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Colossians 3:18  (ID: 2488)

Have you ever wondered why Christian marriages continue to suffer when churches place so much emphasis on the importance of strong marital relationships? Examining Paul’s instructions to wives regarding submission, Alistair Begg suggests that when our focus in marriage favors self over Christ, we are bound to veer off course. Marriage begins with God and His glory, and wives who are faithful to the biblical pattern for marriage are a living testimony to the power of the Gospel.

Series Containing This Sermon

The Christian Family

Colossians 3:18–21 Series ID: 24701

Encore 2014

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 25905

Sermon Transcript: Print

Our Scripture reading this evening comprises the final verses of Colossians chapter 3—it’s page 834 in the pew Bibles—and we’ll read the brief section from verse 18 to verse 25. We’ve set ourselves the task over these next four Sunday evenings of dealing with verses 18, 19, 20, and 21. We could’ve gone on, but we decided just to stay within the framework of the family.

Colossians 3:18:

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

“Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

“Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.”


Let’s pray together:

God our Father, we thank you that it is to your Word that we turn; that it is to the authority of you, the living God, that we look; that we are mere mortals, that “we see through a glass, darkly,”[1] that one day everything will become clear. But now this evening we ask for as much clarity as is required in order to speak carefully and wisely, honestly, and in order to listen carefully and wisely and humbly, and in order to put into practice the things that you teach us through the Bible and by your Holy Spirit. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, let’s turn immediately to our text. It’s there in the portion that we read in Colossians 4:18: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” Now this, as far as a sentence is concerned, is as straightforward as it is shocking in our politically correct environment. I have determined that I’m not going to use any time at all providing illustrations of the way in which what the Bible says concerning the role of a wife is maligned and ridiculed and rejected. I’ll leave that low-hanging fruit for someone else or for another time. Nor am I going to take any undue time wondering about whether we are suffering within our own ranks—that is, within the church itself—as a result of the distortion of the biblical instruction on the subject of wives, husbands, and family.

I just want to sow that seed in your minds—the whole idea that much of what is regarded as vital, useful, beneficial information when it comes to the affairs of the home, and the family, and marriage, and husbands and wives, while without there being any motivation of wrong in it, it is worthy of consideration that the material may actually be distorted in the way it is both purveyed and received. I haven’t checked (I suppose I could; I could’ve done my own survey in our own bookstore), but I would be surprised if any other aspect of Christian living—any other aspect of Christian living—has been addressed as frequently in the last twenty-five years, in Western culture and particularly in the United States, as much as marriage, and husbands and wives in particular. And given the attention that has been paid to this area, it surely is worth pausing for a moment to wonder at the condition of our homes and the condition of so-called Christian marriages.

Now, because I began to think along these lines, I think I made a discovery this week in thinking this issue through—something that I think I’ve maybe known in the back of my mind, but I hadn’t brought it to the forefront of my thinking—and I haven’t completely thought it out, but I’ve done enough thinking on it so as to advance it this evening with a measure of caution. I reserve the right to go back home and think about it some more and come back and tell you on a later date that it wasn’t as good an idea as I had thought.

In approaching worship it is all too easy for us to begin with man and his need rather than to begin with God and his glory.

However, my observation is part of a larger observation, and it goes along these lines: In the declaring of the gospel, when we seek to tell others the good news about Jesus, it is all too easy for us to appeal to the felt needs of men and women while at the same time paying scant attention to the fact of God’s wrath and the resultant wonder of God’s grace.  And to the extent that we are willing to do that, or do that, then we distort the gospel. In a similar way, in approaching worship it is all too easy for us to begin with man and his need rather than to begin with God and his glory.  And when we start here rather than there, we start at the wrong place and therefore distort in some measure our understanding of the nature of worship.

So, in coming to this subject of marriage—in particular, in addressing the issue of what it means to be a wife—it has caused me to wonder whether our predicament in the contemporary church—and it is a predicament; if you don’t know it from where you sit, then we can assure you of it from where we sit in pastoral ministry—it is worth pondering whether our predicament, despite all our helps and all our helpers, is due in some measure at least to the fact that we start in the wrong place or, if you like, that we start with the wrong person. In other words, most of the material that we tackle or purvey on marriage is very, very man centered or very, very woman centered: “Come along, now! You ought to do this, because if you do, it will mean such and such and so and so, it will be a benefit to you, you will feel better about yourself, you will make things easier in the home,” and so on—all of which is true. But all of that kind of exhortation and all of those discoveries may equally well be found in self-help manuals and in other religious forms of orthodoxy.

