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God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians (XLVIII) God's Household Rules: Marriage and Family (3) Obey? Submit? You've Got to Be Kidding! (2)

Series: God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Aug 13, 2006

Ephesians 5:22-24

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The Lord's Day Morning
August 13, 2006

Ephesians 5:22-24
“God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians (XLVIII)
Household Rules: Marriage and Family (3)”
Obey?! Submit? You've got to be kidding! (2)

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians, chapter five, verse 22, as we return to this most “politically incorrect” of passages in the New Testament. I was thinking to myself about three weeks ago as I saw this passage approaching, “What in the world have I done? Now is a good time for a passage on The Lord's Prayer, or something like that!”

Let me say very quickly that there are no hidden agendas in these messages. My wife said to me last Sunday, “I know that that was for me....” No, Ann, it wasn't for you! No secret messages being sent. My wife is better than I deserve. This is just a message for all of us, friends, and it is out of step with our culture today.

But I want you to remember two or three things as we approach it.

First of all, even though, dear Christian sisters, even though the world around you, when they hear Christians talk of Paul's language or Jesus’ language of our serving one another, of our submitting ourselves to one another, of subjecting ourselves to one another, even though they say to us ‘You are crazy to do that!’...just remember that God never commands us to do what is not good for us. He never ever commands us to do what is not good for His people, and that general principle is not forsaken even in this very challenging area. The world says to a woman ‘If you serve your husband, if you submit yourself to your husband, you will diminish.’

Jesus says ‘No, you will increase, because My commands are always for your blessing.’ So the Lord Jesus does not tell us to do things which are not good for us. The Apostle Paul is not conveying to us a divine command, either this week to wives or next week to husbands, that is harmful to us, but is a blessing to us. Remember this: Glorifying God and enjoying God cannot be separated. You cannot enjoy Him without glorifying Him. You cannot glorify Him without enjoying Him. But if you attempt to enjoy the blessings of this life without glorifying God, it cannot be done; and so the only way of enjoyment and blessing is the way of embracing the commands of God's word. So when, dear sisters in Christ, the world says to you ‘Obey? Submit? You have got to be out of your mind! You’re going to fail to live up to your potential! You’re going to give away freedoms and rights that are yours’–just remember that God does not command what is not for our good.

: The second thing I want to say is this. I have seen far more marriages broken over the course of 20 years of serving in the Lord's churches...I have seen far more marriages broken because of a fundamental misunderstanding or rejection of God's design for marriage, including male and female role relationships and responsibilities in that marriage...I have seen far more marriages broken because of a misunderstanding of, or a rejection of, God's design for marriage than I have because of adultery; and as serious as that latter thing is, the rejection of or misunderstanding of God's design for marriage is far more prevalent. That means that what we're going to be studying over the weeks to come from Ephesians 5:22-6:9 is exceedingly important, because ever since Ephesians 4 the Apostle Paul has been wanting us to live distinctly as Christians in this world, not to be assimilated into their sinful patterns of relationships in the culture, but to live as salt and light, to be different, to be distinct, and he is most concerned that we would be distinct in this area.

My friends, a gospel marriage is a powerful witness in a culture in which we see human relationships at every level, but especially at marriage, disintegrating at an astonishing rate. My heavens! We can't even define marriage anymore in our culture! This is a powerful area of witness, and of course it is a powerful area of blessing for you, if we can by God's grace get this right, so it is worth every effort and every pain, and every political incorrectness that we can possibly encounter to do so as we work through this passage.

Now. Let's look to God in prayer before we read His word.

O Lord, once again we come to a passage that is not hard to understand, but it is certainly unpopular and it has certainly been rejected by our prevailing culture with its own inclinations to autonomy, to personal rights at the expense of the community, to a concern for self as opposed to God's glory and the well-being of others. Lord, because of this, we need the help of Your Holy Spirit not just to understand what we're going to study, but to believe and embrace it and live it. Help us by Your grace to do so. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

Hear God's word:

“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is 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.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

The Apostle Paul, at the end of the previous section of Ephesians that we studied (it ended at Ephesians 5:21) had reminded us that a culminating manifestation of a life that bears the mark of being filled and matured and assured by God's Holy Spirit is that Christians learn to subject themselves to one another, that they learn to serve one another. He uses the language of mutual subjection, that those who are filled with the Spirit subject themselves willingly, joyfully, gladly, to one another. They long to serve one another. We express that by saying that the Christian motto becomes “How may I serve you?”, that we are ready to put others before ourselves, that our concern for the well-being of fellow Christians precedes our own focus upon ourselves, and we're freed to give ourselves away in loving service for one another that seeks the best interest of others. And the Apostle Paul provides that, and it becomes almost a transition point into this whole section about the family - about the household - that runs from Ephesians 5:22 -6:9, because he knows that that principle has to be in operation in order for what he is saying to work, because each of the parties in these relationships — husband and wife, parent and children, master and servant — must have adopted that fundamental principle of the Christian life if all of these other things are going to work the way that they’re intended to work. And so we begin to study this passage at the outset by recognizing that God has called all Christians — not just some, but all Christians — to be in a posture of service to one another.

