Category Archives: Marriage

GTY Blog: The Unshakable Love of a Godly Husband

Ephesians 5:25-32

Code: B150424

by John MacArthur

Imagine how precarious your relationship with Christ would be if He only loved you when it was convenient for Him, or only when you were most attractive to Him. Everyone knows what it’s like to be loved imperfectly—and, if we’re honest, what it’s like to love someone else imperfectly.

Believers ought to be perpetually grateful that God’s love for us isn’t conditional, and that He loved us even while we rejected Him (Romans 5:8). In Ephesians 2, Paul wrote about God’s transcendent love for us in the midst of our rebellion.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins. . . . Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1-6)

So moments later, when Paul penned the instruction for husbands to love their wives “just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25), he was not speaking about God’s love in vague terms. His original audience understood that he was not telling husbands to love their wives if the wives deserved it, or if the husbands felt like it.

He gave an absolute command. Biblical love is a willful commitment to self-sacrifice, and it is not at all based on how we might “feel” at any point about the object of our love.

Sacrificial Love

A husband who is unwilling to sacrifice for his wife does not even know what true love is. Those who regard their wives as servants under their sovereign headship haven’t begun to appreciate the true biblical pattern for marriage and family. Selfish husbands therefore will never know what it is to have a fulfilled marriage and family. True happiness in marriage is possible only to those who follow the divine pattern.

Properly understood, Ephesians 5:25 demands that the husband die to self. In effect, he is called to crucify himself for the sake of his wife. It’s not talking about some petty sacrifice, such as helping with the dishes now and then. It means the husband must devote his entire life—and quite literally even be willing to die—for the good of his wife.

Remember, genuine love “does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5). The man who is concerned only with getting what he can from marriage is sowing the seeds of destruction in his family. To love your wife as Christ loved the church is to be preoccupied with what you can do for her, not vice versa. After all, Christ loves us not for selfish gain, but because He is a gracious Lord who delights to bestow His favor on us.

Protective Love

The love of a godly man for his wife is not only sacrificial, it also safeguards her purity. Paul said Christ’s sacrifice for the church had this ultimate object in mind: to sanctify and cleanse her “that she would be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:26–27). Her purity was His primary concern.

Likewise, in marriage, it is every husband’s solemn duty to guard his wife’s purity. No one would ever deliberately defile someone he really loves. How could a loving husband ever delight in something that compromises the purity of the one he loves?

On the contrary, the husband who loves his wife as Christ loves the church will naturally hate anything that defiles her. He will guard her from anything and everything that might dishonor her, degrade her, demean her, or tempt her to sin. He will never knowingly lead her into any kind of sin, but protect her against any threat to her virtue. He won’t deliberately provoke or exasperate her so that she succumbs to anger or any other temptation. And he himself will be an example of purity, knowing that whatever defiles him will ultimately defile her too.

Notice the primary way Christ maintains the purity of the church: “by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26). Husbands have a duty to ensure that their wives are regularly exposed to the cleansing and purifying effect of the Word of God. The husband is to be the spiritual leader and priestly guardian of the home. It is his duty to make sure the Word of God is at the center of the home and family. He ought to lead his family in participation in a church where the Word of God is revered and obeyed. And above all, he himself needs to be devoted to the Word of God and proficient enough in handling the Scriptures that he can be the true spiritual head in the marriage (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:34–35).

Caring Love

Genuine love also involves tender care, and Paul expressed that idea this way: “Husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28). We take care of our bodies constantly—giving them whatever food, clothing, comfort, recreation, relaxation, or rest they need. We’re attentive to our own bodies, concerned with their needs, sensitive and responsive to whatever they desire.

That is the kind of love Paul commanded husbands to show their wives. Notice, once again, Scripture is not describing love only as an emotion. This sort of love is active, voluntary, dynamic—something we do, not something we passively “feel.”

It’s only reasonable that a man would love his wife the way he loves his own body, because in marriage, “the two . . . become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31). That is the way God designed marriage. Paul was actually quoting from Genesis 2:24, which describes how God first ordained marriage itself. It applies universally and it has been true from the beginning. Husbands ought to love their wives with the same care they give to their own bodies because, after all, the two are one flesh.

Enduring Love

Since the husband’s love for his wife pictures Christ’s love for the church, it must also be the kind of love that outlasts every trial and overcomes every obstacle. When Christ was questioned about divorce, He quoted the same verse Paul referenced from Genesis, then underscored the permanence of the union: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6).

Every marriage is consummated in an earthly sense by a physical union: “The two shall become one flesh.” Children conceived by that union will literally bear the genetic pattern of two people who have become one flesh. But marriage also involves a spiritual union. God is the one who joins husband and wife together. Marriage is the union of two souls knitted together in every aspect of life. Their emotions, intellects, personalities, desires, and life goals are inextricably bound together.

