Following the Blueprint—A Wife's Submission - Ephesians 5:22-24 - Skip Heitzig
Start building the home of your future today-- smart home.
Would you turn in your Bibles-- I trust you have one, or there's one close to you, or you can borrow somebody you don't know, but you will as soon as you start reading over their shoulder-- and turn in your Bibles to the book of Ephesians, chapter 5. That's where we had your turn last week. And we discovered that Ephesians 5-- we called it the Home Depot of the smart home, that it gives to us tools for strengthening the roles that we have within the marriage relationship. So we're going to look at Ephesians, chapter 5.
Now, last week, I got some feedback after the message to husbands, and it was positive feedback not just from women, not just from gals going, man, I'm glad you socked it to my husband today. But I got a lot of feedback from men saying how grateful they were for it. But today, I am going to be addressing wives, so I trust you'll be praying for me during the delivery of this message. I asked my wife to look over my notes to cut out anything that was hard to hear. So in conclusion--
Listen, there's one word in our text that becomes the difficult word. It is the second word in in verse 22, and that is the word "submit." It's difficult to hear because it is a hard word in a marriage relationship for anyone to give up anything. And I understand that submission-- the word, the idea, the concept-- has become sort of a lightning-rod issue. I was reading a news article from, I think it was ABC News, that said a wife's submission to a husband is a dangerous thing to hear, or to even say, or postulate, or believe in. And it was written by some theologian who believed the Bible doesn't say what the Bible says.
Listen, when it comes down to it, I don't think we should ever be frightened of whatever the Bible says. We serve a loving God who has our best interests at heart. And he doesn't want to hurt us. He wants things to flow smoothly. And he always thinks and wants the highest for us. So we never have to runaway or shy away from the Bible. Nor should we ever think that we need to manipulate the Bible to accommodate it to make it say whatever we want it to say. We who have been given the Bible should never be the ones to try to change the Bible.
So it kind of comes down to this-- what does the church think of the Bible? Or to be a little more direct, what does this church think of the Bible? Or to be even more direct, what do you think of the Bible? What do I think of the Bible? Do we believe it's God's inspired word? And if we do, we don't shy away from it, but we embrace it because we want to discover what God's interest is for us.
Now, all of that said, the reason people bristle against the idea of submission is because this text has been abused. It has been abused by couch potato tyrants who sort of feel like they're like the Taliban Lord, able to just sort of give out orders, bark out orders to the wife that is in his house. There are some men who have the domestic prowess of Jabba the Hutt, and they believe the Bible kind of condones an overbearing attitude, which it does not.
And what happens when a husband is that way-- and I know I'm supposed to be addressing wives. But what happens is a wife shuts down because it crushes her spirit. And so she is silent, and she suffers in silence. And her being in silence-- sometimes the man likes that, so he kind of resorts to silence back. And you can have a relationship of a husband and wife who are not communicating. And I bet some of you have gone through that treatment, the silent treatment, right? We all do in our learning how to relate.
I heard about a couple who gave each other the silent treatment for like four or five straight days-- wouldn't say a word to each other, were leaving notes to each other, wouldn't talk. At the end of that little five-day stint, the man had to go out of town. So he wrote a note to his wife saying, I have to leave town. I want you to wake me up at 5 o'clock tomorrow morning.
The next day, 5 o'clock came. 6 o'clock came. 7 o'clock came. 8 o'clock came. 9 o'clock in the morning, he sits up in bed. Sunlight is coming through the windows. He knows that he has missed his flight. He's so angry. He's about to lay into his wife verbally, and he sees a note that's over on the bed stand. And he goes over to the note, and it read, it's 5 o'clock. Wake up.
I am not going to take the text that we are going to consider today and use it as a club to berate women. That's not going to happen. Neither am I going to shy away from what the text plainly says. What I'm going to endeavor to do-- I hope you've come to expect this-- is to bring to you what the Holy Spirit has said through the pen of the apostle Paul.
Let's begin by looking at verse 22-- "Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and he is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything."
Now, this section of scripture is dealing with the family, and in particular, family roles. So chapter 5, verse 22 down to chapter 6, verse 4, he addresses different sections of a family-- wives, husbands, parents, children, even servants that were prevalent in that day and age. And one thing that is striking to us as we go through the list and we read through this short little section is that it is just that. It is short. It is not lengthy.
Winston Churchill once said that great concepts are simple and can be expressed in single words. And so Paul just says, husbands, love your wives. That's the one word-- love. That's the word that prevails. Husbands, love your wives. And then he adds flavor to it-- as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. He didn't say, husbands, rake the yard. Mow the grass. Fix the car, or the chariot in those days. He just says, love your wives.
