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God's Design...(The Role of the Wife)

Written by: MacArthur Jr., John    Posted on: 04/01/2003

Category: Sermons

Source: CCN

The following message was delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California, by John MacArthur Jr.  It was transcribed from the tape, GTY-43, titled "God's Design for a Successful Marriage" (Side 1) "The Role of the Wife."  A copy of the tape can be obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412 or by dialing toll free 1-800-55-GRACE.

I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the original tape was made.  Please note that at times sentence structure may appear to vary from accepted English conventions.  This is due primarily to the techniques involved in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make in placing the correct punctuation in the article.

It is my intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this transcription to strengthen and encourage the true Church of Jesus Christ. Tony Capoccia



                  God's Design for a Successful Marriage                           (The Role of the Wife)

                              Copyright 1979                                     by                           John F. MacArthur, Jr.                           All rights reserved.



We come this morning to a famous or infamous passage, depending on how you view it, in Ephesians 5:22-24.  This is the beginning of the Biblical look at the pattern that God has designed for marriage and the family.  We live in a day when this is a very difficult thing to proclaim because the world is not willing to accept it. 

God has some very clear, distinct definitions of a family and how a family functions, and we are going to be seeing these as we look all the way down through the ninth verse of the sixth chapter, and that will take us several weeks to cover.

Now, as we look at the principles for today we are going to see the wife and, by the way, we are going to get to the husband next time, so just be patient.  We are going to do the worst last: we are going to deal with the easy part now, and we will get to the husbands later.

Let's talk about the duty of the wife and look at verses 22 to 24: the duty of the wife.  I want you to stay with me, for I think this is very needful for our time.  Basically, it says "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord."  I want to just remind you as I said earlier, the word "submit" is not here, it really reads: "Wives, yourselves unto your own husbands."  In other words, you do your submitting to your husbands.  It's implied there, but the idea is very general: "wives," that's it.  Not, "wives whose husbands are fulfilling their functions."  Not, "blue-eyed wives," not "blond or brown hair wives," not "wives who feel that this is the best thing for you to do."  "Wives,"  that's it, categorically.  "Wives," anybody who falls into that classification falls into this verse.  There are no other conditions.

"Wives, yourselves unto your own husbands."  And the idea of "submit" drops down from verse 21, "Submit yourselves to your own husbands."  So let us talk first of all about the matter of submission. 

1.  The Matter of Submission.

Now what does this really refer to?  Well, the word "submit" is not the word "obey."  It is not "hupakouo" (Greek), which is the word "obey."  It is the word "hupotasso" (Greek), which is a functional lining up underneath; it's the idea of submissiveness, subjection, not the idea of any essential difference.  It isn't the word "obey;" the word "obey" is used of children by Paul in this passage, and of slaves.  It connotes--the word "hupakouo" (Greek) simply means "to answer," "to attend," or "to obey."  It's a word used of a servant.  The wife is not a servant; she is not a slave.  She doesn't stand in the center of the house awaiting commands: "Do this!  Get that! Go over here!  Would you get me this!  Fix me that!  Could I have this!  Is my so and so done?" 

She is not a slave--that is not the term that is used.  This is much more intimate than that, this is much more personal, much more inward, much more vital, as indicated by the term "your own husband."  In other words, there is a possessiveness here.  It assumes that a wife would absolutely willingly respond in submission to her "own" husband--one whom she possesses.  Now this is, as I say, not a reference to any kind of inferiority at all; it is simply a God-ordained distinction in function so that society can be preserved.  In Genesis 3:16 this was ordained; it says, "Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee."  In other words this was the God-ordained function, and yet it was also in Genesis where God said that they two would become what?  One flesh!

While you have that amazing, intimate, inward vitality, that oneness, that uniqueness that makes two one, it does not violate the function of authority and submission: "He shall rule over you."  For the sake of unity, for the sake of workability, she is subjected to the headship of her husband--not as a slave, but as one who is (get this one!) provided for, cared for, secured by her husband.  It has not nearly so much to do with what she does for him, as with what he is responsible to do for her, and we will see that now, and in the weeks to come.