Naturally, then, God also designed marriage to be a permanent union, unbroken and uncorrupted. The biblical terminology of Ephesians 5:31 stresses the permanence of the marriage union: “A man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife.” The word translated “be joined to” is a Greek term (proskolla) that literally speaks of gluing something together. It describes a permanent, unbreakable bond. That is an apt description of God’s ideal for marriage. It’s a union held together by lasting love that absolutely refuses to let go.

Christlike Love

Scripture is clear: God’s plan for the family begins with life-long monogamous marriage, which is grounded in sacrificial love. Why is this of such supreme importance? Paul gave the answer in Ephesians 5:32: “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” In other words, the husband’s love for his wife is a sacred duty because of what it illustrates.

Christ is the heavenly Bridegroom and the church is His bride (Revelation 19:7–8; 21:9). Because marriage pictures that union, the husband must be Christlike in his love for the wife, and she must be submissive to his headship. Otherwise, the divine object lesson is destroyed.

What higher motive could there be for a husband to love his wife? By loving her as Christ loved the church, he honors Christ in the most direct and graphic way. He becomes the embodiment of Christ’s love to his own wife, a living example to the rest of his family, a channel of blessing to his entire household, and a powerful testimony to a watching world.

(Adapted from The Fulfilled Family)

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COPYRIGHT ©2015 Grace to You

GTY Blog: The Christlike Husband

Ephesians 5:26-28

Code: B150422

by John MacArthur

Ask the typical man on the street to give one word that embodies the essence of leadership, and he’ll probably suggest words such as authority, control, or power.

Scripture’s view of leadership is characterized by a different word: love.

Godly leadership is always driven by love, and it is uniquely and clearly displayed in God’s design for marriage. God divinely ordered the relationship between husbands and wives to be a reflection of Christ’s relationship to the church. The wife’s submission to the husband is designed as a living illustration of the church’s submission to her Lord. The husband, conversely, is supposed to be a living illustration of Christ, who “loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, emphasis added). Notice that the stress is entirely on Christ’s sacrifice and service for the good of the church.

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.” (Ephesians 5:26–28)

Paul’s whole point here is that a husband best shows Christlike headship by voluntary, loving sacrifice and service for the good of his wife.

The sinful tendency of fallen men is to dominate their wives by brute force. Even some Christian men are guilty of being too aggressive with their authority in the home. But dictatorial despots and heavy-handed husbands are antithetical to the pattern of headship Christ gives us.

Christlike Love

Authentic love is incompatible with a despotic or domineering approach to headship. If the model of this love is Christ, who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28), then the husband who thinks he exists to be served by his wife and children couldn’t be farther off the mark.

Consider the implications of a command to love. This suggests that genuine love is not merely a feeling or an involuntary attraction. It involves a willful choice. Far from being something we “fall into” by happenstance, authentic, Christlike love involves a deliberate, voluntary commitment to sacrifice whatever we can for the good of the person we love.

When Paul commanded husbands to love their wives, he was calling for all the virtues outlined in 1 Corinthians 13, including patience, kindness, generosity, humility, meekness, thoughtfulness, liberality, gentleness, trust, goodness, truthfulness, and long-suffering. It is significant that all the properties of love stress selflessness and sacrifice. The godly husband and father must make himself servant of all (cf. Mark 9:35).

Christlike Pattern

How, in practical terms, should a husband demonstrate his love for his wife? Christ’s love for His church is the perfect pattern and prototype for every husband’s relationship with his wife. That elevates the husband’s love for his wife to a high and holy level. The husband who abuses his role as head of the family dishonors Christ, corrupts the sacred symbolism of the marriage union, and sins directly against his own Head, Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3).

So the husband’s duty to love his wife in a Christlike manner is of supreme importance. No one in the family is given a greater responsibility (Paul’s exhortation to husbands is the longest and most detailed section of Ephesians 5:22–6:9).

Christ’s love was a self-sacrificial love. He “loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Jesus Himself indicated that of all love’s qualities, a willingness to sacrifice self is the greatest: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life” (John 15:13). Authentic love is always self-sacrificial.

The person who loves sacrificially is humble, meek, and concerned more with others than with self. Again, Christ is the model. Though He existed eternally as God and was therefore worthy of all worship and honor, He laid all that aside in order to come to earth and die for sinners. Scripture says:

[He] emptied Himself, taking the form of a [slave], and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:7–8).

The demands on husbands are not nearly so severe. Yet we need to have the same willingness to make any sacrifice necessary for the sake of our wives and children. Anything less is not godly leadership.

(Adapted from The Fulfilled Family.)

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COPYRIGHT ©2015 Grace to You

GTY Blog: The Ministry of a Godly Wife

Selected Scriptures

Code: B150420

by John MacArthur

Postmodernism has left many scars on modern evangelicalism. One that is particularly deep is the practice of defining biblical concepts in our own terms. Bible studies often revolve around the question: “What does this verse mean to you?” Sermons and Bible lessons begin with the phrase: “To me this means . . .” And “context” has more to do with the interpreter and not what’s being interpreted.