What does the Lord Jesus Christ say to His disciples on the night that He is betrayed, after He has washed their feet?

“As I have loved you, so you are to love one another.”

What else does He say to them?

“I am among you as one who serves.”

He is the model and the motivation for the Christian life at that level. He wants us all to be in a posture of desiring to serve one another. That frames everything else he says in this passage.

I. God calls Christian wives to a sincere respect, and a glad and willing submission to their husbands.
It says first of all to women that they, in relation to their own husbands, are not being asked to do anything that all Christians are not being asked to do. We’re all called to serve. It reminds them as well that they are being called to serve someone who has been called by God to serve them. And that changes all the power politics and the dynamics that this world is so concerned about today, doesn't it? The Apostle Paul in this passage gives a very clear command, and then he provides us a context for understanding that command that shows us that marriage is bigger than us, and then he tells us the comprehensive scope of this command. I'd like to look at those three things with you in verses 22, 23, and 24.

Let's look first at verse 22. Last week we saw that God calls Christian wives to a sincere respect and a glad and willing submission to their husbands. We saw that command given in verse 22: “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord,” and we saw it reiterated at the end of this paragraph in verse 33: “The wife must see to it that she respects her husband.”

Now, the command is clear enough, isn't it? The command has three parts. To submit in this context, taking together all that the Apostle Paul has said, to submit means for a wife to acknowledge, follow, and respect her husband's spiritual leadership of the home:

To acknowledge it: “Yes, Lord, You have established an order in which You have called my husband to have the responsibility to give spiritual leadership to this home. I acknowledge that, Lord.”

To follow it: “Yes, Lord, even though I think sometimes I know a better way of doing it, I am going to embrace my husband's leadership, and I'm going to support that leadership. In fact, I'm going to foster that leadership in our home.”

And thirdly, “I'm going to respect my husband. I'm going to respect the fact that God is going to call him to account for his spiritual leadership one day of this family. He will stand there and give account for how well he has fulfilled the functions that God has given to him.”

So submission simply means acknowledging, following, and respecting a husband's spiritual leadership of the home.

Now, practically, that boils down to this:

First, it means recognizing a divinely given order in the household. Many people come to Ephesians 5:21 and they say ‘Look, God is calling all Christians to submit themselves to one another.’ [Right on! Amen! So far, so good!] ‘That means that there are no longer any orders in the Christian family. There's no head of the family, there's no husband who's the spiritual head and a wife who's called to give respect to that spiritual leadership and to foster it and to follow it.’ [Wrong! Went wrong at that point!]

Yes, we're all called to subject ourselves to one another. That does not erase the order, the distinction of role relationship that God has established in the home. By the way, that can be proved simply by looking at verse 23. What does it say? “For the husband is the head of the wife...” The Apostle Paul didn't say now there's no longer any head in the home, you’re just supposed to generally submit to one another and nobody is to acknowledge that anybody has final spiritual authority or accountability or responsibility. No. The Apostle Paul says both. All Christians (husbands as well as wives) need to be in the posture of serving one another; wives acknowledge and follow the order that God has established in the household.

The second thing we see that submission means is a willing embrace and following of a husband's spiritual authority and leadership under God. The husband is not a tyrannical monarch. He is not a totalitarian ruler. He has obligations. He's obligated to God, he's obligated and accountable to the word, he's obligated and accountable to the government, and he's obligated and accountable to the church. There are multiple layers of accountability that your husband has if he's a Christian. But under God he has been given a certain responsibility, and submitting means embracing the fact that your husband has that responsibility for spiritual leadership.

Thirdly, submission means a joyful respect for your husband's person and position in the home. Paul emphasizes that at the very end of the passage:

“Wives, see to it that you respect your husbands.”

