Survey Studies in Reformed Theology
Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
Bob Burridge ©2011
Nomology: Lesson 8c – The Godly Wife
by Pastor Bob Burridge ©2000, 2011
The duties of wives in marriage
Though man was created first, he was incomplete until God made the woman from his flesh. God said that it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Nothing in all of creation was a suitable helper for him, so God made woman from man’s own body. This was his plan from the beginning.
Sadly the biblical role of woman has been horribly distorted through the effects of sin. Some have degraded women as if they were created as inferior beings of less value and importance than men. They have often denied them basic protections and treated women as lowly servants. Others have attempted to remove the distinctions between the roles of the sexes which God established.
The biblical role of the woman in the family and in society in general is honorable, important, and vital. Unfortunately the Bible portions that explain their place in God’s order of things are often read superficially. This can leave us with impressions that seem to support abuses which become commonly accepted as proper attitudes.
The Apostle Paul summarized the role of women in two of his letters to the churches.
Colossians 3:18, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”
Ephesians 5:22-24, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”
In writing his letters of instruction to Pastors Titus and Timothy, Paul further showed the responsibilities of women in the church.
Titus 2:4-5, “that they (the older women) may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored.”
1Timothy 2:11-12 “Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”
Peter also wrote about the role of women in his general letter to the churches.
1 Peter 3:1-2, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.”
There is one idea that is common to every one of these passages. God commands women to be in “subjection” to their husbands. This expression has been understood in various ways which have been colored by changing cultural practices. This has caused much confusion.
The idea of submissiveness is a general principle God built into his creation. The word translated as “to be subject to” is hupotasso (υποτασσω). It is used 41 times in the New Testament. It simply means “submit to”, “obey”, “be in subjection to.” But in Scripture it is clear that the basic idea of submission is not just for wives. It applies in various ways to all humans.
In Ephesians 5:21 we are all told to be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. 1 Peter 5:5 tells young men to be subject to their elders. Hebrews 13:17 commands believers to be subject to the Elders of their own church. In Romans 8:7 we are all told to be in subjection to God’s law. Then in Romans 13:1-5 all citizens are commanded to be in subjection to the leaders God has placed over them in the civil government. Six times in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul explains that all things will be made subject to Christ.
Even Jesus was in subjection to his earthly parents when he was a child (Luke 2:51). As God the Son, Jesus was subject to the Heavenly Father who sent him (John 5:30, 1 Corinthians 11:3). And Jesus Christ is said to have headship over every man, as the man is head over the woman.
Obviously submissiveness must not mean what many think it does today. Clearly considering these examples the general idea of submissiveness can’t include enslavement or inferiority.
The word has to do with duties and responsibilities, not with lower importance or lesser personal value. God created an orderly world to reflect his own orderliness. This means that someone has to be held responsible for leadership and others are expected to respect and follow that leadership.
Headship is not as much a privilege as it is an assignment from God. Equally important is the duty of supporting those called to lead. It doesn’t make the supporters less important. It simply means that they have different responsibilities.
Citizens are the reason civil leaders have been called to hold office and enforce the laws. The purpose of leadership is to provide for the citizens. In the church, the members are the reason God calls Elders and Deacons to be leaders. They are to oversee and serve for the benefit of those in the congregation. Similarly in the home, the wife and children are the ones for whom husbands and fathers are called to headship.
God made all things the way he did so that they display his own nature and promote his holy principles in the world. Certainly there is no inferiority among the members of the Trinity. Jesus is not inferior to God the Father. But in his work of redemption God the Son is in subjection to the Father’s decrees. It shows a division of work in the Trinity, but not a difference in value or importance.
Order and structure, headship and submission, are a part of God’s creation order. To preserve the Creator’s intent the submissive wife is not to be thought of as inferior to her husband. Women do not have a lower standing than men. They are not their husbands’ slaves. But they do have different duties and responsibilities before God.
God has often assigned groups of humans different duties. He only allowed the family of Levi to be tabernacle priests. He only called certain families to be Kings. Levites weren’t better than Kings, nor Kings than Levites. God simply gave them different duties. In the same way God calls men and women to different duties in the home.
God did not design the home to be in chaos. It should not be the most dominant personality that runs things. God gave the male that responsibility. The female is to be supportive of him in his duty of leadership. This submissiveness is the wife’s responsibility. It is not the husband’s duty or right to make her submissive. Husbands who use force, violence, or humiliation to subdue their wives violate clear biblical principles and obscure the meaning of both their roles..
The wife’s subjection to the husband is limited by God’s higher authority. As Acts 5:29 says, we must obey God rather than man. When conflict occurs and humans cannot be justly obeyed, the disobedience must not be with defiance. No one in a leadership role can command us to disobey God. No husband has the authority to command his wife to do what God forbids, nor to make her neglect any duties God commands. Colossians 3:18 shows that her submission is “as is fitting in the Lord.”
The husband abuses his authority if he commands what is not delegated to him. God’s word is the standard that defines all headship and obedience. In cases where a wife must disobey her husband in order to obey God’s clear commands she must do it with love, humility, and respect. Her goal is always to let the fruit of the Holy Spirit be seen in her life.
