God's Design...(The Role of the Husband)
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 2) "The Role of
the Husband." 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 1-800-55-
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 Husband)
John F. MacArthur, Jr.
All rights reserved.
This morning we continue our study of the Book of Ephesians, a study that has
gone on now for many months, and we are in the fifth chapter, and so I invite
you to look with me at that chapter.
The great General Montgomery said to his very young troops one day these
profound words, "Gentlemen, don't even think about marriage until you have
mastered the art of warfare." Some of you are saying, "I can relate to
Why is marriage such a potentiated warfare? Why does it seem to be so tough
to have a really meaningful relationship with somebody? You know, life is
about relationships--isn't it? And the most needful relationship is that one
that occurs between a man and a woman in a marriage, and yet the fulfillment
of it is so elusive. Having a meaningful, lasting relationship with somebody
that gets better, and that gets richer, and more fulfilling, is just very,
very, rare. In fact, we look at marriage, and whenever we see marriage
portrayed it's usually a fighting, unfaithful, discontented, bitter kind of
wrangling thing that ends up in separation, divorce, and so forth.
Well, there is a reason for this. There is a reason that marriage is diffi
cult. There is a reason that people in our world cannot make meaningful
relationships. For the most part, it is hard for them to make meaningful
relationships at any level, but when it comes into a marital situation it
becomes all the more difficult. And the reason is very clear: I want us to
go back to where we ended last time, the first three chapters of Genesis, and
I want to show you why marriage is such a difficult thing. I admit it--it
Let's look back at Genesis 2:18-25, and get a good sight on God's design for
marriage, and then we will see why this thing became so warped and perverted
and has caused the marriage relationship so much pain. Now, in the Book of
Genesis we have the story of the creation, God's creation of man being the
summation of creation. We find, as we come to 2:18, that man has already
been created but God is not done yet,
And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man
should be alone. I will make him an help fit for him
(or better "a suitable helper."). And out of the ground
the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every
fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what
he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every
living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam
gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air,
and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was
not found a suitable helper.
Now, you notice in that, that from the very beginning, God designed someone
to be in charge, and someone to help. Someone to be, as it were,
"authority," and someone to be "submission." Someone to be the leader and
someone to be the follower. Someone to take care of the provision and some
one to be provided for. And from the very beginning the man had the role of
the headship, and the woman had the role of the one for whom that headship
was provided. The man was the one who protected, provided, preserved, and
cared for the woman who was "a fitting," or "suitable helper" for him. "The
LORD God (then desiring to give this to man, verse 21), caused a deep sleep
(a divine anesthetic) to fall on Adam, and he slept: then He took one of his
ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the LORD
God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man."
Now, God then provides this suitable helper; the one to aid Adam as he rules
for God in the pure and undefiled world of creation. Adam meets his wife in
verse 23, and Adam's comment is this,
This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she
shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother,
and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one
flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife,
and were not ashamed.
Now, here is a marvelously perfect relationship. Adam had no problem accept
ing her, even though he had just met her. Since there was no sin, there was
no selfishness. There was no criteria on which to negatively evaluate her
because there was no such thought, and so instantly he says, "She is in every
sense one with me: bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh." "And they too,"
says God, "Shall be one flesh." And they were naked, and man and wife and
there was no shame. Why? Because there was no such thing as an evil
thought; there was no such thing as a perverse sexual attitude, and so their
nakedness was absolutely innocent. It was absolutely beautiful. It was as
wondrous as the uniqueness of the relationship in and of itself.
So, that's God's design: an incredible union. Yes, there is a leader, and
yes, there is one who follows the lead. Yes, there is one who has oversight
and responsibility, and yes, there is one who is under that responsibility.
But at the same time, all of that is so beautifully blended in oneness, that
you really don't see that. You see, "bone of my bone; flesh of my flesh;
taken out of me to be one flesh with me." There is this glorious oneness in
the union. The woman's submissiveness is willing and beautiful; the man's
provision is willing and beautiful, so there is no animosity, there is no
struggle, there is no fighting, there is nothing but a perfectly glorious
Backing up to chapter 1, verse 27, again we read a briefer account which was
introducing the broader one of chapter 2, "So God created man in his own
image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them."