Now, by the way, this submission, like every other command in the New Testament, is both mandatory and voluntary. [What?] Mandatory and voluntary. [What do you mean? How can it be mandatory and voluntary?] Because God never gives us suggestions — ‘You know, it would be a really good idea if you gave to the poor.’ Jesus didn't say that! “Give to the poor”...Jesus, the Apostle Paul, all the apostles emphasized that it is a Christian's obligation to give to the poor. But what do they also emphasize? That God wants us to do it — how? Willingly. Gladly. Not compelled to do it...grudgingly. No. We’re to voluntarily do it, even though it's mandatory, so this command is just like every other command in the New Testament. God doesn't want us to do it grudgingly, He wants us to do it with a delighted devotion, and again that's easier to do when we realize that every command that God gives is for our good.

Now I want to focus on this issue of submission and respect, and say some things that are specific and practical, and may well step on your toes. And I want to say, ladies, that I have been helped greatly by three Christian women that I've been reading over the last three weeks. I've been helped greatly by Barbara Raney, the wife of Dennis Raney of Family Life, Campus Crusade's arm for family ministry. Dennis and Barbara have written a bunch of stuff together, and Barbara has written a lot of stuff on this...very helpful, very practical. They embrace a biblical view of how men and women are to relate in the home and in the church, and they do a good popular way of expressing that.

The next person is Carolyn Mahaney, who has written The Feminine Appeal, and is a very eloquent speaker on this subject. She and her daughters have the Girl Talk web log, and address these issues most helpfully.

And finally, Betsy Ricucci, who has just, along with her husband Gary, written a book on marriage. These three sisters in Christ have helped me greatly in looking at this issue from a woman's perspective, and so I want to share with you some of the insights that I've gotten from them and from Wayne Mack in his book, Strengthening Your Marriage. Very specifically, Wayne Mack offers fifteen specific applications for submission and how that works out in life and in marriage. I'm going to shorten that all the way down to thirteen! Here they are:

One: “What does submission mean practically for a Christian woman? For one thing, it means making home a safe place.” Now where’d I get that? Out of Better Homes & Gardens in the 1950's?

No, Proverbs 31. Turn with me back there to Proverbs 31, and go ahead and look at verses 11 and 12. [Now, dear sisters, I know that you’re already groaning in your spirits, “Oh, no! Not the Proverbs 31 woman!”] You've been beaten over the head with the Proverbs 31 woman all your life, so let me give a little positive spin on the Proverbs 31 woman.

You know how we got the Proverbs 31 woman? We didn't get it by God holding up some sort of impossible dream of an ideal, to make you live in a constant state of guilt for the rest of your life because you can't attain it. That's not how we got the Proverbs 31 woman. The way we got the Proverbs 31 woman is that there was a believing man one day who, under the inspiration of God's Holy Sprit, looked at his wife and he said ‘You are unbelievably wonderful, and you are a gift of God, and you deserve to have your character qualities recounted. How can I do this? Let's see...I think I’ll do an acrostic. I’ll work through the whole Hebrew alphabet and just list the qualities that I see in you.’ That's the Proverbs 31 woman.

That woman is not put in the Bible to depress you, sisters in Christ; she's there to encourage you. We’re going to notice as we work through some of these how incredibly respectful and affirming of this woman this believing man is — the things that he notices about her, the things that he praises her for. Now, those things not only show us what a godly woman looks like in a marriage and in a family and in vocation, they also show us husbands ways that we ought to be giving praise to our own wives for the character qualities that God's Holy Spirit has worked in them. So when you turn to that passage and you think, ‘Oh, no, I can't live up to this woman!’ just remember it's your husband's responsibility to be encouraging you in the areas that God, by His grace, is working in your heart.

Now, the first thing I said is “making home a safe place” — a place of encouragement and comfort and understanding and refuge. It doesn't come from Better Homes & Gardens, it comes from Proverbs 31:10, 11, and 12:

“An excellent wife, who can find?
Her worth is far above jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
And he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.”

This man trusts her and recognizes that she does him good. She has made home a place where he can be at peace, because he's confident in her and he knows that she is after his best interest. She's made home a place of encouragement and comfort and understanding and refuge.

And, secondly, she is trustworthy and dependable. That's what submission looks like in a marriage. It's a woman who is trustworthy and dependable. This man can say of her, “My heart trusts you. I'd trust my life with you. You are worthy of trust.” What an affirming and respectful thing that is of a godly man to say of a godly woman. She is trustworthy and dependable.