And here, if I may use the first question of the Shorter Scottish Catechism, I think, is the right starting point for any discovery of Christian marriage. It starts by reorientating the Question 1: What is the chief end of marriage? The chief end of marriage is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. [2] What is the chief objective of a wife? The same. And of a husband? The same. And of parents and of children? In other words, in the expressed terms of this verse, for the wife to live in the light of this text—“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord”—for wives to live in the light of this text is, I suggest to you, ultimately about the gospel—ultimately about the gospel. And I’m going to show you why this is the case. It is in part what it means for a wife to declare that Jesus Christ is Lord. If a wife says “Jesus Christ is Lord” and yet refuses to bow beneath the instruction of the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ, then she fails to put into practice at the most foundational level a declaration which is easily verbalized and yet most difficult to live out.

Now, in a way that I hope will prove both understandable and helpful, I want to gather all of my material under four words. Let me tell you what the four words are. Word number one: piety. Two: mystery. Three: authority. Four: liberty. You needn’t remember them; I’ll take them in turn.

The Value of Piety

Number one: piety. Well, here’s a rare word, is it not? A rare plant—a seldom used, devalued word. Perhaps the last time you heard piety or pious used as an adjective it was in relationship to this sort of familiar dismissive statement which refers to the pious person as being so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly use at all. And people, of course, usually chuckle at that little anecdotal statement. But the fact of the matter is, if we’re honest, we would have to admit that the reverse of that is a far more pressing issue. I haven’t really come across too many people in the last few weeks who have been so heavenly minded that they have been of no earthly use, but I have looked at myself in the mirror of God’s Word and found myself to be so earthly minded that I am actually of very little heavenly use.

Godliness is simply the living of life with an all-pervasive sense of God’s presence.

No, piety is really another word for godliness, and godliness is simply the living of life with an all-pervasive sense of God’s presence —the living of life with an all-pervasive sense of God’s presence—and that not in some kind of mystical experience that is enjoyed, then, in isolated splendor, but rather a practical encounter discovered in the everyday matters of life. You see, for piety—for the all-pervasive presence of God in a life—to be worked out, it has to be worked out at the most fundamental level of our everyday activity. And therefore, I begin with this word.

It is equally applicable—unless the wives feel that they’re being picked on in any way—it is equally applicable through all of our four verses, but our orb this evening is simply in the realm of the women. It involves bringing our minds and our judgments and our will under the mind and judgment and will of God, and to bring all of the assessment of God’s Word upon our conduct, and therefore, in this instance, upon the nature of what it means to be a wife. The first test is the test of piety. It is not the test of beauty, it is not the test of giftedness, it is not the test of physicality; it is the test of piety—an all-pervasive awareness of God that adjudicates, brings his judgment and his mind and his will to bear upon the fact of what it means to live life as a wife.

And the context bears this out. Because verse 18 does not exist in isolation. The context of verse 18 is essentially all that has preceded it. And from the beginning of the letter, Paul has been addressing a very specific group of individuals. This group of individuals, like others to whom he addressed letters, were essentially living with two homes; they had a kind of dual citizenship. But that is true for every Christian. (I actually have a dual citizenship—two passports: a British one, a United States one.) But the significance of this dual citizenship is that those to whom he wrote were both in Colossae and in Christ. And for that this evening we could read “in Cleveland” and, if we are believers, “in Christ.” And the real challenge of what it means to be in Christ is directly tied to the fact that we are in Cleveland—not Cleveland per se, but that we are in the real world, with all of its challenges and opportunities, with all of its difficulties. These individuals—I’ll just point these things out to you—he has identified in 2:6 as those who have “received Christ”; in verse 20 of the same chapter, those who have “died with Christ to the basic principles of [the] world”; and then in the 3:1, he identifies them as those who “have been raised with Christ.”

Now, let me say this, and we’ll move to our second word: What Paul is doing here is not unique to this particular letter; he does it all the time. And he is arguing, if you like, from the larger to the smaller, from the greater to the lesser. He is reminding these individuals that by God’s amazing goodness they have been made members of his family. As members of his family, one day they will be gathered into his family gathering forever—that’s the verses with which we began this evening, “a great company that no one can number.”[3] But for the time being, although they have the privilege of gathering with little bits of that forever family in local churches, such as we are doing this evening, most of their lives are going to be spent not in gatherings like this, not in an awareness of their relationships with the big family of God that is existent throughout the world and in heaven, but most of our lives and the most time in our lives is going to be spent within our own wee families. That’s what makes it so hard! If you simply became a Christian and went immediately to heaven, then that would one thing. But we are placed in Christ while still in Cleveland. If what it meant to be pious or to understand the nature of an all-pervasive sense of God had to do with some esoteric experience whereby we went off on our own into the woods and cogitated, that would be one thing.

