God's Design...(The Role of the Wife)
Written by: MacArthur Jr., John Posted on: 04/01/2003
The following message was delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama
City, California, by John MacArthur Jr. It was transcribed from the tape,
GTY-43, titled "God's Design for a Successful Marriage" (Side 1) "The Role
of the Wife." A copy of the tape can be obtained by writing, Word of
Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412 or by dialing toll free
I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the
original tape was made. Please note that at times sentence structure may
appear to vary from accepted English conventions. This is due primarily to
the techniques involved in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make
in placing the correct punctuation in the article.
It is my intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this transcription
to strengthen and encourage the true Church of Jesus Christ.
God's Design for a Successful Marriage
(The Role of the Wife)
John F. MacArthur, Jr.
All rights reserved.
We come this morning to a famous or infamous passage, depending on how you
view it, in Ephesians 5:22-24. This is the beginning of the Biblical look
at the pattern that God has designed for marriage and the family. We live
in a day when this is a very difficult thing to proclaim because the world
is not willing to accept it.
God has some very clear, distinct definitions of a family and how a family
functions, and we are going to be seeing these as we look all the way down
through the ninth verse of the sixth chapter, and that will take us several
weeks to cover.
Now, as we look at the principles for today we are going to see the wife
and, by the way, we are going to get to the husband next time, so just be
patient. We are going to do the worst last: we are going to deal with the
easy part now, and we will get to the husbands later.
Let's talk about the duty of the wife and look at verses 22 to 24: the duty
of the wife. I want you to stay with me, for I think this is very needful
for our time. Basically, it says "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own
husbands, as unto the Lord." I want to just remind you as I said earlier,
the word "submit" is not here, it really reads: "Wives, yourselves unto
your own husbands." In other words, you do your submitting to your
husbands. It's implied there, but the idea is very general: "wives,"
that's it. Not, "wives whose husbands are fulfilling their functions."
Not, "blue-eyed wives," not "blond or brown hair wives," not "wives who
feel that this is the best thing for you to do." "Wives," that's it,
categorically. "Wives," anybody who falls into that classification falls
into this verse. There are no other conditions.
"Wives, yourselves unto your own husbands." And the idea of "submit" drops
down from verse 21, "Submit yourselves to your own husbands." So let us
talk first of all about the matter of submission.
1. The Matter of Submission.
Now what does this really refer to? Well, the word "submit" is not the
word "obey." It is not "hupakouo" (Greek), which is the word "obey." It
is the word "hupotasso" (Greek), which is a functional lining up
underneath; it's the idea of submissiveness, subjection, not the idea of
any essential difference. It isn't the word "obey;" the word "obey" is
used of children by Paul in this passage, and of slaves. It connotes--the
word "hupakouo" (Greek) simply means "to answer," "to attend," or "to
obey." It's a word used of a servant. The wife is not a servant; she is
not a slave. She doesn't stand in the center of the house awaiting
commands: "Do this! Get that! Go over here! Would you get me this! Fix
me that! Could I have this! Is my so and so done?"
She is not a slave--that is not the term that is used. This is much more
intimate than that, this is much more personal, much more inward, much more
vital, as indicated by the term "your own husband." In other words, there
is a possessiveness here. It assumes that a wife would absolutely
willingly respond in submission to her "own" husband--one whom she
possesses. Now this is, as I say, not a reference to any kind of
inferiority at all; it is simply a God-ordained distinction in function so
that society can be preserved. In Genesis 3:16 this was ordained; it says,
"Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." In
other words this was the God-ordained function, and yet it was also in
Genesis where God said that they two would become what? One flesh!
While you have that amazing, intimate, inward vitality, that oneness, that
uniqueness that makes two one, it does not violate the function of
authority and submission: "He shall rule over you." For the sake of unity,
for the sake of workability, she is subjected to the headship of her
husband--not as a slave, but as one who is (get this one!) provided for,
cared for, secured by her husband. It has not nearly so much to do with
what she does for him, as with what he is responsible to do for her, and we
will see that now, and in the weeks to come.
