The Lord’s Day
August 13, 2006
“God’s New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians (XLVIII)
Household Rules: Marriage and Family (3)”
Obey?! Submit? You’ve got to be kidding! (2)
Dr. J. Ligon
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with
me to Ephesians, chapter five, verse 22, as we return to this most “politically
incorrect” of passages in the New Testament. I was thinking to myself about
three weeks ago as I saw this passage approaching, “What in the world have I
done? Now is a good time for a passage on The Lord’s Prayer, or something like
Let me say very quickly that there are no hidden
agendas in these messages. My wife said to me last Sunday, “I know that that was
for me….” No, Ann, it wasn’t for you! No secret messages being sent. My wife
is better than I deserve. This is just a message for all of us, friends, and it
is out of step with our culture today.
But I want you to remember two or three things as
we approach it.
First of all, even though, dear Christian
sisters, even though the world around you, when they hear Christians talk of
Paul’s language or Jesus’ language of our serving one another, of our submitting
ourselves to one another, of subjecting ourselves to one another, even though
they say to us ‘You are crazy to do that!’…just remember that God never
commands us to do what is not good for us. He never ever commands us to do what
is not good for His people, and that general principle is not forsaken even in
this very challenging area. The world says to a woman ‘If you serve your
husband, if you submit yourself to your husband, you will diminish.’
Jesus says ‘No, you will increase, because My
commands are always for your blessing.’ So the Lord Jesus does not tell us to do
things which are not good for us. The Apostle Paul is not conveying to us a
divine command, either this week to wives or next week to husbands, that is
harmful to us, but is a blessing to us. Remember this: Glorifying God and
enjoying God cannot be separated. You cannot enjoy Him without glorifying Him.
You cannot glorify Him without enjoying Him. But if you attempt to enjoy the
blessings of this life without glorifying God, it cannot be done; and so the
only way of enjoyment and blessing is the way of embracing the commands of God’s
word. So when, dear sisters in Christ, the world says to you ‘Obey? Submit? You
have got to be out of your mind! You’re going to fail to live up to your
potential! You’re going to give away freedoms and rights that are yours’–just
remember that God does not command what is not for our good.
: The second thing I want to say is this. I
have seen far more marriages broken over the course of 20 years of serving in
the Lord’s churches…I have seen far more marriages broken because of a
fundamental misunderstanding or rejection of God’s design for marriage,
including male and female role relationships and responsibilities in that
marriage…I have seen far more marriages broken because of a misunderstanding
of, or a rejection of, God’s design for marriage than I have because of
adultery; and as serious as that latter thing is, the rejection of or
misunderstanding of God’s design for marriage is far more prevalent. That means
that what we’re going to be studying over the weeks to come from Ephesians
5:22-6:9 is exceedingly important, because ever since Ephesians 4 the Apostle
Paul has been wanting us to live distinctly as Christians in this world, not to
be assimilated into their sinful patterns of relationships in the culture, but
to live as salt and light, to be different, to be distinct, and he is most
concerned that we would be distinct in this area.