The headship is the man's.  Physically, God made men stronger.  Physically, constitutionally, they are designed by God to work for, protect, provide for, and give security to a wife whom the Holy Spirit calls (in 1 Peter 3) the "weaker vessel."  That's true physically, and some feel that's true even emotionally.  Man is constituted in such a way to be the stronger partner--somebody has got to be the protector, the one who provides, preserves, and cares.  This has always been God's standard (Genesis 3:16). 

Now, let us look at Colossians 3:18, the parallel passage.  Paul says basically the same thing, but there is a word there that I think is very important.  In Colossians, chapter 3, and verse 18, we read almost the same terms, "Wives, submit yourselves under your own husbands (now watch this, it doesn't say as unto the Lord there, it says), as it is fitting in the Lord."  "As it is fitting in the Lord."  "Aneko" (Greek), a very important verb, and I did a little research this week on a lot of these terms and I'll be sharing with you this morning, and this was the first one I really kind of went after.  It is a word that means "it is fitting," "it is seemly," or it is "proper."  Primarily, in the Old Testament it is used of something that was legally binding.  It was a legal concept, the Septuagint uses it that way: "something legally binding."  By the way, it's used in Philemon, verse 8, in the New Testament, of something "legally binding." 

Now watch: then what he is saying is this, "this thing is in a sense legally binding."  In other words, this is the accepted law of human society.  Now where does human society get its laws?  Historically and basically, any society that had God as any part of its laws, finds that its laws are basically a reiteration of some divine principle.  Now we are fast seeing that go away in our society where we are now having morality by majority vote, but if we look back we will find that laws governing human society, for the most part as we have known them, societies in which God, the true God has any influence, such as Western culture, are laws that come from Biblical basis. 

For example, we have a law that you can't kill people; where does that come from?  The Ten Commandments--"Thou shall not kill."  We have a law that says you can't steal, where does it come from?  The Ten Commandments--"Thou shall not steal."  We have a law that says you can't commit certain kinds of acts of sexual evil to those people who are outside of your frame of reference: those come from the Law of God in the Book of Exodus. 

We have made laws commensurate with God's divine revelation.  The Bible says, "Thou shall not lie," and today we punish people for perjury.  You see, law that is legally binding is based upon some divine principle revealed through God's truth.  What we are seeing here then is, that to have the wife submit to the husband is not something that is only a legal issue, but it is only a legal issue because it is based on a divine created principle.  It is fitting, it is proper, not only by the divinely created order, but by that which man has assumed as an obligatory design.

Now let's go to 1 Peter 3 and redefine what God said.  "In the same manner, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands."  Here you have the same word "hupotasso" (Greek), it is very consistent in the New Testament, it means "to come under in rank."  It's a "function" word and not an "essence" word.  It doesn't mean you're any worse than him, or any dumber than him, or less spiritual; it isn't talking about that at all.  Or that you should do more menial things than he does, or you should do any different thing than he does; it's not talking about that kind of thing.  It is simply talking about a "function" for leadership and authority in the home.  Again, he emphasizes, "your own husbands."  That possessiveness, that sort of mitigates the submissive role because you really possess the man: he is really is your possession; you really own him, and there is that sense of responding.

Now, in so doing, it says, "If any man obey not the Word, they also may without the Word be won by the behavior of the wives."  I am so glad Peter says this because inevitably someone will say, "Well look, you don't know my husband.  If I submit to my husband it is going to be awful.  The man is not a Christian.  The man doesn't obey God.  He doesn't obey the Word of God.  How am I in the world going to submit to this man?"  That's exactly what this verse is written for, "If any man doesn't obey the Word," submit anyway, and without saying anything you'll win him--see!  Instead of putting "REPENT!" on the bottom of his beer cans, instead of pasting little notes in his lunch pail or whatever, instead of always giving him some gospel presentation--if you set you life in response to God's ordained pattern for marriage, you may, without even using the Word of God win him by your behavior!  See, that's what he is saying.