Then he addresses the wives. And again, it's simple. He doesn't say, wives, clean the house. Pay the bills. Wash the clothes. Do the groceries. One word he gives-- submit to your own husbands.
Let me put this on the table to begin with and say that submission is not oppression. It is not slavery. It is not a right for somebody to abuse that. It is, in fact, a dignified role. I had a woman who came up after the first service and gave me a little card. And she said, thank you. I came to this service nervous about what we were discussing, but I walked away blessed. I hope that you will walk away blessed, and that, women, you will see your role as a wife as an elevated role, a dignified role given dignity by the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
Now, I am aware that not everybody here is married. And some people, whenever you do a family series, they roll their eyes, and go, oh, great, a series about husbands and wives. I don't fit in that category. Some of you are single. I understand. You've never married. Others of you are divorced. Therefore, you're single. Others of you are single because you've lost a spouse. They've died, and you have no plans on getting remarried.
I want you to know this section of scripture is also for you because what it does is reinforce the response that we, the church, are to have toward the Lord Jesus Christ. Because marriage, says Paul, is to be a reflection of that.
Also, another note-- the rules, though stated simply, can be difficult to pull off. It's simple to say, husbands, love your wives. But now try loving your wife like Jesus loved the church. To say submit is easy to say, but try submitting to your husbands as unto the Lord.
And because of that difficulty in that, many people, even Christian people, are forestalling marriage. They go, wow, I just haven't found anybody yet. Nobody's quite up to par, up to the standard. You know that I've met-- for years, I've heard this.
We have a pretty large church, about 15,000 people. I hear people all the time-- young people go, I can't find a Christian woman. Or women who say, man, there's no good men around. Well, I understand where you're coming from. But women, you're going to have to stop waiting for the Messiah. He came and went. So you're going to have to settle for somebody less than Jesus or Paul.
And part of the magic is marrying a person, discovering that person, and learning to adjust in life. It is a grand adventure in more ways than one. It's a wonderful adventure.
What I want to do, though, in these three verses is look at submission and give you four attributes of biblical submission. First, submission is personal. It is personal. Wives, writes Paul, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord.
Now, what is submission? Submission is a military term. Don't let that scare you. I'll explain that in a minute. But it means the idea is to place one's self under, to subordinate one's self. And it is written in the Greek language in what is called the middle voice.
Why is that important? The middle voice means that the subject is the one that acts himself or herself. So the idea of the middle voice is it is something you do yourself. You're not forced to do it. You're not coerced to do it. It is something you willingly do. You yield yourself willingly to another.
Now, before I get a little deeper into the meaning of that word, I do believe it's important for us to get the background of the New Testament era to understand the role of women in ancient times. Women, let me sum it up by saying, you owe your liberation, you owe your liberation not to Gloria Steinem, not to Kate Millet, but to the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave dignity and honor to women in an era in which women were not just sidelined, they were nonexistent in that culture.
Now, let me explain that. 2,000 years ago in the Roman culture and the Greek culture, the Greco-Roman culture, the role of women publicly did not exist. Men were autocratic. Women were acquiescent. And that's the way society was all around the time of Jesus.
Women were excluded from Roman citizenship. They were placed on the level of a slave, of a child, and of a criminal. In early Roman law, men, husbands, had the right to sell their wives into slavery if they chose or to have them executed, capital punishment, if they chose.
One Roman statesmen named Cicero said our ancestors made it a rule that women, because of their weak intellects, should have guardians to take care of them. Can you see what women were up against 2,000 years ago? Women were not included in a census. The population-- they weren't even included. They didn't even count.
And they didn't even bear their own names. Rather, they simply took the feminized form of their father's name. So if dad was named Julius, as in Julius Caesar, the firstborn would take the name Julia-- her dad's name. If the dad had a second-born daughter, her name would often be Secunda, which just means the second. If he had a third daughter, Tertia, which just means the third. They didn't even bear their own names.
Nobody asked a bride and a groom in that culture if they loved each other. Love each other? What does that have to do with anything? It was so secondary because marriage was merely contractual.
A cynical Roman jest sort of sums up this mentality. And I'm quoting, "Marriage," writes this person. "Marriage brings only two happy days-- the day when the husband first clasps his wife to his breast and the day when he lays her in the tomb." That is the Greco-Roman culture of 2,000 years ago.
Now, let's leave that and shift to another culture going on at the time, the Jewish culture. That's the culture of the New Testament. That's the culture of Jesus, the gospels, Paul, et cetera. Theoretically, no nation had a higher ideal of marriage than Judaism. But while they maintained a high ideal of marriage, they had a very low ideal of women in general.
