There is really no relief from marital conflict apart from Christ. Rarely will you ever find a longstanding marriage among unbelievers that is anything more than a truce. For whatever reason, they just agree to stay together. You don’t generally find marriages among unbelieving people filled with joy and fulfillment and happiness and love and satisfaction, to the point where they never consider anyone else because they are so totally fulfilled with each other. Rarely will you find that outside the realm of Christianity.
And unfortunately, even within the realm of Christianity, there are many who do not take advantage of what God has provided:
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. (Ephesians 5:22-23)
Here again, in Christ, the curse is softened. Where you have someone who lives with reverence to Christ and is humbly able to submit to others, then you’re going to have the possibility of minimizing the natural conflict in marriage. And wives filled with the Spirit, filled with worship, filled with thanks, filled with reverence for Christ are going to be subject to their own husbands as to the Lord. That’s the duty of the wife.
It doesn’t say you are to obey your husband. That’s reserved for children and servants, later in the passage. The husband and wife relationship is different. It’s not a commanding and obeying motif. It’s a more intimate, inward, vital kind of thing. And that’s why it says, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands.” There’s intimacy there.
This subjection doesn’t imply spiritual inferiority. In Christ there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28). The Lord Jesus, after all, is subject to God the Father but is in no way inferior. Neither is the woman inferior to the man. But for the sake of unity, harmony, and peace, and because of God’s created design, she is commanded to be subject to her own husband as she would be subject to the Lord Himself.
It isn’t the kind of submission that says, “I don’t like it, but I’m submitting.” It’s not that. You don’t say that to the Lord. That’s not a heart of submission at all. You submit to your husband the way you would submit to the Lord. And how would you do that? “I gladly submit, because I know that honors you. I know that’s Your will.”
It doesn’t say that your husband is the equal of the Lord. We know he’s not. But you submit in the same way. Why? “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.”
That’s the way He designed it. God designed Christ to be the head of the church. God designed the husband to be the head of the wife. That’s the way it has to be. A home without a head is an invitation to chaos. And that’s what you have in the conflict – the woman trying to rebel and master the husband, and the husband trying to crush the rebellion. It’s as chaotic as a body without a head.
Submitting is by divine design. You do it in the strength of the Holy Spirit. You do it in the joy of worship. You do it with a heart of thanksgiving. You do it with reverence to Christ.
And the point is that Christ is the head of the church not in a domineering way, but in a saving way.
When you think of Christ as the head of the church, you don’t think of Him as a dictator. You don’t think of Him as a despot. You don’t think of Him as some dominating task-master making life brutal. You think of Him as a savior, a protector, and a provider. He’s somebody who has your well-being in His heart. He’s somebody who is interested in your welfare and in providing the very best for you. He’s somebody who rescues you from sin, death, hell, and trouble. He protects and safeguards you.
In Christ, the husband becomes a savior of his wife. He becomes the protector, the preserver, the guardian. He makes sure that she is safe – that she is exposed only to those things that bring about her well-being physically, morally, and spiritually.
And then in verse 24, Paul sums it up, “But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” No exceptions. Unless, of course, it violates God’s command. If your husband asks you to do something God forbids or asks you not to do something God commands, then you must obey God.
Now in that environment, the rebellion is quashed. The woman, under the control of the Spirit with a happy heart, worshiping God, filled with gratitude for her salvation and the goodness of God, living in reverence to Christ, submits to her husband the same way she submits to the Lord, with a willing and eager heart. She views her husband as her rescuer, protector, guardian, and savior.
On the other hand, look at the husband in verses 25-30:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she would be holy and blameless.
So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.
Instead of him trying to crush and dominate this woman, it says, “Husbands, love your wives.” It doesn’t say control your wives. It doesn’t say order her around and make sure she does everything you tell her. There’s nothing here related to authority at all. It just says love her – agapē, the highest and deepest kind of love, the love of the will, the love of self-sacrifice. The husband has authority, but it is exercised through love.
What a man needs to convince his wife of is that he loves her so much that he is always concerned with her well-being. That makes his authority soft and warm, and then his authority is her protection, not a threat to her independence. The standard is to love your wife the way Christ loved the church.
How did Christ love the church? First of all, sacrificially. He gave Himself up for her. He humbled Himself to death and gave up His life. The Spirit-filled husband will give his life up for his wife as Christ did for the church. There’s no tyranny here. There’s only sacrifice.
Secondly, it’s not only a sacrificial love, it’s a purifying love (verses 26-27). Men, you never want to do anything that exposes your wife to any temptation or any impure influence. You should protect your wife from that. True love is concerned with the purity of its object.
Any so-called love which drags a partner down to uncleanness of any kind is a false love. I tell young people that. If some guy comes along and says, “I love you, now go to bed with me,” that’s not love.
Love seeks to sacrifice itself for the other and to pursue the purity of its object, just in the way Christ sought the purity of His church.
And then in verse 28, we see that this is a caring love. You love your wife the same way you love yourself.
You don’t have to learn to love yourself. You do that naturally. You feed yourself. You dress yourself. You make sure that all your needs are met. That’s exactly the way you want to take care of your wife: with the same kind of attentiveness, devotion, and consistency that you give to yourself. You do that because that’s how Christ loves His church.
We understand that sin hit marriage really hard, because everybody in the family is a sinner. The husband is a sinner and the wife is a sinner. Then we bring children in and that compounds it more, as all of their fallenness is mingled with our own. And the only hope is the power of justification and sanctification. The only hope is the work of the Spirit of God in the heart.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 2000, titled “The Curse on the Woman, Part 2.”
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