A Word to Wives

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)

The word submission tends to trigger all kinds of negative responses. This is due in part to the reality that, as John Stott wrote over 40 years ago, “submission to authority is out of fashion today. It is totally at variance with contemporary attitudes of permissiveness and freedom.”[1] The intervening four decades have only increased submission’s negative reputation, and nowhere more so than within marriage.

Yet the fact remains that, properly understood and rightly applied, submission lies at the heart of relationships as God established them. Children are to submit to their parents (Ephesians 6:1), church members are to submit to their church leaders (Hebrews 13:17), and, here, wives are to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord.” Submission to others, depending on the roles to which we are called in life, is part and parcel of our relationships with each other. 

A wife’s submission to her husband reflects God’s divine ordering for marriage, then. But how, specifically, are we to understand this teaching? First of all, the directive for a wife to submit to her husband in no way implies her inferiority. The Bible is very clear that men and women are equal in dignity, as both are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). As believers, we are also equal in redemption—and that equality is seen in the fact that we are heirs together of God’s grace (1 Peter 3:7). Our standing as men and women before God is entirely equal. A difference in role does not mean a difference in value.

Second, women are to submit to their own husbands, not all men in general. Paul isn’t giving a blanket instruction about the place of women in society; he is giving a specific directive concerning the wife’s role in the family. Within that context, a woman’s desire to submit to the Lord is revealed in part by her submission to her husband. 

Third, this submission isn’t the same as unconditional obedience. Husbands are not to coerce their wives, nor are they to call them to submit, and certainly not to that which the Lord has not ordained. A wife is not in the hands of one who has the authority to command what he pleases. Rather, a husband is to “love his wife as himself,” to give himself up for her and to lead her in holiness (Ephesians 5:33). If you are a husband, then it needs to be underlined that if at any point you seek to lead your wife away from obedience to Christ rather than deeper into it, your wife is under no biblical obligation to follow your lead. 

If you are a wife, the Bible does not call you to slavish, unthinking obedience. Rather, your submission is to be a joyful loyalty to and commitment to following the lead of your husband as part of a mutual partnership which pursues God’s glory in all things. Wholehearted and without reluctance, this kind of submission is only possible by God’s enabling so that you might do your husband “good, and not harm, all the days of [your] life” (Proverbs 31:12). This biblical submission is certainly not fashionable. It is often not easy. But, in the sight of God and of His people, it is beautiful.

FOOTNOTES 1The Message of Ephesians:, The Bible Speaks Today (IVP Academic, 1979), p 215.

Devotional material is taken from Truth For Life Daily Devotional by Alistair Begg. Copyright © 2021, The Good Book Company. Used by Truth For Life with written permission.

God’s Design For Marriage

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:24-25)

Marriage is a God-given gift that we have tarnished by our sin. These verses describe a perfectly trusting, perfectly shame-free, perfectly united partnership of love. Sadly, one tangible effect of our living in a fallen world is that outside of the movies no marriage is only and ever like that. The tragedy of human sin is that it is in our very nature to corrupt what God has created for our good and His glory, causing the beauty and enjoyment of marriage as He intended to be lost. But there is hope! For believers, God’s Spirit enables us to consider marriage according to His design. 

We must first acknowledge that outside of Christ, men and women are in flat-out rebellion against God’s purposes. It’s not that we are simply confused about the nature of marriage; it’s that our sinful desires are completely opposed even to what we do understand. Marriage as it is given to us in the Bible is often perceived as a cage, a restriction, or a human contrivance put together long ago—a kind of useless vestige left over from previous generations. If we see God’s design for marriage in this light, it’s because we are predisposed to say, “I don’t like God’s plans. I’ll do this my own way.”

When we are united with Christ, however, God enables us to view marriage according to His design. No matter what any government legislates, Scripture is absolutely clear that any relationship other than a monogamous, heterosexual relationship cannot be and is not a marriage before God, because that is what He decided marriage should be in the very beginning. Jesus’ affirmation of the Genesis 2 depiction of marriage demonstrates that nothing between the beginning and now has changed God’s design (Matthew 19:4-6). We must not tamper with or readjust the Bible to accommodate social trends which would define marriage differently. Though God’s pattern for biblical marriage may be looked down upon by our fallen world, if we believe the Bible to be the very word of God, then we will uphold its teaching—in how we choose to order our own lives and in how we speak of and pray for other people’s relationships.

As believers, we must recognize that God’s concern for marriages in all cultures and at all times is that they would reflect Christ’s love for and commitment to His people (Ephesians 5:22-25). And we must remember that all that is broken and distorted as a result of the fall the Lord Jesus came to renew and repair. Only in and through Christ is it possible to view marriage according to God’s pattern and plan. Instead of us living according to our own way, He has graciously invited us to bow our hearts under His design, which is like no other. For some, it will call for great personal sacrifice to obey God’s commands in this area. For all of us living in the 21st century, it will call for courage to stand up for God’s ways in the face of man’s. In your particular context and circumstances, what will it mean for you to think, speak, and act in a way that reflects God’s design for His great gift of marriage?

Devotional material is taken from Truth For Life Daily Devotional by Alistair Begg. Copyright © 2021, The Good Book Company. Used by Truth For Life with written permission.