The headship is the man's. Physically, God made men stronger. Physically,
constitutionally, they are designed by God to work for, protect, provide
for, and give security to a wife whom the Holy Spirit calls (in 1 Peter 3)
the "weaker vessel." That's true physically, and some feel that's true
even emotionally. Man is constituted in such a way to be the stronger
partner--somebody has got to be the protector, the one who provides,
preserves, and cares. This has always been God's standard (Genesis 3:16).
Now, let us look at Colossians 3:18, the parallel passage. Paul says
basically the same thing, but there is a word there that I think is very
important. In Colossians, chapter 3, and verse 18, we read almost the same
terms, "Wives, submit yourselves under your own husbands (now watch this,
it doesn't say as unto the Lord there, it says), as it is fitting in the
Lord." "As it is fitting in the Lord." "Aneko" (Greek), a very important
verb, and I did a little research this week on a lot of these terms and
I'll be sharing with you this morning, and this was the first one I really
kind of went after. It is a word that means "it is fitting," "it is
seemly," or it is "proper." Primarily, in the Old Testament it is used of
something that was legally binding. It was a legal concept, the Septuagint
uses it that way: "something legally binding." By the way, it's used in
Philemon, verse 8, in the New Testament, of something "legally binding."
Now watch: then what he is saying is this, "this thing is in a sense
legally binding." In other words, this is the accepted law of human
society. Now where does human society get its laws? Historically and
basically, any society that had God as any part of its laws, finds that its
laws are basically a reiteration of some divine principle. Now we are fast
seeing that go away in our society where we are now having morality by
majority vote, but if we look back we will find that laws governing human
society, for the most part as we have known them, societies in which God,
the true God has any influence, such as Western culture, are laws that come
from Biblical basis.
For example, we have a law that you can't kill people; where does that come
from? The Ten Commandments--"Thou shall not kill." We have a law that
says you can't steal, where does it come from? The Ten Commandments--"Thou
shall not steal." We have a law that says you can't commit certain kinds
of acts of sexual evil to those people who are outside of your frame of
reference: those come from the Law of God in the Book of Exodus.
We have made laws commensurate with God's divine revelation. The Bible
says, "Thou shall not lie," and today we punish people for perjury. You
see, law that is legally binding is based upon some divine principle
revealed through God's truth. What we are seeing here then is, that to
have the wife submit to the husband is not something that is only a legal
issue, but it is only a legal issue because it is based on a divine created
principle. It is fitting, it is proper, not only by the divinely created
order, but by that which man has assumed as an obligatory design.
Now let's go to 1 Peter 3 and redefine what God said. "In the same manner,
ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands." Here you have the same
word "hupotasso" (Greek), it is very consistent in the New Testament, it
means "to come under in rank." It's a "function" word and not an "essence"
word. It doesn't mean you're any worse than him, or any dumber than him,
or less spiritual; it isn't talking about that at all. Or that you should
do more menial things than he does, or you should do any different thing
than he does; it's not talking about that kind of thing. It is simply
talking about a "function" for leadership and authority in the home.
Again, he emphasizes, "your own husbands." That possessiveness, that sort
of mitigates the submissive role because you really possess the man: he is
really is your possession; you really own him, and there is that sense of
Now, in so doing, it says, "If any man obey not the Word, they also may
without the Word be won by the behavior of the wives." I am so glad Peter
says this because inevitably someone will say, "Well look, you don't know
my husband. If I submit to my husband it is going to be awful. The man is
not a Christian. The man doesn't obey God. He doesn't obey the Word of
God. How am I in the world going to submit to this man?" That's exactly
what this verse is written for, "If any man doesn't obey the Word," submit
anyway, and without saying anything you'll win him--see! Instead of
putting "REPENT!" on the bottom of his beer cans, instead of pasting little
notes in his lunch pail or whatever, instead of always giving him some
gospel presentation--if you set you life in response to God's ordained
pattern for marriage, you may, without even using the Word of God win him
by your behavior! See, that's what he is saying.