Now to show you the unity, "God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be
fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion
over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living
thing that moveth upon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you
every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every
tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be
for food." And when God was done with all this wonderful thing, verse 31, He
said, "Behold, it was very good."
Now listen, when God gave Adam a helper in chapter 2, the union was so won
derful and so blessed, and so bound together in love that when you go back to
chapter 1, it's described as "them" being fruitful and multiplying, "them"
filling the earth, "them" subduing it, and "them" having dominion. There is
a co-regency here. It doesn't deny the man's place and the woman's place; it
just simply shows that it can exist in such an incredible oneness, such an
undefiled manner, that there is nothing really seen but how they work togeth
er--"they two" literally becoming one flesh.
Now, God's design for marriage is very simple:
1. To Propagate Children
It was to propagate children. We find that, don't we, right here where it
says, "be fruitful and multiply."
2. To Eliminate Solitude
It was basically to eliminate solitude. Genesis 2:8, "It is not good for man
to be alone."
3. To Have Physical Fulfillment
It was for his [and hers] physical fulfillment. 1 Corinthians, chapter 7
says that God has designed each man to have his own wife in order to fulfill
4. To Have Joy.
God designed marriage just to be a situation where you could have joy--pure
joy. Just the fun and the thrill of being married, and the thrill of having
a sexual physical relationship. In fact, Hebrews 13 says, "Let the bed be
undefiled." In other words, God has provided this, and the Bible lifts up
the wonder and the virtue of that physical relationship. Genesis 26:6-9
shows Jacob, and it says that "Jacob was sporting with his wife." That's the
first sport we find anything about in the Bible! We just want you to know
that that is in God's design, part of the wonder and beauty of this "two
becoming one flesh."
So God made this beautiful relationship where woman, who was to be the help
er, was wonderfully supportive to man; man who was to be the head, was won
derfully loving to woman. Her submission was willing, his love was wonder
fully dominating and so the union was beautiful. But something awful hap
pened in chapter 3. We don't know how the solicitation to evil ever entered
into Eve's mind, but we don't believe that it could be internal because she
was pure on the inside--it came externally, as best as we can know. The
serpent approaches Eve, and the serpent attacks in a very vulnerable way--he
by-passes the headship of man--he goes right to the one who is by nature the
follower, one who is by nature the weaker vessel, as it were. He approaches
woman, rather than man, because he feels he'll have a better audience. He
begins to track her down to the place where he provides for her an enticement
to do the one thing God told them not to do: "Eat of the fruit of the tree of
the knowledge of good and evil."
Of course, you remember, that she did eat (verse 6, at the end), she took the
fruit "and did eat, and gave unto her husband." Of course, right here,
immediately in the fall is the reversal of the role--the woman has usurped
the leadership, and the man has fallen to be a follower. The twisting of
God's whole design occurred at the moment of temptation, and from then on
that was the defiling of marriage. If you want to know why marriage is
tough, its because there has been since that act, a flipping of the roles; a
failure to recognize the way God has designed it. And God, as it were, put
that in concrete, when He gave the curse in chapter 3.
Let's go to chapter 3 and watch. Verse 14, God talks about the curse that
comes because of this sin, "And the LORD God said unto the serpent, 'Because
thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast
of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the
days of thy life." So even the animal was cursed, even the snake itself.
Then He goes behind the snake to Satan, who was in that snake, "And I will
put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed (that is the
evil spawnings of Satan) and her seed (and of course that has in mind ulti
mately Christ); He shall bruise thy head, and you'll only be able to bruise
The curse on the snake: crawl in the dirt
The curse on Satan: ultimately your head is to be crushed by Christ
Then He turns to the woman in verse 16, and the curse comes there, "To the
woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow in thy conception." The
wonderful reality of bearing children, the glorious anticipation and joy, and
hope, of having that child will be somewhat mitigated by the pain and anguish
that it is going to cause when that child is born.
