Wives Respect Your Husbands
We are continuing in Ephesians 5 and last week we looked at Paul’s instruction to the guys to love our wives, and this week we get to turn our focus to Paul’s call to the ladies to submit to their husbands. Honestly I thought about postponing this message a week because preaching on this is never easy, but preaching on this point on Mother’s Day somehow seemed crazy. I have this picture in my mind of dozens of Mother’s Day dinners being ruined and whole families holding me responsible because I preached on this passage on Mother’s Day.
But in the providence of God this is where we are in Ephesians, and in all seriousness, I don’t think this will be a hard message for you ladies. We do want to honor our Mother’s today for you are very worthy of our honor, and in fact all the wives here are worthy of honor and gratitude. There is nothing dishonoring about biblical submission when rightly understood – in fact, quite the opposite. We are all under authority and when a man or woman, out of faith and obedience to God, submits to that authority in a godly way it brings honor and glory to God. I hope we’ll see this morning that is especially true in God’s sight for wives submitting to their husbands.
So I want to share 3 points, and then close with a personal word to husbands and wives.
I. Submission: what it is and what it isn’t
The word “submit” or “be in subjection” is translated from the Greek word “hupotasso” which refers to submission to authority. It does not mean to be inferior in any way. Jesus was submitted to (hupotasso) the Father. He is equal to the Father, but submitted to His Father’s authority.
Submission refers to a wife’s divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. It is not an absolute surrender of her will. Rather, we speak of her disposition to yield to her husband’s guidance and her inclination to follow his leadership. Christ is her absolute authority, not the husband.
¨ It is an inclination to yield to and follow her husband’s leadership
¨ It is NOT a call for all women to submit to all men! Paul says, “submit to your own husbands…”
¨ It is not brainless or weak, but means that ladies, the beautiful strengths and gifts that God has given you are best expressed in the marriage relationship from a position of godly submission. You should have an independent opinion and should be free to express that opinion. Decisions, whenever possible, should be made together, not dictated by the husband.
¨ It does not mean your husband is the ultimate authority. As Mark Driscoll puts it, that job is already taken. Jesus alone is your king and absolute authority. And in fact, your submission to your husband has Christ primarily in view. Verse 21 says that in the respective roles of submission to one another, it is to be out of “reverence for Christ.” On top of that, wives can appeal to the outside authorities if needed. If husband is in unrepentant sin, wife can appeal to elders in the church. If husband is breaking the law, she can appeal to the governing authorities. The husband is not a king – his authority is derived, not ultimate.
II. Following your husband’s leadership takes faith in God!
Some of you might be thinking, “You can say that again.” At times probably every wife in this room is tempted to think, if my husband loved and cherished me the way Paul said to, I could easily submit to him, but he can be so…(you pick the adjective)… selfish … unloving…indecisive…boneheaded.
The reality is that every wife in this room is married to an imperfect leader. In fact, it’s much worse than that: you are married to a sinful man. For the Christian, our marriages are not centered on a man and woman, or submission and authority. Our marriages are centered on the Person of Jesus Christ. He is our Savior and our husband – for both the man and the woman. Our marriages are to display mercy and love and grace and forgiveness because Christ has displayed His mercy and love and grace and forgiveness to us (both men and women) through the gospel! We must never lose sight of that in our marriages.
And so ladies, you are married to an imperfect leader. But notice that Paul doesn’t say submit to your husbands if he is an incredibly good leader and consistently makes great decisions. He doesn’t say respect your husband if he’s one of the greatest men the world has ever known. There’s no qualification: just respect your husband.
¨ To the single woman: make sure you marry a man you can follow. Not every man can lead every woman! There are women who are amazingly competent and intelligent and are strong leaders and they need a man who is competent to lead them. You don’t want to marry a guy you can tolerate, you want to marry a man you can follow. Think of Abigail who was married to Nabal. Abigail was an intelligent, wise, strong and beautiful woman, and Nabal was a fool. In fact, his name means fool – his parents took one look at him and said, are you thinking of the name that I’m thinking of? And so they named him fool and he spent his life living up to that name. Somehow this intelligent and beautiful woman ended up married to this foolish man. She spared a great deal of bloodshed through her discretion and when Nabal died, Abigail was taken by King David to be his wife – much better fit. So single women, make sure you marry a man you can joyfully follow!
At some point I think every wife is confronted with a crisis of faith when she finds that her husband is not the perfect leader, and that point you can either give way to fear or place your trust – not in your husband – but squarely in God.
1 Peter 3:5 says, For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands…
Their submission to their husband was a demonstration of their hope in God. Their faith. They looked beyond their husband and saw and believed in God’s sovereignty. This is the man God has called me to submit to, and I will trust God by following his leadership.
III. Submission is a beautiful and a powerful thing
No question there have been many distorted and unbiblical ideas of what submission is, and those result in a very ugly thing. But there is a power and a beauty to true biblical submission. Rebellion looks strong but in reality it is very weak. Submission looks weak but in reality it is very strong when it is done in a biblical manner. Satan is the greatest example of rebellion against authority – and he is a defeated and cowardly foe. Jesus is the greatest example of submission to authority – His Father’s – and he is the Champion of heaven and the greatest, strongest, most courageous man who ever lived. That is how it works. The church is never more powerful or beautiful than when it is submitting to the Lord Jesus Christ. All around us we see the power and beauty of submission: The marine who obeys his commanding officer’s directives, the worker who can be counted on to do what he is told, the athlete who listens respectfully to his coach – submission is not weak, it is strong and it is beautiful.