The postmodern reader exercises authority over the text, functioning like God’s editor. As a result, many biblical doctrines have been rewritten or expunged. Prominent among those is the biblical role of women.

Tragically, the biblical prohibition against women assuming church leadership roles are often misunderstood or rejected entirely. Some have misapplied that prohibition and impeded a woman’s ability to minister in any capacity, forcing them to cede all ministry work to men. Others take it as a stripe of chauvinism running throughout Scripture that must be cut out and cast aside for the Bible to be applicable and relevant in a postfeminist culture.

But the role of women in the church cannot be defined merely by the prohibitions against eldership and pulpit ministry. The sad irony is that those who supposedly champion the cause of women in the church are the ones trampling and belittling God’s true, high calling for women. The narrow, misguided focus on women preaching has led many to completely overlook the vital ministry roles that God specifically designed women to fulfill.

Winning the Unbelieving Husband

To begin with, the godly woman has a full-time ministry to the unbelievers in her home—particularly an unbelieving husband. The apostle Peter said it like this:

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. (1 Peter 3:1–2)

Pastors and counselors commonly hear women protest against this principle. “Look, you don’t know my husband. He refuses to obey God. He is not a Christian. How can I submit to such a man?” But that type of situation is precisely what Peter was dealing with: “Even if any of them are disobedient to the word,” submit anyway. There is no exemption for wives who are married to unbelieving husbands. In fact, far from making such wives an exception to the rule, Peter used them as an example of what godly submission can accomplish in a marriage. The submissive wife may be God’s chosen means for winning an unbelieving husband.

A believing wife by her submission can have a more powerful influence on her unbelieving husband than she ever will by nagging or sermonizing. By her conduct, Peter said, she may win him to Christ “without a word” (1 Peter 3:1). What kind of conduct? “Chaste and respectful behavior” (1 Peter 3:2). Purity of life coupled with deep respect (a kind of reverential “fear”) for the husband: that is how a godly wife shows submission.

Displaying Godly Beauty

Notice also the corollary: “Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses” (1 Peter 3:3). Peter’s words could not be more timely today. Women shaped by contemporary society’s values tend to be obsessed with external adornment. But Peter said that is not where a woman’s priorities should be focused (Paul said something similar in 1 Timothy 2:9–10).

Don’t misunderstand what this means. The apostles were not completely forbidding jewelry, stylish hair, or other feminine adornments; they were simply saying those things are not what is most important. The way a woman looks is not the measure of her true beauty, and attempts to call everyone’s attention to the way she looks is actually showing a lack of submission to her own husband.

Instead, Peter said, women first of all need to cultivate inner beauty. They should be primarily concerned with “the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:4). It’s hard to imagine anything Peter might have said that would be more out of step with twenty-first-century notions of political correctness! He was saying that women ought to be gentle and quiet and submissive, not loud and boisterous and pushy. They ought to be concerned with their own character, and not with the world’s fashion. In other words, the real attractiveness of a godly woman—and her true strength—is that she is supportive of her husband and submissive to him, and she shows that submission through gentleness and serene stillness. That may not play well in a feminist culture, but it is what the Bible says.

Holiness Through Submission

Peter certainly wasn’t teaching that women must blindly follow everything their husbands say—as if they could never offer a contrary opinion or think for themselves. But he was suggesting that a godly woman will seek to “win” her husband by quiet, gentle, respectful means—not by rebelling against him or by trying to take over his place as head of the family.

Peter then set all of this in a biblical and historical perspective:

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. (1 Peter 3:5–6)

Peter was not making any new rule. And regardless of what modern notions of political correctness might suggest, these aren’t outmoded principles, either. Holiness is what godly women have always been most concerned with.

Teaching in a Vital Role

Women who fulfill God’s high calling in submission to their husbands also become qualified for a vital teaching ministry.

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 2:3–5)

The expression “older women” refers to mature women—not necessarily elderly women, but veteran wives and mothers who are already experienced at raising families and keeping a household in order. The duties Paul gave them are simple and straightforward. They are to be women of holy character (“reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine”). And they are to be teachers (“teaching what is good”). Whom are they to teach? Younger women. What are they to teach? Paul listed a series of simple duties for wives.

This section of Titus gives a beautiful pattern for women seeking a ministry where they can put their gifts to the best use. Older women should teach younger women the skills and disciplines needed to have a successful home and marriage. Experienced wives and mothers will find their greatest avenue of ministry in teaching younger wives what they need to know to be effective wives, mothers, and homemakers.

Overseeing the Home

Notice, by the way, that all the woman’s biblical priorities are centered in the family and the home: “to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands” (Titus 2:4–5). The starting point is love—the woman’s love for her own husband and children. And she expresses that love in her virtue and her self-sacrifice, chiefly in the arena of her own family home. The home is where the truly godly woman flourishes. It’s where she finds her greatest joy. And it’s where she has her most important influence.

All of that is wrapped up in what Paul meant when he urged wives to be subject to their own husbands (Ephesians 5:22).

Next time, we’ll look at his instructions to husbands.

(Adapted from The Fulfilled Family)

Available online at:
COPYRIGHT ©2015 Grace to You

GTY Blog: The High Calling of Submission

Ephesians 5:22-24

Code: B150417

by John MacArthur

The word submission conjures ugly images and even uglier reactions in our “liberated” modern culture. The concept of submission is now popularly associated with weakness, defeat, and oppression.

It is easily forgotten that Christ’s submission to His Father, “to the point of death” (Philippians 2:8), not only demonstrated an immense feat of human strength, but is also the blueprint for Christian living (cf. Philippians 2:1–11). And the family unit is one of the greatest proving grounds for believers to put that submission on display.

But how can we submit to one another in the context of a family while still recognizing the God-ordained roles of headship and authority? That is the subject Paul addressed in Ephesians 5:22–6:4. Since submission epitomizes the character of the person who is truly Spirit-filled, Paul outlined how mutual submission should work in a family.

He wrote under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, of course, so this was not merely the apostle’s private opinion (2 Peter 1:20–21). God Himself inspired the very words of the text (2 Timothy 3:16). Paul spoke here to wives, husbands, children, and parents, in that order. And the admonition to wives is simple, covering just three verses:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is 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 5:22–24)

It is important to remember that Paul did not begin by singling out and consigning wives to a second-rate status. There’s a sense in which everyone in the church must submit to everyone else as Paul clearly stated in the preceding verse. Ephesians 5:22 simply explains how wives ought to show their submission.

Also notice that Paul started and ended this short section by specifying whom wives should submit to: “their husbands” (Ephesians 5:24). “Their husband” suggests that the wife should willingly make herself subject to the husband who is her possession. Husbands and wives belong to each other, and thus have unique responsibilities to each other which they do not have to anyone else (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:3­–4).

Women as a group are not made serfs to men in general, and men aren’t automatically elevated to a ruling class over all women. But Scripture calls each woman to submit in particular to her own husband’s headship. In other words, the family itself is the primary arena in which a godly woman is to cultivate and demonstrate the attitude of humility, service, and sacrifice called for in Ephesians 5:21.

Furthermore, the command is general and sweeping. It’s not limited to wives whose husbands are fulfilling their function. It’s not addressed only to wives with children, wives of church leaders, or even wives whose husbands are faithful believers. It’s categorical and unconditional: wives. Anyone who fits that classification is obligated to obey the command of this verse by submitting to her own husband.

What, precisely, does this command require? The Greek word for “subject” or submit (hupotasso) means “to line up under.” It has the idea of placing oneself in a rank lower than someone else. This is the very idea of humility, meekness, and lowliness of mind called for in Philippians 2:3: “Regard one another as more important than yourselves.” In no way does it imply inferiority—it speaks of a functional ranking, not an inferiority of essence.

This is a role that God Himself ordained for wives. In Genesis 3:16, God said to Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” On the one hand, marriage is the perfect union of two people who become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). On the other hand, God has clearly ordained that the husband should be head in that relationship. Even nature seems to affirm the proper order. Men normally have the advantage of greater physical and emotional strength, while women usually have a more tenderhearted strength and character that equip them to be a support and encouragement—helpers suitable to their husbands.

I realize that the husband’s headship and the wife’s submission are not popular notions these days. Even in some Christian circles there are movements attempting to overthrow the biblical order and substitute something that is more politically correct. The world wants a more humanistic and egalitarian approach to society: a sexless, classless, artificial equality. Instead of rejecting that philosophy and upholding biblical principles, many in the church have fallen prey to the lies of our age.

But Scripture is both clear and consistent. Every time the Bible speaks about the role of the wife, the emphasis is exactly the same. This is not some chauvinistic private opinion of the apostle Paul, as some have suggested. Nor is it an unclear or ambiguous principle that’s only vaguely suggested in Scripture. Every Scripture that touches on the subject of the wife’s role says essentially the same thing. There is no getting around that biblical fact and, as we’ll see next time, Scripture continually gives clear responses to every major objection.


(Adapted from The Fulfilled Family)

Available online at:
COPYRIGHT ©2015 Grace to You

GTY Blog: What Does It Mean to Be the Head of the Home?

1 Corinthians 11:3

Code: B150415

by John Macarthur

Male headship is a taboo topic for the world. That’s not a surprise in a society that has comprehensively rejected God’s design for the family. But even within the church today it’s a topic that ruffles feathers and makes people uncomfortable.

And yet we can’t hope to understand or apply God’s design for marriage and family if we sidestep this important biblical doctrine.

Marriage itself is founded on the principle of mutuality. Don’t imagine for a moment that the husband’s God-ordained headship relegates the wife to some secondary status or destroys the essential oneness of the marriage relationship. Marriage is a partnership, not a private fiefdom for dominant husbands. That truth is woven into everything Scripture teaches about the principles of marriage and the husband’s headship.