The wife needs to submit in her attitudes as well as in her actions. A grudging submission will not do. Ephesians 5:33 says, “Let the wife see to it that she respect her husband.” The Amplified Bible puts it this way: “She is to notice, regard, honor, prefer, esteem, praise, and admire her husband exceedingly.”
The wife’s attitude in the home, before her children, her neighbors and friends, should demonstrate respect and godly submission. To her children, she is their primary example of how they should respect leadership. Children who have a distorted example of structure in the home will often struggle all their lives with submission to authority.
Her attitude ought to show that she is satisfied with her position as wife. She should not show that she covets the job God gave her husband. She is not to envy his responsibility of headship, but should be willing to let him do his job, and to help him to do it well.
The wife is not only to be in subjection to her husband. She is also to be his helper in a unique way. Adam’s loneliness couldn’t be satisfied by anything else in creation, so God said, “I will make him a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).
The woman’s role as helper does not mean that she is his slave. God is certainly not our slave when the Bible tells us that the LORD (Jehovah) our our helper. Psalm 121:2 “My help comes from the LORD who made heaven and earth.”
Genesis calls the woman a helper suitable for (corresponding to) the man from whom she was made. That means she is similar to him, yet different. They need one another. 1 Corinthians 11:11 says, “… neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.”
The wife, though in subjection to a husband, has a great ministry in her home, church, and community. She does not live only for her husband. She doesn’t have to deny or suppress her own intellect or her creativity.
In Ephesians 5 Paul compares the headship of the husband with the headship of Jesus over his church. Similarly the submission of the church to her Lord is like that of the wife to the husband. Our Savior fully uses the talents and efforts he stirs in his people. He enables them to improve their service to him. In that same way a godly husband should treasure his wife’s insights, talents and abilities, and the wife ought to put her talents, ideas, abilities, and resources to work for the good of her family.
God made them to work together and to complete one another. The wife ought to lovingly share her ideas and opinions while respecting the responsibility God has given to her husband as head of the home. She should not argue to get her own way and should never belittle her husband. The two are made into one in marriage and should be team players striving for the goal of mutual growth in Christ. There is great freedom within the boundaries appointed by God.
Proverbs 31:10-31 is the classic passage about the virtuous woman. It shows an active woman who is creative and talented, certainly not a mere domestic slave.
The wife “works with her hands in delight” (31:13). This reminds us of our Lord’s work. In the Messianic Psalm 40, the Messiah says that he delighted to do the Father’s work (verse 9). In John 4:34 Jesus tells us that his service to the Father was his food. In this same way the wife should be a helper to her husband in the home, working with joy in her heart to be about the business her Heavenly Father called her to do.
This chapter in Proverbs tells us that she becomes involved in hard labor, makes investments, and is creative. Yet in all that she does she never lets these things hinder her work as helper. She never neglects to ease her husband’s burdens and put her home’s needs first. She makes the home a safe place, a place of encouragement, comfort, understanding, and refuge. She keeps the home in order and clean so that her family will have a comfortable, healthy place to live and to do their work.
This doesn’t mean she makes her home an immaculate, uncomfortable, showplace to pridefully show off her own talents. She keeps it all in balance. The house and its order are for the people, not the people for the house. Dr. Francis Schaeffer’s wife Edith said, “People are more important than things”
Therefore she doesn’t let her care for the home, its furnishings or decor make those who live there feel like slaves to the things. Wives shouldn’t become so obsessed with housework or decorating that the spiritual needs of her home and family are neglected. There are times when getting the dishes or laundry done are not the most important things. Yet they should not be put off unwisely either. Women in the home need to be examples of wise balanced living.
Men need to appreciate the difficulty involved in maintaining this balance. The Bible lays great stress on the vital importance of wives:
Proverbs 18:22, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord.”
Proverbs 31:10-11, “An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain ”
Proverbs 31:28-31, “Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her. Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all. Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised, Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.”
The role of the wife may be difficult, but it is vital to the health of the home, and of society as the aggregate of our homes.
There will be chaos if women rebel against the authority God has set over them in the home. If mothers fail to be examples of respectful and godly submission, her children will grow up greatly handicapped in the way they handle authority.
If the wife is growing in fulfilling her duties as God has outlined them, her home, husband, and children will be growing into Christ-likeness too. Her home will be a place of peace, patience, and mutual respect. It will be a refuge from the world, not a tense, ugly place where the children can’t wait to leave.
The confusion of today’s world sets itself against this biblical model. We have good news in the right understanding of the gospel of God’s grace. We are to present it by word and example to all God brings to us as friends and co-workers. We need to expose the distortions and work to restore this proper kind of submission and order.
The results of the abandonment of the biblical model are sadly displayed all around us. Homes and marriages are deteriorating, some are already destroyed. Communities hate rightful and needed authority. We see wickedness growing on our streets, in our schools, and in the world as a whole. The former places of safety and security are fading away. Families are in tense turmoil.
If our society is to be turned around, if our homes are to be safe again, women as godly wives can make the difference.
Note: The Bible quotations in this syllabus are from the New American Standard Bible (1988 edition) unless otherwise noted.