She maintains a good attitude. Look at verses 26, and 28, and 29: “She opens her mouth in wisdom,” the teaching of - what? — is on her tongue? Kindness. Verse 28: Her children rise up and bless her, her husband praises her. Her husband says “Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all.” So, she has an attitude that evokes praise, one of kindness.

Fourthly, she discusses things in a loving, open, and honest way. The Apostle Paul has talked about this in Ephesians 4:25 in the way that Christians address one another, so a wife who is submissive discusses things in a loving, open, and honest way.

Fifth, she is content. She is satisfied with her position, with her possessions, with her task, and with what her husband provides. A long time ago a woman came to a godly older woman and expressed some frustration with her husband: ‘My husband's gone all the time, he's working all the time, he's ignoring my family. He's ignoring me. He's ignoring the children. I need your help, need your counsel.’ After a long sympathetic counsel, the godly older woman said, “Well, you know, if your husband were willing to take a job that was less demanding on his schedule, would get him home more with you, would you be willing to live with the loss of income?”

“No,” was her answer, and she went away.

Have you put your husband in that bind? ‘Give me exactly what you’re giving me now, but give me a whole lot more time, too. I want all the possessions that you’re able to provide, but come up with 30 hours every week that you don't have right now, in addition to that.’

A submissive wife is patient, forgiving, and forbearing. Paul talks about this in Colossians 3:12-14, as Christians learn to forgive one another. My friends, marriages begin to fall apart with a lack of forgiveness.

Seventh, a submissive wife is industrious for the sake of her husband and family. We read that in Proverbs 31:10-31, but we also see it in the Psalms. You remember what the psalmist says in Psalm 128:3? “Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house.” She is productive for her husband and family.

Eighth, a submissive wife offers suggestions and advice and counsel, and even correction [yes!] to her husband, but she does it in a loving way that shows respect. Remember, “She opens her mouth in wisdom,” and she teaches with - what? — “with kindness” (Proverbs 31:26).

Ninth, a submissive woman cultivates an inner beauty. We live in a culture that values external beauty more than it values the character of women. The Bible values the character of women. I Peter 3:3-5 speaks about a godly Christian woman who cultivates inner beauty, the character qualities of a woman of substance.

Tenth, a submissive woman pursues God and His glory above all things else. Everything she does is for His glory. She knows ultimately that her marriage is not about her, it's about God. She knows that this life is not about her, it's about God. And she pursues the glory of God with passion.

Eleventh, a submissive wife builds loyalty to her husband in her children. Many of you know that Billy Graham's children went through some real struggles, especially as much as he was away. He was away a lot of the days of the year...most of the days of the year, he was away. Without baptizing that as appropriate, I want to say that Ruth Bell Graham went out of her way to make sure that her children knew that she supported her husband, that his ministry was her ministry, and their ministry, and she cultivated a loyalty. We've seen how that has come back home to roost in Franklin, even though he went though a time of rebellion. Her efforts, I think, we see in Franklin Graham.

Twelfth, a submissive wife is grateful, and expresses thanks often. What has Paul said in Ephesians 4 and 5? All Christians are to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness. We’re to be grateful people, and a wife who is supporting and serving her husband will express thanks.

Thirteenth, a Christian wife who is attempting to support her husband and to show him deference will show confidence in his decisions. Your husbands will make mistakes. That's the hard thing about following a husband. Jesus doesn't make mistakes; it's easy to follow Him in that regard, even though He asks us to go some hard places. But husbands will make mistakes. When you can, show confidence in your husband's decisions.

Now, Betsy Ricucci gives us these thoughts about a Christian woman in respect. She says as she thinks about respecting her husband, she thinks about three areas: thoughts, words, and deeds; and she gives us these questions to ask ourselves:

First, with regard to thoughts, she says, “What thoughts spring into my mind when I think of my husband?” [Please don't say them out loud!] What thoughts spring into my mind when I think of my husband — and now, this follow-up question: “Are they honoring of him?” That's what Paul's asking a Christian woman to do: to respect her husband, to have honoring thoughts of her husband.

Secondly, in the area of words, “How do I speak to my husband when we are alone? How do I speak to my husband in front of the children? How do I speak to my husband in public?” And then, this fourth and really good question, “How do I speak about my husband to others?”

Third area, the area of deeds: “Do I show my husband respect through my actions? How? Do I freely show him physical affection? Do I listen when he is speaking to me, in public and private? Or, do my deeds communicate a lack of respect, inattentiveness, or even indifference, interrupting him when he's speaking, looking away when he speaks, forgetting or even failing to do the things that he has asked?