Different but Equal

In the first place, Scripture makes it perfectly clear that men and women are spiritual equals in the sight of God. They have an equal standing in Christ and equal spiritual privileges, because we are all united with Him in the same way. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” There is no second-class spiritual citizenship. In Christ and before God, there’s only oneness. We are equal. Men are not spiritually superior to women.

It’s nonetheless true (and perfectly obvious) that both Scripture and nature assign different roles and different functions to men and women. The Bible is quite clear in assigning headship in every family to the husband, not the wife (Ephesians 5:23). The responsibilities of teaching and leading the church are given to men, not women (1 Timothy 2:12). But women are uniquely and exclusively equipped to bear and nurture young children, and the fulfillment of that role assures that they can never be relegated to any second-class status.

Men are, as a rule, physically stronger (1 Peter 3:7 NKJV refers to the wife as “the weaker vessel”). Men are therefore responsible to carry the weight and the brunt of labor in order to provide for and protect the family. Scripture teaches that God designed the physical differences and the functional differences between men and women for a purpose—and that is why God clearly distinguishes the roles and responsibilities of husbands and wives.

Remember, however, that while their roles are clearly different, the spiritual standing of men and women in Christ is perfectly equal. Even the biblical language of two becoming one flesh underscores the essential oneness of husband and wife in a way that rules out the very notion of inequality.

Biblical Headship

In fact, the way Scripture describes the husband’s role as head of his wife underscores the essential spiritual equality of men and women. In 1 Corinthians 11:3, Paul wrote, “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.”

Notice several significant truths that emerge from that one simple verse. First, God has given every husband a clear responsibility for spiritual leadership, and men dare not abdicate that duty. The husband, not the wife, is to be head of the family. That is God’s design. Within every home, someone must ultimately have the responsibility of leadership, and Scripture unambiguously assigns that duty to men, not women.

Second, the model for the husband’s headship is Christ. Christlike headship involves not only authority for spiritual leadership, but also the duties of care, nurture, protection, and self-sacrifice. In the words of Ephesians 5:28–29,

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.

That text demolishes any notion that the husband’s headship makes him in any way superior to the wife.

Headship Within the Trinity

But third, notice the statement that comes at the end of 1 Corinthians 11:3: “God is the head of Christ.” In other words, even within the Trinity, one person is head. God the Father is head over Christ.

Aren’t all the persons of the Trinity fully God, and perfectly equal in essence? Of course. Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). He said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Christ “is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). There is no inequality whatsoever among the persons of the Trinity.

But there are nonetheless differences in function. The Son willingly submits to the Father’s headship. The same Jesus who said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18) also said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me” (John 4:34). He said, “I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:30, cf. 6:38). In other words, although Father and Son are the same in essence and equally God, they function in different roles. By God’s own design, the Son submits to the Father’s headship. The Son’s role is by no means a lesser role; merely a different one. Christ is in no sense inferior to His Father, even though He willingly submits to the Father’s headship.

Marital Submission

The same is true in marriage. Wives are in no way inferior to husbands, even though God has assigned husbands and wives different roles. The two are one flesh. They are absolutely equal in essence. Although the woman takes the place of submission to the headship of the man, God commands the man to recognize the essential equality of his wife and love her as his own body.

All of this beautifully illustrates the principle of mutual submission. And it is further illustrated by what Scripture teaches about the physical union of husband and wife. In 1 Corinthians 7:3, Paul wrote: “The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband.” He clearly recognized that each member of the marriage union has a duty to the other, and he commanded them both to fulfill that duty. But he also expressly stated that each partner has a kind of authority over the other’s body: “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (v. 4). Again, we see that each must submit to the other. That same principle of mutual submission is built into every aspect of the marital relationship, beginning with the physical union.

Once again, none of that negates what Scripture plainly teaches about the husband’s headship. But it does demonstrate clearly that the man’s headship is not a kind of dictatorship where the rest of the family exists just to do his will.

In other words, the God-ordained roles in the family have nothing to do with superiority or inferiority. Many wives are frankly smarter, wiser, better educated, more disciplined, or more discerning than their husbands. God has nevertheless ordered the family so that the man is the head, because the wife is the “weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7 NKJV) and the husband therefore owes his wife self-sacrifice and protection. The wife is not thereby relegated to an inferior role; she is, rather, a joint heir, who shares in all the mutual richness of the marriage.

Foundational Truth

Above all, the husband as head and the wife as weaker vessel must practice mutual submission, where each esteems the other as better than (never inferior to) self. The principle of mutual submission also permeates both family and church, so that in some sense every family member, as well as every Christian, should “be devoted to one another in brotherly love; giv[ing] preference to one another in honor” (Romans 12:10).