A morning prayer that Jewish men prayed-- they prayed a lengthy prayer. Here's just a part of it. Part of it read, "Thank you, God, that you made me not a Gentile, a slave, or a woman." It's a prayer. Thank you, God, I'm not a chick. Amen.
Now, part of that in Judaism was because two rabbis I mentioned a couple of weeks ago-- do you remember their names? Hillel was one of them, and Akiba was another-- who believed that a husband could divorce his wife for any reason at all. And all he had to do was give two witnesses and a certificate of divorce, and she's gone.
Whereas, a woman had absolutely no rights whatsoever, least of all, the right to divorce her husband. A woman could not divorce her husband unless he became a leper, an apostate, or engaged in a disgusting trait. Other than that, she was bound for life, whereas a husband could divorce and remarry, and divorce and remarry at will. In the Roman world, there was one instance of 24 wives a man had one after the other. So it got crazy.
Now, that's the culture. Now, enter Jesus Christ. And we see immediately as we read the gospels that women played a huge role in his life. Luke says many women followed him. Many women followed Jesus. Obviously, they felt drawn to him. And can I add, obviously, none of them had any problem submitting to the Lord Jesus as their Lord.
Also, in the New Testament, women were treated by Jesus with grace. Remember, the woman caught in adultery, and how tender our Lord was with her, but how scathing he was toward her accusers? Woman, where are your accusers? I have none. He said to them, you men who are without sin, you cast the first stone. And embarrassing them all, they left.
Then, Jesus went to the well of Samaria and was talking to the woman at the well. And I don't know if you ever caught this, but it says when the disciples came from the city to the well, it says they marveled because he spoke with a woman. You see, you just got to know-- these Jewish guys went, I can't believe he's talking to a woman publicly. Because that wasn't done. He's like the Messiah talking to a woman. Yeah, no wonder they felt drawn to him.
It was a Syrophoenician woman that Jesus singled out as having great faith. Women were the last to be at the cross of Christ. They were the first to be at the tomb of Jesus. And they were the first to proclaim the resurrection of Christ.
In the early church, women were deaconesses. There were prophetesses, the Bible tells us. And there were even ministry couples, like Aquila and his wife Priscilla. We know that. They're in the Bible.
Paul summed it up in Galatians 3:28 when he said, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ. So now, with this dignified, elevated role, Paul writes to women to voluntarily submit themselves to their husbands. So it is personal. Submission is personal.
Second, submission is practical. It says, wives, submit to your own husbands. That is a practical role. He is not suggesting that husbands are better. He is simply suggesting that roles differ. Submission is practical. You know why? We all do it. We all have to submit to someone, do something to go through life.
Think of the Lord Jesus. First of all, he submitted to his parents. We're told in Luke chapter 2, He, Jesus, went down with them, came to Nazareth, and was subject to them. So he obediently submitted to his earthly parents, even though he's God.
You know, Jesus never said, mom and Joe, I'm God, OK? You're not. I can kind of do whatever I want. Have you not figured this out yet? No, he respected their role enough to subject himself to them.
Then, Jesus submitted himself to his father. John 8:29-- I always do those things that please the Father. Also, Jesus submitted himself to other people. Mark 10:45-- the son of man, said Jesus, did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. That's the ultimate submission. He gave his life.
Submission is a part of life. It's a part of everyone's life. And it certainly is a part of the Christian in terms of our society. Romans 13 tells you and me, everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities. Whoever rebels against that authority rebels against God.
On top of that, Christians are called to respond to and submit to church leadership. Hebrews 13, verse 17-- obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so their work will be a joy and not a burden. Chapter 6 verse, 1-- parents are to keep their children in submission. Children are to be subject to their parents.
Here's the point. All of us are called to submit, and none of us can ever fulfill God's purpose in our lives without the spirit, the attitude of submission. All of us need the attitude of being submissive to something, someone, some authority. Charles Spurgeon said, a man is not far from the gates of heaven when he is fully submissive to the Lord's will. So that's where we begin. How submissive are we to the Lord Himself? I mean, the fact that we call Him Lord implies we are submissive as servants to his will.
So back to this word, submit. I mentioned it's a military term. Now, that scares a lot of people. Just because it was used in a military sense does not give the husband the right to act like a sergeant in the home. You mouthed off, woman-- 20 push ups. The word is, in Greek, [NON-ENGLISH]. And it means to get in order under someone. And as I mentioned, the idea is to willingly relinquish one's rights.
Interestingly, women are not told to obey their husbands. I'm going to be very careful here because I have husbands giving me the little evil eye. What? It says submit. Isn't that good enough?
