|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2000|
|Dr. Barber looks at the sometimes controversial teaching regarding submission of wives as he begins a study of the family from God’s point of view|
We are going to begin the first part of a series within a series. This is called Spirit-Filled Families, Part I. I hope that you are not forgetting the context of Ephesians. Paul is talking to believers in a pagan city called Ephesus. These believers in this pagan city are in a hostile world. Paul is trying to let them know they have everything that they will ever need in the Lord Jesus Christ. They have all of God they will ever get.
They lived in a pagan society. Ephesus was an awful, awful place. They lived in a hostile world. In this letter he is trying to encourage them. He wants them to know they have everything they need for life and for godliness. He wants them to know that when they were pagans, when they didn’t know Jesus, what they couldn’t do, they now can do because Jesus lives in their hearts in the person of His Spirit.
Go back to chapter 3. In verse 16 he prays “that He God would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.” That is very important to realize. There is an inner man, and the Spirit of God lives there. The Spirit of God wants to strengthen us with power and give us an ability that we would not have apart from Him.
Verse 17 continues, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” How am I strengthened? How do I experience the power of God? I experience it by accommodating His presence.
How do we accommodate His presence? By obeying Him. By faith. When I am willing to do what He says to do, when I choose to obey Him, I am saying “no” to my wicked flesh. Immediately I begin to experience the empowering of the Holy Spirit of God.
In chapter 4 we have a garment. What is on the inside is going to affect you on the outside. A garment is what people see. In chapter 5 we begin to imitate, mime the love of God. It is not what we say, it is how we live. We are children of light. We walk in a world of darkness that is hostile to us. In 5:15 he warns the Ephesian believers in the pagan world they live in: “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise.” How do wise men walk in a hostile world? Verse 16 tells you. First of all, “making the most of your time.” The word “time” is the word kairos, which means opportunity.
From the time I got saved to the time I die I have an opportunity. I am to make the most of that opportunity. How do I do that? By redeeming the time. How do you purchase time? By the choices that we make. We have to suffer the consequences of wrong choices. Paul says, “You only have from the time you are born again until the time you die. Now make the most of that time. Redeem the time. Make wise choices.”
Verse 17 says, “So then do not be foolish.” That is the word aphron. That means don’t act as if you don’t have the ability to put together in situations in your life what God wants you to do because you do. II Timothy tells us we are not like people who are lost. We have minds that have been saved. We can actually understand what God wants us to do. Verse 17 goes on, “but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Generically, the will of the Lord is that we be strengthened in the inner man by the Spirit of God, that we obey Him, that we depend completely on Him, that we be surrendered in our attitude towards Him. Specifically because of that fear of God, God will give us wisdom in the specific areas of our life. He says, “Know what the will of the Lord is.”
In this context of walking wisely, verse 18 begins with the word “and.” It is a connector. Verse 18 is still in the context of walking wisely in a world that is hostile towards us. He says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation (or waste), but be filled with the Spirit.” The word “filled” means controlled by the Spirit of God. How do I live wisely in a dark, hostile world? I am constantly saying to the Lord, “Yes, Lord, whatever it is.” By saying “yes” to Him, I am saying “no” to my flesh. I am being controlled moment by moment by moment. I am constantly aware of His presence in my life, moment by moment by moment, practicing the presence of Christ as I am willing to yield to whatever His will is in my life.
This is going to have a powerful impact on our families. Do you realize that God’s first institution on this earth was the family? This was not man’s idea. This was not man’s plan. This is why the world today has such an attack on the family. Satan began that in Genesis. You see, God came up with the idea of the family. He created the man first. He created the woman out of his side and immediately they were to bear children. This institution is God’s idea. Not only it is His idea, but He has the only master plan for how the family is supposed to function.
Let’s work our way from Ephesians 5:22 down to 6:9. Let’s look at God’s design so that we don’t have to go back and redo what we should have done years ago. Hopefully this will be a real help to some of you who are just getting your families started. Some of us who have been there a while are just going to have to swallow real deep and say, “Thank you, Lord, for your grace and your forgiveness and your mercy,” and start afresh as we are.
The first instruction in verse 22 is to the ladies, the wives. Paul wrote this under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God. You won’t understand why he started with wives right now, but you will understand later. There is just one verse addressed to the wives, but wait until we get to the husbands, folks. It is quite different.
Verses 22-24 read, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” You may notice in verse 22 that “be subject” is in italics, meaning the verb there is not in that verse. It is picked up from the preceding verse. In verse 21 Paul had said, “and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” Then goes on in verse 22 to literally say, “Wives, to your own husbands.” So it is picked up from verse 21. It is also reinforced in verse 24 when he tells them, “Just as the church submits to Christ, you also be subject to your husbands.”