That is the essential starting point for everything Paul had to say about the family. The rest of his teaching—in which he outlined the distinct roles of husbands, wives, and children—is therefore set in the context of this all-important lesson about Spirit-filled humility. This one essential precept therefore establishes the bedrock principles of mutual submission, spiritual equality, tender self-sacrifice, godly humility, and loving service. Those are the keys to family harmony, and everything that comes afterward is simply an explanation of the ideal family environment—the foundation for building a true home.

(Adapted from The Fulfilled Family.)

Available online at:
COPYRIGHT ©2015 Grace to You

GTY Blog: Submission Isn’t a One-Way Street

Selected Scriptures

Code: B150413

by John MacArthur

In many areas of life submission is a one-way street. Citizens must submit to the police, soldiers must submit to their commanding officers, and employees must submit to their employers. When that one-way street is violated, the violator usually loses. But in Scripture, submission among believers is a two-way street. And when that rule is violated, if affects everyone on the road.

While God’s Word commands submission within His design for the family, it’s a mutual submission between the husband and wife, one that seeks to put each other first (Philippians 2:3). That kind of submission is a far cry from the caricature of oppressive husbands and timid wives that the world mocks and despises.

And yet, it is obvious that the apostle Paul never imagined that the principle of mutual submission would completely overthrow the very idea of authority. If that was his intention, he would not have outlined the various roles in the family. Instead, he made it very clear that the husband is the head of the home and parents have a proper and essential role of authority over children.

Nonetheless, it is vital to notice that Paul began with the principle of mutual submission. That was his theme, and it was the fundamental principle that lay beneath everything else he said about the family. If you wanted one simple rule of thumb that would do more than anything else to ensure harmony and health in the family, it would be hard to think of anything more profound or more profitable than the simple command Paul used as a springboard into his extended discussion of family roles: “[Submit] to one another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).

What Submission Isn’t

Wives have often borne the brunt of Ephesians 5, as if this passage were all about the wife’s subservience and the husband’s dominance in the home. I have heard of more than one home where an overzealous, authoritarian husband constantly held verse 22 (“Wives, be subject to your own husbands”) over the wife’s head. The verse might as well be carved into a baseball bat and hung over the kitchen sink.

But that kind of attitude is a violation of the whole spirit of the passage. It’s interesting to note that in the Greek text, the word for “submit” doesn’t even appear in verse 22. The idea is certainly implied, but the Greek expression is elliptical, omitting the word submission, and relying on the force of verse 21 to make the meaning clear. In other words, a literal translation of verses 21–22 would read something like this: “Submit to one another in the fear of God. Wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

So keep in mind that Paul’s stress was first and foremost on the mutuality of submission. Everyone in the church is to submit to everyone else. The command to submit is not for wives only, but for husbands too. And verses 22–24 simply explain how wives are to submit to their husbands: with the same kind of respect and devotion that they owe to Christ.

Submissive Husbands

But if that’s the command Scripture gives to wives, does the principle of mutual submission really mean that the husband must submit to the wife as well? It certainly does. Paul went on to say in verses 25–29 that the husband owes the wife the same kind of love and devotion Christ showed for the church: “just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (v. 25). There is no greater act of submission than to die for someone, and that is precisely what Christ did for the church. Since husbands are commanded to love their wives the way Christ loved the church, this requires the ultimate self-sacrifice of submission and service on the wife’s behalf.

This does not mean, of course, that the husband is supposed to abdicate his God-ordained role of leadership and authority in the home. What it does mean is that the way he must exercise his leadership is not by lording it over his wife and family, but by serving them and sacrificing himself for them with a Christlike humility. He is to support his wife by helping bear her burdens and shoulder all her cares, even if it means sacrificing his own desires to meet her needs. It’s a different kind of submission—not submission to her as an authority figure, but a loving willingness to sacrifice for her, serve her, and seek her good. In other words, the godly husband’s main aim must be to please his wife rather than merely doing his own will and demanding that she get in line.

Paul also went on to suggest that there’s even a true sense in which the godly father must submit to his own children. Again, the father must do this not by abdicating his parental authority, but rather through sacrificial, unselfish service rendered for his children. In other words, he patterns his leadership after the example of Christ, whose meekness the prophets foretold:

He will not quarrel, nor cry out;
Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.
A battered reed He will not break off,
And a smoldering wick He will not put out,
Until He leads justice to victory. (Matthew 12:19–20)

Here’s how Paul said a father ought to show submission to his own children: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

Of course, Paul also commanded children to obey their parents and servants to obey their masters. But he never envisioned submission as a one-way street. Like parents, masters must also show respect and kindness to their servants (6:9).

Sacrificial Submission

In the end, everyone in the household has a duty to submit at some point and in some specific way to everyone else. Yes, wives must submit to the leadership of their husbands. But husbands also must bow to the needs of their wives. Certainly children need to obey their parents. But parents also have a duty to serve and sacrifice for their children. Of course servants need to yield to the authority of their masters. But masters also are commanded to treat their servants with dignity and respect—esteeming even the lowliest servant better than themselves.

