will be only a diluted taste of her heavenly reward. Such a woman has no fear of death, no shame, no guilt. In my opinion, the highest throngs of the saints in the heavens will have a large proportion of women among them, blessed saints who walked in the way of holiness for the love and fear of God, fearful and silent in the mist of a crooked and perverse generation. They are oft unseen and unheard here below, but will be among the crown jewels of the God of heaven, bursting with praise and glory before Him, exceedingly precious in His sight, borne on high of Him with joy for all to see and admire!
Who Can Find A Virtuous Woman?
Daughter of Abraham, it is so sad that more women have not found the way of holiness before God. Truly, she is a rare beauty, a unique treasure, of great price in His sight: a virtuous woman.
And by your own word and godly example … mentor other wives after you.
If God calls you, as a wife, even to suffer for His name’s sake, do not deny Him; count it a great privilege: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake .” (Phlp 1:29) “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.” (1 Peter 4:19) Look for your Blessed Hope, abide in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ, and be diligent that you may be found of Him in peace, without spot, blameless (2 Peter 3:14), confident, and unashamed (1 John 2:28) in that day.
Now the truth of God rests where it belongs: between you and your God. I trust that in you, daughter of Abraham, it does set well.
Feed My Sheep
“As for my people… women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.” (Is 3:12)
Man of God, I call on you to take up the teaching mantle with a new purity and integrity and strength, and shun not to declare unto the church ALL the counsel of God. (Acts 20:27, Ps 40:10) Pastor or not, every man of God, every born again adult male … is a teacher. Prove all things and hold fast that which is good. (1 Thess 5:21) Teach God’s truth to your daughters, to your sons, to your wife, to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Take it to your local body in Christ, to the elders.
It is time to seek the Lord: I expect that you have found something different and unfamiliar here. I trust it is compelling. It is not peripheral: open your mouth before the saints and speak to a more practical and relevant and precious and powerful and needful and … neglected … subject than this one. Can this be done? I think not. Be a Berean. I beseech you: Do not walk away until you have a clean heart and a good conscience in the Holy Ghost in this matter.
Soon the Son of Man will be seen in the heavens, coming to rule the nations with a rod of iron. All the tribes of the earth will wail and mourn because of Him (Matt 24:30, Rev 1:7), for their day of rebellion will be at its end. In that great and dreadful Day, the Word of God (Rev 19:13) will dash the rebel to pieces, as the vessels of the potter are broken to shivers (Rev 2:27), and He will restore His established order in His kingdom, including His order in the home. Each will have their due reward, and there will be no respect of persons.
Meanwhile, sure … you will suffer for living this out. So will I. Wife, husband, male, female, pastor, elder, younger, new babe in Christ … we are all called to suffer. “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2nd Tim 3:12) It is right here, right now, that we need to lay it all down and take up our cross and follow Him. We need not imagine ourselves suffering with saints long ago, or lift up those in far away lands now persecuted for His name’s sake … and feign as though are hearts are one with them, faithful … and that we would also be suffering if we did not live in such a prosperous Christian nation. The time to stand is now!! Fear not what men will do to you. He is worthy of our suffering … and of so very much more.
If you think to walk away and do nothing with this … to deliberately choose the way of silence, the way of ease, the way of darkness and shame … to let your belly be your god … and become an enemy of the cross of Christ (Phil 3:18-19), consider this one last thought before we part: What would you not give, on your dying day, when the lights dim and your mortal life draws its last breath, as you look out into the vast reaches of eternity and see your Lord, THE LORD GOD … coming for you, when you finally see those precious nail-pierced hands … what would you not give for one chance … one more chance… to come back to this spot right here, right now, and give it ALL to Him? for Him… Who gave His all for you?
What else do you truly have … but Him?
May the God of all grace sanctify you wholly, and confirm you unto the end, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.