Let me give you an assignment. I want you to go home and ask yourself, “What are ten specific ways that I could show respect to my husband?” and then talk over the list with him. My guess is you’re going to find several things: one is you’ll find that some things that you think are really important to your husband by way of showing respect are lower on the list than some of the things that he would put higher on the list.

Secondly, if he's a good man, he’ll respond in appreciation. He may well be able to show you a tender, serving spirit that he has not been able to show you because of your taking that step.

Thirdly, you will learn some things that you will want to store away in the back of your mind for a rainy day, because when he says to you, ‘Boy, if you did 1, 4, and 7, that would really convey to me your support, your love, your respect.’ File those away to pull out sometime when you need them.

II. God says there is an analogy between the Christian husband's relation to the wife, and Christ's relation to the church.
Now let's move to verses 23 and 24 very quickly. The Apostle Paul gives us a context for this call to Christian wives to submit themselves to their husband, and the context is of course this analogy that exists between husbands and wives in Christian marriages, and Christ and the church. Paul says in verse 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.”

In other words, God says that there is an analogy between the Christian husband's relationship to the wife and Christ's relation to the church. The basis of this directive for wives to show this kind of service and support of their husbands is that husbands sustain a relation to their wives that is analogical with Christ's relation to the church, and this means among other things that marriage is bigger than the both of you. It's much bigger than your personal happiness; it's much bigger than you just serving one another. There is more at stake in your marriage as a Christian than just your happiness in this life. God's glory is on the line in your marriage. God's glory is on the line in your manifesting and your showing and your expressing this analogy of Christ and His people.

And I want you to notice that this analogy puts just as much burden on the husband as it does on the wife. Notice what Christ as the head of the church is called in this passage. [We want to stop there...men, you like the sound of that “head” thing...that sounds good.] And then he goes on to say, what does the head do? He's the Savior of the body. And then he's going to explain in Technicolor what that entails, next week. Just you wait. It's coming, men!

In this case, it means laying down your life for the well-being of the church. These challenges are formidable. It's a hard thing to follow, to serve, and to respect a sinful man, and it's a hard thing to love and serve a wife, even at the cost of your own life. That is the context in which Paul asks this relationship to be manifested. He's saying to you, Christian, your marriage is designed to give a very powerful picture to the unbelieving world. There's no picture of Jesus Christ in the Bible, there's no description of what He looked like, but the Apostle Paul is saying the way that Christian husbands relate to Christian wives and Christian wives relate to Christian husbands is to be a visible manifestation, a picture, a tangible expression of what Jesus Christ looks like in relationship to His people, and what His people look like in relation to Him.

III. God says that Christian wives have the Gospel challenge and joyous privilege being subject to their husbands like the church is to Christ.
Third and finally, in verse 24, notice the comprehensive scope of this. God says that Christian wives have the gospel challenge and the joyous privilege of being subject to their husbands like the church is to Christ.

Notice what he says: The church is subject to Christ... “So as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” It's a very comprehensive command.

Now that doesn't mean, as we said last week, that a wife follows her husband in sin. Your husband tells you to sin, you’re a Christian, the answer is “No!” But it's very comprehensive.

Why in the world would Paul say “in everything”? Because it is the instinctive temptation of our hearts and inclination of our hearts to try and figure out when God's commands don't apply to us. We are always looking for loopholes, and so the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Christian woman, this is the attitude that I want you to have. I want you to be looking for the nooks and crannies of your life and relationship, and I want you to try and begin expressing this particular principle in all of those corners, in every expression, because the quintessential question of our wicked hearts is ‘When does God's command not apply to me?’ God wants us to be asking, ‘No, how can I express appropriately, beautifully, joyfully, this principle in my life with You?’’

Husbands, you’re next.

Let's pray.

Lord God, grant to the Christian women of this congregation great patience with us, sinful men who have failed them, who have not served them as we ought to serve, but who nevertheless they have chosen to commit their lives to. We know that it would be a dramatic witness to our community for the gospel if we simply loved one another in our families the way You call us to love. But it's costly love and expensive love, and we don't have the power to do that on our own. So give what You command, and command what You will. Give us the ability to hear this word and put it into practice, for our eternal good and for Your everlasting glory. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

Now, if you take out your hymnals and turn with me to No. 559, notice that we are going to sing only the fourth stanza of Father, I Know that All My Life is Portioned Out for Me; and I want to challenge both the Christian men and women, the Christian husbands and wives, to make this your prayer as we sing together.

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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.