Series: Marriage east of Eden
10 An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:10-11).
“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting to the Lord” (Col 3:18).
If the idea of a husband’s headship is a cultural hot potato, then a wife’s submission is a hot potato stuffed with radioactive chilli! To our 21st century ears, submission sounds a lot like mousy silence, subservience, humiliation and inferiority. Surely strong, intelligent women don’t submit to any man!?
But, if we’re Christians, we need to allow God’s timeless and infallible Word to recalibrate our distorted, preconceived ideas. We need the truth of the Bible to define what God has established as the good life. We need to be led, not by culture, but by the divine Choreographer who invented the dance of marriage in the first days of Creation (Gen 2:22-25). That’s how we, as God’s children, demonstrate that Christ is truly Lord of our lives. After all, marriage is not an end in itself, but a metaphor pointing to a much more profound spiritual reality– Christ’s relationship with his Church (Eph 5:32). Ultimately, everyone who is born again is His Bride, and we respond by gladly submitting to Him in all things.
Last week in “Husbands, love your wives,” the heat was on men! Today we focus on what it looks like for a wife to submit to her husband and be his helper, as Scripture teaches us.
Let’s start by reading the verses relating to wives in Ephesians 5:
“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, 23 because the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the church (he himself being the savior of the body). 24 But as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 32 This mystery is great—but I am actually speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, each one of you must also love his own wife as he loves himself and the wife must respect her husband” (Eph 5:1-2; 22-24; 32-33).
Simple, yes! Easy, no!
You’ll notice from last week that Paul uses much more ink on husbands than on wives! A husband is called to cleave to his wife, lead her spiritually, nourish her like his own body, put her ahead of himself and sacrifice his own interests for her good.
But, there are only two little verbs that describe how a wife should relate to her husband: Submit and Respect. She is responsible to love her husband by accepting his authority and respecting his God-given role as head of their marriage. A Christ-honouring wife will not try to undermine her husband’s leadership in any way. She will allow her husband to care for and love her, and trust God to care for and love her even when her husband fails…and he will! Marriage is a Christian wife’s tool and test to deepen and demonstrate her reverence for her Lord (Col 3:18; Eph 5:22).
Submission and respect is really quite simple for us wives…when all is going well and we agree with our husbands! But it’s in the messy pressures of life that the rubber really hits the road. It’s that pesky little phrase “in everything” that gives me trouble (Eph 5:24)!
In those heated moments when things are falling apart, isn’t it easier to be critical, to nitpick and second-guess his decisions? There are so many subtle ways to undermine his authority. A roll of the eyes, a gesture that says, “Not again!”
Isn’t it sometimes more intuitive to save our best behaviour for the world, and give our husbands our grouchy, most negative self? Isn’t it easier to try to control things, rather than build up our husbands to become godly leaders of our family?
Isn’t it more natural to try to change our husband’s behaviour, instead of praying for him and allowing our quietness and respect to change his heart? Isn’t it easier to stay silent and sullen, rather than respectfully correcting him, speaking the truth in love in a gentle, patient and self-controlled way? Yes, submission is simple, but definitely not easy “in all things!”
A wife’s unique temptations.
Like a husband, a wife faces unique temptations in marriage.
Emerson Eggerichs, in his book “Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires. The Respect He Desperately Needs” cites a study of over 7000 men and women who were asked a simple question: “When you’re in conflict with your spouse or significant other, do you feel unloved or disrespected?” 83% of men said ‘disrespected’, 72% of women said ‘unloved’.
Of course, husbands and wives both need love and respect equally, but often our felt needs differ during conflict. This seems to be borne out by Eph 5:33. A woman’s natural response to feeling unloved is to respond disrespectfully. A man’s natural reaction when disrespected, is to respond unlovingly. Regardless of who started it, the crazy cycle continues—leading down a dangerous path of endless contempt, criticism and anger. Intimacy can’t weather this onslaught, so the relationship inevitably withers and dies. Contempt is known to be the greatest early warning signal of impending divorce.
