What Every Wife Needs to Know
August 8, 2008
The primary responsibility of the husband in a Christian home is to love his wife. This is mentioned a number of times in the Bible. In one passage of Scripture, however, wives are commanded to love their husbands (Titus 2:4). While this one reference indicates that they are expected to help create an atmosphere of love in the home, their primary responsibility is introduced in the next verse, where they are exhorted to be obedient to their own husbands (Titus 2:5). Obedience involves subjection and subordination. The word is used of the wife’s responsibility to her husband no less than six times in the New Testament. (Ephesians 5:22, 24; Colossians 5:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1, 5).
We have discussed the subject of headship and God’s order of authority in the home previously, but now we want to apply it specifically to the wife, for submission is her principal obligation. “You wives must submit to your husbands’ leadership in the same way you submit to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22 TLB). Ladies, submission to your husband is really submission to the Lord, because the Lord commands you to do it! If you cannot find it in you to submit to your husband for his sake, do it for the Lord’s sake. The Lord loves you with a perfect love. Respond to His love with subjection to your husband.
“You wives must willingly obey your husbands in everything, just as the church obeys Christ.”(Ephesians 5:24 TLB). Those two words “in everything” are rather broad, aren’t they? Obedience is not to be practiced only when you feel like it, or when you wholeheartedly agree with your husband, or when he is treating you with Christ-like love, but in everything! The Bible does not condition your subjection on his love, even as it did not condition his love on your subjection. You must answer to God for your own actions, and no excuse for disobeying His Word will be accepted.
“But my husband never considers my feelings. I’ve got to stand up for my rights.” Are you not disputing the Word and wisdom of your omniscient God? Do you think for a moment that He did not know about your circumstances when He wrote His Word? He says that you are to be in submission to your husband in everything. He must have known that this would be best for you, or He would never have asked it of you. Give your will to Him; tell Him that you are willing to be the submissive partner. Obedience to this command glorifies God richly.
“But my husband is a softie, a jellyfish. He makes Charlie Brown look like the Rock of Gibraltar. How can I submit to him and lean on him?” Try it! Try submitting to him as unto the, Lord, in everything. Just obey the Word and entrust the consequences to the Lord! Defer to your husband’s judgment when he really ought to make the decision. Express some confidence in his abilities instead of running him down, ridiculing him, belittling him, or comparing him with other men. Tell him that you think he is the greatest, and that you thank God for having him to lean on. Watch God use your attitude to make a man out of him, the man God wants him to be.
Just as God planned for a husband’s love to meet his wife’s needs, so he planned for the wife’s submission to meet her husband’s needs. While a woman’s God-given nature is to be dependent, a man senses an inner urge to take charge. No matter what he says or how he acts, he deeply resents any tactic his wife may use to dominate or manipulate him. Furthermore, a leader must have respect and recognition, and that is exactly what God wants the wife to provide. “The wife must see to it that she deeply respects her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33 TLB). God made the husband to lead; the wife must let him lead, treating him as a leader should be treated.
Making a living is not easy in our competitive world. The husband often faces frustrations, discouragements, and setbacks. Some people take advantage of him, cheat him, and deceive him. Others criticize or show disapproval of him. He needs someone to encourage him, to appreciate him, to believe in him, and to respect him—and that is why God gave him a wife! He will be able to bear a great deal more hardship in the workaday world if he knows that he has a wife at home who admires him, trusts him, and stands by him, whatever happens. If he gets the same sort of treatment at home that he gets in the working world, he will be tempted to try some form of escape which will lead to unhappiness for all concerned. But the thought of a smile coupled with a little admiration and encouragement will draw him to his home like a magnet.
Some may be thinking, “This submission business is all right if your husband is a Christian, but mine is not.” The central passage of Scripture on this subject is First Peter 3. It was written for all wives, but there is a special instruction to those with unsaved husbands: “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands.” (1 Peter 3:1 KJV). All Christian wives are to be in subjection, but read on: “… that, if any obey not the word (that is, if any have unbelieving husbands), they also may without a word be won by the behaviour of the wives.”
