This article was written by Prof. Robert Decker in the March 1, 1984 issue of the Standard Bearer.
Practically everything in our time is geared to the satisfaction of man's lust. Men and women burn in their lust and wicked passion toward one another. Immorality permeates not only stage and film, but book and magazine. It takes pictures of bikini clad young women to sell everything from toothpaste to automobiles. The corruption of our world is shocking, unmentionable. Modesty is a forgotten word in a world which knows no shame.
This has had devastating effects on the holy bond of marriage. Many live together apart from the marriage relationship. Husbands and wives are swapped and shared at will. Pre-marital relationships are common. Virginity is a rare relic of the past. Marriage itself is viewed as a voluntary contract between equal partners. The husband is not the head of the wife and the wife is not in subjection to her husband. "Roles" within marriage have taken the place of "God-ordained callings." And, roles are switched and merged and shared by husbands and wives. Certainly the wife is not bound to the home and the bearing and rearing of children. She must be free to work, study, develop her talents, pursue her own interests, and in these ways and more find her "fulfillment."
That all of this has influenced the church cannot be gainsaid. This explains, for example, the denial of the biblical teaching concerning divorce and the remarriage of divorced persons common in many churches. This explains too all the discussion on the whole subject of women and their place in the church and society. There is as well continued pressure for change even within orthodox and traditionally Reformed churches.
In this context we are called to live chastely both within the state of marriage and outside of it. There are grave, deadly temptations confronting especially our young people. The church must listen to the word of God as it speaks on this, the most beautiful relationship between man and woman. Marriage, after all, is a reflection of the great mystery of Christ and his bride, the church (Eph. 5:32).
In the fifth chapter of Ephesians, scripture exhorts us to be followers (imitators) of God in the way of walking in love as Christ has loved us. This general theme is applied by the inspired apostle to the marriage relationship in verses 22–33. In this passage the Lord addresses wives, calling them to submit themselves to their own husbands. While it is true that every wife must obey the will the God, the text is speaking to Christian wives, the wives of the church. Godly wives must submit themselves to their own husbands. The "your own husbands" of verse 22 denotes a special relationship, an exclusive relationship. The implication very clearly is that each wife has her own husband and each husband his own wife. These are brought together by God himself and called to live together in holy marriage reflecting Christ and his bride, the church (v. 32). Young men and women do not merely happen to meet and "fall in love." God brings them together.
The calling of wives is to submit themselves to their own husbands as unto the Lord. The verb, submit, means: to arrange under, to subordinate, to subject or put in subjection, to yield to another's control, to follow another's direction, admonition, advice. The idea is clear. Christian wives are to place themselves under their own husbands. They must yield to the control, the direction of their husbands. They must give themselves over to their husbands completely. Their entire lives, as godly wives, must be subjected to their husbands. In one word, wives are to obey their husbands. This, in general, is the calling of Christian wives.
Specifically, the text explains what this means. Wives must submit to their husbands as to the Lord. The service of submission which wives yield to their husbands is service to the Lord. When the wife submits to her husband she is submitting to the Lord. Likewise the wife who rebels and refuses to submit to her husband is living in disobedience to her Lord. A wife who is unsubmissive to her husband walks in very grievous sin. This is the plain, simple meaning of the word of God. Verse 24 emphasizes and further explains this idea. The church is subject to Christ. Christ is the absolute Lord of the church. What Christ commands the church to be and do, that the church must be and do. One may never conceive of the church apart from the rule of Christ. Just as the church is subject to Christ so let the wives be to their own husbands. In the same way this means. The wife in a very real sense exists for the sake of her husband. Just as the church exists to serve Christ, so the wife exists to serve her husband.
