The Wife's Role in Marriage

Faith Church January 31, 1999

The Wife’s Role in Marriage

In our previous lessons we studied what the Bible says about the husband’s role in the home.  We learned that God wants husbands to be learners, lovers, and servant-leaders.  These expectations are far different than what many in our world think.  Each Christian husband has to decide, “Am I going to take direction from the Word of God in these matters, or am I going to turn to another source of truth?”
The same is true when it comes to the topic of the role of the wife.  Many would consider these ideas to be outdated or even dangerous.  Of course, such attitudes are nothing short of attacks on the authority of God and His Word.  Let’s approach this study with the mind of the Psalmist;   “I have rejoiced in the way of Thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.  I will meditate on Thy precepts, and regard Thy ways.  I shall delight in Thy statutes; I shall not forget Thy word”  (Psalm 119:14-16).
In this lesson we will study three key Biblical words which explain the wife’s role in marriage.

I. God Wants Wives To Be Submissive.

Ephesians 5:22-24:  “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  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.  But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”
Ephesians 5:22-33 is one of the most comprehensive discussions of marital roles in all the Bible.  In order to properly understand God’s instruction to wives, these verses must be studied in their broader context.
A. The background of the command:
1. Please scan Ephesians 5:1-17.  What key thoughts appear in these verses to help prepare our hearts to receive teaching on the subject of marital roles?
2. Being filled with the Spirit.  Ephesians 5:18 speaks about the importance of being controlled by the Holy Spirit.  What is the relationship of this verse to what we read later in the chapter about marital roles?
3. Being worshipful and thankful.  Ephesians 5:19-20 describes a person who worships God (note the emphasis in this verse on the heart) and who thanks God (note the words “always” and “for all things”).  How do these ideas tie in to the subject of marital roles?
4. Being mutually submissive.  It is also important to note that Paul’s discussion of marital roles is given in the context of believers “submitting to one another in the fear of the Lord” (Ephesians 5:21).

A. The command:
1. The concept of a wife being submissive to her husband actually is stated three times in this passage.  Please review Ephesians 5:22-24 and then write the three occurrences in the blanks below.

For additional study:  Review other places where this concept is repeated in the Word of God, please see Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:4, 5; 1 Timothy 2:9-12; 1 Peter 3:1-6.
2. This is a command to be continuously obeyed.  The Greek verb “be subject” in Ephesians 5:22 (as well as in most other passages about submission) is in the present tense.  God desires that a wife’s submission be a continuous part of her lifestyle.
3. This command is a spiritual matter.  What is the significance of Paul’s use of the words “as unto the Lord” in this passage?
4. This command is comprehensive.  “But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”   Of course this would not include a request from the husband that would cause the wife to sin (cf. Acts 5:29).  In his book, Strengthening Your Marriage, Wayne Mack wrote; “Submission is not to be an on-again off-again matter for the wife.  Nor is it to be a selective, choose what you like, reject what you do not like proposition.  Submission is to be her lifestyle at all times, in all places, and in everything.”
A. Obeying this command is not just a woman’s problem.
We saw earlier in our study that God wants all of His children to be submissive people.  This does not come naturally for any of us.  Consider the following Biblical ideas:
1. The problem with submission began in heaven.
Isaiah 14:13:  "But you said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north.”
1. Lack of submission was at the forefront of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.
Genesis 3:4:  “And the serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely shall not die!  For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’"
Satan tempted Eve by telling her that she could be her own god and no longer have to be in submission to the plan and program of the Creator.
2. Unwillingness to submit to God is a problem for all humans.
Isaiah 53:6:  “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”
How does this verse contribute to our topic?
3. The “submission problem” will get worse in the last days.
For additional study:  Review 2 Timothy 3:1-2 and 2 Peter 2:19.

4. The contrast is the life of the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:21:  “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.  For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.”
These Biblical truths should increase the importance of this topic in our minds for two reasons:
a. Every human being struggles with submission.
b. The choice we face is to be like Jesus Christ or to be like Satan, our adversary.
A. What submission is not:
Some wives struggle with this concept because Biblical submission is not understood.
1. Submission does not mean that the wife is inferior to the husband.
The greatest example of this truth is how Jesus Christ submitted to the Heavenly Father.
John 5:30:   "I can do nothing on my own initiative.  As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”
1 Corinthians 11:3:   “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.”
Wayne Mack says of these verses; “Certainly this does not imply that Christ is inferior to God the Father.  Rather it teaches that there is a division of labor and responsibility in the Trinity.  In like fashion, the submission of the wife in no way implies inferiority.  Instead, it teaches the necessity for order and structure, for a division of responsibility within the home.  Genesis 1:26, 27, 2:23, and Galatians 3:28 all assert the equalitarian status and dignity of women and men” (Strengthening Your Marriage, p. 13).
2. Submission does not mean that the husband is infallible.  Romans 13:1 teaches that believers are to be submissive to the government.  How does this passage prove the point we are making here about marriage?
3. Submission does not mean that the wife cannot think or be productive.
For additional study:  Read about the virtuous wife in Proverbs 31 (a detailed discussion of this passage of Scripture may be found in Christian Living In the Home, pp. 77-84, by Jay Adams.
What stereotypes of submission are proven to be wrong by these Biblical principles?

A. What submission is:
The word that is translated submission in our English Bibles is a military term that literally means “arrange yourself in rank under.”  In any organization, or relationship (even the Trinity), there has to be a plan for function and order.  Someone has to “have the axe over his neck.”
1. Please read 1 Peter 3:1-6.  The fourth verse of this passage says: “But let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”
List several characteristics that are the opposite of what is being described in this passage.
2. Submission proves your love for God.
John 14:31:  “But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do.  Arise, let us go from here.”
How did Jesus say that the world would know that He loved the Father?  How does this apply to our topic?
3. Submission is a picture of the church obeying Christ.
Ephesians 5:23:   “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.”
What would you say to a wife who says, “I have no intention of submitting to my husband’s leadership?”