So we know that it is there, but let’s look at some things about it. We will find some observations that might help us to decide what is God’s design. The family is His idea, not ours. He is the only one who has the design. What is it? First of all let’s look at the meaning of the phrase “be subject.” The word “subject” is the word hupotasso. It is more commonly understood to mean to submit. So when I use the term “submit” I am saying the same thing as “subject yourself.” It comes from two Greek words, the word hupo, which means “under,” and tasso, which means “to set in place.” In other words, the word means to set something in place up under something else. In the context it is talking about submitting to the authority of another. So Paul is saying to the wives, “Be willing to place yourself in a position under your husband who is the authority of your family. Be in that position of being submissive.”
Now, let’s make sure we understand what it doesn’t mean. Sometimes when you look and see what it doesn’t mean, it tells you better what it does mean. For instance, it does not mean that she is commanded to obey her husband as a child would obey his parents or a slave would obey his master. A lot of men treat their wives as if they are a door mat. They walk all over them as if they have no sense, as if they have no ability, as if they are inferiors. That is not what the word means at all.
As a matter of fact, there is another Greek word that is used in that kind of relationship. It is the word hupakouo. That is entirely different. Let me show you where it is used. Look in chapter 6 at verse 1: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Guess what word the word “obey” is? Hupakouo. In other words, you are an inferior to a superior and God says you must obey your parents. You have no option, and it is only by God’s grace they ever give you a reason why they tell you to do what they tell you to do.
That word is never used with a husband and wife. Look in 6:5: “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ.” That word “obedient” is the same word, hupakouo. One is of an inferior to a superior. The other is not that at all. Hupotasso, the word that is used for wives to husbands, is the word that talks about two people who are absolutely equal in God’s eyes, totally equal. There is not one level of inferiority of one to the other. But the wife makes a choice to place herself as an equal underneath another equal, her husband, in order that there can be order and function in the family. The whole purpose of it is so that it meets the design that God has already ordered.
So what is the meaning of the word hupotasso? Does it mean that your wife is a slave to obey your every command? Does it mean that you treat her like a child? NO! If there is a man who thinks for one second that they have any superiority in God’s eyes over their wife, they are gravely mistaken from God’s Word. However, by His design to have a functional family, concessions have to be made. So God says, “Wives, you make it and you choose to put yourself underneath the headship of your husband” in order that the design can be what God says it ought to be.
The meaning of it has nothing to do with inferior to superior. It takes nothing from the dignity of a woman for her to submit, but rather it enhances it. It takes great integrity for a person to do what God says should be done.
Secondly, let’s look at the mindset of submission. In verse 22 it says, “Wives, be submissive to your husbands.” It says nothing about their ability. There are many families in which the wife is a whole lot more gifted than the man.
Maybe the wife is full of personality, full of character, full of all kinds of ability. It is the exact reverse of what you think the model ought to be. God says, “Wives, I don’t care how much intelligence you have. I don’t care how many spiritual gifts you have. I don’t care how much energy you have. I don’t care how much better you look than your husband. Wives, submit to your husbands.” “But God, my husband is a bully! God, you don’t want me submitting to my husband, do you?” God said, “That’s right. You submit to your husband.”
The mindset comes up in the verb: “be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” The verb there is present tense and middle voice. This is not something you do one time so you can get something. Present tense means this is constant: every day be being under submission to your husband at all times. But even more than that is the middle voice. The middle voice means, you yourself make your own choice. If you want to have a properly functioning family, wives, you yourself make up your mind you are going to live in the state of submissiveness to your husband, no matter what he is like. God says, “Submit to that man in your family.” The meaning is of two equals. Oh, what integrity a person who loves God has who is willing to put themselves under an equal in order that God’s order and function may take place in the family.
Thirdly, there is the motivation of being submissive. Now what in the world would make a woman who is equal, probably more gifted, probably more educated than her husband, put herself under submission to him? Well, look at the verse: “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” I have had people ask me, “You mean to tell me I am to treat my husband as I treat the Lord? Is that what he is saying there?” No, he is not saying that. A lot of husbands want to be treated that way, but that is not what he is saying. Paul is saying, “You do this as an act of love to the Lord.”