"Well, what kind of behavior John?" Well, this kind, verse 2, "chaste
conduct coupled with reverence." You have reverence for your husband; you
have a certain awe for your husband; you have a certain respect for your
husband as you do for the Lord. This is what he is getting after. Not
only is your life chaste--that's pure: pure behavior; pure conduct; pure
living--but there is a reverence, and there is an awe (that's a lack of
pride; that's humility that looks up and respects somebody and has awe for
that person). I will tell you another thing: not only by the attitude you
have but by the way that it manifests itself. If you are concerned with
him and in awe of him, and your conduct is chaste then your outside
activity will follow (verse 3). Your "adorning" will not be the outward
thing; in other words, you won't live life for what you wear. Boy, if this
isn't a curse in our society: I mean all you have to do is to walk into a
department store and it is absolutely like a big billboard saying, "We
Covet Clothes!" That's our society--it's incredible, beyond imagination.
We have such preoccupation with that.
"Adorning, let it not be the outward adorning of plaiting the hair," which
was taking the hair and weaving all kinds of rich gold and silver bands
into it, and wearing gold. Listen people, I never saw so much gold in my
life as I have been seeing lately--hanging on everybody. Gold all over the
place, not only women, but all over men. It didn't even talk about that in
the Bible because men didn't do it, but now it's all over everybody. Now,
I am not against a gift, or a present, or a expression of love and
affection. I am not against something that enhances you to some degree,
but people, we can get to the place where it's nothing but more and more
and more. That's exactly what the Bible says that we are not to be adorned
Now, I am not advocating Wanda Wallflower. I am not trying to say that we
are supposed to look like we just arrived from the field--that isn't the
idea, but there is to be a basis of commitment to the inside, not the
outside. "Putting on apparel"--here is a society like we live in: the
hair, the gold, and the clothes--man, if that doesn't sound like today, I
don't know what does. I mean, it gets to be at the place where it is
beyond belief--they will even sprinkle gold in your fingernails if you want
now. But he says, if you preoccupy yourself with that, then you are in
violation of the standard, because you are not submissive. Why? You are
calling attention to yourself--you are putting yourself on parade, you are
adorning yourself. You are pushing your own cause and your own case.
Instead of that, verse 4 says, you should be concerned with the "hidden of
the heart." The word "man" is not in the Greek. It simply means the
secret of the heart. In other words, don't work on the outside--work
where? On the inside.
Now, I am not advocating that you look awful on the outside but that there
be a wonderful balance, and that there be a preoccupation with the inside.
And what should you do on the inside? You should put in there what is not
corruptible, which means to say that apparel, and gold, and all that stuff
on the hair is corruptible. I mean, you spend all that money for the hair
and two days later it is shot. All that money for the clothes and six
months later if you wore that they will say "tacky--she's out of season."
And the gold gets old because it's the same old stuff and you want new. If
you want to do something wise--invest yourself on what is incorruptible.
It literally means "imperishable" and "immortal" which is, what? (Now
watch this one) "Decorate yourself with a meek and quiet spirit." Oh my.
Now listen, does that sound foreign to our day? Women who preoccupy
themselves with taking care of the inside and developing a meek and quiet
spirit. "Meek" is "praos" in the Greek: it means "quiet and gentle." And
the word "quiet" simply means "silent and still."
We have women today who are boisterous and loud, and women who are
screaming all over the place for their rights and parading everywhere and
marching everywhere in the midst of everything performing and proclaiming
all the things they have to say--and the Bible says, but this is God's
standard: don't spend so much time making a show on the outside as you
spend doing something on the inside that is going to result in a meek and
quiet spirit; in a gentle, still, peaceful, silent spirit. Now, you say to
yourself, "Woo!" But you see how force-fed you have been that we can
hardly accept this as a standard for a woman in our society, because we
have been buying the bag for so long, that the world's been selling.
