Ephesians 5 v 22
There was once an article in a women's magazine entitled "Me? Obey Him?" It was a fairly derogatory piece about the apparent unfairness, as the writer of the article saw it, of women having to obey and to submit to their husbands. It was a resentful call to other women to throw off the shackles of oppression by their husbands and assert their own rights of equal status and having equal rights as human beings who should not have to surrender their independence to anyone, least of all to their husbands. The authoress and her readers would certainly not have liked what Dr John Gill said 250 years ago on this subject of the submission of wives to their husbands - "This is an instance, explaining the general rule of Christians submitting to one another in the fear of God, and in obedience; they 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." In many societies today, in particular those who have espoused the unbiblical modern Western ideas of feminism, people reading a male theologian and Pastor such as John Gill, would throw up their hands in horror and disagreement. Although in other cultures, such as we have seen recently in the extremism of the Muslim Taliban strictures on women, there is the other end of the spectrum, equally unbiblical, unhelpful, and distressing to both men and women - there women certainly are and have been repressed and marginalized in favour of tyrannical male domination. But history teaches us that when any society abandons its confidence in the structure of the Family, as God ordained and recommended it, then chaos and disaster are the inevitable result. The Apostle Paul writing to the New Testament churches takes great pains to inform us, under the direct inspiration of God, what God's thoughts are about this. We should remember that even though he speaks to believers in the NT Churches in his letters, he is speaking to people whose backgrounds were pagan. These people had some pale reflection and recollection in their family organisations of God's order as creator, but sin had affected it so much that it was a shadow of His kind and gracious arrangements for the well being of His human creatures. This morning we will review God's order for men and women in the relationships as taught by the Almighty God through His word the Bible. Of course we begin from the springboard of
Ephesians 5 v 22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
As a child two words came to mind as being significant in my training and shaping - "LADIES FIRST." Some unkind people call the Apostle Paul a misogynist - a person who dislikes, demeans or even hates women. But that suggestion has only come from those who do not like what they see as HIS teaching. Those who do not accept the Bible as the revealed and written Word of Almighty God, God's word to all people throughout the centuries of time, prefer to proclaim their own opinions about relationships and reject their creator's view and provision. Ladies first was not just a concession by polite gentlemen in previous generations. When the Lord God wants to instruct His creatures about how they are to submit to Him and to each other, He begins with Ladies First. This is not a signal for the men to switch off - for this teaching addressed first to wives, is needed so that you know where you stand; as a prelude to the instructions that will follow in verse 25 ff for you. This teaching is for the whole church. It is for the children and young people - so that you will know what God requires of you when you become adults. It is for unmarried amongst us - so that you will know this vital example of how the Lord Jesus Christ gave Himself for His bride the Church, of whom all believers are a part. And it is for the married people - for us to be reminded of our responsibility of submission to God and to each other. Ladies first. How are the teachings outlined last week with regard to submission, to be applied to wives? We start with an ending. Last week we ended with the end of verse 21 IN THE FEAR OF GOD. It is plain that this means reverential, respectful fear of the Living God in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. It means having a conscious regard for His clearly revealed will, and in keeping with thrust of verse 21, a willingness to recognise the rights, needs and wishes of others. To expand the thought of the fear of God we must go back to an ending - the ending of one of the books of the Old Testament.
Ecclesiastes 12 v 13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
What is the whole duty of mankind - all men and women whether believers or not?
Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
Sometimes we forget this. Constantly we are bombarded with ideas of multifaith, multi ethnicity, many gods, many faiths - you have the right to choose whether you believe in Jesus or not. The Bible says
Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
The point here is this - this is God's world. All men and women are God's creatures. He has laid down clear commands and all people are to keep them. There are no opt out clauses. God will call all to account one day and evaluate them according to their adherence to His commands. That is His right as the creator. So when the Bible states in a passage such as this one before us in
Ephesians 5 v 22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
6 v 1Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.
6 v 5 Servants be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.
These commands are not merely the words of an overbearing bossy Jewish Apostle who liked to throw his weight about. Each of these commands and the verses explaining them have key words justifying their God given authority -
Wives, submit yourselves … as unto the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church… Children, obey your parents in the Lord: Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters …as unto Christ.
To truly fear God then is to keep His commandments as we have them included here to demonstrate our acknowledgment of God and His right to rule. It follows then that those who have little or no fear of God and are ignorant of or wilfully disobedient of God's clear commands, are liable to fall short of God's standards - for wives to submit, for husbands to love, for children to obey and for servants to be obedient. And this is the situation generally today in our post Christian culture. The subject then is Marriage and Paul speaks to the Ladies first. We can look at verse 22 from 3 aspects this morning.
22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
A wife must submit herself to her own husband for three reasons.