But no, the poor wife is confronted by piety while she is confronted by her husband, by her unruly children, by her own personal challenges, by the warp and woof of life, by all of that which makes up life. And she opens her Bible and is confronted by such a striking, straightforward statement: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” Those of you who are wives know what a demanding, striking, straightforward exhortation that is. And unless we set it first within the framework of piety, we seek to plant the bloom in the wrong soil.

The Mystery of Marriage

Now to the second word, and the word is mystery—mystery. Some of you are looking at me as if you regarded the story of piety as a mystery. I understand that, that’s alright. I said that I hoped it would be understandable and helpful; it remains to be seen.

In in order to get to this “mystery,” you should turn, really, to the parallel passage in Ephesians 5, which is worked out in far greater detail than what we have in these pithy statements here in Colossians 4. And we’re not going to expound 5, but it is in chapter 5, in the passage concerning wives and husbands, that we come to this statement in verse 31 and then 32. Paul says, speaking of marriage and quoting from the Old Testament, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” And then here’s our mystery: “This is a profound mystery—but [I’m] talking about Christ and the church.”

Now, if you have attended weddings—and I’ve attended a few of them—and you’ve heard this passage of Scripture read, then like me you have probably made a mental note to figure out what that means. “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” And most of us can say a hearty amen to it; it remains a profound mystery, because although we have had it read and we may have thought about it in passing, we’ve never fully understood what he’s getting at when he says, “This is a profound mystery.” I’m not sure that I’ve got it completely myself, but I think I can make a stab at it.

A healthy biblical marriage is supposed to allow somebody to get a greater grasp of the gospel.

Now, he tells us that the mystery is directly related to Christ and the church: the mystery, if you like, of Christ’s initiative in loving the church and giving himself up for the church; the mystery of the church’s response to that initiatory love . The bride’s joyful, submissive response is all part of this mystery. And this mystery, says Paul, is at the very heart of Christian marriage. And unless we nail that home in our thinking, then I think we go dreadfully astray. The essence of it is simple: that the mystery of the initiative-taking love of Jesus and the joyful submission of his bride in the church to his love is mirrored in healthy biblical marriages. A healthy biblical marriage is in some measure supposed to allow somebody to get a greater grasp of the gospel , is supposed to allow a child to observe the interaction of his or her parents and get an inkling of the mystery of Christ’s redeeming love.

Now, let me pause there for just a moment and say to you, Does this not suddenly set everything at a far higher level than whether my sexual needs are being met, or whether my desires or my designs are being fulfilled, or whether I’m getting my equal share of whatever else it is? You see, all of that is an issue, but not the issue. Because at the very heart of the matter is not only the piety of an all-pervasive sense of God, but it is the very mystery of the initiative-love-taking of God and the joyful submission of the people of God to the lordship of Jesus. None of us have any right to say “Jesus is Lord” if we do not do what Jesus says.  I cannot say “Jesus is Lord” and remain unwilling to love my wife without disregarding her. Nor can the wife say “Jesus is Lord,” whom she has never seen, as she’s supposed to submit to a heavenly Lord that she has never yet met, while being unprepared to submit to an earthly leader with whom she sleeps. This is the challenge! It’s a significant challenge. And I say again to you: the gospel is at stake. Well, you wonder why the Evil One would vent such an attack on Christian marriages. Is it simply so that we won’t have a happy time together? No! It is because he knows what we miss: that a healthy Christian marriage is a mirror of the initiative love of Jesus towards his bride. 

In fact, Ferguson refers to marriage as a “domestic cameo of grace”—a “domestic cameo of grace”—and goes on to observe that “in the marriage relationship a gospel drama is being portrayed in a unique way through a human relationship.”[4] Now, ladies, wives, here you have it in a simple sentence. As daunting as it is, search the Scriptures to see if what I’m telling you is accurate.[5] When a wife expresses submissive love for her husband, she is depicting how a believer responds to the Lord Jesus. When she doesn’t, she is confusing the issue and marring the gospel. 