If you stand up in many places and say this--I mean, I'm glad that I'm in
Grace Church--I would get thrown out of some churches for saying this, and
I know that I would get thrown out of most public places, but this is what
the Bible says: "A meek and quiet spirit." You want to adorn yourself with
godliness? Adorn yourself with a meek and quiet spirit. Now that doesn't
mean that you just crawl and never offer your opinion, it means that you
have an understanding that God expects you to be humble and still. That's
the beauty of a woman--she is supportive--that's her strength. By the way,
this is in the sight of God, and "enopion" (Greek) means "face-to-face
with." You are standing "face-to-face with" God.
You want to have acceptability and credibility "face-to-face with" God?
God couldn't care what your hair looks like and He couldn't care about all
the gold you got, and He really doesn't care a whole lot about whether you
have the latest fashion--what He's looking at is the meek and quiet spirit.
And in His sight that's of "poluteles" (Greek), that's the same word use in
Mark 14:3 when the woman opened the Alabaster box and took out the precious
ointment--that's precious to God, very valuable. "Polus" (Greek) means
"great"--"great cost." Do you want something that really costs a lot? It
isn't gold and it isn't a fancy $200 dress; what really is costly is a meek
and quiet spirit--in God's eyes that's precious.
By the way, verse 5 says, "After this manner in old time the holy women
did." Do you want some examples? This is how holy women used to be. This
is the way the holy women used to be--they worried about the inside (the
holy women did). It has always been that way. Holiness has always been
the concern of godly women; it has been the inside they worked on, the
inside they were concerned about. Oh, that's all right to have a nice
dress on the outside if God prospers you. Why, I remember reading (and we
will see it later) Proverbs 31, that lovely woman, the virtuous woman in
Proverbs 31, made of herself a beautiful gown of tapestry and of fine
linen, and white linen, and it was lovely, and purple--and that was all
right. I am not against that; I'm just against the fact that becomes the
preoccupation and you forget about the meek and the quiet spirit.
So the holy women did it that way. Why? Because they trusted God. They
trusted God you see," their preoccupation was God. And God said "These are
the standards" and they said, "Then that's the standard we will uphold,
because they were holy women, and they adorned themselves in that way
because they were subjected to their own husbands. They took a place of a
meek and quiet spirit in submission to their husbands. He gives one
particular illustration: Sarah--she obeyed Abraham, calling him "Lord."
"Lord" is not a title of simply function but of respect, of awe, of
Now watch, "Whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not
afraid with any terror." Abraham is the father of the faithful, right?
Galatians. Sarah is the mother of the submissive. Daughters of Sarah are
submissive. Daughters of Sarah are those who call their husband "Lord" and
who are submissive to him. Look at the end of verse 6--a tremendous
statement--"they are not afraid with any terror." People say, "Boy, I am
afraid to submit to my husband. Man alive, I will lose my rights. He will
run me around." But you know something? These women trusted God, so they
had no fear of obeying God, and if there was ever an abuse they knew God
would take care of the results. Right?
You don't need to do God's business. You obey God; submit to your husband
as the holy women did, in a meek and quiet spirit, responding the way God
wants you to respond, and you don't have any fear--no terror. You can
believe God that He will honor that, no matter what. It's a great passage.
I want to show you another one: 1 Corinthians 11.
Do you ever hear your neighbor's wife screaming at him? I always think of
1 Peter whenever I hear that. 1 Corinthians 11, now just a brief look at
this; now hang on. In Corinth they were having a Woman's Lib Movement:
women were trying to do the same job as men; women were trying to look like
men and act like men (we went into that in our study of Corinthians) it was
a big deal going on. In response to that, some women in the church of
Christ had gotten into the movement. Now, this was really giving a
reproach to the Name of Christ and it was a reproach on the church itself.
So Paul has to write them to straighten this out.
