God’s Design for the Family: The Role of the Wife – Ephesians 5:21-33

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Faith Bible Church, NY

December 1, 1996

God’s Design for the Family:

The Role of the Wife

Ephesians 5:21-33

This morning we begin a four-part series on the family based in our study of Ephesians. In the next month we will deal with the role of the wife, the husband, parents and children. Before we get into the heart of our study this morning, I want to make some preliminary comments as well as quickly set the context of our passage in Ephesians 5.

First, lets be careful about our response to each of these messages. Today we will examine the role of the wife, so the message is geared toward ladies. However, you men need to listen closely too, but not for the purpose of finding out what you can criticize your wife for. No, instead you listen to understand the role God has entrusted to your wife so that you can encourage her in it and pray for her. And let me warn you that if you do not take this advice and you start getting on her case for her failings, then you are going to be in big trouble next week when I preach on the role of the husband, because I can guarantee that you most men are failing much more in their role than women in theirs.

Second, be aware that due to the prevalence of feminist thought in our culture, the subject of the role of the wife has become controversial even within the church. When I say feminist thought, I am not referring to just the radical views of the feminist extremists who espouse abortion for any reason and lesbianism. Instead I am referring to the general view of women and their roles that have come to be accepted by most Americans. You will know what I am talking about when you start feeling uncomfortable by what I will be saying this morning.

Third, be aware that many preachers are fearful of speaking on this issue because they do not want to risk the possible backlash. I know there could be some backlash to what I will say today. Some might say that because I am not a woman that I am not qualified to speak on this issue. However, I have no doubt that I am very qualified to speak on the subject, not because I have a wife, but because when I preach the issue is not what I think but rather what God says. When I do my job properly, you are not hearing my thoughts and opinions, but rather an explanation of what God has revealed in His Word. You and I are both obligated to bring our thoughts and opinions into alignment with what He says, for He is the sovereign creator and knows the truth.

Now lets review the context.

Paul is explaining, challenging and commanding his readers, including us, to live according to the changes God made in us when He saved us. We are new creatures in Christ and ought to live as such and quit living like we did before we were saved. In the specific section of the book we are studying now, Paul has called us to be careful to walk according to God’s wisdom, and not in the foolishness of this world. We are to make the most of our time and the opportunities God gives to us during out short stay on this earth. Life is too short and we are too frail to be caught up in the foolishness of self-centered living, but rather we are to understand and follow the will of the Lord.

God’s will is not some mystical thing floating around out in the cosmos somewhere, but rather it has been revealed to us in the Scriptures and He has given us the Holy Spirit at salvation to prompt us in living accordingly. We are to be filled with the spirit, that is, to be influenced and controlled by Him in a manner analogous to the influence and control alcohol has on those who get drunk. The Holy Spirit is to be the director of our lives, not we ourselves.

The evidence of our being filled by Him is in hearts that break forth in music in praise to our God, in being always thankful for all things and in a mutual submission to one another. The evidence will also come out in our relationships with one another, especially within the family. A man and a woman cannot create the kind of marriage that God designed for them unless they are filled with the Holy Spirit.

What is God’s design for marriage? We have to understand that before we will understand the roles He has given men and women in marriage. Drop down to Eph. 5:31,32, “31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Verse 32 is a quote from Genesis 2:24 where God brings Adam and Eve together and institutes the first marriage and verse 33 is the explanation of it. Marriage is not so much about the individuals involved but about the glory of God. Your marriage is to be a picture of Christ and His relationship to the church. Your marriage is to bring glory to God.

This is the reason that I am always hopeful about marriages, even ones that are in turmoil and in danger of breaking apart. This verse tells me that God is much more interested in the marriage than I am. He has a larger and more important purpose for it.

Any two people that are willing to follow God’s design for marriage will have a wonderful and joyful relationship because that is always the side benefit of doing things God’s way and bringing glory to His name. The marriage will still take a lot of work and there will be hard times, but God will use you in each others lives to mold you into what you are supposed to be, you will fulfill the reason for your existence, there will be purpose and meaning in life.

There is no such thing as an irreconcilable marriage, just individuals that refuse to be reconcilable to God and their spouse. When husband and wife will not follow God’s design the marriage at best will be a hollow shadow of what it could have been, but more often, the marriage will flounder into just two people living under the same roof, or it will fail completely and break apart. While it only takes one spouse to destroy a marriage by a refusal to follow God’s design, there is good news for the spouse that strives to follow God’s design for their life, for such brings glory to His name and His blessing to the individual.