In other words, Paul commanded each Christian to be an example of submission and service to all others. That simple principle is the key to harmony and happiness in the home. Domineering men who try to use Ephesians 5 as a club to keep their wives in a kind of servile submission have missed the whole point of the passage. Even if God has given you a position of leadership, you have a duty to take the role of a servant—because that is precisely what Christ did for us.

Our Lord was very clear in His teaching on this matter. Matthew 20:25–27 records how Jesus called the disciples together and taught them this very lesson:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.

(Adapted from The Fulfilled Family.)

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GTY Blog: Mutual Submission

Ephesians 5:21

Code: B150410

by John MacArthur

The unbelieving world has a skewed, cynical view of submission. In fact, humility and submissiveness are not generally seen as character qualities, but condemned as weaknesses. It’s one of the many ways the world distorts and inverts God’s design.

Godly Prescriptions

Scripture frequently calls Christians to be humble and submissive people. In Ephesians 5, Paul suggests that the Spirit-filled life is not a fight for the top; it’s a fight for the bottom. That’s exactly what Jesus taught too: “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

In a community of believers, then, the principle of submission governs all relationships. Every individual submits to all others. That is the very situation Paul described in Ephesians 5:21: “Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” Peter said the same thing in 1 Peter 5:5–6:

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but give grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.

Throughout the New Testament, the Greek word often translated as “submit” is hupotasso (from two words: hupo, “under,” and tasso, “to line up, to get in order, or to be arranged”). It speaks of ranking oneself beneath another. As Christians, this is the mentality that should govern all our relationships: “With humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3–4).

Divine Humility

After all, that was the example our Lord set for us. He refused to consider equality with God a thing to grasp. He stepped from heaven into this world, making Himself of no reputation, coming in the form of a lowly human—like a bondservant—even submitting to a shameful death on the cross on behalf of others (Philippians 2:5–8). In doing so, He gave us an example of how we ought to walk (1 Peter 2:21).

That is why we are to be submissive in all our relationships with one another. That is at the core of truly Christlike character, and it is also the single most important principle governing all personal relationships for all Christians. Christians are supposed to submit to one another.

Authority, Not Anarchy

Don’t misunderstand or misapply that principle. It doesn’t abolish the need for leadership or the principle of authority. It certainly doesn’t eliminate official positions of oversight in structured institutions. In the church, for example, pastors and elders fill a God-given role of leadership, and the Bible instructs church members to submit to their elders’ spiritual leadership in the life and context of the church (Hebrews 13:17). Likewise within the family, parents have a clear, God-given duty to exercise authority and give guidance and instruction to their children, and children have a reciprocal duty to honor and obey their parents (Exodus 20:12; Proverbs 1:8).

In fact, as Scripture plainly teaches,

there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. (Romans 13:1-2)

So the principle of mutual submission isn’t meant as a prescription for absolute egalitarianism. It certainly does not mean that no one is supposed to be in charge in the church, the government, or the family.

Common sense affirms the need for authority structures in human society. Of course, the largest of all social structures is a nation. Every legitimate nation must have a government. No nation could function without authority. God Himself designed society to function under governments. That’s why both Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:13–17 remind us that God ordained governmental authority. Rulers, kings, governors, soldiers, policemen, and judges are all necessary “for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Peter 2:14). Without them, there would be anarchy, and no society can survive anarchy.

Likewise, even in the smallest of human institutions—the family—the same principle applies. A family cannot survive anarchy. Someone must be responsible for discipline, direction, and spiritual leadership. Scripture recognizes this, too, as we’ll see when we delve further into Ephesians 5 and 6.

Authority and Submission in the Family

Nonetheless, when it comes to one-on-one interpersonal relationships within all those institutions, the principle of mutual submission must govern how each of us treats one another. Even the person in a position of authority must be Christlike in his or her dealings with all others—which, of course, still means esteeming others better than self. Again, Christ Himself is the model for what that kind of leadership looks like. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Mutual submission is the principle, then, that Ephesians 5:21 spells out: “Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” To illustrate and further explain how the principle of submission is supposed to work in the framework of institutions where God has ordained authorities for leadership, Paul turned to the most fundamental of all human institutions, the family.

He could have illustrated authority and submission by explaining how the principle applies to human government. In fact, Paul did that very thing in Romans 13, and Peter did it in 1 Peter 2:13–16. He might also have explained the principle of submission by showing how it works in the context of the church. He did that in 1 Timothy 2 and 3. But here Paul’s subject was mutual submission, so he used the family—the smallest and most intimate of all human institutions—to demonstrate how mutual submission is supposed to work on a personal and individual level, without obliterating the need for the God-ordained authority that governs every human institution.

(Adapted from The Fulfilled Family.)

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GTY Blog: The Context of Marriage

Selected Scriptures

Code: B150408

by Jeremiah Johnson

The moral mandates of Scripture are binding on all mankind, and to ignore them is sin. Living by God’s standards as revealed in Scripture results in human flourishing, and advocating for those standards is good and loving. But the primary message believers have for unbelievers is not a code of conduct or set of principles to live by.