Now, the husband, as we’ll see next time, is called to love and to care for and to protect his wife as Jesus does the church. But the wife—it’s the wife we’re concerned with—the wife is to illustrate how someone who comes to believe responds to Jesus’ love and does so with deep and joyful submission.

Now, let me just stand aside and say the same thing all over again. I can tell by your silence and your faces that this is not at all what you thought you were going to get in a talk on wives. It really wasn’t what I thought, either, till I started to study it. But I looked at all my old material, I was ashamed of it. It’s the same old rubbish that everybody knocks out: anecdotal stories about “how to do a little better,” and “how to do these things,” and so on. If that were the answer, goodness gracious, we’ve got so much material on that subject that people would be taking vacations in local churches just to get the aura that was coming from the pietistic nature of Christian marriages. They’d be falling down at the feet of Christian wives, becoming Christians as a result of seeing their submissive response to their husbands. But it’s not happening, is it?

Our good friend Dick Lucas says, “The significant truth about a Christian woman’s relation to her husband is that it mirrors her commitment to her Lord.”[6] “The significant truth about a Christian woman’s relationship to her husband is that it mirrors her commitment to her Lord.” Yeah, maybe it does. Maybe the same disgruntled attitude of an unsubmissive wife to her husband simply represents her disgruntled, unsubmissive attitude towards Jesus Christ as Lord.

The Source of Authority

Third word is authority—authority. Why is the wife to submit to her husband? Who says? God says. Now, that’s the beginning and the end of the conversation right there. When you read these verses in Colossians 4—indeed, when you read the whole of the New Testament—it becomes immediately apparent that God has established in society, both in government, in the church, and in the family, what is referred to as a subordinationist ethic—a subordinationist ethic. We sang the Navy Hymn this morning. A number of the ex-Navy types were really giving it big licks and were very happy about it. And I am glad that you are happy, I enjoyed it too. But every one of those individuals understands the subordinationist ethic, understands that it is impossible to have order on a ship without unmitigated commitment to be obedient to the word of the commander. The captain of the ship rules, reigns—has to, if it is to prevent absolute mayhem and confusion. The same is true in an orchestra, the same is true in a sports team, the same is true in government, the same is true in a home.

The only way that human society can work without disintegration is if it works according to God’s divine order.

And that subordinationist ethic is worked out here—isn’t it?—in these four statements. You will notice that the subordinate role comes first in each occasion: “wives” to the “husbands,” “children” to the “parents.” In fact, it comes out far clearer when you go to Ephesians 5. But the only way that human society can work without disintegration is if it works according to God’s divine order . This is not the time or the place—we’ll come to parents later—but this is why it is not some casual issue when apparently intelligent young parents encourage their children to call them by their first name and to pay them no undue deference by dint of the fact that they are their children. That is an attack at the very heart of a subordinationist ethic—which, if that ethic is grounded in the very being of God… which it actually is insofar as within the Trinity you have subordination not on account of inequality but on the basis of equality: equal within the Trinity, coequal, coeternal, and yet playing the role, taking the part, lining up underneath, because that’s the way it works.

Now, contemporary actions against this very notion—and there are many—are no surprise. Sinful human nature has never liked this idea. But there is a logic in it, and let me point it out to you; you need not accept it, but let me at least point it out to you. The husband is “the head”[7]—that’s the phrase that’s used in Ephesians 5; we’d flip between them, but it gets tedious—the husband is “the head” not because he is bigger and stronger, but because God has constituted the order of the relationship in this way, and God has done so for his purposes. The reason for a wife’s submission is because, ultimately, she submits to Christ—the same Christ who has given the role of authority and leadership to the man.  

Now, you see, this removes chauvinism. This removes the strutting-peacock approach of man. This removes manipulation and tyranny on the part of men who’ve got the thing completely, absolutely, totally wrong. And it brings the wife—as she seeks to live under the all-pervasive presence of God, as she seeks to live in the context of the mystery of God—it allows her to open her Bible, or to go to sleep at night, or to exercise the responsibilities of the day by recognizing that ultimately her submission is to Christ alone, and that her submission to her husband is as a result, if you like, of a delegated responsibility entrusted to the man according to God’s constitution in a mysterious way and for the end of God’s own purposes.

Now, that divine order is disturbed when wives seek to rule their husbands and refuse his leadership, and it is equally disturbed when husbands tyrannize their wives, often to the point of enslavement.  How grievous it is to hear wives tell of how they were unable even to go and make a visit to their sister, or to welcome somebody into their home, or to withdraw money from a bank account, because they were in enslavement and in fear to the tyranny of their husbands.