Remember, marriage is more about the glory of God than it is about the two people that are married. The purpose of marriage has a divine objective. That objective can still be met, but ever since Adam’s fall, every marriage starts out with a strike against it. If husband and wife each take a swing at marriage in their own wisdom and power, they will strike out, but if they let Jesus Christ be the focus of the marriage and let the Holy Spirit be the one that guides them and empowers them, they will hit a home run.

Back in Genesis we find Adam and Eve in a great relationship. Gen 2:18f records, 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” (Someone called alongside to assist). 19 And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought [them] to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 And the man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 And the Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 And the man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” (Isha – female man). 24 For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

The scenario God used here set Adam up to know his lack of companionship and his need for someone who would be his compliment. God then made Eve from out of Adam’s rib. This is significant because it shows that she is not independent of him. Paul comments on this in 1 Cor. 11:8,9 saying, “For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.”

This statement is repulsive to feminist thought and is the reason that Christian women who have been affected by feminism tend to think of Paul as a male chauvinist and not worth listening too. The truth is that Paul not only elevated the position of women, but also understood what God had said from the very beginning about it and made clear statements about the role God has given to women. Paul did not compromise on the truth, and neither should we.

If you have a problem with the statement that God created woman for the man’s sake, then you have a two fold problem. First, you are in rebellion against what God has done, and second, you have failed to understand the incredible importance of the role God has given to you. You have been deceived into the absurd lunacy of feminism that places premium value on that which is characteristically male rather than female.

Eve had no problem with the role that God gave her, but that role became a curse when she and Adam fell into sin. Prior to their fall into sin, Adam and Eve were completely open with each other. The word, “naked,” in 2:25 means “without impediment” and is a mental concept. It is a lot more than just not having clothes on. The very same word is used in 3:1 to describe the serpent as “crafty.” Adam and Eve were not selfish, they were not sinful and they willingly served one another in the roles God had given them. But when sin entered the picture, so did its curse.

In Gen. 3 14, God places a curse on the serpent, Eve and Adam. The aspect of the curse at the end of verse 16 relates to our subject this morning. “Yet your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.” While there is some controversy over the exact meaning of “desire” here, I believe the case is very strong for it to include the idea of wanting to control her husband, because the contrast to it is him “ruling over her.” Rather than being a compliment to one another, they were now in competition, at least to some degree. This is evidenced in everyday life because husband and wife both want the other to do certain thing and for certain things to happen with their money and time. When those desires conflict with each other there is a clash in the relationship that can easily become a power struggle.

God’s design for marriage is against this curse of sin. Marriage following the divine model moves both husband and wife back into their proper roles, within which they again compliment one another rather than conflict with each other. Paul also explains here how to have the ability to live in this manner.

Look again at verse 21.

“and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” This is key for all the relationships that occur within the family, but in particular it is important for the wife. The verb here is in the present middle tense and so means to place yourself under another through the surrender of your will and rights to that of the other. This is what submission, as the KJV translates this, means. The call to Christians is to submit to one another. We are to voluntarily and willingly place our rights and will in subjection to fellow believers because of our reverence of Christ. The Christian community should not be marked by pride and arrogance, but instead, because of their relationship to Jesus Christ, by humility and courtesy as each seeks out the best interest of fellow believers and serve them. I am to be no longer self centered, but God centered. This results in my regarding you as more important than mysel, as Paul states it in Phil. 2:3.

All believers are to behave themselves in this manner with one another, but this becomes especially true when it comes to the role that God has entrusted to the wife within the marriage. Look now at verse 22, “Wives, be subject/submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Notice that the translators of your Bible have placed the word “subject” or “submit” in italics. That is because that word is not actually in the text but is supplied so the sentence will make sense in English. The verb is supplied from verse 21 – a more literal translation would be, “be being submissive to one another in fear of Christ, the wives to their own husbands as to the Lord.” The idea of the wife submitting herself to her husband flows out of command for her to be in submission to the Lord and therefore to other believers.

The ability of a woman to do what Paul describes here is dependent on her relationship to God and being filled with the Spirit. In fact, this cannot be done without the Holy Spirit. Certainly there are cultures where the women are subservient and obedient to their husbands, but that is out of fear, not love. They are dependent on their husbands and fear losing their provider, their position in society or even their children. The submission called for here is based on a love for Christ that is then extended to the husband willingly. She submits primarily for Jesus’ sake because it pleases Him and secondarily for her husband’s sake. The Christian woman needs to realize that her serving her husband as a godly wife is a major way in which she serves Christ, so it is a voluntary submission to him in the same way that she submits to Jesus Christ.

Paul states the reason for this submission in verse 23, For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself [being] the Savior of the body. The idea of the husband being the head is one of position of authority and responsibility, not one of superior to inferior. You may even have superior abilities and skills in many areas compared to your husband, but the question here is not one of ability and skill but of order and purpose.