To avoid this inevitable destination, either husband or wife has to break this self-feeding cycle. It’s no use blaming your husband if you’re not obeying God’s word to submit to him. In fact, your failure to submit could stand in the way of God’s dealings with your rebellious or unbelieving husband. It’s best to stand aside and let God do His work.
But let’s first get a proper understanding of what submission means, and doesn’t mean.
Some of us have bought into faulty definitions of submission. Literally, the word ‘submit’ means to arrange oneself under.
Submission is not mousey subservience or inferiority.
We can know this for sure because of the dignity Jesus gave women in the Gospels; the many women who flourished and actively participated in the early church, and because of the Bible’s insistence on equality of men and women in the Old and New Testament (Gen 1:27; Gal 3:28).
There is nothing mousey or weak about the Proverbs 31 ‘wife of noble character’, or about Ruth or Rahab, or Jesus’s own mother, Mary. And there is nothing degrading about submission, as even Christ submitted to his Father (Luke 22:42). Jesus’ submission was actually an expression of his great love for us, a show of profound strength rather than weakness. Would we call Jesus a doormat for submitting to his Father’s plan of salvation? So why then would we caricature a submissive wife as a doormat?
Submission is not silence or blind acquiescence.
Honest, godly communication is expected of all Christian men and women (Matt 18:15; Eph 4:15; 2 Tim 4:2). In fact, respectfully correcting your husband is part of loving him and being his helper. You share in the calling to “love your neighbour” just as your husband does.
Love speaks sincerely, exhorts, corrects and says no to evil. That means that if your husband is verbally, physically or sexually abusing you or your children, you must say No to his sin. You cannot acquiesce in humiliating sexual acts. You cannot be his enabler in shaming and blaming sessions. Get the support you need from CCM’s Crisis and Care Centre. Submission doesn’t aid and abet sin.
A positive portrait of a godly wife.
It’s always best to go to the Bible for the real deal, instead of being misled by false caricatures and stereotypes. Proverbs 31:10-31 is a vivid cameo of a respectful, godly wife. Yes, it was written three thousand years ago, spotlighting a wife with many years behind her. But the timeless principles in Proverbs 31 show us that there is endless scope for a submissive and respectful wife to flourish as a woman and a mother.
This is a woman who is anything but a doormat! She has a good mind and is capable and strong in helping her husband to lead the household (Prov 31:16-17; 18; 25). She has practical street savvy. She is caring and generous to the needy (Prov 31:20). She is resourceful, shows initiative and thinks for herself (Prov 31:21). She is a blessing to her husband (Prov 31:23). She is hardworking and wise in handling money (Prov 31:24). She takes her responsibilities at home seriously (Prov 31: 27). She is wise, and passes on her wisdom to others (Prov 31:26). Her family respects her (Prov 31:28). Most important of all, this woman fears the Lord. Her identity is in Him, rather than external status and charm (Prov 31:30). These qualities, coupled with fear of the Lord, leads to enjoyment, honour and worth (Prov 31:31). Peter paints a similar portrait of a wife who follows Christ in 1 Peter 3:1-6. Her identity and faith is in Jesus alone.
There’s no way we can do, or be, the wife of noble character, unless we look beyond our husband and see Jesus! Your husband’s behaviour may deserve contempt, but that won’t win him over any more than your husband’s harshness will win your heart. If your husband is an unbeliever, cling to 1 Peter 3:1-6, and nag God for a miracle in his hard heart. Put your hope in Christ, not your husband. “Do what is right and do not give way to fear” (1 Peter 3:6).
Wives, let’s do our own verse, and let Christ take care of the rest!
Lord, we pray for marriages in our church and life groups. We pray that you would help us to learn the steps of the marriage dance you have choreographed for us. Lord, help husbands to see the opportunities you’ve given them to lead sacrificially. Lord, help wives to respond by being our husband’s helper, respectfully arranging ourselves under his leadership. Lord, whether we are married, single, divorced or widowed, help us to resist the urge to find our identity in our marital status. Instead, may we find our hope only in you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.