Yesterday I preached from Ephesians 5:22-24 on the subject of the roles and responsibilities of the wife—as designed by God. In our previous sermon through Ephesians, I took an overview approach to Ephesians 5:22-33 in order to set the stage for the each section that would be covered in the family section.
In this section, the wife is the focus. What is a “wife” and why is her role of such great importance in the family? The first time we see the term “wife” used in Scripture is in Genesis 2:24 where God commands a man to leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife. God instituted the family and designed it in such a way that it brings honor to Him and organization to our society. As the Proverb states, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD” (Prov. 18:22).
The Command to Submit
Although submission is an ugly word in our culture, it’s a biblical concept that must be followed. In fact, if we can’t practice submission in our homes, how will we be able to submit to God, to employers, to rulers of the land, or various other hierarchies? The word “submit” is carried over from verse 21, and must be taken in the imperative form. In fact, if you look at Colossians 3, you will see that Paul does intend to communicate to the wife that her role is to submit to her husband.
Submit = “ὑποτάσσω” – A Greek military term meaning to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader. In non-military use, it was a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.
Although submission is something that our culture resists at all levels, the Christian—and especially the Christian home—should exemplify what it means to live in submission to God and His commands. One of the most practical ways that a wife can put her Christianity on display is by being a faithful submissive wife who aligns herself under the leadership of her own husband. R. C. Sproul has stated:
It is the Lord’s will that the wife be submissive to her husband, and if she wants to honour Christ, then one of the concrete ways she does this is by being in submission to her husband. If a woman is contentious and refuses to follow the leadership of her husband, she is in rebellion, not simply against him, but also against Christ. 
The very word “submit” has become a very nasty word in our culture. Employees don’t like to submit to their bosses. Children don’t like to submit to their parents. Wives don’t like to submit to their husbands. In a culture filled with anti-authority attitudes, often times that spreads beyond the border of culture and invades the life of the local church. This type of rebellion has become a normative aspect of what it means to be an American. However, that type of attitude and rebellion is not what it means to be a Christian. Peter O’Brien writes, “The idea of subordination to authority in general, as well as in the family, is out of favour in a world which prizes permissiveness and freedom.” 
Just as Peter and the apostles were to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29) when they were commanded to stop preaching the gospel, so must the wife be in total submission to Christ. If she is asked to violate God’s Word and live in disobedience to her Savior, she is to refuse to submit to the leadership of her husband in that particular area of her life. If she is married to an unbeliever, she should remain married to him as long as he will have her as his wife (1 Cor. 7:13-14). Who knows what her faithful submission will lead to in their marriage? It could very well lead to her husband’s salvation as he watches the faithfulness of his godly wife.
The Roles Explained
In verses 23-24, Paul explains the roles of the wife and illustrates it by using Christ and the church. The role of the wife is to be under the authority of her head—her husband. The word translated “head” is the Greek term, κεφαλή and it is a direct reference to an authoritative position of leadership for the husband. Our culture has reversed the roles of husband and wife for many years now, and this reversal has given birth to many problems. Those same cultural problems are visible in the life of the local church as well.
It is God’s will for the husband to be the provider, the worker, and the leader of the home. Although both the man and his wife are equal intellectually and both are created in the image of God, it is God’s design for the wife to submit to her husband as her leader and for the husband to take the primary responsibility as the breadwinner. Unfortunately, that is not the way the American dream is achieved, and therefore, a large number of wives leave their homes everyday for corporate America. In 2015, 69.9 percent of mothers with children under age 18 were in the labor force, representing over a third (34.2 percent) of working women. 
With this type of lifestyle, we must ask a serious question—who will raise the children, disciple them for God’s glory, and love their children and their husbands for God’s glory? If the wives abandon their homes for other jobs, who will perform the work of the wife in the home? Titus 2:3-5 provides us a helpful look at God’s designed role for the wife:
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good,  and so train the young women to love their husbands and children,  to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
Notice the short phrase, “working at home” in Titus 2:5. It is God’s will for the wife to make her home the center of her life and labor. Even the Proverbs 31 woman is pictured as working diligently, but it’s obvious that her labor was centered on the wellbeing of her home and she put her love on display for her family through her labor. She was not neglecting her family in pursuit of a career.
The Christian family must reject the harsh criticism of the culture regarding the biblical family structure. The culture laughs at the church, makes fun of God’s children, and suggests that we are all backward people who need to get up to speed with reality. What voice should we listen to—culture or Christ?
Are you a working mother? Is it out of necessity to take care of your family or is it out of a desire to live on a certain socioeconomic level? We live in a fallen world where at times, it’s absolutely necessary for a wife and mother to work outside of the home. However, that’s not always the case. If you stayed home and made your home your focus with your children under your care and love put on display in the home, would your family be more healthy? Would your children be more loved? Would your love for your husband be more obvious? Would you have less regrets in the years to come?
These are serious question that must be addressed. In the end, the eternal souls of your children and your husband matter. Make the biblical decision for how you structure your family. If you need to take less vacations, live in a different neighborhood, drive less expensive automobiles, and drop do a lower socioeconomic level in order to obey Christ—it will be worth it. The biblical family structure is not outdated or outrageous as the radical feminists try to suggest. The biblical family doesn’t need to be updated to fit into our culture. God’s plan doesn’t need to be revised, and interestingly enough, it works across the board in all cultures. Imagine that—a God who designs a family structure that actually works.
If you pay attention to the news and look at our culture you will see teen suicide, a rise in secularism and a pagan worldview, broken homes through divorce, and a massive number of people who are being treated by psychologists through medication for deep rooted depression. Could any of this be linked to a role reversal and altered family structure? It would be foolish to make adjustments to God’s design for the family. Not only will it harm your family, but the church will suffer as well.
How can all of this be carried out? Paul points to the relationship between Christ and the church as an example. Look to Christ and the church as an example of faithful submission and faithful headship and as the wife submits fully to God, she will learn to submit to her husband and follow his leadership in the home.
- R. C. Sproul, The Purpose of God: Ephesians (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 135.
- Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 412.
- Issue Brief, Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor, June 2016.