Paul comments in 1 Cor. 11:3 that God the Father is the head of Christ, Christ is the head of every man and man is the head of a woman. This is not arbitrary, but follows the order of creation, as Paul points out in 1 Tim. 2:13. And it follows the purpose of our creation as we have already pointed out, the woman was created to be the compliment of the man, not the other way around.

God will hold your husband responsible for how he leads you in godliness, but God is going to hold you responsible for how you followed his lead in godliness. Did you demonstrate your trust of Christ in your submission to your husband which Paul says in verse 24 is to be in like manner to your submission to Christ. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives [ought to be] to their husbands in everything. The apostle Peter is even stronger in this than Paul. Look over at 1 Peter 3:1-6.

3:1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any [of them] are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. 3 And let not your adornment be [merely] external– braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but [let it be] the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands. 6 Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

Certainly this is easier if your husband is a Christian man who lives out the principles of the Scriptures, but notice back in verse 1 that your submission takes place even if your husband is disobedient to the Word, or even if he is not living as he should – perhaps not being a Christian at all. No one says this is easy, and in fact, it is impossible unless you are filled with the Spirit. Yet this passage says that the way to win your husband is through your “chaste and respectful behavior.” Your humble submission is what God will use to draw them to Himself.

Not let me quickly point out that this idea of submission does have limitations. First, your submission is primarily to God, then to your husband. You cannot submit to anything he may ask you to do that would violate God’s commandments. As Peter and John said before the Sanhedrin – “we must obey God rather than men.”

Second, submission does not mean you are to allow your husband to abuse you. In 1 Cor. 7:10,11 Paul says, “…the wife should not leave her husband, but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband.” Separation is the Biblical alternative to an abusive marriage. That is the wake up call for the man to get his act together. I will add here that physically abusive men need some jail time for two reasons. 1) The God given role of government is to be an avenger of evil and it needs to carry out that role. 2) More importantly, the loving thing to do is make the person aware of the seriousness of their sin so they may repent and walk in holiness. A little jail time on earth to be shaken up to the need for salvation is much better than eternity in hell.

Third, submission does not mean that you have to coddle an unbelieving husband so they will not leave you. 1 Cor. 7:15 states, “yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.” You are to live a godly life with all humility and with all righteousness. If your spouse cannot stand to see Jesus Christ living in you, then you are free to let them leave – just be sure it is righteousness of Christ in you that is driving them away and not you.

Turning back to Ephesians 5 we find verses 25-33 all deal with the husband’s role – that gives you an idea of who needs the most instruction. The very end of verse 33 has one more command to the ladies, “and let the wife see to it that she respect (or reverence – KJV) her husband.”

I believe few women really understand the importance of their influence on their husbands. Sure, I hear a lot of jokes about her changing his wardrobe and manners into something more socially acceptable, but I am referring to accomplish anything significant in this life. The saying that behind every great man is a good woman is not just a cliche. It is a general truth. Remember that you were created to be his help meet, his companion that would enable him to function properly and accomplish something with his life. For all their bravado, men are generally fearful and insecure. He may never admit it, but he wants and needs someone to believe in him, to give him a chance and encouragement to succeed. God has given that role primarily to his wife. You treat him with respect and he will try to take on the world. If you belittle him, you either lose him or you will watch him shrivel up into a shadow of what he is supposed to be.

You say there is much about your man that you do not respect? The scripture does not say he has to be perfect for you to respect him. Start in the areas you do respect him and then learn from there to treat him with respect.

What is the major reason that women struggle in submitting to and respecting their husbands? It is because their own walk with the Lord is lacking so they are not filled with the Spirit. The result is selfishness and pride and therefore resentment of being called to play second fiddle to her husband. Why should he get the glory? Why does he get to do all the important things? Why should he hold the reigns of power? Why do I have to do what he wants? That brings me back to the major point.

If you are to fulfill your God given role as a godly wife, you must be in submission to the Holy Spirit first. You must see your life the way God sees it and learn to value what He does. We place too much importance on doing what we think is important rather than on being what God says is important. It is completely up to God what position he puts us in, what gifts He gives us and how powerful those gifts are. What he wants from us is simply humble service to Him from our hearts – faithfulness, not “success” as the world defines it. The importance of the position God has given to women is incredible and should never be underestimated by either men or women – don’t you do it. Don’t be jealous of other people including your husband. You just be the most godly wife you can possibly be and know that it is pleasing in the Lord’s sight. Submit to God, fulfil your role and watch Him at work in your life and in your husbands.

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