"Well, what kind of behavior John?"  Well, this kind, verse 2, "chaste conduct coupled with reverence."  You have reverence for your husband; you have a certain awe for your husband; you have a certain respect for your husband as you do for the Lord.  This is what he is getting after.  Not only is your life chaste--that's pure: pure behavior; pure conduct; pure living--but there is a reverence, and there is an awe (that's a lack of pride; that's humility that looks up and respects somebody and has awe for that person).  I will tell you another thing: not only by the attitude you have but by the way that it manifests itself.  If you are concerned with him and in awe of him, and your conduct is chaste then your outside activity will follow (verse 3).  Your "adorning" will not be the outward thing; in other words, you won't live life for what you wear.  Boy, if this isn't a curse in our society: I mean all you have to do is to walk into a department store and it is absolutely like a big billboard saying, "We Covet Clothes!"  That's our society--it's incredible, beyond imagination.  We have such preoccupation with that.

"Adorning, let it not be the outward adorning of plaiting the hair," which was taking the hair and weaving all kinds of rich gold and silver bands into it, and wearing gold.  Listen people, I never saw so much gold in my life as I have been seeing lately--hanging on everybody.  Gold all over the place, not only women, but all over men.  It didn't even talk about that in the Bible because men didn't do it, but now it's all over everybody.  Now, I am not against a gift, or a present, or a expression of love and affection.  I am not against something that enhances you to some degree, but people, we can get to the place where it's nothing but more and more and more.  That's exactly what the Bible says that we are not to be adorned with. 

Now, I am not advocating Wanda Wallflower.  I am not trying to say that we are supposed to look like we just arrived from the field--that isn't the idea, but there is to be a basis of commitment to the inside, not the outside.  "Putting on apparel"--here is a society like we live in: the hair, the gold, and the clothes--man, if that doesn't sound like today, I don't know what does.  I mean, it gets to be at the place where it is beyond belief--they will even sprinkle gold in your fingernails if you want now.  But he says, if you preoccupy yourself with that, then you are in violation of the standard, because you are not submissive.  Why?  You are calling attention to yourself--you are putting yourself on parade, you are adorning yourself.  You are pushing your own cause and your own case.  Instead of that, verse 4 says, you should be concerned with the "hidden of the heart."  The word "man" is not in the Greek.  It simply means the secret of the heart.  In other words, don't work on the outside--work where?  On the inside. 

Now, I am not advocating that you look awful on the outside but that there be a wonderful balance, and that there be a preoccupation with the inside.  And what should you do on the inside?  You should put in there what is not corruptible, which means to say that apparel, and gold, and all that stuff on the hair is corruptible.  I mean, you spend all that money for the hair and two days later it is shot.  All that money for the clothes and six months later if you wore that they will say "tacky--she's out of season."  And the gold gets old because it's the same old stuff and you want new.  If you want to do something wise--invest yourself on what is incorruptible.  It literally means "imperishable" and "immortal" which is, what?  (Now watch this one) "Decorate yourself with a meek and quiet spirit."  Oh my.  Now listen, does that sound foreign to our day?  Women who preoccupy themselves with taking care of the inside and developing a meek and quiet spirit.  "Meek" is "praos" in the Greek: it means "quiet and gentle."  And the word "quiet" simply means "silent and still."

We have women today who are boisterous and loud, and women who are screaming all over the place for their rights and parading everywhere and marching everywhere in the midst of everything performing and proclaiming all the things they have to say--and the Bible says, but this is God's standard: don't spend so much time making a show on the outside as you spend doing something on the inside that is going to result in a meek and quiet spirit; in a gentle, still, peaceful, silent spirit.  Now, you say to yourself, "Woo!"  But you see how force-fed you have been that we can hardly accept this as a standard for a woman in our society, because we have been buying the bag for so long, that the world's been selling. 