My friends, a gospel marriage is a powerful witness
in a culture in which we see human relationships at every level, but especially
at marriage, disintegrating at an astonishing rate. My heavens! We can’t even
define marriage anymore in our culture! This is a powerful area of witness, and
of course it is a powerful area of blessing for you, if we can by God’s grace
get this right, so it is worth every effort and every pain, and every political
incorrectness that we can possibly encounter to do so as we work through this
Now. Let’s look to God in prayer before we read His
O Lord, once again we come to a passage that is
not hard to understand, but it is certainly unpopular and it has certainly been
rejected by our prevailing culture with its own inclinations to autonomy, to
personal rights at the expense of the community, to a concern for self as
opposed to God’s glory and the well-being of others. Lord, because of this, we
need the help of Your Holy Spirit not just to understand what we’re going to
study, but to believe and embrace it and live it. Help us by Your grace to do
so. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear God’s word:
“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the
head of the wife, as Christ also is head of the church, He Himself being the
Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives
ought to be to their husbands in everything.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
The Apostle Paul, at the end of the previous section
of Ephesians that we studied (it ended at Ephesians 5:21) had reminded us that a
culminating manifestation of a life that bears the mark of being filled and
matured and assured by God’s Holy Spirit is that Christians learn to subject
themselves to one another, that they learn to serve one another. He uses the
language of mutual subjection, that those who are filled with the Spirit subject
themselves willingly, joyfully, gladly, to one another. They long to serve one
another. We express that by saying that the Christian motto becomes “How may I
serve you?”, that we are ready to put others before ourselves, that our concern
for the well-being of fellow Christians precedes our own focus upon ourselves,
and we’re freed to give ourselves away in loving service for one another that
seeks the best interest of others. And the Apostle Paul provides that, and it
becomes almost a transition point into this whole section about the family –
about the household – that runs from Ephesians 5:22 -6:9, because he knows that
that principle has to be in operation in order for what he is saying to work,
because each of the parties in these relationships — husband and wife, parent
and children, master and servant — must have adopted that fundamental principle
of the Christian life if all of these other things are going to work the way
that they’re intended to work. And so we begin to study this passage at the
outset by recognizing that God has called all Christians — not just some, but
all Christians — to be in a posture of service to one another.
What does the Lord Jesus Christ say to His disciples
on the night that He is betrayed, after He has washed their feet?
“As I have
loved you, so you are to love one another.”
What else does He say to them?
“I am among you as one who serves.”
He is the model and the motivation for the Christian life
at that level. He wants us all to be in a posture of desiring to serve one
another. That frames everything else he says in this passage.
I. God calls Christian
wives to a sincere respect, and a glad and willing submission to their husbands.
It says first of all to women that they, in relation to
their own husbands, are not being asked to do anything that all Christians are
not being asked to do. We’re all called to serve. It reminds them as well that
they are being called to serve someone who has been called by God to serve them.
And that changes all the power politics and the dynamics that this world is so
concerned about today, doesn’t it? The Apostle Paul in this passage gives a very
clear command, and then he provides us a context for understanding that command
that shows us that marriage is bigger than us, and then he tells us the
comprehensive scope of this command. I’d like to look at those three things with
you in verses 22, 23, and 24.
Let’s look first at verse 22. Last week we saw that
God calls Christian wives to a sincere respect and a glad and willing submission
to their husbands. We saw that command given in verse 22: “Wives, be subject to
your own husbands, as to the Lord,” and we saw it reiterated at the end of this
paragraph in verse 33: “The wife must see to it that she respects her husband.”
Now, the command is clear enough, isn’t it? The
command has three parts. To submit in this context, taking together all that the
Apostle Paul has said, to submit means for a wife to acknowledge,
follow, and respect her husband’s spiritual leadership of the home:
To acknowledge it: “Yes, Lord, You have established
an order in which You have called my husband to have the responsibility to give
spiritual leadership to this home. I acknowledge that, Lord.”
To follow it: “Yes, Lord, even though I think
sometimes I know a better way of doing it, I am going to embrace my husband’s
leadership, and I’m going to support that leadership. In fact, I’m going to
foster that leadership in our home.”
And thirdly, “I’m going to respect my husband. I’m
going to respect the fact that God is going to call him to account for his
spiritual leadership one day of this family. He will stand there and give
account for how well he has fulfilled the functions that God has given to him.”
So submission simply means acknowledging,
following, and respecting a husband’s spiritual leadership of the home.
Now, practically, that boils down to this:
First, it means recognizing a divinely given
order in the household. Many people come to Ephesians 5:21 and they say
‘Look, God is calling all Christians to submit themselves to one another.’
