Husbands and Wives
Leadership in the Home
As I reflect on the words found in Ephesians 5:22 (“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”), I realize how easy it is for people facilely to read this admonition and dismiss it out of hand as oppressive and misogynous, but a look at the words that precede it gives us a very different picture: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). Those words are directed both to men and to women, to children and to parents, to employers and employees; they set the tone for the whole passage, Ephesians 5:21-6:9.
However, this passage really begins with Saint Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 5:18, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” It begins there, because this life of submission to others for the sake of Christ goes against the grain of human nature. Genuine, cheerful submission to others from the heart is impossible without the on-going ministry of the Holy Spirit. To the extent that I am full of myself, full of the sense of my own importance, my own needs, my own rights, I will not and cannot truly submit to others, at least not without deep resentment.
When people are drunk, they are full of wine; their whole demeanor is marked by their being under the influence, control and domination of alcohol; their responses to situations are characterized by a lack of self control, and they do not act wisely according to their naturally perceived self interests. When believers are full of the Holy Spirit, their focus is on thinking, speaking and acting to the glory of God in Jesus Christ. Their own interests, needs, welfare, desires and rights can be cheerfully subordinated to the welfare of others for the glory of God and the advancement of the Kingdom of his Son. The Christian way of life is not as much a set of rules as it is an attitude of serving others for the sake of Christ. Here is how it is put in Philippians 2:3-8:
When believers take on the mindset of the Lord Jesus, they become willing to lay down their rights and privileges for the sake of others. How can we think of the Cross but that God almighty in his human nature became the doormat on which we wipe our sins in order to enter heaven? Without the connotation of cowardly silence, we, too, are called upon to be doormats for the welfare and needs of others, humbly entrusting ourselves into the hands of our heavenly Father when we are wronged by others.
Rather than looking for our rights under the law, we voluntarily submit to injustice for the sake of Christ:
The meekness of Christ becomes the pattern for all our dealings with others, as Peter says above, not only for people who treat us kindly, but also for those who are mean and ugly: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly . . . Wives, in the same way . . . Husbands, in the same way . . ” (1 Peter 2:23; 3:1, 7). Peter moves from the suffering of Christ to the relationship between men and women in marriage. Christ suffered injustice; he was not treated fairly; why should we expect to be?
Make no mistake about it: in spite of the wonderful blessings of marriage, the marriage relationship will often confront us with situations that are unfair. Marriage is a wonderful thing; indeed, of all worldly things, nothing is better than a good marriage. But a good marriage doesn’t just happen; it evolves over years of mutual self-sacrifice. Christian love is self-sacrificing love; it doesn’t seek its own interests. Not only is Christian love not self-seeking, it does not keep a record of wrongs. Perhaps that is why it is not so easily angered (1 Corinthians 13:5).
Godly self-sacrifice does not keep score, in part, because the more mature believers are, the more they are aware of their own inability to know their own hearts and evaluate their own conduct (Jeremiah 17:9). Saint Paul in reflecting on his own life, commented: “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God” (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).
Our Lord warned us: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).
As believers mature they become increasingly aware that they have their own blind spots. That is especially true in marriage: no matter who we are and how long we have walked with Jesus, no matter our gender, no matter how long we have been married or how much we love our spouse, we will regularly be assaulted with the thought that we are not getting our share of the bargain. We will think that we are being defrauded and being taken advantage of. We will see our spouse’s faults with crystal clarity, while often being utterly oblivious to our own.
It may seem to be a silly thing, but I think about driving. After about forty years of marriage, I still get irritated when my wife offers suggestions about my driving. But she isn’t as pure as the driven snow either: as close as she has ever come to losing her temper has been in response to my correcting her driving. The solution? She drives, and I read and really focus on what I’m reading. I try to remind myself that it doesn’t make any real difference if we’re a couple of minutes late because she chose a different route, and harmony in marriage is more important than only getting half the life out of the brakes because the brake pedal is a convenient spot for a woman’s left foot. And when I drive, I need to remember to concentrate on driving rather than getting lost in my thoughts, driving slower and slower and roaming from side to side of the lane
Cheerful, mutual submission is the hallmark of a marriage between two “Spirit filled” people. But this submission functions slightly differently for males and females: a man is to submit to the needs of his wife (Ephesians 5:25-31). A wife is to submit to the desires of her husband (Ephesians 5:22-24). Of course, the Bible warns us that we should never submit to the needs or desires of others when they involve sin, because “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Marriage is all about being a servant. If I am not prepared to subordinate myself to the welfare of another, I am not ready for marriage. From personal experience I can say that I never realized how deeply selfishness is a part of me until we had children.
Mutual service, not trying to keep a score about who is putting the most effort into the relationship, is the key to a happy and secure family. Indeed, self-sacrifice for the sake of the Lord Jesus, not as a way to score points with God, but as our way of showing him our gratitude for his free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, is the heart of the true Christian life. It is the way to true happiness and fulfillment, too.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ words truly are profound.