What should motivate you to do this? The verse is saying the thing that ought to motivate you is because the Spirit of God controls your life and the Spirit of God has revealed to you what the Scriptures say. In order for the Lord to make your family a functional family, you are willing to obey what He says. It’s not because you love your husband that much, but it is because you love Jesus that much. That is the key. As I love the Lord Jesus, I am willing to do whatever it is he tells me to do. A wife’s love for Christ motivates her to obey. So, she looks in God’s Word. She is a student of Scripture. She can’t be Spirit-filled if she is not because the Scripture has to play a role in our obeying the Lord Jesus Christ. She gets into the Word. Ephesians 5:22 says, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands.” Jesus said in John 14:21, “If you love Me, you will obey Me.” She says, “Out of loving You, Lord, I am going to do what You have told me to do.” That is the motivation of submission.
Fourthly, let’s look at the model of submission. Ladies, God has honored you because He has asked you to do what He also has done. The model, of course, is the Lord Jesus Himself. Paul says in verses 23-24, “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” We will get into some more of the details of that later. I want you to see first of all the model of submission.
Look in Philippians 2:5-8. In verses 5 and 6 it reads, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient.” The word there is not the one he is asking wives to do. Oh, no, it is a much more severe word. It is hupakouo. He chose to be a reflection of His Father. He says in John, “I can do nothing of my own initiative. What I see My Father do, I do. What I hear My Father saying, I say. I have absolutely, unconditionally obeyed everything He says because I am a reflex of Him.” Yet He doesn’t ask the wives to obey that way. He simply asks them to obey as equals who choose to put themselves underneath them. He did that for us. As an equal He did that and modeled it for us. But He went a step further. He could do nothing except of His Father. That is not what He asks you to do, but He has already modeled it before you.
You may ask, “Well, where does the Lord Jesus live now? How is He going to help me?” That is why I started where I started. He lives in us. We are the Temple of the Spirit of God. Where does Christ live? He lives in my heart. His Spirit resides in my heart! Therefore, whatever He can do, He can still do in and through me, for God is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond what we ever ask or even think. God can do that in your life. That is the model of the Lord Jesus.
Look over in I Peter 2. This is the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. I want you to see what he says about submission over here. He takes it right into the marriage relationship but he doesn’t start there. He says in verses 13-15: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” In other words, he is saying, “If you are not willing to submit to authority, then you are bringing all kinds of confusion to these people.”
Verses 16-25 go on: “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.”
Peter continues the thought in 3:1: “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the Lord, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives.” Peter talks about a beauty of a wife when she submits. It is not outward. It is inward. God turns that light on, and even a disobedient husband can actually be won to Christ.
So the meaning of submission is not an inferior to a superior. It is of two equals. One chooses for the sake of the design to do what God says to do. You are going to have to make up your own mind. It is going to have to be a lifestyle. The motivation is the Lord Jesus living in you. You are doing it for Him. You are loving Him. The model is Jesus Himself. He has already modeled it out for us and showed us exactly what to do. So the responsibility of the wife is to submit to her husband in order for the home to have order and for it to function properly.
Now, this is not the easiest thing for a wife to do. I want to tell you why it is so difficult. In Genesis 3:16 he is talking about the curse of original sin and he is dealing with the woman. Ladies, do you wonder why some things are difficult in your life, particularly bearing children? Here we go. “To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you shall bring forth children; yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’” Now that word translated as “desire” almost makes it look like that desire is emotional or whatever. That is not what he is talking about. The word “desire” has a root that means to seek control over, to master your husband. As a matter of fact, it is all the result of sin.
Look over in Genesis 4:7. The same word is used and it shows you exactly what it means. The NIV reads: “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’” In other words, its desire is to master you, but you must master sin.
So the word “desire” there doesn’t mean what you think. It means that because of Adam, ladies, you have built in your flesh the desire to rule over your husband.
You see, this is why it is so important. Paul starts with wives. He says, “Wives, from Eve on, you have had a desire within you to control and run over a man.” I know you are more educated, smarter, more gifted, your personality puts him to shame and you are a whole lot prettier, but you need to die to that and be filled with the Spirit of God. Do it God’s way. Until you ladies are filled with the Spirit of God, there is no ability within you at all to control that urge that comes from Adam to take control and to dominate. You can’t control it. But remember, He will strengthen you with power in the inner man to do what you never could do before when you were willing to accommodate Him and say, “God, this is Your design. I don’t like it particularly, but I choose to do it.” God says, “Great. I will meet you at the point of your obedience and will do something in you that will blow you away. I will fill you to the fulness of God.”
You see, only when a wife is submitting to the Lord Jesus and to her husband can the family ever have any hope of being functional. God’s design is God’s design.