The second occurrence of the term “word” in the verse has no definite article preceding it in the Greek text. It refers not to the Word of ‘God, as the first occurrence, but to any word, like a nagging sermon! This is a most amazing disclosure. God says that the subjection of the wife is the key to winning an unbelieving husband to Christ. She does not have to harp about attending church. She does not have to preach at her husband. She does not have to read the Bible to him. She is simply asked to submit to him—graciously, gladly, lovingly, and tenderly. God uses this attitude, this behaviour, to win her husband to Jesus Christ.
After I shared this concept with a Bible class I had been teaching, I noticed that one of the faithful ladies was missing for several succeeding weeks. Upon inquiring, I learned that her husband had been upset over her multiplied Christian activities, preferring that she stay home and tend to her household duties. After hearing what the Scriptures taught about this, she had decided to submit to him even though it involved the sacrifice of a beneficial spiritual activity which she thoroughly enjoyed. It was not long until her husband, who had previously shown little interest in the things of the Lord, trusted Christ as his Saviour and began attending church with his wife to hear the Word of God for himself. He also permitted her to return to the Bible class. The consequences of conforming to God’s will are always to our advantage!
“But what if my husband asks me to do something contrary to the Word of God?” This is the only exception I can find to the “everything” of Ephesians 5:24. It was Peter who commanded Christian wives to submit to their unsaved husbands. Peter also told us to obey every law of government (1 Peter 2:13 TLB). Yet when Peter himself was rebuked by the high priest for preaching Christ, he answered, “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29 TLB).
This same idea is found in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” (Colossians 3:18, KJV). The basic intent here seems to be that wives are to subject themselves to their husbands because this is proper for a woman who knows the Lord. But the wording may also imply that this subjection applies only to those areas which the Lord considers proper or fitting. If subjection to the husband is really subjection to the Lord, as Ephesians 5:22 states, then it is obviously governed by the higher authority of the Lord’s Word. For example, if a husband asks his Christian wife to participate in a wife-swapping party, she would have to refuse, since this activity would clearly contradict God’s revealed will. Subjection in dishonourable matters eventually causes an unsaved husband to despise his Christian wife, thus driving him even farther from Christ.
How about church attendance? The Bible commands believers to assemble together, (Hebrews 10:25) but it does not say how often. A Christian wife may properly desire to be at church whenever the doors are open, but because she is in subjection to her husband she will go only when he allows her to go, graciously submitting to him when he denies her that privilege. She will let him know that she is genuinely pleased to do what makes him happy. Then she will find the strength to sustain this gracious attitude through her own personal fellowship with Christ. He in turn will reward her with additional wisdom for every new situation that arises (James 1:5)
Viewed in the light of God’s Word, subjection is not a forced slavery to which a wife must make herself conform. It is not a loss of individuality or personality. True biblical subjection is a woman’s creative and challenging pleasure of discovering how she can show her husband that she respects him, admires him, and depends on him. That requires the death of all pride and the destruction of all selfish motives. It means that the wife will become more interested in the husband’s needs than in her own. It means that she will stop asking, “How far must I go in my subjection to my husband?” and will instead begin to ask, “How far can I go without disobeying my Lord?” This may require a complete change of the wife’s attitude toward her husband, but God will help her if she asks Him. Her new prayer will be, “Lord, give me a simple and unselfish desire to be led by my husband as I am led by You, and thereby bring glory to Your name.”
Now let us look at a few other things which God wants every Christian wife to know, whether her husband is a believer or not. “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty that depends on jewelry, or beautiful clothes, or hair arrangement. Be beautiful inside, in your hearts, with the lasting charm of a gentle and quiet spirit which is so precious to God.” (1 Peter 3:3,4, TLB). From the Greek word translated “outward beauty” we get our English word “cosmetic,” denoting a beautifying agent. The Word of God tells Christian women how to be beautiful. If they will take this advice they will save themselves considerable expense! Peter says that beauty is not primarily a matter of external things, such as hair style, jewelry, and clothing, but instead originates in the heart. He is not saying that a Christian woman ought to be untidy or careless about her appearance, but that real beauty is something deeper than either her skin or the garments or threads that cover her skin!