If you stand up in many places and say this--I mean, I'm glad that I'm in Grace Church--I would get thrown out of some churches for saying this, and I know that I would get thrown out of most public places, but this is what the Bible says: "A meek and quiet spirit."  You want to adorn yourself with godliness?  Adorn yourself with a meek and quiet spirit.  Now that doesn't mean that you just crawl and never offer your opinion, it means that you have an understanding that God expects you to be humble and still.  That's the beauty of a woman--she is supportive--that's her strength.  By the way, this is in the sight of God, and "enopion" (Greek) means "face-to-face with."  You are standing "face-to-face with" God. 

You want to have acceptability and credibility "face-to-face with" God?  God couldn't care what your hair looks like and He couldn't care about all the gold you got, and He really doesn't care a whole lot about whether you have the latest fashion--what He's looking at is the meek and quiet spirit.  And in His sight that's of "poluteles" (Greek), that's the same word use in Mark 14:3 when the woman opened the Alabaster box and took out the precious ointment--that's precious to God, very valuable.  "Polus" (Greek) means "great"--"great cost."  Do you want something that really costs a lot?  It isn't gold and it isn't a fancy $200 dress; what really is costly is a meek and quiet spirit--in God's eyes that's precious. 

By the way, verse 5 says, "After this manner in old time the holy women did."  Do you want some examples?  This is how holy women used to be.  This is the way the holy women used to be--they worried about the inside (the holy women did).  It has always been that way.  Holiness has always been the concern of godly women; it has been the inside they worked on, the inside they were concerned about.  Oh, that's all right to have a nice dress on the outside if God prospers you.  Why, I remember reading (and we will see it later) Proverbs 31, that lovely woman, the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31, made of herself a beautiful gown of tapestry and of fine linen, and white linen, and it was lovely, and purple--and that was all right.  I am not against that; I'm just against the fact that becomes the preoccupation and you forget about the meek and the quiet spirit. 

So the holy women did it that way.  Why?  Because they trusted God.  They trusted God you see," their preoccupation was God.  And God said "These are the standards" and they said, "Then that's the standard we will uphold, because they were holy women, and they adorned themselves in that way because they were subjected to their own husbands.  They took a place of a meek and quiet spirit in submission to their husbands.  He gives one particular illustration: Sarah--she obeyed Abraham, calling him "Lord."  "Lord" is not a title of simply function but of respect, of awe, of reverence.

Now watch, "Whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any terror."  Abraham is the father of the faithful, right?  Galatians.  Sarah is the mother of the submissive.  Daughters of Sarah are submissive.  Daughters of Sarah are those who call their husband "Lord" and who are submissive to him.  Look at the end of verse 6--a tremendous statement--"they are not afraid with any terror."  People say, "Boy, I am afraid to submit to my husband.  Man alive, I will lose my rights.  He will run me around."  But you know something?  These women trusted God, so they had no fear of obeying God, and if there was ever an abuse they knew God would take care of the results.  Right?

You don't need to do God's business.  You obey God; submit to your husband as the holy women did, in a meek and quiet spirit, responding the way God wants you to respond, and you don't have any fear--no terror.  You can believe God that He will honor that, no matter what.  It's a great passage.  I want to show you another one: 1 Corinthians 11.

Do you ever hear your neighbor's wife screaming at him?  I always think of 1 Peter whenever I hear that.  1 Corinthians 11, now just a brief look at this; now hang on.  In Corinth they were having a Woman's Lib Movement: women were trying to do the same job as men; women were trying to look like men and act like men (we went into that in our study of Corinthians) it was a big deal going on.  In response to that, some women in the church of Christ had gotten into the movement.  Now, this was really giving a reproach to the Name of Christ and it was a reproach on the church itself.  So Paul has to write them to straighten this out.