Jay Adams wrote, “Submission does not remove freedom, it allows for it.  When is the train freer  when it is bumping over the hillside off the track, or when it is smoothly running along the track, confined or restricted, if you will, to the track?  It is freer when it is where it ought to be, doing what it was intended to do.  Restricted to the track means freedom.  Confined to the track means ability to perform as it was intended to perform.  What really brings freedom?  Getting on the right track.  When is a person freer in playing an organ or piano?  Is he freer to learn to play a musical instrument when he says, ‘Forget the rules and the laws of harmony, the chromatic scale, and so forth’?  He is not free when he says, ‘Forget it all,’ but rather when he spends the long, difficult hours practicing his scales.  ‘How can this be?’ you ask.  The one who sits down to an organ and says, ‘Forget the book and forget the practice’ is not free.  He pulls out the stops, puts down one foot with a terrible growl.  Then his hands come down like thunder  with a squeal and bellow and grunt.  The result?  Sheer cacophony!  Noise!  He cannot play the organ.  He is not free to make music.  That man isn’t free; he is bound by his own ignorance, bound by his own lack of skill, bound by the fact that he has not spent the hours that are necessary to learn how to make music.  But the man who takes the long, hard road of restriction, who works within the structure, finally arrives at the point where he may throw away the books and write his own music.  Freedom in God’s world never comes apart from structure.  When one is free to live as God intended, he is truly free indeed.  We hear much about women’s liberation today.  I want you to be liberated.  Here is the path of genuine liberation for a woman: submission.  Submission allows her to run on the track; it allows her to make beautiful music in her home.”
Jay Adams, Christian Living In the Home, pp. 74-75
For additional study:  See “Sample Log List:  Wife and Mother” and “Ways a Wife May Express Love to Her Husband” in A Homework Manual for Biblical Counseling, Vol. 2, pp. 53-57 and 60-63.

II.  God Wants Wives To Be Fitting Helpers.

Genesis 2:18:   “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’”
A.  The word “helper” has a rather “insignificant ring” in our society.  For example, we think of the “carpenter’s helper” as the one who isn’t as skilled as the carpenter and therefore does the menial tasks the boss doesn’t want to do.  In the Bible, however, the word helper speaks of a person who meets the needs of, or completes another person.  A Biblical helper is a very important part of the equation.  In fact, in many places in the Bible where this word is used, it is speaking about God Himself.
For additional study:  Use a concordance to look up the uses of the words “help” and “helper” in the book of Psalms.
B. Specific ways this rule may be fulfilled:  Wayne Mack makes the following suggestions for ways a wife may help her husband:
1. Making the home a safe place  a place of encouragement, comfort, understanding and refuge (Proverbs 31:11, 20).  Do not use jokes about him or make cutting remarks to him.  Do not constantly remind him of his faults, mistakes, and failures.  Correct him only if it is absolutely necessary.  Avoid the danger of allowing the home to be in shambles and full of disorder and confusion.  But also avoid the danger of making the house a show place where everything must always be neat and immaculate.  Husbands want homes to live in, not show places to visit.
2. Being trustworthy and dependable  (Proverbs 31:11, 12).
3. Maintaining a good attitude  (Proverbs 31:26, 28, 29; James 3:13-18; Philippians 4:4).
4. Discussing things lovingly, openly, and honestly  (Ephesians 4:25).
5. Being satisfied with her position, her possessions, her tasks  (Philippians 4:6-13; Hebrews 13:5, 16).
6. Being longsuffering, forgiving, and forbearing  (Ephesians 4:2, 31, 32; Colossians 3:12-14).
7. Showing an interest in his problems and concerns  (Philippians 2:3, 4).
8. Being an industrious, frugal, diligent, ambitious, and creative member of the team  (Psalm 128:3; Proverbs 31:10-31).
9. Offering suggestions, advice, and corrections when needed in a loving fashion (Proverbs 31:26).
10. Keeping herself beautiful, especially in the inner person  (1 Peter 3:3-5).
11. Maintaining a good spiritual life  (1 Peter 3:1, 2, 7).
12. Cooperating with him in raising children  (Ephesians 6:20; Proverbs 31:26-28; 1 Timothy 5:13, 14).
13. Building loyalty to him in the children.  The wife’s attitudes toward the husband are quickly picked up by the children.  Lack of respect or confidence in his leadership, complaints about what he has or has not done will have debilitating influence on the children.  She must avoid taking sides with the children or anyone against her husband.  She must support and cooperate with him in discipline.  All differences of opinion about discipline should be settled away from the children.
14. Being grateful to him.  Appreciation should be expressed freely and in a variety of ways (Romans 13:7).
15. Showing confidence in his decisions.  Disdain, lack of confidence, anxiety, or strong opposition over his decisions may cause him to become indecisive, defensive, or reactionary.  If the wife doubts the wisdom of important decisions, she should ask questions in a non-threatening way, assuming that there are some facts she does not know and that he really does want what is best for them both (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
List some other ways a wife can be a “fitting helper.”

III.  God Wants Wives To Reverence Their Husbands.

Ephesians 5:33:  “Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband.”
1. The word “respect” means to highly regard, notice, honor, prefer, esteem, praise, admire exceedingly.
2. List specific ways a wife can fulfill this aspect of her role.
3. The responsibility of the wife is to “respect” her husband.  That is a command, and not an option.  Therefore, a wife cannot use the excuse that “he doesn’t deserve it.”  The wife must give respect to her husband in spite of his imperfections.

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