Wives, have you ever wondered, “What exactly does God require of me as a wife?” Â If so, I hope this helps. Â But be forewarned. Â The Bible paints of picture of marriage that is in stark opposition to the cultural norms in 21st century America. Â My prayer, though, is that you will buy into God’s design for marriage, which is, as Gary Thomas says in his great book, Sacred Marriage, “more about your holiness than your happiness” (although the more a person pursues holiness, the happier they are… even when life is terribly difficult… but perhaps that is for a different post). Â Here’s what we can learn about the role of the wife from Ephesians.
1) Wives must submit to their husbands.
Simply put, in response to the question, “What exactly does God require of me as a wife?”, the answer is, “Submit to your husband (Eph. 5:22). Â Interestingly, though, Paul doesn’t explain in his instructions to wives in Ephesians 5:22-24 what “submission” looks like. Â This puzzled me for a while until a friend suggested to me that Paul does, in fact, explain in Ephesians what the submission of wives should look like… he just doesn’t explain it in chapter 5. Â Paul’s explanation of submission is found in the next chapter… in the context of his instructions about the way slaves are to relate to their masters.
I know, I know.
This sounds crazy (i.e., insane, prehistoric,Â chauvinist, etc.), doesn’t it?
But there is one essential point I’d like to clarify before we consider what it looks like for wives to submit to their husbands (I’m going to put it in big, bold print because it is that important).
The responsibility of wives to submit to their husbands like slaves submit to their masters does not mean that the nature of the relationship between husbands and wives is akin to that of masters and slaves (in fact, they better not be!).
In fact, husbands should make the submission of their wives deeply enjoyable (see my studies called “Husbands: Leaders Like Christ (The Position)” and “Husbands: Lead Like Christ (The Responsibility)“).
That said, let’s turn our attention to the role of wives. Â Notice with me the way the slave, who is involved in the least intimate of the three relationships, is to relate to his master.
a) They obey.
b) With fear and trembling (deep respect)
c) With a sincere heart.
d) As they would Christ.
e) Not so they’ll be praised by people.
f) But as servants of Christ.
g) Who gladly obey.
h) For the benefit of their masters.
i) As if their master were really God.
j) Because they know God will reward them for living this way.
Do you see what Paul has just done? Â In his explanation of how slaves should respond to their masters, he has actually explained how the church ought to respond to Christ. Â And do you see, then, based on the way Paul explained the role of the wife in Ephesians 5:22-24, that the explanation of submission given to slaves should actually inform the way wives submit to their husbands?
Now, why would God do this? Â I can think of two very possible reasons:
a) Of the three headship/submission relationships Paul addresses from Ephesians 5:22 through Ephesians 6:9, undoubtedly marriage is to be the most intimate, followed by the parent (specifically, the father)/child relationship, and finally the relationship between the employer (master) and the employee (slave). Â Now, why is this important? Â If slaves, who are in the least intimate of all 3 relationships, are to submit to their masters with that level of obedience and with that kind of sincerity and that pure of a motive, then how much more should a wife, who is part of the most intimate human relationship on the planet, model these same things toward her husband?
b) Paul hammers home the depth of submission the wife ought to demonstrate toward her husband. Â It’s as if he says, “You want to know, wives, what submission to your husbands should look like? Â Are you trying to figure out to what degree you ought to be in submission to your husband? Â Then, consider the way the slave submits to his master. Â Wow.
2) Wives should recognize that submission means, in essence, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Lk. 22:42).
Submission does not mean that wives are to have none of their own thoughts or desires. Â Furthermore, submission does not mean that wives should never express those thoughts or desires to their husbands. Â Consider, for example, that Jesus, in submission to His Father, had His own thoughts and desires, and even expressed those to His Father.
What submission does mean, however, is that wives are to ultimately subject their will to that of their husbands. Â In fact, the word in Ephesians 5:22 and 24 literally means, “be subject to” or “rank under.” Â The wife must recognize that while she is of equal value with her husband before God (Gal. 3:28), God has given husbands and wives unique roles within society (1 Cor. 11:2) and within the context of marriage (Eph. 5:22-32, 1 Pet. 3:1-7).
Now, what does it look like to submit to your husband? Â Meet Bill and Suzy. Â Bill and Suzy have been married for a number of years, and, again, face a situation in which Bill thinks “A” is best for his family, while SuzyÂ knows “B” is best for the family. Â This means that while both Bill and Suzy have their own ideas about what should be done, Bill’s ideas are objectively wrong. Â What does Suzy do? Â Bill and Suzy should probably first have a conversation about it, each presenting the reasons for their ideas. Â But, if Bill will not change his (wrong!) ideas, Suzy is responsible to submit her will to Bill’s will, even though Bill is wrong, so long as Bill’s desires do not cause Suzy to, a) violate Scripture, or b) violate her own conscience (Rom. 14:5, 20-23).
3) Wives must recognize that their submission to their husbands is to be realized in purely motivated, sincere obedience… even when their husbands are unloving!
Paul felt the need to instruct masters not to be “threatening,” or harsh, implying that certainly some of them were that way… and the instructions to the slave offer no “out” or “escape clause” in such a situation. Â Similarly, the wife is to submit to her husband regardless of his treatment of her.
The Need For Wives To Submit Like The Church
Is being a wife a challenging role? Â Absolutely. Â Wives are to model the purely motivated, glad-hearted, total obedience that the church is to practice in relationship to Christ.
Is being a wife an essential role? Â Absolutely. Â Marriage is the window through which the world may look to see the relationship that exists between Christ and the church.
Wives, whatever humility you need to pursue, whatever forgiveness you need to ask, whatever sacrifices you need to make, whatever perspectives you need to change, do not make a mockery of Christ’s relationship to the church. Â The world is in desperate need of seeing the true beauty of the infinitely satisfying, deeply intimate relationship that exists between Christ and His bride, and your marriage is to be the reflection of that.
- “Love Your Wife (3)” by Ligon Duncan
- Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ (Preaching the Word) by R. Kent Hughes
- An Exposition of Ephesians 5:18-6:9 by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
- Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper & Wayne Grudem (Free pdf) (Print Version)
- “Lionhearted and Lamblike: The Christian Husband as Head, Part 1” by John Piper.
- “Lionhearted and Lamblike: The Christian Husband as Head, Part 2” by John Piper.
- The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood