How Does A Woman Really Respect Her Husband?

Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 7, 1 Peter 3

I would like to suggest four ways that a wife can really respect her husband.

A wife respects her husband when she submits to his leadership in the home.

Listen to the Word of the Lord, as found in Eph. 5:22-24: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Now I’m going to spend a lot of my time this morning on this point, because it is the single most fundamental statement the Bible makes to women about their relationship with their husbands. Furthermore, it is one of the most misunderstood commands in the Bible–misunderstood by both husbands and wives.

It’s unfortunate that in many Bibles, like the one I am using, there’s a major divisional break between Eph. 5:21 and 22. There really should be none at all because verse 22 has no verb of its own in the original Greek, but borrows its verb from verse 21. Here’s how it should read: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives, to your husbands.” Later on he will speak of submission of children to their parents and of workers to their bosses. But it’s important for us to note that before the Apostle discusses any of these specific areas of submission, he states that there is a mutual responsibility for believers to submit to one another.

The mutuality of submission. This is addressed to every Christian, regardless of race, gender, or station in life. This means clearly that there must a mutual submission of wives to husbands and husbands to wives. What does it mean, practically, to be in submission to one another? Well, negatively, I think it means we must not be: thoughtless, selfish, self-centered, opinionated, dictatorial, impatient, or resentful of constructive criticism. Instead we must be willing to forego our rights, willing to let others speak and to express themselves, loving, humble, understanding, and sensitive.

The one who practices these latter characteristics is fulfilling the universal command to “submit to one to another.” The motivation that is offered is this: “out of reverence for Christ.” We are to submit because submission was taught and modeled by Christ, because we desire to please Him, and because we fear grieving Him.

That’s the general principle. But there is, in addition, a specific application of the principle of submission to wives. What does it mean?

The explanation of submission. In a nutshell it means that the wife must acknowledge her husband’s leadership in the home, for as verse 23 states, “the husband is the head of the wife.” We hear a great deal today about changing roles for women in our society, in government, and in business. That’s all fine, but for the home God Himself has laid down a divine blueprint. The husband is the head, and the wife is to acknowledge his leadership through submission to his God-given authority.

Does that give the husband a divine mandate to be a tyrant, or even a benevolent dictator? No! Nor does it mean that the husband has to make all the decisions, or carry out all the discipline of the children, or do all the bread winning. Nor does it mean that the wife should be passive and refrain from offering her opinions. But it does mean that the wife has no business declaring her independence from her husband. He’s the head. When a body operates independently of the head we call the result convulsions or spasms. There are a lot of families going through convulsions today because there is a knock-down drag-out going on about who should be the head of the home.

Now the marriage relationship is ideally a partnership, a cooperative effort in which both partners have the freedom to exercise their gifts, talents, and abilities to the fullest. If the wife is a financial genius and the husband can’t even balance his checkbook, then there’s no reason why he should think he’s got to make financial decisions for the family just because he’s the head of the home. And if the husband is a gourmet cook and the wife burns water when she boils it, there’s no reason in the world why she needs to do the cooking just because she’s supposed to be submissive to her husband. In the truly Christian home each partner is allowed to use his or her gifts for the fullest benefit of the family. Furthermore, all major decisions are discussed and jointly agreed to, and if they’re not agreed to, they’re postponed.

But, and here’s the kicker, what if agreement can’t be reached and a decision must be made? The buck has to stop somewhere, and God says it stops with the husband. If God hadn’t made that decision for us, every home would be a battlefield until one of the partners established his position over the other. God decided to spare the bloodshed and named the husband as the head. The husband can abrogate this responsibility or his wife can usurp it, but only to their own detriment.

Let me appeal to an analogy I have often used in premarital counseling. Every major corporation has a Chairman of the Board. No corporation has more than one Chairman. Of course, there is usually at least one president under the Chairman and a number of vice-presidents. Now the Chairman doesn’t make all the decisions himself; in fact, he makes hardly any by himself. Rather he delegates responsibility for various aspects of the business to people who have expertise in those areas. But if in a cabinet meeting agreement cannot be reached as to what course of action the company should pursue, everyone recognizes the right and the responsibility of the Chairman to make the necessary decision.

The Chairman doesn’t have to be a tyrant or a dictator. He doesn’t even have to act like a man with authority to waste. But if he refuses to exercise his responsibility, or if one of the other company officers usurps that authority, there is grave danger ahead for that corporation. It is a house divided. So, too, with the family where the wife does not recognize her husband as head of the home.

The motivation for submission of the wife to her husband (22b). Wives, submit “as to the Lord.” This phrase is easily misunderstood. I do not believe it means, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands in the same way you submit yourselves to the Lord.” That is going too far, for the woman’s relationship to the Lord is one of complete, entire, absolute submission. Rather, “as to the Lord” means “because it is your duty to the Lord” or “out of obedience to the Lord.”

Wives should not submit to their husbands because of some sociological theory, or because of the traditions of the church, or because their husbands demand it, or because their husbands deserve it (many don’t), or for any other human reason. Wives should do it because the Lord commands it. But why does the Lord command it?

The rationale for submission of wives to their husbands. Actually two rationales are given. First, the creative order demands it. Verse 23 states, “for the husband is the head of the wife.” He doesn’t say he should be, but rather he is. I have to assume that since God created us and knows us better than we know ourselves, He knows that the husband is better suited for this role than is the wife.

Of course, husbands are sinners, and some husbands are great sinners, and their ability to function as head of a home has been seriously damaged, but the answer is not for the wife to become the head but for the husband to get right with God and begin to take his responsibility seriously.

Second, the pattern of Christ and the Church models it. Eph. 5:23 reads, “The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his body.” What is the example Christ has set as head of the Church? He is not a tyrant. He is not a dictator. In fact, He allows the Church an enormous amount of freedom. He leads her rather than drives her; He sets an example for her; He encourages and loves her. The Church, on the other hand, looks to Christ and His Word before making decisions; she views Him as the final authority; she honors and respects Him above everyone else.

The extent of submission. Verse 24 says, “in everything.” Now that’s pretty broad, isn’t it? But frankly, “everything” doesn’t always mean “absolutely everything” in Scripture. It sometimes means “everything for which an exception has not already been specified.” Obviously a wife should not submit to her husband to the extent of violating a clear precept of Scripture. The Scriptural dictum that “we ought to obey God rather than man” applies even to the home. Furthermore, no wife should feel compelled to submit to her husband to the point of violating her own conscience. Rom. 14 indicates that it is always wrong to violate one’s conscience.

However, while there are a few limitations to the need to “submit in everything,” we must not undermine the fact that submission is very broad in its application. The wife must be willing at times to accept decisions that she knows in her heart are bad decisions (and not say “I told you so” later.). She must be willing to show her husband respect as the head of the home, even if he sometimes acts like a jerk. And he will. You don’t have to respect the behavior, but you do have to respect his person and his position.

Ladies, this is God’s Word. You can reject it and suffer for it, or you can resent it and chafe under it, or you can accept it and prosper.

Now I have already spent more time than I intended to on this topic, but there are some questions that are frequently raised about the biblical doctrine of submission. Since it would take the rest of my time to deal with them, and I have other issues that I would like to answer. I want to address, I decided to write out these questions and suggest answers for you to consider. The ushers will make them available to you as you leave this morning. I have raised six questions:

1. Wasn’t the Apostle Paul a chauvinist, and, if so, so we need to accept his opinions as inspired?

2. Doesn’t submission automatically entail the concept of inferiority?

3. Some husbands aren’t Christians, so how can they exercise spiritual headship?

4. Even some Christian husbands won’t accept their leadership position in the home, so what is the wife supposed to do?

5. Some wives are naturally better leaders and are more capable than their husbands. Why shouldn’t they be head of their homes?

6. What about a single mother?

Now the second major way in which a wife really respects her husband is this:

A wife respects her husband when she seeks to meet his need for sexual fulfillment. (1 Cor. 7:3ff)

Listen to 1 Cor. 7:3ff: “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

Now this text is obviously addressed to both women and men, but I mention it this week rather than last because my impression is that this is a greater area of struggle for women. The essence of the instruction is that sexual abstinence in marriage should be practiced only when both agree and then only for a limited period of time, and only for spiritual purposes–i.e. so you may devote yourselves to prayer. In other words, it’s a kind of fast. The reason the time should be short is so that Satan’s temptation will not get the best of you.

Adultery is an inexcusable sin–always. But it is not always without explanation. Some men are very vulnerable to sexual temptation because they do not receive sufficient physical intimacy from their wives, just as some wives are because they don’t receive enough loving attention from their husbands. Many men who don’t yield to temptation still get resentful and hard to live with. Now if you were here last Sunday you will remember that I gave the other side of this issue very clearly. I told the men, and I quote, “If physical intimacy is not what we men want it to be in our marriage, it is almost always because we have failed in demonstrating agape love.” While that is true, it does not excuse the wife from withholding affection. Even if the husband is not fulfilling his responsibility to love his wife, I Cor. 7:3 is still in the Bible. But, Pastor, should a wife have to give herself to a husband who treats her like dirt?

Friends, here is the source of untold problems in Christian marriages. We each excuse ourselves for not fulfilling our responsibility based on the fact that our spouse is not fulfilling his or hers. If we keep operating on that basis we find ourselves in a vicious downward spiral to which there is no end. Someone has to stop the headlong dive and say, “This is destructive behavior, and I am going to unilaterally call a truce. Furthermore, I choose to be obedient to God whether you choose to or not. Even though I don’t like your behavior, I am going to respect you as the head of this house, or I am going to love you as my wife. I am going to fulfill my obligations to you out of an attitude of love, and I will trust God to meet my needs in the process.” Wives, I’m calling on you to consider stopping the spiral, as I called on the husbands to do last week.

So you can respect your husband by seeking to meet his need for sexual fulfillment. It can pay great dividends in your life, too. By the way, sexual compatibility is a very difficult area in many marriages, but help is available. There are some great books on the subject, and there are counselors who can help revolutionize your lives. Don’t be afraid to seek help.

A wife respects her husband when she makes herself beautiful. (I Peter 3)

Some of you will recall that this is one of Willard Harley’s themes that he shared in the marriage seminar we had here at the church a year ago. Some of you reacted quite negatively to Harley’s statement that the third most important need a man has is for a good-looking wife. In that chapter he stated, “It may sound immature or superficial, but most men do not appreciate a woman for her inner qualities alone. A man’s need for physical attractiveness in a woman is profound.” He even went so far as to suggest to one of his single female counselees who was tired of being single, “First, let me tell you I think you’re a striking woman with a nice figure who has been robbed of attractiveness by those premature wrinkles and gray hair. . . . A plastic surgeon can get rid of the wrinkles, and a good hair-dresser can color and style your hair in a way that will really bring you to the attention of the men you see every day. Then you need to go out and buy a wardrobe that shows off your figure.”

Now if you are troubled by these statements, I’m glad, because I am troubled by them too. I think Willard Harley has seriously missed the boat in this chapter of his book, His Needs, Her Needs. His biggest mistake is that he has totally ignored the one passage in the Bible that tells a woman to make herself beautiful, and I think he ignored it because it directly contradicts what he has to say. Turn with me to I Peter 3:

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

There is a lot in this passage that we do not have time to examine this morning, but one thing is absolutely clear. God puts a greater emphasis on inner beauty than he does on outer beauty. God places a higher priority on purity and reverence, on a gentle and quiet spirit, and on submission than on fancy hairdos or jewelry or clothes.

Frankly, most Christian men I know put a higher priority on those things as well. I have been doing marriage counseling for well over 20 years and I have yet to have a man tell me, “the problem in our marriage is my wife is ugly.” I’ve certainly never had a man complain to me about his wife’s wrinkles. Most men think their wives are physically beautiful. It’s their attitudes that I hear about it–it’s their complaining or their coldness or their independent spirits or their negativism. In other words, it really is the inner beauty (or lack thereof) that affects a marriage most.

Now that doesn’t mean the outer is unimportant. If the barn needs paint, well, paint it. Every man wants to be proud of his wife when he takes her out, and every man is stimulated by the visual. But the outer without the inner is worthless, even dangerous. Wives, respect your husband by making yourself beautiful for him.

A wife respects her husband when she affirms him and builds him up. (Eph. 4:29-32)

Turn back to Ephesians again with me, this time to the fourth chapter, the 29th verse. This is not a marriage passage per se, but it certainly is a relationship passage, and I think it serves well to make an important point about the wife’s respect for her husband. Listen: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Men often put up a tough facade, but underneath, their egos are very fragile, especially as related to their work, their careers. I spoke several weeks ago about the fact that men tend to find their greatest significance in their work. Granted, that’s not always healthy, but it is a fact and it must be reckoned with. A wife who ignores her husband’s work, or worse yet, criticizes his lack of success or his inability to advance does so to her own great detriment.

This applies whether the husband’s career is going poorly or he’s a screaming success. If work is tough and the hours are long, if job security is non-existent, if he gets no affirmation but rather is constantly beaten down in his job, and then he comes home to face further negative comments (why don’t you spend any time with me, why don’t you play more with the kids, why don’t you get a better job?), that is almost more than he can handle. On the other hand, if he is very successful in his job and gets lots of affirmation and adulation at work but gets none at home, he becomes very vulnerable at work and very resentful at home.

The passage I just read, though it is admittedly a general principle about human communication, certainly applies in this situation. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths (that would include nagging, criticism, put-downs, etc.), but only what is helpful for building your husband up according to his needs.” Men have great need for their wife to affirm their work.

I know this from personal experience. Some years ago my wife and I went through a difficult time in our marriage. I couldn’t even tell you what started the spiral, but I do know that I was not loving her and she was not respecting me. The single thing that hurt me most–more than the arguments, more than physical coldness, more than lack of peace in the home–was the fact that for a long time she never said anything about my preaching. I would come home from church, where most Sundays I heard from a number of people that they appreciated the sermon or that it had helped them significantly, but we would sit down to dinner and she wouldn’t say a thing about the message. Week after week this went on, so I decided to take a mature approach to this. I decided to quit saying anything good about her cooking. This went on for some time.

What was going on here was the old downward spiral. I wasn’t loving her as I should, so as far as she was concerned no matter how good a sermon I was preaching, I was a hypocrite. How can you affirm a hypocrite? But when I received no affirmation from her, I refused to give her any in return. When she didn’t hear any thanks for the meals I began to get lots of spaghetti and hot dogs. When I got lots of spaghetti and hot dogs I got even grumpier. I don’t even remember how we got out of that particular situation, but I’m sure one of us, more than likely Jan, decided we were getting nowhere fast and broke the cycle, enabling me to save face and get back on track.

We don’t play those silly games anymore, and one of the things that has helped tremendously is that my wife gives me a great deal of affirmation about my work. She tells me I’m the best preacher in St. Louis (by the way, it’s OK to lie a little when you’re affirming your husband! We need all the help we can get!). Believe me, one affirming comment from her is more important than a standing ovation from you’all.

Another passage that teaches this same truth is from the last chapter of 1 Thessalonians. Beginning in verse 11 we read, “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” Now this is addressed particularly to the Lord’s servants in the church, but the principle of respecting those who work hard and holding them in the highest regard in love because of their work applies to the home as well.

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