Well, certainly submission might include obedience. However, when Paul is speaking to children, he uses the word obey. Children obey your parents-- different word. In Greek, it's [NON-ENGLISH] but submit is [NON-ENGLISH]. [NON-ENGLISH] means obey. [NON-ENGLISH] means willingly relinquish your rights-- different. When Paul speaks to slaves obeying their masters, [NON-ENGLISH] is the word he uses, not [NON-ENGLISH]. When he speaks to wives, different word.
Here's the point. Husbands, you cannot treat your wives like children. You cannot treat your wives like servants. They are partners with you in the grace of life. So that's what the word means. [NON-ENGLISH]-- to get up under someone. To relinquish one's rights willingly. So submission is not about the superiority of the male. It's about the functionality of the marriage.
Now, let me give you a key verse that I hope unlocks it all for you. That is found in 1 Corinthians, chapter 11, verse 3. Let me read it to you. Paul said, the head of every man is Christ. The head of the woman is man. And the head of Christ is God. Once again, the head of every man is Christ. The head of woman is man. The head of Christ is God.
Now, the Father is the head of Christ, Jesus Christ. God the Father has authority over God the Son. Question-- does God the Son have any less divinity than God the Father? No. Does he have any less nature as God the Father? No. We believe that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are co-eternal, co-equal. They're all equal. They're all eternal. But one relinquishes the rights to another. That's why Jesus said, I always do those things that please the Father. He understood the function and the role.
So submission is personal, and it is practical. Third attribute-- submission is purposeful. Verse 23, 4, he continues, the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ as head of the church. And he is Savior of the body, the body of Christ, the church. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands.
Now, this is an illustration of submission. Notice, the word "as." The husband is head of the wife as-- that's a word of comparison. So he does this because somebody is going to say, well, so what's that like? I mean, how is the husband the head? Like this, like Jesus is the head of the church.
Now that shouldn't scare you. Ladies, verse 23 should bless you. Why? Because when you have husbands lead like Christ leads the church, submission is not a hard word to hear. It's very easy to hear. It's like, oh, yeah, it's a response. It's a natural response.
Husbands who lead their wives in a domineering, self-serving way miss what Jesus has done for the church. And wives who refuse to yield to their husband's leadership hide how the church should respond to Jesus Christ, both together.
Now, I said it's purposeful. What does that mean? What's the purpose of submission? Twofold, two reasons, two purposes-- number one, submission enables leadership. If nobody submits, nobody leads. I know plenty of wives who long, long for their husbands to lead, but they don't let them lead. They're holding on hard to that rope, crying out, lead, lead, lead. [GROWLING] Maybe the reason the husband isn't a good leader is because the wife just isn't a good follower of the leader.
Remember, leadership requires somebody to yield power and control to a leader. It doesn't mean a leader is any better than anybody else. Just like in a corporation, you have a leader. Doesn't mean he's better, but he is the leader.
Now, some wives get so frustrated with their husband's leadership that I've almost heard them say, I've heard them come close to saying, well, you know, if he'd just do what I tell him, he'd be a great leader. Can you see the problem?
Sometimes a wife has the best husband. But usually, a wife makes the best of the husband she has. We're all fallen people. We're all fallen creatures. We all make mistakes. But it enables leadership. It allows for that to take place.
Second purpose-- it points to Jesus. Verse 31-- go down to that again. We looked at it last week. For this reason-- Paul is quoting Genesis 2-- for this reason, a man will leave his father and mother, be joined to his wife. The two shall become one flesh. Verse 32 is the key. This is a great mystery. But I speak concerning Christ and the Church.
In other words, what I just said about marriage is an illustration of how Christ and his church are one. So marriage is modeled after redemption, but marriage points to redemption. It shows it off. It shows how it works. Jesus's sacrificial love is a model for husbands. The church's submission to Christ is a model for wives.
It's also like a human body. He says he is also the Savior of the body. So let me ask you this. If a human body does not respond to the direction of the head, we call that? A disease, a cripple, it's paralyzed. If the body parts will not respond to the direction that this part is giving it, it's malfunctioning.
So like the body responds to the head, like the church responds to the head, to Christ, so the wife has to respond and to submit to the husband. Why? Because it reveals Christ. The purpose of marriage is to reveal God. The purpose of marriage is to make God look good. In how many marriages does God look good? That's the purpose of it.
Fourth and finally, submission is provisional. What I mean by that is there's boundaries to this submission. I know, some of you have read it, and you go, uh, I don't see any boundaries. I've looked at verse 24, and it says, therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be subject to their own husbands. What's the last two words? In everything-- that sounds like without qualification, right?