Now watch in the Corinthian society the women were supposed to be submissive, and they had a symbol, or a sign, or a token of submission, and the token they had was a veil.  Women in a Corinthian or a Gentile society in that day and in that part of the world wore a veil as a symbol of submission, a submission of modesty; a symbol of their humility.  Now only two kinds of women took their veil off: one was a harlot (for obvious reasons-you want to know what you are getting into--you want to see what she looked like).  So harlots were unveiled.  So women took their veil off for the purpose of prostituting.  Second, were feminists, who took their veil off for the symbol of protesting: "They were going to demand equal rights with men--off with the veil, and so forth!"  In those days it wasn't "Burn the bra!" it was "Burn the veil!"  It was the same idea: the idea that women are going to "demand rights" equal to men. 

So you had the feminists and the harlots: the protesting and the prostituting.  So Paul writes to these dear Corinthians and he says, "Ladies, keep your veils on."  Now let me tell you something folks: that isn't for today.  We are not going to have a veil station outside and before you come in everybody has to put a veil on.  He is saying, in your society and in your time and in your day, that's recognized as submission--now you respond to that symbol, so that the world doesn't see the church rebelling against a God-ordained principle.  You see?  That's what he is saying.  "And, by the way," he says, "It's not a bad principle that women should have covering, because God even did that naturally!"  Look down in verse 14, "Does not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man has long hair, it is a shame unto him?  But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given to her for a covering."

Now, this is not saying that it is a sin for a man to have long hair, but what it is saying is that nature teaches you that women's hair is to be longer than men's to have a covering.  What does nature have to do with that?  In my research I discovered that a woman's hair grows faster than a man's hair.  That is a God given thing.  That is a genetic issue and what it does is, it indicates that God has given hair to women, at a faster growing rate, so that the longer hair would become for them a sign of their submission or covering.  And so he is saying, "It is not a bad thing to have veils; it is very close to the way God designed it, anyway." 

So, be sure that you abide by the principle that manifests submission.  You see?  All I want you to see from that passage is that Paul is simply saying, again, "A woman takes a place of submission, and in society she shouldn't violate that place."  I'll tell you something; a virtuous woman will call attention to her husband.  Did you get that?  Not herself.  O.K., let's go to another passage.  If you think that you have been hit already--"You ain't seen nothing yet!" 

Titus, chapter 2--for those who may be visiting with us; you probably gained one thing already from our time this morning, and that is that we don't necessarily say what everybody says; and two is--that if the Bible says it--we accept it, and that's right.  Titus, chapter 2, verse 3, "The aged women;" it sounds like decrepit, but it doesn't really mean that--just older, maturer, probably women whose children were no longer in the home: they were married.  "The older women likewise, are to be in behavior as becometh holiness."  Oh boy, that is so simple: mature women are to be holy, not false accusers; that is, they are not "scandal mongers."  They don't go telling tales around about people. 

"They are not given to much wine, but they are teachers of good things."  Now notice that older women are to be what?  Teachers.  Older women are to be teachers.  Older women are to be teachers, and who are they to teach?  Young women.  Boy, I think there is a fantastic pattern here for the life of a woman and I want you to see this; I think that it will really help you.  All right?  "And the older women are to teach the younger women."  Teach them what?  "To be sober-minded."  In other words, "To grow up; know priorities; be serious-minded; be considering the things that really matter."  And what are they?  "To love their husbands."  One word in the Greek "philandro:" "to love a man,"  "Man-lovers;" literally, "Husband lovers."  They should be characteristically loving their husbands. 

You know, we get into Ephesians and we say, "Husbands love your wives," and we bang that drum, you know: "Husbands, love your wives;" the wife is only a responder, you know?  Well, it doesn't say that in the Bible.  I mean, I kind of agree with that, but there's more to it.  We say, "If your wife doesn't love you, it is your fault--you're not loving her.  If your wife isn't doing this and doing that, you're not loving her; all you need to do is to love her and every . . . ."  But that's a little overstated, because right here it says she's commanded to love you, and there you see is that tremendous mutuality and balance.  She has just as much responsibility to love you because you respond to love too.  Right?  No?  I do: so do you.  And so it is mutual.