Now, there is no question that it is very easy to get this wrong. The devil loves when we get it wrong, but that does not mean that with God’s help we shouldn’t set about the task of getting it right.

Now, I must come to my final point, but let me say one more thing before I do: any attempt to suggest that the submission of a wife to her husband can be discovered trouble free—any suggestion of that must be coming from somebody who’s never been married, or certainly somebody who has not read the early chapters of Genesis. Because it is impossible to deal with this issue except in the light of creation and the fall and redemption.

You see how vital it is that we view our marriages, if you like, theistically? Or that we view the whole question theologically? Now, trust me, all the other good stuff will fall in line. All the other bits that you wanted a talk on tonight that I’m not giving you, all that other stuff will take its place in a far more perfect environment than could ever be imagined if you, wife—and next week, we husbands—if we will go simply and humbly to the Scriptures to recognize that God’s concern is a redemptive concern, that all of the focus of God is on redeeming a people that are his very own; and when he establishes marriage, he establishes it as a mirror image of Christ and the church so that it might become an evangelistic vehicle, so that we might be seeing unbelieving people becoming the committed followers of Jesus Christ—whether we’re having a good week with our husbands or not!

That’s the issue! “Go into all of the world and proclaim the gospel,”[8] he says. “Speak if you have to,” Francis of Assisi said. But in your marriage, if you’ll do these things, your children will say, “Oh, that’s how it’s supposed to be!” And your neighbors will say, “What in the world happened to you? I have never seen such weirdness—in such a lovely way! Are you soft in the head?”

God made Adam and Eve, and it was fine. He made them in equality, but he gave them distinct roles; you will remember that—distinct roles. If everything had continued as it was, Eve would have been absolutely super as a helper for Adam. There wouldn’t have been any problem whatsoever. She’d have been perfectly content, and Adam would’ve gone along nicely. But then the Serpent comes, and in the fall Eve listens to the Serpent’s voice rather than to her husband’s voice, and Adam listens to his wife’s voice rather than to God’s voice. And as a result, the relationship between them is disrupted, and order is replaced with disorder, and clarity is replaced with confusion. And the expectation from that point on is that Eve now has a “desire,” or a design, for her husband.[9]

You say, “Well, there can’t possibly be anything wrong with that.” Well, the fact of the matter is that it comes in the same verse as, the word is, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to [your] children”—this is part of the disruption by way of the fall—and “Your desire will be for your husband.” The word that is used there, the phrase that is used there, is the same phrase that is used in the following chapter concerning sin being “at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”[10] And in the disruption of the fall, one of the implications is that a woman by nature desires to master her husband: “I’ll get him. I’ll get him sorted out. I can fix this character.” And so it goes on. And all these years that have passed since the garden of Eden, and every husband knows that the decision that was made in a moment in time by Eve has become the habit of a lifetime. And that’s not to be unkind. That’s just to be honest!

In the creation we have perfection; in the fall we have disruption. And when Christ comes as the second Adam, then the effects of the fall are reversed, because Jesus as the second Adam obeys where Adam failed to obey, and Jesus bears the judgment that Adam deserved.  And one day, the promise of the Bible says, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when everything that is disrupted and fractured and spoiled and twisted will be put to right. When Jesus moved through Galilee and Judea in his earthly ministry, he gave hints of this transformation, didn’t he, in his miracles? He restored sight, he gave back a voice to someone who was mute, he put relationships back together again. And in all of this, he was establishing the mystery of this restorative process—a mystery which was then to be revealed in the church. And in that liberation from decay, in the smoothing-out process of everything that sin has rumpled and distorted, it is supposed to be seen in Christian marriage.

You see, countercultural Christianity in America for the last twenty-five years—let’s just be dead honest—has been about protesting, picking up our particular political agendas and hammering it out, whether in the front of a store or in the front of a clinic (not that these things are irrelevant or should be set aside in any way). But coincidentally, Christian marriages have been dissolving at the same rate as pagan marriages. Premarital sex continues to escalate at a phenomenal clip. At the same time, the church continues to triumph itself by declaring the lordship of Jesus and so on, and pastors are inundated day and daily with the dissolving, disrupting marriages as a result of the plain disobedience of men and women to the dictates of the Bible, irrespective of how they feel.