Now watch in the Corinthian society the women were supposed to be
submissive, and they had a symbol, or a sign, or a token of submission, and
the token they had was a veil. Women in a Corinthian or a Gentile society
in that day and in that part of the world wore a veil as a symbol of
submission, a submission of modesty; a symbol of their humility. Now only
two kinds of women took their veil off: one was a harlot (for obvious
reasons-you want to know what you are getting into--you want to see what
she looked like). So harlots were unveiled. So women took their veil off
for the purpose of prostituting. Second, were feminists, who took their
veil off for the symbol of protesting: "They were going to demand equal
rights with men--off with the veil, and so forth!" In those days it wasn't
"Burn the bra!" it was "Burn the veil!" It was the same idea: the idea
that women are going to "demand rights" equal to men.
So you had the feminists and the harlots: the protesting and the
prostituting. So Paul writes to these dear Corinthians and he says,
"Ladies, keep your veils on." Now let me tell you something folks: that
isn't for today. We are not going to have a veil station outside and
before you come in everybody has to put a veil on. He is saying, in your
society and in your time and in your day, that's recognized as
submission--now you respond to that symbol, so that the world doesn't see
the church rebelling against a God-ordained principle. You see? That's
what he is saying. "And, by the way," he says, "It's not a bad principle
that women should have covering, because God even did that naturally!"
Look down in verse 14, "Does not even nature itself teach you, that, if a
man has long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman has long hair,
it is a glory to her: for her hair is given to her for a covering."
Now, this is not saying that it is a sin for a man to have long hair, but
what it is saying is that nature teaches you that women's hair is to be
longer than men's to have a covering. What does nature have to do with
that? In my research I discovered that a woman's hair grows faster than a
man's hair. That is a God given thing. That is a genetic issue and what
it does is, it indicates that God has given hair to women, at a faster
growing rate, so that the longer hair would become for them a sign of their
submission or covering. And so he is saying, "It is not a bad thing to
have veils; it is very close to the way God designed it, anyway."
So, be sure that you abide by the principle that manifests submission. You
see? All I want you to see from that passage is that Paul is simply
saying, again, "A woman takes a place of submission, and in society she
shouldn't violate that place." I'll tell you something; a virtuous woman
will call attention to her husband. Did you get that? Not herself. O.K.,
let's go to another passage. If you think that you have been hit
already--"You ain't seen nothing yet!"
Titus, chapter 2--for those who may be visiting with us; you probably
gained one thing already from our time this morning, and that is that we
don't necessarily say what everybody says; and two is--that if the Bible
says it--we accept it, and that's right. Titus, chapter 2, verse 3, "The
aged women;" it sounds like decrepit, but it doesn't really mean that--just
older, maturer, probably women whose children were no longer in the home:
they were married. "The older women likewise, are to be in behavior as
becometh holiness." Oh boy, that is so simple: mature women are to be
holy, not false accusers; that is, they are not "scandal mongers." They
don't go telling tales around about people.
"They are not given to much wine, but they are teachers of good things."
Now notice that older women are to be what? Teachers. Older women are to
be teachers. Older women are to be teachers, and who are they to teach?
Young women. Boy, I think there is a fantastic pattern here for the life
of a woman and I want you to see this; I think that it will really help
you. All right? "And the older women are to teach the younger women."
Teach them what? "To be sober-minded." In other words, "To grow up; know
priorities; be serious-minded; be considering the things that really
matter." And what are they? "To love their husbands." One word in the
Greek "philandro:" "to love a man," "Man-lovers;" literally, "Husband
lovers." They should be characteristically loving their husbands.
You know, we get into Ephesians and we say, "Husbands love your wives," and
we bang that drum, you know: "Husbands, love your wives;" the wife is only
a responder, you know? Well, it doesn't say that in the Bible. I mean, I
kind of agree with that, but there's more to it. We say, "If your wife
doesn't love you, it is your fault--you're not loving her. If your wife
isn't doing this and doing that, you're not loving her; all you need to do
is to love her and every . . . ." But that's a little overstated, because
right here it says she's commanded to love you, and there you see is that
tremendous mutuality and balance. She has just as much responsibility to
love you because you respond to love too. Right? No? I do: so do you.