Sadly, many of those who have fought long and hard to preserve a biblical view of marriage sent the wrong message to the world. As John MacArthur said years ago, politically-engaged Christians have too often made enemies of their mission field.

We are not faithful to text of Ephesians 5 when we attempt to enforce its standards on the world. In fact, doing so ignores the context of Paul’s exhortations and misdirects church resources that would be better used in equipping the saints to more fully live out God’s design for marriage.

Spiritual Necessities

In his book The Fulfilled Family, John MacArthur sets the stage for Paul’s discussion of marriage and family.

It is vital to understand that Paul wrote his instructions about marriage in Ephesians 5 for Christians. He addressed the entire epistle to a church. The first four chapters are all about the Christian’s position in Christ, and everything Paul said to fathers, mothers, and children presupposed that he was speaking to believers. If you’re not a Christian, there is no hope whatsoever that you can make your marriage and your family everything God intended them to be, unless you first acknowledge your need for Christ and trust Him as Lord and Savior.

Obviously, there are non-Christian families that appear to be successful, to a point. They may have orderly homes, with well-behaved children and close, lasting relationships between family members. But wherever Christ is not recognized as Lord of the family, the seeds of that family’s ultimate breakdown are already present. Such a family has no real spiritual stability, and (especially in a society where the family is already under siege) that family is courting disaster. To borrow imagery from Matthew 7:26–27, such a family is like an impressive structure built on sand. When the floodwaters come, its fall will be great.

For all the noise over defending traditional marriage, this fundamental point is rarely mentioned: God’s design for marriage and family starts with a right relationship with Him. Apart from a firm foundation in the Lord, no marriage can achieve what God intends for it.

What About the Unequally Yoked?

The fundamental necessity of salvation does raise some questions for believers who have an unsaved spouse. Can they expect anything close to the pattern laid out in Scripture? And what standard should believers hold their spouses to when they lack the essential elements for a godly marriage?

By God’s grace, I don’t have any firsthand experience of the daily struggle it must be to love someone who doesn’t love the Lord. What I do know is that holding nonbelievers to biblical standards they’re incapable of achieving is a good way to embitter them against the Bible, the church, and you. You’re wrestling with square pegs and round holes if you expect an unbelieving husband to love his wife as Christ loves the church, or an unbelieving wife to biblically submit to and support her husband in all things.

If you are unequally yoked in marriage, your daily prayer and focus must be the salvation of your husband or wife, not behavior modification. Short of true repentance and faith, unbelievers can’t hope to even comprehend God’s design for marriage and family, much less conform to it.

While Paul writes to believing wives and husbands, Peter writes to those married to unbelievers (1 Peter 3:1-7). In essence, Peter’s exhortation is to be a godly example to your spouse. Fulfill your responsibility as a husband or wife, and pray that as you live a life pleasing to God, the Lord will draw your spouse to Himself. Shine your light, not in an effort to ignite the stone-cold heart of your spouse, but as an act of worship to the Lord. And pray that the Lord will shine His light into your spouse’s heart in due time (2 Corinthians 4:6).

The True Focus of a Godly Family

The point of God’s design, after all, is not that we have impressive families or easy lives. The point is that every aspect of life in the family lines up under submission to His ultimate and final authority. The end result of all this is that God is glorified and the gospel adorned—nothing short of that fulfills His design.

Here’s how John MacArthur makes that very point in The Fulfilled Family:

Besides, apart from a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have no motivation for righteousness, no constraint from evil, and no real ability to obey from the heart what God commands for our families. That, then, is the essential foundation: Christ must be first in our hearts and in our families.

Remember, by the way, that Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). So He demands to be first in the family. It’s only when we love Him more than family that we can really love our families in the highest, purest sense.

He ends with an earnest call to any unbelieving readers, and it’s an appropriate way to end today’s post.

If you’re not a believer, you need to acknowledge your need of the Savior. Confessing that you have sinned against God, repent, and call on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Scripture says, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).

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COPYRIGHT ©2015 Grace to You

News: Prominent Protestant Pastors Vow To No Longer Perform Government Marriages

“….My main reason for saying this is simple: Marriage — the lifelong union between a man and woman for the sake of mutual support and, God permitting, the bearing and raising of children — is a universal human estate, bound to God’s creative and redemptive will. Regardless of the civil state’s views on the matter, the Church is bound to further and nurture this estate, and if the state provides the means for the Church to do this, however partial or confused, all the better.”

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Ten Simple (But Critical) Questions to Consider in Marriage Counseling

BCC Staff Note: On weekends we like to highlight for you one of our growing list of free resources. This weekend we highlight a resource article by Dr. Jeremy Lelek in which he discusses Ten Simple (But Critical) Questions to Consider in Marriage Counseling. This article originally appeared at the Association of Biblical Counselors’ website. You can read the original resource here.

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