Fact or not? Disturbingly true fact. But the countercultural impact of the church as being indicative of the restorative impact of the gospel as a result of who Jesus is and what he has accomplished and where we’re moving to is supposed to be a microcosm of the self-giving love of Jesus and the joyful submission of the church to his loving embrace, seen in the way my mother responds to my dad and in the way my dad exercises love and care and protection for my mom. “Is this a little of how Jesus loves us, Dad? You were so nice to Mom today.” “Man, Dad was a real bear today, wasn’t he, Mom? I was surprised you didn’t just chew him out. Why didn’t you just give him it good, you know?

“Well, honey, I felt like it, I can tell you. But you know, nothing would have been accomplished. And I want to tell you…” You see how it goes?

The Promise of Liberty

Finally, liberty. Our time is gone. Who wants twenty minutes of questions? Not me. I want to make a run for the border. I’ve even forgotten the first three words; we’ll just deal with the last one, liberty.

The non-Christian mind looks on at all of this, especially a verse like the eighteenth verse, and says, “This is the ultimate in tyranny. This is a dreadful bondage. Anybody that’s prepared to even tinker around with this is dafter than a brush handle. What you need to do is get out from underneath that kind of religious hocus-pocus and come out into the real world and enjoy freedom where it’s to be found.” How’s it looking? How’s the alternative coming across?

True freedom is found in all of our Christian lives by obedience to what God has made absolutely clear in the Bible.

Now, we don’t need to cow away from the challenges that come our way. True freedom is found in all of our Christian lives by obedience to what God has made absolutely clear in the Bible.  Paul puts it, in 2 Corinthians 10:5, in a phrase; he talks about taking “every thought captive”—taking “every thought captive.” What does that mean, in particular terms, for a wife? Well, I guess it means when you read some of those magazines, you’ve gotta take these thoughts captive, you’ve gotta go bury them somewhere. There is so much nonsense in them. All of those things saying, “You know, it’s about time. How long have you been married to that joker? Goodness, gracious! Twenty-six years, and he’d been a pain in the neck for twenty-five of them—and that’s the last twenty-five! Don’t you think it’s about time you made you made a run for it, head for the hills? Before finally gravity takes over everything and you finally just drift away into oblivion? Don’t you think that you ought to take a second stab at it somewhere? Isn’t there somebody else that could light your flame and [stoke] your fire,” and so on. That’s the way it goes, isn’t it? How do you respond to that as a wife? I don’t know. I suppose you can only take every thought captive to Christ. You can only say, “No, this is not the way I need to think about things.”

In the seventeenth century, a man by the name of Fergusson put it as follows: “A wife can never discharge her duty in any measure of conscientious tenderness towards her husband, except she have a high esteem of the Lord Christ, and be in the first place subject [to] him; that so from love to him she may [submit to him].”[11] So, you see, it’s the “Him” with a capital H that’s the issue, although most of the books on marriage suggest that it’s “him” with a wee h that’s the issue. We start at the wrong place. We conjugate the verb to be in English, don’t we, I am, you are, he is? In Hebrew, it conjugates in reverse: he is, you are, I am. Is it too simplistic to say that that reverse conjugation is the very issue that is being addressed here? We start in the wrong place; no wonder we go so badly adrift.

And the final word to another Ferguson, this time in the twentieth century. And our thought is liberty, isn’t it? He writes, “Marriage [then] is not a recipe for the subjugation of [the wife], but a blueprint for her true freedom in a healthy, loving relationship …. [Here the] wonder, power, beauty, holiness and transformation of the gospel can be seen—not [just by her husband, but by her children and by her neighbors].”[12]

Let’s pray together:

Father, most of us are so stuck on ourselves. That’s just the real issue. We start with ourselves, we start in the wrong place, we start with the wrong person. Forgive us. We pray, Lord, that you will help us as husbands to love our wives sacrificially, and we pray that you will help our wives not to mask the truth of the gospel by resisting the pattern of your Word, but instead that you would help them to express the evangelistic power of married love, for the sake of Jesus, who loved his bride to the uttermost. Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV).

[2] Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 1. Paraphrased.

[3] Revelation 7:9 (paraphrased).

[4] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Ephesians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), 149–50.

[5] Acts 17:11 (paraphrased).

[6] Dick Lucas, The Message of Colossians & Philemon (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), 160.

[7] Ephesians 5:23 (NIV 1984).

[8] Mark 16:15 (paraphrased).

[9] Genesis 3:16 (NIV 1984).

[10] Genesis 4:7 (NIV 1984).

[11] James Fergusson, A Brief Exposition of the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (London: Thomas Ward, 1841), 242.

[12] Ferguson, Ephesians, 151.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.