However, if that's the only verse you read and walked away from this passage, you might think that, but you'd be wrong. Because "in everything" has context. Every text has context, right? If you separate text from context, you have pre-text. You can make it say anything you want. You can make a proof text for anything.
So there is something that goes with the "in everything." If you go back to verse 21, we are to submit to one another out of reverence for God or in the fear of the Lord. That's a caveat of submission. Verse 22-- wives submit to your husband as to the Lord or in correspondence to the Lord. Verse 24-- as the church is subject to Christ, let wives be to their own husbands.
Let me add another to the mix. It's not in this text, but in the book of Colossians, Paul says basically the same instruction. But he says-- Colossians 3, verse 18-- wives, submit to your husbands-- listen to this-- as is fitting in the Lord, as is fitting in the Lord. So therefore, the "everything" in verse 24 of our text means everything that is consistent with his character and not contrary to his character.
So if you have a husband saying to his wife, don't read that Bible ever. Don't ever go to church ever. In fact, come out with me once a week and get drunk at the bar, and neglect the kids while you're at it. Her response to him is like the apostles in Jerusalem. We must obey God rather than men.
There are boundaries. There are parameters. There is a provisional statement here. Christ is the absolute authority in a marriage, not a husband. Christ is.
John Piper writes, the husband does not replace Christ as the woman's supreme authority. She must never follow her husband's leadership into sin. But even where a Christian wife may have to stand with Christ against the sinful will of her husband, she could still have a spirit of submission. She can show by her attitude and behavior that she does not like resisting his will, and that she longs for him to forsake sin and lead in righteousness so that her disposition to honor him as head can again produce harmony.
That's what Peter meant, by the way, when Peter, 1 Peter chapter 3, says, wives, be submissive to your husbands so that if any of them-- that is your husbands-- do not believe the word-- they're unbelievers. They may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives.
Look, I'm not going to obey you in that sinful attitude or that sinful thing. I'm not going to neglect my kids. I'm not going to go get stoned with you every week. And I am going to read my Bible. But I really want to submit to you, and I'm going to still honor you as best as I can. That's a hard road to walk, by the way.
Sometimes submission is very difficult. Let me move it down a notch. Let's take it away from your husband telling you to get drunk and abuse the kids. Of course you're not going to do that. Let's just take it down a notch. Let's just say your husband is exercising unwise leadership. What is a wife to do?
How is a wife to respond if the husband is overspending and dwindling family resources? What if he is neglecting family priorities? What if he is avoiding spiritual leadership?
By submitting to leadership like that that appears unwise, she is not saying it's OK. She's not saying, I'm good with it. What she is saying is, I can't deal with this, but God can. So what I'm going to do is take it out of my hands and put it in God's hands. I'm putting you, husband, in God's hands.
When you cannot trust visible leadership, you can trust invisible leadership. Where you cannot trust human authority, you can trust divine authority. And God will honor that. That's the idea of, as to the Lord, I can trust him. I can trust God. And I can entrust my husband to him.
Now, I tell you what. If I were a husband, and I had a wife who said, I got to say, I think you're making unwise decisions, but I love you, and I will go along with you, but I am placing all of what you're doing on the Lord. You are responsible before God. And for me to feel the weight of that? I'm going to be very careful how I walk.
Wives, submit to your husbands. Therefore, for a wife to rebel against her husband's authority in the home as leader, she is rebelling against God. So the idea here, then, is what seems like the hardest word in a marriage can actually become the healthiest word in a marriage because even with a submissive attitude toward unwise leadership by her willingness to want to submit to him, that behavior can win him over to the Lord or in the Lord win him over to obedient direction from the Lord, even as a believing husband. It can work wonders, and I've seen it time and time again.
Let me pray for marriages as we close today. Father, I just want to thank you for husbands and wives. They made a covenant with each other. They've since discovered that it's just not easy to do. It's not easy to love as Christ loved. It's not easy to submit as the church submits to Jesus because she realizes, I didn't marry Jesus, and this man is not perfect.
But Father, I pray that that tenderhearted willingness and submissiveness would rule the day, that even if some don't believe the word as Peter said, they would be won over by attitude, by willingness, even without words of a godly wife. I pray, Lord, you would heal relationships. I pray you would resolve difficulties. And I pray, Lord, that at the end of our day, our relationships would make you look good. In Jesus's name, amen.
We hope you enjoyed this message from Skip Heitzig of Calvary Church. How will you put the truths that you learned into action in your life? Let us know. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And just a reminder-- you can support this ministry with a financial gift at calvarynm.church/gift. Thank you for joining us for this teaching from Calvary Church.