A husband’s lordship

In recent months I’ve been hungering to get a better grasp of God’s design for the husband-wife roles in marriage, as revealed by the Holy Spirit in Scripture. I wrote a poem, a short piece about what a husband authority is not, and a couple of little dips into what it is — the following paper represents the longer treatment I’ve been wanting to give the subject.

Contents

1. Scripture
2. The command to husbands: Love your wives
1.1. No sentimentality
1.2. But…!
3. The command to wives: Be subject to your own husbands
3.1. In everything?
3.2. Since Christ also suffered for you
3.3. In the same way, you wives…
3.4. The imperishable quality
3.4.1. A gentle and quiet spirit
3.4.2. Calling him lord
3.4.3. Without being frightened by any fear
3.5. That they may encourage the young women…
4. Both have a high calling
5. Doxology

1. Scripture

…and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
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.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.
FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.
This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.
–Ephesians 5:21-33 (NAS95)

2. The command to husbands: Love your wives

Let’s take the command to husbands first.

Love your wives…

What does this mean?  Does the Holy Spirit give us any guidance in this?

He does. Let’s look again at how the husband is called to love his wife:

  • As Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…
  • …so that He might sanctify her…
  • …having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word…
  • …that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory
  • …having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.

1.1. No sentimentality

You will note that there is no sentimentality here: a husband’s call to give himself up for his wife cannot be severed from the purpose that immediately follows. God does not call a husband to mere self-sacrifice — jumping off a cliff (“See, honey, I’m giving myself up for you!”) or cutting off his ear.

Rather, a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her…that he might present her to Himself in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.

I declare from Scripture that a husband has a responsibility to give himself up for his wife in the pursuit of her sanctification, holiness and blamelessness before God.

1.2. But…!

Whoa-ho-ho there — isn’t it possible that the parts about the pursuit of her sanctification, holiness and blamelessness before God apply uniquely to Christ and not to a husband?  (After all, a husband is not the Holy Spirit, and analogies have to break down somewhere, right?)

This passage is far less susceptible than most to such a reading.  Let’s take another look at it, highlighting the places the Holy Spirit draws parallels between Christ and the church and a husband and his wife:

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…Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her…So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.
FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.
This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

Is this the language of disparity or similarity? Six different times in this passage the Holy Spirit draws an explicit parallel between the husband and Christ. How then can we come away from this text saying, “But this only applies to Christ and the church, not a husband and wife”? Brothers and sisters, how can we do this and claim to seek God’s truth?

Jesus is the archetypal servant leader.  Let us remember, He is not merely our servant — He is our King. He stoops to work for our good, yet his word carries authority over us, His church.  Husbands have an analogous authority over their wives.

3. The command to wives: Be subject to your own husbands

We gain further understanding of the nature of a husband’s authority by looking at how wives are called to respond to it:

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.

A husband does not have authority to call his wife to sin. In such a case it is clear the wife’s responsibility is to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).  But what other categories of exceptions do we see here?

No such categories.  “…in everything“.

What?

3.1. In everything?

In a word, short of sin, yes.

Brothers and sisters, is this not basic? Is this not the right picture of how the true church submits to Christ?

But… what if the husband is an oaf? What if he is an arrogant fool? What if he makes the wrong decision?

Every man is sinful and fallible, yet God places a husband in a position of authority over his wife, from which he is to be a picture of Christ’s self-sacrificing service for the holiness of His bride.

But indeed, what about the plight of a wife when her husband’s sinfulness and fallibility is evident?

The Holy Spirit speaks to this very issue, and it is breathtaking.  Going on to 1 Peter then…

3.2. Since Christ also suffered for you

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. 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, so 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.

In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.  Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 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. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands;
just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
–1 Peter 2:18–3:7

In this passage, the Holy Spirit starts out by commanding submission to the civic authorities. He turns to the relationship of servants to masters — focusing on the Christian’s responsibility toward the unreasonable master. “For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly…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.”

What higher or more holy calling can there be than to follow in His steps?

And then the Holy Spirit says something that, if possible, is even more breathtaking.

3.3. In the same way, you wives…

1 Peter chapter 3 starts out, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands…”

In the same way as what?

In the same way that servants are called to be submissive even to unreasonable masters. In the same way that Christ, though without sin, was willing to subject Himself to suffering at the hands of sinful men.

In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands…

This is the high calling of a wife.

Does this temper the teaching of Ephesians 5, making it more mellow?

On the contrary, if anything it makes it still more radical!

Let’s study, then, the beautiful adornment God has in mind for women of faith.