Additionally, "Thy desire shall be to control thy husband, but he shall rule
over thee." And here we find something completely reversed: man is going to
now rule over woman. Woman in going to now seek to rule over man. We went
into that text in detail last time to show you that's what it is saying.
Here you find (people listen), the most basic things in human life are
cursed: child-bearing and marriage, having children and living together.
Then one other area, "To the man Adam he said, Because you have hearkened to
the voice of your wife, and eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee,
saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake." It's
even going to be tough to get food. "In sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the
days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and
thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat
bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for
dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." And one other thing God
said to them, "In the day that you eat thereof you shall surely . . . ."
Pain in childbirth, problem in the home, difficulty in getting food, and
death, are all a result of the sin in the garden. And when Adam sinned, his
death and his sin passed on all men, says Romans, chapter 5, for in Adam we
all died, and in Adam we all sinned. The race itself was cursed.
Now, you look at human society today and nobody will deny the pain of child
birth, and nobody will deny that there are weeds growing in the ground, and
nobody will deny that it is difficult for an individual to earn a living and
to provide for his family: he must labor and he must work. But, people don't
seem to want to admit that the reason there is conflict in marriage is be
cause there is a total reversal of roles that came about in the sin in the
beginning and God sort of put it in cement, and the whole human race is
cursed to have to try to make a family when a woman will seek to usurp the
lead, and the man will rule despotically. If you want to know why we have
Women's Lib movements, it's because the curse has kept that particular
depraved reality in existence in the human history. In other words, women
will seek to rule. And the reason we have oppression from men, and the
reason men seek to rule over women is because it is the curse of sin that
Yes, there is chauvinism, no question about it. The world is full of male
chauvinists, they have been around all throughout human history, and that's
part of the curse of sin. And yes there are women who seek to usurp--that's
the curse of sin, we know that, and we don't advocate either one, both are
simply manifestations of depravity, manifestations of fallenness, manifesta
tions of the curse.
So beloved, you see, there are two things needful if you are going to have a
marriage that works:
1. A woman has got to go back to that place of that beautiful submission she
knew before the "fall," and a man has got to go back to the place where his
commitment is simply, in love, to take that woman as if she were one with
him, and render to her every single thing that he would do for himself. In
other words, we need to go back again where women are characterized by sub
mission and men are characterized by sacrificial love, just like it was
before the "fall." Do you want to know why we have got problems in marriage?
Because we have got a cursed marriage to start with. We are dealing with two
sinful people, and depravity will manifest itself in the woman by seeking to
overrule the man, and the man by crushing the woman without love--and we have
that in our society today.
Husbands don't love their wives: they didn't in Jesus' time; they didn't in
the Book of Genesis after the "fall." It is not natural--it's unnatural.
It's natural to love yourself, if we are talking about what is human nature.
It's natural to be self-consumed, self-preoccupied, self-absorbed, and as
long as you are like that, you can't give yourself in love to somebody else.
And men in our society today are no different than they have been in the
past: they suppress women; they crush women down; they make them into nothing
but sex objects, and the women have been abused. There is no question about
that in my mind: men fulfill their part of the curse too. We see a stream of
filthy proliferation of pornography, magazines, and dirty movies, and all of
that stuff which make women into something like an animal, of which there is
no other function than to fulfill the sexual prowess of the man. That's
wrong! That makes the woman into something far less than God ever intended
her to be.
Yes, men have oppressed women--there is no question about it, and women have
sought to override the bounds of their God-given design. But listen
people--we can't expect anything different. Why? Because that's the legacy
of sin, and all we are saying to the world today, all that this pulpit is
ever saying, and all that is ever coming out of the Bible is this: Look, it
doesn't have to be that way! You don't have to have women's rights movements
which go beyond the bounds. You don't have to have macho-male chauvinism
which goes way beyond the bounds! You can have a right relationship where a
woman is lifted up and exalted and allowed to be all that God had ever in
tended her to be, and where a man knows how it is that he is to invest his
life to provide for and to love that woman, so there is a marvelous co-
regency in life that fulfills every need of the human heart--that's all we
are saying. Anybody who doesn't want that doesn't want something that's
So you have got a problem in marriage from the beginning. Do you know why it
is tough to make your marriage work? Because it's cursed--that's why.
