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)

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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)

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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.)

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COPYRIGHT ©2015 Grace to You