3.4. The imperishable quality

Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 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. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

3.4.1. A gentle and quiet spirit

At this point, a woman could be convinced — yet without joy — that the Holy Spirit teaches these things. “Fine,” she says, “I see what God requires of me. I see that there is no honest way around it.” Defeated, she prepares to spend the rest of her life “submitting” in resentfulness and misery.

So gently, the Holy Spirit disallows this. He teaches that a woman’s proper adornment is “the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”

We see from this that a defeated, resentful, miserable “submission” bears no resemblance to what the Holy Spirit is teaching.

Let’s look a little closer:

3.4.2. Calling him lord

For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord…

The Holy Spirit commends to us the example of the holy women of the past who hoped in God, who adorned themselves with a gentle and quiet spirit, who were submissive to their own husbands… just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.

Obeyed? Calling him lord?

Isn’t the Holy Spirit going to give us some relief? The sword of the Spirit keeps piercing deeper and deeper into us.

For married women this is not some theoretical exercise. This teaching has very real, personal consequences if we take the word of God seriously — that is, if we take God seriously.

Are you a wife? Do you find yourself trembling with fear at this description of your duty?

The Holy Spirit addresses this also.

3.4.3. Without being frightened by any fear

We can sometimes get help knowing whether our reading of Scripture is accurate by checking our reaction to see if it matches the one anticipated by Scripture. For instance, in Romans 9, the Holy Spirit teaches us about God’s sovereign choice in choosing to whom He will grant mercy and from whom He will withhold it. It is natural for our sinful nature to rise up in anger at this and say, “Well if that’s how it is, God has no right to condemn us if we continue on in sin!” And there in verses 19-20 we see that very objection dealt with:

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?

An interpretation of Romans 9 that would never lead us to ask such a question is, to put it mildly, suspect.

Similarly, when the Holy Spirit says, “just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear,” if our view of a wife’s responsibility to her husband offers no insight into how this could involve her being frightened by fear, we should be suspicious of our view.

That our exposition leads naturally to a great sense of fear and trepidation on the part of a wife such as is addressed in the verse immediately following reinforces our confidence that we’ve exposited faithfully.

3.5. That they may encourage the young women…

We have covered the bulk of the exposition, but there is one more passage that reinforces our confidence that we’re understanding the Holy Spirit’s teaching in Ephesians and 1 Peter: Titus 2.

But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.

Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance.

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.
–Titus 2:1-5

Here the Lord provides for wives help in the form of the older women of the church, who are commanded to encourage the young women to (among other things) be subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. A woman who loves God and desires to follow in Christ’s steps — to be a daughter of Sarah — but finds herself fearful, will see such help and encouragement as the blessing from God that it is.

4. Both have a high calling

The calling of a husband is a high and holy calling: his self-sacrificial love for his wife is a picture of Christ’s love for the church.

But the calling of a wife is equally high and holy: her submission in all things, to a sinful and imperfect husband, with a gentle and quiet spirit, is a picture of Christ’s submission even to suffering unjustly out of joyful obedience to His Father, and for His glory.

5. Doxology

Oh brothers and sisters, God’s ways are good. They are never merely right (though they are always right); they are good.

Today, especially to my beloved sisters in the Lord I say, stop being angry and hating the Lord’s good commands to you as wives — stop being afraid and hiding from the Lord’s good commands to you as wives. O sisters, embrace your high calling, for the glory of Christ and the beauty of His bride!

And let’s joyfully exclaim with Paul,

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!

To God be the glory!

This entry was posted in authority, marriage. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A husband’s lordship

  1. Mom says:

    A woman commented one time that her husband demonstrated his love for her so much that she couldn’t help but demonstare her love for him. I think this is what God had in mind! :>D

  2. danielmeyer says:

    Right, Mom! And so often the paths our Savior takes us on are so pleasant, it’s just where we would have walked on our own. But sometimes it’s not so obvious that the path He’s taking us on is good. In these times aren’t we tempted to question our Lord, think evil thoughts of Him or rebel against His ways? Yet our struggle does not mean the Lord should have made sure to only do what pleases us at all times. His every action is love, and is for our best and His Father’s glory.

    I declare from Scripture that a human husband is called to exercise his authority in these ways too, to take responsibility for leading his wife on the right path, though she may chafe or question. Husbands are not taught this responsibility and wives are not taught to expect to be led this way, but is it not clearly there in his good Word? (And if we rebel against the Word of the Lord, aren’t we chafing and questioning and sinning against our Lord just like I’m talking about?)

    I am not saying that this is not challenging to me as well — it is *very* challenging!

    Thanks for posting, Mom!

  3. Tim Bayly says:

    Excellent, dear brother.

    Love,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s