1. Because God created her to be a suitable helper for her husband.
The key word here is SUITABLE. It is said that marriages are made in heaven. The first marriage was made in the Garden of Eden. We can read of the perfect pair being married on a perfect day in a perfect place with perfect weather by the perfect Lord God. Read Genesis 2 v 18 - 25.
18 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. 19 And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. 20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. 21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; 22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. 23 And Adam 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. 24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. 25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
This familiar passage from Genesis 2 reminds us of the wonder of God's provision for Adam. From all of the animals in the garden there was not one that was suitable for this man. It was not good for the man to be alone without a suitable complement - a complete-ment for him. God brought the woman to Adam to be with him from then on. She was to be equal with him but different to him. She was to assist him in the divine commission to fill the earth and subdue it. They were heirs together of the grace of life. Eve had the same flesh as Adam and she had the same spirit as him - better called the image of God. It was God who had imparted Spirit to her but Adam had supplied the body from his own side. Eve became Adam's wife. God established this marriage. Even though at this stage Adam and Eve had no parents, yet God pronounced clearly in verse
24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
The man would leave and cleave to form a new family unit in which the man was to lead. The integrity and importance of the individual home is of such great importance that God made it plain from this beginning in the garden that marriage was intended to be permanent. This was confirmed by the creator Himself when He spoke during His earthly ministry in
Matthew 19 v 7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? 8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
What was it at the beginning? One man, one woman for life. The institution of monogamous marriage, home and family as the basic medium for the propagation of the human race and the training of the young is so common to human history that as we said earlier, it was here in the garden that marriage came into being. The suitable relationship that was beneficial to both Adam and his wife Eve was ordained by God so that Adam would be completed by his oneness with Eve and she would be fulfilled in her oneness with Adam. But then we need one more commentary from God's word on the order of this relationship that was from the beginning. 1 Corinthians 11 v 3 says this -
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.
This order of Biblical authority was put in place in the garden and is perpetual. And the most important point about this suitability was this - that headship of a man over a woman in marriage started at the beginning of time as a creation ordinance. And headship implies submission. This suitable helper for Adam was also submissive to him in God's plan. We noted the word perfect earlier. Perfection prevailed in the early stages of man's existence in Eden - and perfection submission was the order of the time for Eve and love and appreciation and leadership was the order for Adam. Sadly this was not to prevail - perfection in the garden was short-lived. The second reason why a wife must submit to her own husband is this -
2. Because God commanded husbands to rule their wives.
Genesis 2 had the origin - Genesis 3 has the details underlined. The account of the fall and the entrance of original sin brought SORROW to this suitable relationship. Before the entrance of sin into this first marriage relationship, this ideal family, Adam and Eve were ashamed of nothing, innocent and had no consciousness of sin or moral guilt. It was only when the sin of rebellion against God's word did there come an awareness of shame that was to infect the whole of their family for millennia to come, and of course we are included. Read Genesis 3 v 15 - 17.
15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. 16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. 17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
God's words following the interrogation of Adam, Eve and the serpent/satan reveal to us the origin of the reason for man's further rule and woman's submission often in sorrow. Both Adam and Eve shared God's special judgment upon them. Eve was given an additional burden with experience of conception and childbirth. The pain and the sorrow would be greatly multiplied. Eve's name means the "mother of all living" as is explained in verse 20. But now her children to all generations would suffer under the curse. Their very entrance into the world would be marked by unique suffering, serving as a perpetual reminder to all mankind of the dreadful effects of sin. How sorrowful childbirth can be. But more than this women have to bear even more pain - physical, mental and spiritual. Generally speaking in history man has subjugated woman with little regard for her own personal feelings and needs. Certainly in non-Christian cultures and religious communities, such subjugation and humiliation have been almost universal. Until very recent times a woman's husband often had the power of life and death over her. Of course such harsh rule went far beyond God's intention. Man was to be the head of the household - but he was also to love and cherish his wife still considering her to be one flesh with himself. It is not surprising therefore as we descend to non-Biblical bases for living in our society that there will be women who will assert themselves being well justified in fighting against the injustices and cruelties associated with male-dominated governments. But the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Because to demand ABSOLUTE equality in all legal, political, cultural and personal relationships is also to proceed along anti-Biblical extremes. God so ordered things in a perfect way. Man has perverted His perfect way - and the whole of society loses out. Sorrow then is key here. But we must also notice the word DESIRE as well.