[Right on! Amen! So far, so good!] ‘That means that there are no longer any
orders in the Christian family. There’s no head of the family, there’s no
husband who’s the spiritual head and a wife who’s called to give respect to that
spiritual leadership and to foster it and to follow it.’ [Wrong! Went wrong at
Yes, we’re all called to subject ourselves to one
another. That does not erase the order, the distinction of role relationship
that God has established in the home. By the way, that can be proved simply by
looking at verse 23. What does it say? “For the husband is the head of the
wife…” The Apostle Paul didn’t say now there’s no longer any head in the
home, you’re just supposed to generally submit to one another and nobody is to
acknowledge that anybody has final spiritual authority or accountability or
responsibility. No. The Apostle Paul says both. All Christians (husbands as well
as wives) need to be in the posture of serving one another; wives acknowledge
and follow the order that God has established in the household.
The second thing we see that submission means is
a willing embrace and following of a husband’s spiritual authority and
leadership under God. The husband is not a tyrannical monarch. He is not a
totalitarian ruler. He has obligations. He’s obligated to God, he’s obligated
and accountable to the word, he’s obligated and accountable to the government,
and he’s obligated and accountable to the church. There are multiple layers of
accountability that your husband has if he’s a Christian. But under God he has
been given a certain responsibility, and submitting means embracing the fact
that your husband has that responsibility for spiritual leadership.
Thirdly, submission means a joyful respect for
your husband’s person and position in the home. Paul emphasizes that at the
very end of the passage:
“Wives, see to it that you respect your
Now, by the way, this submission, like every other
command in the New Testament, is both mandatory and voluntary. [What?] Mandatory
and voluntary. [What do you mean? How can it be mandatory and voluntary?]
Because God never gives us suggestions — ‘You know, it would be a really good
idea if you gave to the poor.’ Jesus didn’t say that! “Give to the
poor”…Jesus, the Apostle Paul, all the apostles emphasized that it is a
Christian’s obligation to give to the poor. But what do they also emphasize?
That God wants us to do it — how? Willingly. Gladly. Not compelled to do
it…grudgingly. No. We’re to voluntarily do it, even though it’s mandatory, so
this command is just like every other command in the New Testament. God doesn’t
want us to do it grudgingly, He wants us to do it with a delighted devotion, and
again that’s easier to do when we realize that every command that God gives is
for our good.
Now I want to focus on this issue of
submission and respect, and say some things that are specific and practical, and
may well step on your toes. And I want to say, ladies, that I have been
helped greatly by three Christian women that I’ve been reading over the last
three weeks. I’ve been helped greatly by Barbara Raney, the wife of Dennis Raney
of Family Life, Campus Crusade’s arm for family ministry. Dennis and
Barbara have written a bunch of stuff together, and Barbara has written a lot of
stuff on this…very helpful, very practical. They embrace a biblical view of
how men and women are to relate in the home and in the church, and they do a
good popular way of expressing that.
The next person is Carolyn Mahaney, who has written
The Feminine Appeal, and is a very eloquent speaker on this subject. She
and her daughters have the Girl Talk web log, and address these issues
And finally, Betsy Ricucci, who has just, along with
her husband Gary, written a book on marriage. These three sisters in Christ have
helped me greatly in looking at this issue from a woman’s perspective, and so I
want to share with you some of the insights that I’ve gotten from them and from
Wayne Mack in his book, Strengthening Your Marriage. Very specifically,
Wayne Mack offers fifteen specific applications for submission and how that
works out in life and in marriage. I’m going to shorten that all the way down to
thirteen! Here they are:
One: “What does submission mean practically for a
Christian woman? For one thing, it means making home a safe place.” Now
where’d I get that? Out of Better Homes & Gardens in the 1950’s?
No, Proverbs 31. Turn with me back there to Proverbs
31, and go ahead and look at verses 11 and 12. [Now, dear sisters, I know that
you’re already groaning in your spirits, “Oh, no! Not the Proverbs 31 woman!”]