Women need to learn this. Some seem to think that God gives them husbands to buy them everything their hearts desire. They drive their husbands to make more money so they can buy more clothing and jewelry and have their hair done more often, thereby impressing people with their beauty and social status! They use their husbands to satisfy their own pride of appearance and lust for material things. A woman like this usually destroys her husband or drives him to someone who loves him for himself.
Something that never wears out or goes out of style is “… a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” “Meek” means gentle, considerate, willing to surrender one’s personal rights. “Quiet” means peaceful, restful, undisturbed. A meek and quiet spirit is a precious and beautiful thing in God’s eyes, a thing of supreme value. But if my conversations with Christian husbands reflect the prevailing state of affairs, this trait is glaringly absent among women generally—even Christian women.
We often find instead moodiness, irritability, nagging, grumbling, and complaining—hardly commendable traits in a Christian woman! “But,” some will protest, “you said in the preceding teaching chapter that it is our physical makeup that causes us to be emotionally weak and moody.” True, but not all moodiness can be attributed to body chemistry. In fact, much of it may stem from a refusal to get down off the throne of one’s life and let Jesus Christ take control. This kind of refusal is sin. Irritability is one of the most common complaints of husbands and wives against each other, and it usually results from one partner interfering with the pleasure, comfort, convenience, or well-being of the other partner. Irritability is really nothing more than our sin nature having its own way. That sin nature needs to be dethroned and defeated!
This fact does not give a husband the right to be unloving or unkind when his wife is in a bad mood. She still needs words of sympathy and understanding rather than angry retorts like “Snap out of it” or “Stop acting so childishly.” But neither can a wife blame her bad disposition on her husband. She must accept the responsibility for it personally before the Lord. She must call it what it is—sin. Then she must confess it to God and claim his power and grace to overcome it. The Lord Jesus Christ will then produce in her His own graciousness and sweetness.
Admittedly, a woman’s life can be difficult. The burden of keeping up a home and caring for the children can easily become a monotonous routine. She goes through the motions, but feels as though she is not contributing anything significant to life. The constant confinement of four walls and the incessant backdrop of childish chatter threaten to drive her to distraction. But if she allows that attitude to linger it will cast a dismal gloom over the whole household, and everyone in it will suffer. A cheerful atmosphere in the home depends largely on the wife. If she accepts her responsibility to create a pleasant atmosphere and yields herself to the indwelling Spirit of God, He will produce in her His fruit of joy; life will become an exciting challenge rather than an exasperating chore. Sometimes women get involved in so many outside activities they lose sight of the biblical priorities. Their first responsibility is to make their husbands and their homes happy—and this takes serious thought, careful planning, and selfless attention. The dividends are rich, however, and the personal satisfactions and rewards are well worth the effort.
King Lemuel describes an amazing woman in the last chapter of Proverbs. It would profit every Christian wife to read this chapter often. She is a talented woman. In fact, she even helps with the income (Proverbs 31:16). It is not wrong for a wife to pursue a career if it does not interfere with her domestic responsibilities. Judging from all that she does for her family, the ideal woman of Proverbs 31 is an industrious, self-disciplined woman who schedules her time carefully. Nothing is too much trouble for her. She even rises before daybreak to prepare breakfast for her family (Proverbs 31:15). One word is probably more important than any other in the passage. It is the word that describes her sustaining attitude: “She worketh willingly with her hands.”(Proverbs 31:13) The literal meaning is “with pleasure.” Her deepest joy and satisfaction is found in making her family happy. You see, the Lord is interested not only in what we do, but also in how we do it. Our attitude matters to Him. When a Christian wife is yielded to Christ she will be able to accept her God-given role joyfully, and her husband’s heart will cry “Amen” when he reads the words, “The man who finds a wife finds a good thing; she is a blessing to him from the Lord!” (Proverbs 18:22).
A word of caution must be given to the husbands, too. It is so easy to talk about the faults of our mates instead of seeking God’s grace to improve our own shortcomings. This chapter was not written for husbands to hold over their wives. It was written so that the Holy Spirit can enlighten Christian wives about their biblical duties. Let each of us examine our own lives in the light of the Word; the Holy Spirit will perform His work in your mate in His own divine way!