Then it says (and this is key) to be a "philoteknos" (Greek), a "child- lover;" to love her children; to love her children.  The concept of love, of course, is to self-sacrifice, to do whatever needs to be done for the husband; to give her life for the husband; to give her life for the children; that's the implication of these terms.  So she is to be a husband-lover and a child-lover.

Then to be "discrete, chaste, (hang on!) keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the Word of God be not blasphemed."  You see, that's the issue.  You see, God wants His Word glorified!  Read it, 1 Thessalonians 3.  God wants His Word exalted and when you and I do not live by His Word it is dishonored!  Do you see?  We are in effect saying, "What's the difference what the Bible says?"  That's what we are saying when we disobey it.  "Who cares what the Bible says?"  Thus, we dishonor God's Word.  If we are going to honor God's Word then we love our husbands and love our children.

"And obedient to their own husbands."  Do you notice again, "their own," the possession idea.  Yes, there is to be a responding.  By the way, the word "obedient" here is a bad translation.  It is not "hupakouo," (Greek) it is "hupotasso" (Greek) again.  It's the same word of submission again, and there is that response again, "our own husbands."  Paul uses it again, there is a possession that sort of makes the mutuality.  So we are to submit--the wives to the husbands.

Now notice (hang on), see the phrase "keepers at home," I believe the Holy Spirit wants this applied to 1979 [year sermon preached].  We have got a problem in America--nobody's home!  Do you know that?  Nobody's home.  Do you realize that 42 million working mothers now in America; 42 million working mothers; 6 million with little children.  One out of every three mothers with a child under three works in a full-time job.  Who's raising kids?  Who's keeping house?  Who's taking care of the home?

You say, well, "keepers at home."  What does it mean?  Let me tell you.  I did some work on the word "oikouros" (Greek), kind of sounds strange.  Comes from "oikos" (Greek), "home" "ergon" (Greek), "work."  It simply means to "work at home."  I am going to go right ahead and tell you what I really feel that this is saying: 

"I think that women ought to work at home--profound, huh?"

You say, "Where did you get that?" 

"Right there!"

You say, "But I have a wonderful job!" 

Well, the Bible says, "to work at home!" 

You say, "But we need the money!"

Well, the Bible says, "To work at home!"

You say, "But my kids are in school!"

Well, the Bible says, "to work at home!" 

It doesn't say, "PS., under these following circumstances this is not valid."  It doesn't say that.

Now, what does the word "ergon" (Greek) mean?  The word "ergon" (Greek) is a word that means "work" but I want to show you how the emphasis in the New Testament lays upon the fact that it involves "a job or a task," it is translated in many of the lexicons, in fact, all of the lexicons render it this way, at one point or another, by the word "employment."  So a woman is to be employed at home.  It is not the idea of just of work in terms of "Boy, this is hard work."  It is not just a quality sort of thing; it is talking about a task that is assigned.  A woman is to be employed in the assigned task at home. 

For example, in Mark 13, "The Son of Man is like a man taking a far journey, left his house, gave authority to his servants, and to every man his 'ergon' (Greek)."  "To every man his appointed employment, or task, duty, or work."  In John 4:34, just so you will see how this is used again, 4:34 says, "Jesus said unto them, 'My food is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work."  This is not just some qualitative definition of activity; this is an assigned task.  In the Book of John, 17th chapter, "I finished the work You gave me to do."  It had a beginning and it had an end--it was a task, an employment.  In Acts 13, "Separate unto me Paul and Barnabas for the work to which I call them."  Philippians 2:30, here is an individual who is near unto death, "for the work of the ministry." 

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