and thy desire shall be to thy husband,
This desire of a woman to her husband is a result of the fall - but his rule over her and her submission to him was in place before this. So we do not appeal to Genesis 3 but to Genesis 2 for the original teaching on submission of the wife to her husband and indeed of women in general to men. NT commentaries confirming this are
1 Corinthians 11 v 8 For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. 9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. 1 Corinthians 14 v 34 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. 1 Timothy 2 v 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
The law referred to in these quotations are Genesis 2 not 3. Sorrow, desire and rule. What terrible results following such foolish rebellion. One more reason why a wife must submit herself to her own husband -
3. Because her submission to him reflects her submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
When the Christian wife submits herself to the Lord Jesus Christ and acknowledges Him as her Lord, then she will have no difficulty in submitting to her husband. This does not mean that she becomes a slave - because as we saw last week the husband is also to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ. If both husband and wife are submitting to the Lord there can only be harmony. Headship is not dictatorship. Someone has described it like this "Each for the other, both for the Lord." But let us not for one moment think that a wife's submission to her own husband is identical to her submitting of herself to the Lord Jesus Christ. The submission of every wife, and husband, indeed every Christian, male or female, to the Lord Jesus Christ is an absolute one. Our submission and relationship to the Lord is one of complete, absolute and entire submission to Him who has loved us absolutely. The Apostle does not say that about a wife's submission to her own husband - wives are not exhorted to do that. Some Christian husbands think that they should - but they are wrong. What verse 22 really means is this. "Wives submit yourselves to your own husbands because it is part of your duty to the Lord, because it is an expression of your submission to the Lord Jesus Christ." Or putting it another way - " Wives submit yourselves to your own husbands; do it in this way, do it as a part of your submission to the Lord." In other words the Christian wife is not doing it ONLY for the husband, she is doing it primarily for the Lord Himself. It is a repetition and application of verse 21
"Submitting yourselves in the fear of Christ."
This then is part of the wife's discipleship; part of her Christian behaviour and it is well pleasing in God's sight. For every Christian wife who says that she is anxious to please her Lord and Master Jesus Christ, who wishes to carry out his commands and do His will, she will find no difficulty in these three verses 22 - 24. It will become her greatest delight to do what the Lord Jesus requires of her - to submit to her own husband as an expression of her submission to her Lord. Now when Christian wives are motivated like this their priority is shifted. No longer do they look at their husbands and say, "Me? Obey him? Me, submit to him with all his faults, failings, lack of love and other defects." Rather priority will be to Christ her Saviour - submit to her husband as she submits to her Lord. There are times when a wife will find it difficult to submit. But if she has eyes for Christ her Lord first she will find it easier to focus on her Lord's requirement to submit to her husband. Furthermore the Christian wife has a glorious opportunity to show what a difference the Lord Jesus Christ makes to a soul and particularly to her soul. Paul was speaking to women with a pagan background reminding them of their past heathen existence. We are living in a land of irreligious pagan people who do not know anything about submission to a husband for Christ's sake. Marriage today is founded on animal instincts and convenience. The vital ingredients as laid down by the Lord God at creation are never considered. This is why our society is in the mess it is in. But the submissive Christian wife will stand out even more today because she will be different. Other wives will look at your life and see you refusing to assert your own rights, declining to join in with the arrogant feminism which has contributed to the chaos today - and they will ask," Why are you different?" And you will answer, " I am behaving like this because Christ is my master and it his will that I behave like this." What an opportunity to speak for Christ. Do you have difficulty in speaking for the Lord, dear married sister? When the worldly women around you see your godly submission to your husband, your respect for him, your love and loyalty to him, your care for him - and when they hear you refusing to drag him down and dishonour him, they will wonder and ask - and there is your opportunity to witness - on a plate. But you may reply to this teaching this morning, "Ah, but you don't know my husband!" Perhaps this is true - but the wife who has such a wonderful and loving saviour, when she places all her trust and love in Him first, will find that glad obedience to His command to submit to her husband will follow with the grace that same Lord gives. We know of several Christian wives whose husbands have not been believers, whose husbands have been unhelpful to them in their profession as Christians - yet have still demonstrated loving submission to the husbands that God gave them. Some were able to win their husbands for the Lord as is the testimony of some here, according to Peter's words in
1 Peter 3 v 1 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; 2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.
Pure conduct and fear, loving reverential fear of the Lord Jesus Christ is the secret, says Peter. A man who does not believe can be won by the submissive behaviour of his wife and her godly conduct towards him. What a ministry this is! What a ministry wives are called to! And what power there is available from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself - "Me? Obey Him?" Yes obedience to Christ - every Christian should be an obedient Christian. "Me? Obey Him?" Yes submission and subjection to my husband - because if I do not do one then I am not doing the other! Do we understand true submission, my friends? Can we brethren now dare to have a wrong attitude to our wives' submission now that we know God's plan for them? Are we going to make it difficult or easy for them to obey their Lord and master Jesus Christ? Because we have a responsibility to help and not hinder our precious wives, and indeed all the sisters in the church to fulfil their God given responsibility to submit themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ - to His glory and praise. May God help all of us to hear and obey the Bible's clear teaching today and every day.