And so it is mutual.
Then it says (and this is key) to be a "philoteknos" (Greek), a "child-
lover;" to love her children; to love her children. The concept of love,
of course, is to self-sacrifice, to do whatever needs to be done for the
husband; to give her life for the husband; to give her life for the
children; that's the implication of these terms. So she is to be a
husband-lover and a child-lover.
Then to be "discrete, chaste, (hang on!) keepers at home, good, obedient to
their own husbands, that the Word of God be not blasphemed." You see,
that's the issue. You see, God wants His Word glorified! Read it, 1
Thessalonians 3. God wants His Word exalted and when you and I do not live
by His Word it is dishonored! Do you see? We are in effect saying,
"What's the difference what the Bible says?" That's what we are saying
when we disobey it. "Who cares what the Bible says?" Thus, we dishonor
God's Word. If we are going to honor God's Word then we love our husbands
and love our children.
"And obedient to their own husbands." Do you notice again, "their own,"
the possession idea. Yes, there is to be a responding. By the way, the
word "obedient" here is a bad translation. It is not "hupakouo," (Greek)
it is "hupotasso" (Greek) again. It's the same word of submission again,
and there is that response again, "our own husbands." Paul uses it again,
there is a possession that sort of makes the mutuality. So we are to
submit--the wives to the husbands.
Now notice (hang on), see the phrase "keepers at home," I believe the Holy
Spirit wants this applied to 1979 [year sermon preached]. We have got a
problem in America--nobody's home! Do you know that? Nobody's home. Do
you realize that 42 million working mothers now in America; 42 million
working mothers; 6 million with little children. One out of every three
mothers with a child under three works in a full-time job. Who's raising
kids? Who's keeping house? Who's taking care of the home?
You say, well, "keepers at home." What does it mean? Let me tell you. I
did some work on the word "oikouros" (Greek), kind of sounds strange.
Comes from "oikos" (Greek), "home" "ergon" (Greek), "work." It simply
means to "work at home." I am going to go right ahead and tell you what I
really feel that this is saying:
"I think that women ought to work at home--profound, huh?"
You say, "Where did you get that?"
You say, "But I have a wonderful job!"
Well, the Bible says, "to work at home!"
You say, "But we need the money!"
Well, the Bible says, "To work at home!"
You say, "But my kids are in school!"
Well, the Bible says, "to work at home!"
It doesn't say, "PS., under these following circumstances this is not
valid." It doesn't say that.
Now, what does the word "ergon" (Greek) mean? The word "ergon" (Greek) is
a word that means "work" but I want to show you how the emphasis in the New
Testament lays upon the fact that it involves "a job or a task," it is
translated in many of the lexicons, in fact, all of the lexicons render it
this way, at one point or another, by the word "employment." So a woman is
to be employed at home. It is not the idea of just of work in terms of
"Boy, this is hard work." It is not just a quality sort of thing; it is
talking about a task that is assigned. A woman is to be employed in the
assigned task at home.
For example, in Mark 13, "The Son of Man is like a man taking a far
journey, left his house, gave authority to his servants, and to every man
his 'ergon' (Greek)." "To every man his appointed employment, or task,
duty, or work." In John 4:34, just so you will see how this is used again,
4:34 says, "Jesus said unto them, 'My food is to do the will of Him that
sent Me, and to finish His work." This is not just some qualitative
definition of activity; this is an assigned task. In the Book of John,
17th chapter, "I finished the work You gave me to do." It had a beginning
and it had an end--it was a task, an employment. In Acts 13, "Separate
unto me Paul and Barnabas for the work to which I call them." Philippians
2:30, here is an individual who is near unto death, "for the work of the
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