You’ve been beaten over the head with the Proverbs 31 woman all your life, so
let me give a little positive spin on the Proverbs 31 woman.
You know how we got the Proverbs 31 woman? We didn’t
get it by God holding up some sort of impossible dream of an ideal, to make you
live in a constant state of guilt for the rest of your life because you can’t
attain it. That’s not how we got the Proverbs 31 woman. The way we got the
Proverbs 31 woman is that there was a believing man one day who, under the
inspiration of God’s Holy Sprit, looked at his wife and he said ‘You are
unbelievably wonderful, and you are a gift of God, and you deserve to have your
character qualities recounted. How can I do this? Let’s see…I think I’ll do an
acrostic. I’ll work through the whole Hebrew alphabet and just list the
qualities that I see in you.’ That’s the Proverbs 31 woman.
That woman is not put in the Bible to depress you,
sisters in Christ; she’s there to encourage you. We’re going to notice as we
work through some of these how incredibly respectful and affirming of this woman
this believing man is — the things that he notices about her, the things that he
praises her for. Now, those things not only show us what a godly woman looks
like in a marriage and in a family and in vocation, they also show us husbands
ways that we ought to be giving praise to our own wives for the character
qualities that God’s Holy Spirit has worked in them. So when you turn to that
passage and you think, ‘Oh, no, I can’t live up to this woman!’ just remember
it’s your husband’s responsibility to be encouraging you in the areas that God,
by His grace, is working in your heart.
Now, the first thing I said is “making home a safe
place” — a place of encouragement and comfort and understanding and refuge. It
doesn’t come from Better Homes & Gardens, it comes from Proverbs 31:10,
11, and 12:
“An excellent wife, who can
Her worth is far above jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
And he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.”
This man trusts her and recognizes that she does him good.
She has made home a place where he can be at peace, because he’s confident in
her and he knows that she is after his best interest. She’s made home a place of
encouragement and comfort and understanding and refuge.
And, secondly, she is trustworthy and dependable.
That’s what submission looks like in a marriage. It’s a woman who is trustworthy
and dependable. This man can say of her, “My heart trusts you. I’d trust my
life with you. You are worthy of trust.” What an affirming and respectful thing
that is of a godly man to say of a godly woman. She is trustworthy and
She maintains a good attitude. Look at verses
26, and 28, and 29: “She opens her mouth in wisdom,” the teaching of – what? —
is on her tongue? Kindness. Verse 28: Her children rise up and bless her, her
husband praises her. Her husband says “Many daughters have done nobly, but you
excel them all.” So, she has an attitude that evokes praise, one of kindness.
Fourthly, she discusses things in a loving, open,
and honest way. The Apostle Paul has talked about this in Ephesians 4:25 in
the way that Christians address one another, so a wife who is submissive
discusses things in a loving, open, and honest way.
Fifth, she is content. She is satisfied with her
position, with her possessions, with her task, and with what her husband
provides. A long time ago a woman came to a godly older woman and expressed
some frustration with her husband: ‘My husband’s gone all the time, he’s working
all the time, he’s ignoring my family. He’s ignoring me. He’s ignoring the
children. I need your help, need your counsel.’ After a long sympathetic
counsel, the godly older woman said, “Well, you know, if your husband were
willing to take a job that was less demanding on his schedule, would get him
home more with you, would you be willing to live with the loss of income?”
“No,” was her answer, and she went away.
Have you put your husband in that bind? ‘Give me
exactly what you’re giving me now, but give me a whole lot more time, too. I
want all the possessions that you’re able to provide, but come up with 30 hours
every week that you don’t have right now, in addition to that.’
A submissive wife is patient, forgiving, and
forbearing. Paul talks about this in Colossians 3:12-14, as Christians learn
to forgive one another. My friends, marriages begin to fall apart with a lack of
Seventh, a submissive wife is industrious for the
sake of her husband and family. We read that in Proverbs 31:10-31, but we
also see it in the Psalms. You remember what the psalmist says in Psalm 128:3?
“Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house.” She is productive
for her husband and family.
Eighth, a submissive wife offers suggestions and
advice and counsel, and even correction [yes!] to her husband, but she does it
in a loving way that shows respect. Remember, “She opens her mouth in
wisdom,” and she teaches with – what? — “with kindness” (Proverbs 31:26).
Ninth, a submissive woman cultivates an inner
beauty. We live in a culture that values external beauty more than it values
the character of women. The Bible values the character of women. I Peter 3:3-5
speaks about a godly Christian woman who cultivates inner beauty, the character
qualities of a woman of substance.
Tenth, a submissive woman pursues God and His
glory above all things else. Everything she does is for His glory. She knows
ultimately that her marriage is not about her, it’s about God. She knows that
this life is not about her, it’s about God. And she pursues the glory of God
Eleventh, a submissive wife builds loyalty to her
husband in her children. Many of you know that Billy Graham’s children went
through some real struggles, especially as much as he was away. He was away a
lot of the days of the year…most of the days of the year, he was away. Without
baptizing that as appropriate, I want to say that Ruth Bell Graham went out of
her way to make sure that her children knew that she supported her husband, that
his ministry was her ministry, and their ministry, and she cultivated a loyalty.
We’ve seen how that has come back home to roost in Franklin, even though he went
though a time of rebellion. Her efforts, I think, we see in Franklin Graham.
Twelfth, a submissive wife is grateful, and
expresses thanks often. What has Paul said in Ephesians 4 and 5? All
Christians are to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness. We’re to be grateful
people, and a wife who is supporting and serving her husband will express
Thirteenth, a Christian wife who is attempting to
support her husband and to show him deference will show confidence in his
decisions. Your husbands will make mistakes. That’s the hard thing about
following a husband. Jesus doesn’t make mistakes; it’s easy to follow Him in
that regard, even though He asks us to go some hard places. But husbands will
make mistakes. When you can, show confidence in your husband’s decisions.
Now, Betsy Ricucci gives us these thoughts about a
Christian woman in respect. She says as she thinks about respecting her husband,
she thinks about three areas: thoughts, words, and deeds; and she gives us these
questions to ask ourselves:
First, with regard to thoughts, she says,
“What thoughts spring into my mind when I think of my husband?” [Please don’t
say them out loud!] What thoughts spring into my mind when I think of my husband
— and now, this follow-up question: “Are they honoring of him?” That’s what
Paul’s asking a Christian woman to do: to respect her husband, to have honoring
thoughts of her husband.
Secondly, in the area of words, “How do I
speak to my husband when we are alone? How do I speak to my husband in front of
the children? How do I speak to my husband in public?” And then, this fourth and
really good question, “How do I speak about my husband to others?”
Third area, the area of deeds: “Do I show my
husband respect through my actions? How? Do I freely show him physical
affection? Do I listen when he is speaking to me, in public and private? Or, do
my deeds communicate a lack of respect, inattentiveness, or even indifference,
interrupting him when he’s speaking, looking away when he speaks, forgetting or
even failing to do the things that he has asked?
Let me give you an assignment. I want you to go home
and ask yourself, “What are ten specific ways that I could show respect to my
husband?” and then talk over the list with him. My guess is you’re going to find
several things: one is you’ll find that some things that you think are really
important to your husband by way of showing respect are lower on the list than
some of the things that he would put higher on the list.
Secondly, if he’s a good man, he’ll respond in
appreciation. He may well be able to show you a tender, serving spirit that he
has not been able to show you because of your taking that step.
Thirdly, you will learn some things that you will
want to store away in the back of your mind for a rainy day, because when he
says to you, ‘Boy, if you did 1, 4, and 7, that would really convey to me your
support, your love, your respect.’ File those away to pull out sometime when you
II. God says there is an
analogy between the Christian husband’s relation to the wife, and Christ’s
relation to the church.