Now, if that isn't bad enough, Satan starts taking shots at marriage too! So
you add to the basic curse in the human nature, you add what Satan does and
you are going to have problems. Look what Satan does immediately; look at
Genesis with me: as soon as sin enters the world, Satan begins to attack
marriage. He is going to force marriage to dissolve. He is going to crush
it as best he can, because he knows that it is the only hope of right human
relations. He is going to devastate the world by destroying relationships
at their most important level in the home. Immediately, you come to chapter
four and what happens? Verse 23, "Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and
Zillah "(he had wives from A to Z). Lamech, what are you doing with two
wives? Genesis 3: the "fall," Genesis 4: polygamy! Immediately the prosti
tution of the divine standard "They two shall be one flesh." That's always
been God's standard; immediately he [Satan] introduces polygamy.
Now, that's not enough; we go to chapter 9 and Satan is still at it trying to
corrupt the wonderful union of marriage. In chapter 9, verse 20, "Noah began
to be a farmer, planted a vineyard, drank the wine, became drunk and was
uncovered within his tent." Now, we don't know specifically what he was
doing in there, but he was naked in there, "Ham, the father of Canaan, saw
the nakedness of his father," and the implications is that he really looked
at it for a while. "And then he went and told his two brothers outside."
And here we have introduced for the first time, evil sexual thoughts, and
You know, we said that before the "fall," "Adam and Eve were naked and they
were not ashamed." Why? Because there were no evil thoughts; there could be
no perversion of anything. But immediately after they had fallen in sin,
what was the first thing that they ran out and did? They ran out and found
something to cover themselves up because they were naked and they were
ashamed. Why? Because immediately when sin entered, evil thoughts became a
reality--perversion became a possibility, and here we find it.
Now, I don't know what went on, but I know that Shem and Japheth knew better
than to do what Ham did, they took a garment and laid it on their shoulders;
and they went in backwards so they wouldn't even see their father, and in
backwards stance, covered the nakedness of their father. And they never saw
their father's nakedness. In the next text it says that and because of that
God cursed Ham and He blessed Shem and Japheth.
Satan introduces polygamy in chapter 4, and evil, sexual thoughts in chapter
9. In chapter 16 he introduces adultery. God says to Abraham, "Abraham, you
are going to have a child; you are going to have a son, and that son is going
to be the beginning of the prodigy of a race of people, through whom will
come the great deliverer of the world." God gives this promise to Abraham
(at this time called Abram) who doesn't have a son. And he says to Sarah,
"We can't have any children. Sarah, What are we going to do?" And Sarah
says, in 16:2,
Behold now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing: I
pray thee, go in to my maid; it may be that I may obtain
children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of
Sarah. And Sarah Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the
Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of
Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.
And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when
she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised
in her eyes.
This is adultery! Sexual relationship with someone outside your marriage.
Another way to destroy a marriage. It wasn't long after this that you come
to the 19th chapter of Genesis and you meet homosexuality. Satan has already
introduced polygamy, evil sexual thoughts, dirty words (the words that Ham no
doubt spoke to his brothers), adultery, and now homosexuality. In chapter
19, two angels, in the appearance of a man, came to visit Lot. Verse 4,
"The men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both
old and young" They said, unto Lot (in verse 5) 'Where are the men who came
unto thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them." And
the word "know" is loaded with meaning: it means to have a sexual relation
ship with them. And Lot said, "do not so wickedly (in verse 7)." And the
angels actually went out and struck them blind, and all that did was to make
it harder for them to find the door. They kept beating on the door even
though they were blind, and God finally sent fire and brimstone, and de
stroyed the entire cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Now listen, it is tough enough to make a marriage work with a curse; you add
to that appeal of polygamy, the appeal of evil sexual thoughts and words,
adultery, homosexuality, and it's getting tougher all the time.