Last week I taught that men are to nurture and “beautify” their wives by cherishing and loving them. A good husband nurtures his wife’s talents and potential and beauty so that these grow over the years rather than being squashed and stifled.
The opposite is true too: a wife can nurture and strengthen her husband’s leadership, or she can stifle and hinder it as well. Proverbs 14 speaks of the foolish woman who tears down her own house with her hands, and that can often take the shape of a woman who is constantly undermining her husband’s leadership. The woman who through sarcasm or criticism or correction is disrespectfully belittling her husband. It is the woman who cultivates a friendship with women who talk their husbands down to each other.
And the result, for some men, that they eventually relinquish their leadership in the home. They become afraid to lead and abdicate leadership to their wife and just “do as they’re told.” Sometimes these wives might say, “he won’t lead, so I have to.” Often this describes what John Ensor calls a conspiracy between the husband and wife: he is quietly afraid to lead, and she is quietly eager to lead.
But on the other side, a wise wife can have an amazing impact on a man’s ability to lead – not through direct confrontation (most men will resent being told what they need to do to change or grow) but by indirect guidance. By her encouragement and patient followership and humble suggestions rather than directives.
Think of a flashlight on a dark night. If you cast the light directly in someone’s face – they close their eyes. But if you shine the light indirectly, the other person is more able to see by that light.
There was an old joke: Bill and Hillary Clinton were driving across country and driving up to a service station, Hillary realized that the gas station attendant was an old high school sweetheart. After talking a while and saying goodbye, Bill and Hillary drove off together. Bill said, well, Hillary, aren’t you glad you married the man who would become President of the United States instead of a gas station attendant? Hillary said, Bill, if I had married him, he would have been the President of the United States!
Another old saying that hold a lot of truth is, behind every good man is a great woman. Women, the impact you can have on who your husband becomes and how he leads is inestimable. I’m not saying you’re responsible for their leadership – not at all. We can be bad leaders and make sinful choices and it does not reflect on you. But you can nurture and cultivate your husband’s leadership to an amazing degree.
Prov. 31 gives us a wonderful picture of a strong and successful wife:
An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
11The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.
12She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. Vv. 10-12
Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
26She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. Vv. 25-26
Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land…Vs. 23
Implication in this Proverb is absolutely clear: he can sit in the gate, respected and known because of her
dignified and intelligent prospering of their home. His heart trusts in her – he will have no lack of gain
(because of her) and she does him good and not harm. The impact of her competence and intelligent
submission is that his life is enriched and strengthened. Her children’s lives are as well – and they rise up
to call her blessed because of it.
Finally, Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says in 1 Peter 3: but let your adorning be the hidden person of
the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious
(beautiful). For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to
This isn’t about personality – you can have an exuberant and boisterous personality and still have this
gentle and quiet spirit. Woman who embraces submission to authority as an expression of faith in God –
priceless in God’s sight. Beautiful in God’s sight. And like the men, you will fail at times, and must not
be condemned because of failure, but remember that it is the Lord Jesus Christ who has saved you, not
your perfect obedience to this passage. Husbands and wives want to glorify Jesus by obeying this
directive, but when we fail and when we sin, we have a Savior who has washed us clean.
Wives, the submission Paul calls you to – God calls you to – is a beautiful and powerful thing. Don’t buy
the world’s disdain for it and discerningly reject the distorted representations that can be given for it.
Close by sharing a thought – an appeal – to all our married couples here this morning. Don’t take your
marriage for granted. Don’t take your spouse for granted. Be alert to the little foxes that can spoil the
vineyards of our marriages.
Share a story. This past week I went to a pastor’s meeting. After prayer, one of the pastors shared an
encouragement from Ephesians 5 about taking care of the state of their marriages.
One of the pastors there shared very candidly and vulnerably that he had seen firsthand how close a
couple can get to calling it quits. His wife almost left him. He was absorbed in ministry – had no time for
the family or for his wife. She had developed a friendship with a woman who began to feed her heart in a
direction that did not strengthen their marriage but became a wedge to that marriage.
He made significant changes to rebuild. She is responding to those changes. God is helping them rebuild
and their church is 100% behind them.
Warning to all of us: Do you value your marriage? Do you treasure your spouse? Don’t take her or him
for granted. Take the time it takes to be friends and share your hearts. Watch out for influences – no
matter how subtle – that turn your hearts away from your marriage. Bitterness, criticism, substitution, be
on the watch.
Husbands, may we love our wives. God will give us grace, not to do it perfectly, but to do it genuinely
and increasingly. Wives, may you submit to and respect your husbands. Not (again) perfectly, but
genuinely and increasingly.
And may our marriages breath grace. The fresh air of giving grace. Giving encouragement. Giving
forgiveness. May we give the grace we have received and by doing so, may our marriages be shining
testimonies to those around us, not of men and women who “have it all together”, but of sinners saved by
Because at the heart of our marriages isn’t that husband and wife have cleaved to one
another, but that Jesus has cleaved to us and we are His. We are saved by grace and we are His. Pray.