Now let’s move to verses 23 and 24 very quickly. The Apostle
Paul gives us a context for this call to Christian wives to submit themselves to
their husband, and the context is of course this analogy that exists between
husbands and wives in Christian marriages, and Christ and the church. Paul says
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.”
In other words, God says that there is an analogy between
the Christian husband’s relationship to the wife and Christ’s relation to the
church. The basis of this directive for wives to show this kind of service and
support of their husbands is that husbands sustain a relation to their wives
that is analogical with Christ’s relation to the church, and this means among
other things that marriage is bigger than the both of you. It’s much bigger than
your personal happiness; it’s much bigger than you just serving one another.
There is more at stake in your marriage as a Christian than just your happiness
in this life. God’s glory is on the line in your marriage. God’s glory is on the
line in your manifesting and your showing and your expressing this analogy of
Christ and His people.
And I want you to notice that this analogy puts
just as much burden on the husband as it does on the wife. Notice what
Christ as the head of the church is called in this passage. [We want to stop
there…men, you like the sound of that “head” thing…that sounds good.] And
then he goes on to say, what does the head do? He’s the Savior of the body. And
then he’s going to explain in Technicolor what that entails, next week. Just you
wait. It’s coming, men!
In this case, it means laying down your life for the
well-being of the church. These challenges are formidable. It’s a hard thing to
follow, to serve, and to respect a sinful man, and it’s a hard thing to love and
serve a wife, even at the cost of your own life. That is the context in which
Paul asks this relationship to be manifested. He’s saying to you, Christian,
your marriage is designed to give a very powerful picture to the unbelieving
world. There’s no picture of Jesus Christ in the Bible, there’s no description
of what He looked like, but the Apostle Paul is saying the way that Christian
husbands relate to Christian wives and Christian wives relate to Christian
husbands is to be a visible manifestation, a picture, a tangible expression of
what Jesus Christ looks like in relationship to His people, and what His people
look like in relation to Him.
God says that Christian wives have the Gospel challenge and joyous
privilege being subject to their husbands like the church is to Christ.
Third and finally, in verse 24, notice the
comprehensive scope of this. God says that Christian wives have the gospel
challenge and the joyous privilege of being subject to their husbands like the
church is to Christ.
Notice what he says: The church is subject to
Christ… “So as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be
to their husbands in everything.” It’s a very comprehensive command.
Now that doesn’t mean, as we said last week, that
a wife follows her husband in sin. Your husband tells you to sin, you’re a
Christian, the answer is “No!” But it’s very comprehensive.
Why in the world would Paul say “in everything”?
Because it is the instinctive temptation of our hearts and inclination of our
hearts to try and figure out when God’s commands don’t apply to us. We are
always looking for loopholes, and so the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Christian
woman, this is the attitude that I want you to have. I want you to be looking
for the nooks and crannies of your life and relationship, and I want you to try
and begin expressing this particular principle in all of those corners, in every
expression, because the quintessential question of our wicked hearts is ‘When
does God’s command not apply to me?’ God wants us to be asking, ‘No, how can I
express appropriately, beautifully, joyfully, this principle in my life with
Husbands, you’re next.
Lord God, grant to the Christian women of this
congregation great patience with us, sinful men who have failed them, who have
not served them as we ought to serve, but who nevertheless they have chosen to
commit their lives to. We know that it would be a dramatic witness to our
community for the gospel if we simply loved one another in our families the way
You call us to love. But it’s costly love and expensive love, and we don’t have
the power to do that on our own. So give what You command, and command what You
will. Give us the ability to hear this word and put it into practice, for our
eternal good and for Your everlasting glory. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Now, if you take out your hymnals and turn with me
to No. 559, notice that we are going to sing only the fourth stanza of
Father, I Know that All My Life is Portioned Out for Me
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