Go to chapter 34. In chapter 34 of the Book of Genesis, Satan isn't through
and another thing introduces itself into human life and this is
fornication--sexual relationships apart from marriage. "And Dinah the daugh
ter of Leah, whom she bore unto Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the
land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country,
saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her." Here you have
fornication and you also have rape--very possibly. Now notice how Satan is
just corrupting the human stream in a rapid fire succession. We aren't even
out of the first Book of the Bible; we got polygamy, evil sex thoughts, evil
sexual words, adultery, homosexuality, fornication, and very possibly rape.
Go to chapter 38 and you find incest--sexual relationship within a family.
Verse 13, to make a long story short, "It was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy
father-in-law goes up to Timnath to shear his sheep. And she put her widow's
garments off from her, and covered her with a veil, and wrapped herself, and
sat in an open place." And that's the way prostitutes did--this is not only
incest--it is prostitution as well. And she sat there waiting for him to
come. Verse 15,
When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot, because
she had covered her face. He turned unto her by the way, and
said, Come, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he
knew not that she was his daughter-in-law.) And she said,
What wilt thou give me, (in other words, she had a price)?
He said, I will send thee a kid from the flock. And she said,
Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it? And he said,
What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and
thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand.
To show you how really bad off he was, "he gave them to her, and came in unto
her, and she conceived by him." Prostitution, solicitation, harlotry, and
incest, all in one situation. And in verse 24 it says, "Tamar played the
In chapter 39, you find Joseph in Potiphar's house, and you find an illustra
tion of evil seduction. We will stop right there. That's about as much as
my mind can handle. Now, listen to me people, do you want to know why mar
riage is tough? Do you want to know why there are so many divorces, so many
miserable people, so many unhappy relationships? Because to start with, the
whole sin thing that started in the garden was the woman taking the place of
the man, in acting independently with Satan, and the man falling submissively
to the woman in sin. God locked that thing into chains, as it were, and
since that time the woman always, by her sinful nature desires to rule a man,
and the man tends to despotically dominate the woman. Add to that the im
pulses of polygamy, evil thoughts, evil words, adultery, homosexuality,
fornication, rape, unequal yokes (such as in the case of Dinah and Shechem
again), incest, prostitution, seduction, and you've got trouble trying to
make a marriage.
If that isn't bad enough, then live in a society that extols all of that
stuff as virtuous, because that's what our society does. You find somebody
who is a virgin, or somebody who is totally committed to their wife, and they
become the object of humor in this society. To our society, polygamy, and
evil thoughts and words, and rotten filthy language. . . .it's getting now so
on television you can hardly stand to turn the thing on. Adultery, homosex
uality, fornication, unequal yokes, incest, prostitution--that's stuff for
comedy shows, that's the stuff we are all supposed to buy. Now, you tell me
this: it would be tough enough to try to make a marriage work under the curse
if you believed that it was right to do it God's way, but imagine what it's
like to make a marriage work when you are cursed to start with and then
everything your society tells you is, "God's way is wrong and this is the way
to really live it up!" And people it is tough living the godly life in this
evil generation. It's tough living in the midst of a perverse nation and
getting your act together in your home--believe me! The only people who do
it, are the people who:
1. Know the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1-3).
2. Are filled with His Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).
Apart from that you have no more hope of making your marriage work than Ponce
de Leon did of finding the "Fountain of Youth" or anybody else does in
finding the "Pot of Gold" at the end of a rainbow--it'll never happen. Our
society denies the reality and throws the fantasy in front of us. And I
really believe that this is Satan's primary attack, because at the heart of
all meaningful human relationships is that marriage. If you can't make that
work, [then] everything else is miserable--everything! The curse hit us at
the base of our most needed relationship: "It's not good for man to be
alone!" Man desperately needs a helper; man desperately needs someone with
whom he can fulfill his deep drives and needs physically; man needs somebody
who can be his friend. And so Satan smashes man at the very core of his
greatest need, and it's impossible for him to even work
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