The text adds: "in everything." In every way, under all circumstances, the wife must submit to her husband. The wife may never go against the will and word of her husband. His word is the last word. This certainly does not mean that the husband ought to ignore his wife's opinion or feelings. Together they must seek the Lord's will. Nor does this mean that the wife is a mere slave with whom the husband may do as he pleases. It does mean that the wife must submit always to her husband. She must obey him, not just when she feels like it or only some of the time, but always. Without murmuring or complaint, without sulking or grudging, the wife must obey. Cheerfully and joyfully the wife must obey her husband in everything. It is exactly because so many wives refuse to be obedient to their own husbands that there are so many marital problems these days. When wives submit in everything there is part of the foundation for a stable and happy marriage.
Both 1 Peter 3:1ff. and 2 Corinthians 7:14, 15 teach that wives must submit even if their husbands are unbelievers. In the former passage the reason is that the unbelieving husband may be won by the chaste conversation of the wife, and in the latter passage the reason is that the unbelieving husband may be sanctified by the wife. There is only one exception to this rule. When being in subjection to the husband involves disobedience to the word of God the wife must obey God rather than man.
Verse 23 provides the ground for this calling: "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body." Christ is the head of the church. In that same way the husband is the head of the wife. Thus the marriage relationship reflects the great mystery of Christ and his bride, the church (cf. v. 32).
This means the marriage relation is a sacred union. It may not be taken lightly. For this reason, too, young men and women ought to seek to be married. They marry not for their own benefit and certainly not to satisfy their carnal lusts. A Christian young man seeks a Christian young woman, and a Christian young woman seeks a Christian young man because they desire to reflect Christ and his church. This is why young people of God's covenant may not seek their marriage partners outside of the church!
Christ is the head of the church. As head, Christ is the legal representative of the church. God appointed Christ to be the head of the church. Christ, assuming our guilt, made atonement for the sins of the church and thus is "the Savior of the body." Christ is also the organic head of the church. By faith the church lives out of Christ. As head, Christ provides all the needs of the church. And, finally, Christ is the authority of the church. His word is the law.
As Christ is the head of the church the husband is the head of the wife. He is her legal representative, not only before the world, but before God. The husband is the provider for his wife. And, he is the ruler of his wife. Does this mean the husband is superior to the wife? Is the wife of less worth than her husband? Is the husband lord and master who may do as he wishes with his slave? Never! This is sin! It certainly is not the way Christ cares for his church! These are their God-ordained places. Submitting to her husband, the wife is serving her Lord in heaven. Together husband and wife are one in Christ in whom is neither male nor female. Both are partakers of the grace of salvation (cf. Gal. 3:28).
As head of the wife the husband must love his wife even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it (v. 25). In the love of God the husband must love his wife. Love never seeks to hurt or destroy, but always seeks the salvation of its object. God so loved us that he gave his only begotten Son to atone for our sins and give us everlasting life and glory. That love must be reflected by godly husbands. Loving his wife as Christ loved the church, the husband will never be a ruthless tyrant. He will lead his wife in the way of the word of God. Together husband and wife will bow before that word in all of their married life. God's word will be the foundation for their marriage. In God's love the husband will provide both the earthly and spiritual need of his wife. Just as Christ gave himself for the church, so the husband will love his wife. With the self-sacrificing love of Christ the husband will seek his wife's welfare in this life and for the life to come. A godly husband lives for his wife. She is first in his life. He is not harsh or bitter towards her. He is tender and kind. He nourishes and cherishes her as Christ cherishes the church. He rules not with an iron hand expecting to be waited on hand and foot. His wife is no harried, tired slave who lives in fear of him. As the church has all of the love of Christ so the wife has all of the love of her husband. He loves her so much that he will not only put up with her weaknesses and bad habits, he loves her so much he is willing to die for her.
This kind of marriage, possible only by grace, reflects the great mystery. This is a blessed, happy union. Godly husbands and their godly wives look forward to joining the real marriage in the perfection of the new creation.
When there is strife and difficulty—and there will be for we are but sinners—the godly husband and his wife will confess their faults the one to the other that they may be healed (cf. James 5:16). Together they will confess their sins to God. They will, in God's love, forgive one another until seventy times seven. Once more, that is a blessed marriage.