A Word to Wives
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

A Word to Wives

From Series: Life Together

Ephesians 5:22-24  (ID: 3275)

Men and women are equal in dignity as image-bearers and co-heirs with Christ, but different in function. Alistair Begg considers the place of submission in marriage, noting that God has given wives a clear command to submit to their husbands. Like every area of life, the marriage relationship is tainted by the consequences of sin, but Christ is exalted when husbands and wives live according to the pattern that God has provided in His Word.


Sermon Transcript:

I invite you to turn with me to the first book of the Bible, to Genesis, and to chapter 3, and we’ll read from the first verse. Genesis chapter 3 and reading from verse 1:

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

“He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’

“The Lord God said to the serpent,

‘Because you have done this,

 cursed are you above all livestock

 and above all beasts of the field;

on your belly you shall go,

 and dust you shall eat

 all the days of your life.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

 and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

 and you shall bruise his heel.’

“To the woman he said,

‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;

 in pain you shall bring forth children.

Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,

 but he shall rule over you.’

“And to Adam he said,

‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife

 and have eaten of the tree

of which I commanded you,

  “You shall not eat of it,”

cursed is the ground because of you;

 in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;

 and you shall eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your face

 you shall eat bread,

till you return to the ground,

 for out of it you were taken;

for you are dust,

 and to dust you shall return.’

“The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

“Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—’ therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Now let’s turn together to Ephesians chapter 5 and pick things up at verse 22. And as we open our Bibles there, we ask for God’s help:

Our God and Father, we pray now that your Word will be as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path,[1] that the words that come from my mouth and the thoughts of our minds and the response of our wills may be in keeping with the wonder of your grace to us in Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Well, for those of you who may be visiting, we’ve been studying for some time in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, and last week we arrived at verse 22. And we stepped back from that long enough to try and make sure that we understood a number of things: first of all, that unless we believe in the absolute authority and infallibility of the Bible, there is no basis for us to propound these truths, to believe them, and to live in the light of them. It is because it is God’s Word that we look to it, no more here than any other place, but certainly no less.

Our identity as men and women is not tied to whether we’re in a relationship or not.

We also tried to make sure that none of us began to think that this is a section in the Bible just for married people. Sometimes when we read a section like this, it’s possible for those who are unmarried to at least check out mentally and to say, “Well, of course, here’s one of these talks for husbands and wives.” Well, in actual fact, what we were trying to make sure we understood is that our identity as men and women is not tied to whether we’re in a relationship or not. Our identity is not in relationship to whether we are married or we are single. Our identity is, first of all, as made in the image of God, and then, secondly, as redeemed by the grace of God—those of us who are in Christ. And we also tried to make sure that we understand that this whole section, as Paul says down in verse 32 and 33, is about Christ and the church.

The only thing I want to add to that as we lead into it now is to say this: that it is imperative that we keep the entire passage before us in our thinking. Because to move slowly through it, as we’re now about to do, raises the possibility of disengaging one part from the other when, in fact, all of the parts are necessary for an understanding of the truth that Paul is conveying. That would argue, of course, for tackling the whole section in just one address, but then again, we would move quickly through material that probably needs our attention. So, let’s understand what we’re doing here, so that if the wives this morning feel particularly put upon, then you must read on and realize what’s coming for your husbands. And you will notice that substantially more words are conveyed to the husbands than to the wives, and probably for very good reason.

Now, when I conduct marriage ceremonies—and it may be true of my colleagues as well, I’m not sure—the preamble that I use for the marriage service reminds those who are gathered that “God designed marriage for the lifelong union of one man and one woman,” and goes on to say that “the welfare of human society can be strong and happy only where the marriage bond is held in honor.” When I read that now, I find, especially in a varied congregation, that there is a sense of a sort of electrical current running through the procedure, because it comes across with such striking impact: one man, one woman, lifelong. All of these words. Strong, happy, healthy, and so on. It’s a reminder that what we’re dealing with is material that is, first of all, biblical; it is at the same time regarded in many quarters as radical; and I want us to agree together that it is absolutely crucial.

Soon as you introduce the s word, submission, all kinds of triggers go off. In the ’70s, John Stott said, “The very notion of submission … is out of fashion today. It is totally at variance with contemporary attitudes of permissiveness and [of] freedom.”[2] He was speaking then in 1979—which, interestingly, was the same year that Pink Floyd produced their album The Wall, with the fascinating lyric, “Hey, teacher, leave those kids alone,” and the great refrain, “We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control.”[3] Somewhat ironic; they did need an English teacher to deal with the double negative—unless they were actually very, very clever and they were saying that we do need education and we do need thought control, but I don’t think so. I think the idiom was pretty clear: “We don’t have to be bothered with this; you’re just another brick in the wall. You’re no more significant than anybody else. Understand it.” In the ensuing forty-plus years, we might argue that the idea of submission is reacted to even more vociferously. It is even more unfashionable than it was in the ’70s, and particularly in Western culture, and not least of all in our own.

The whole issue of submission, and therefore of authority, is very, very clear in the Bible. And so we start from the premise that the Bible is the Word of God. The Bible tells us that authority is founded in God alone, that authority comes from God, that it is God who has established order in society, in creation, in the church, in marriage, in family. And it is understandable that the Bible actually begins with the phrase, “In the beginning, God…” Before there was time, before there was anything, there was God. God is the Creator and Sustainer of everyone and everything.

You say, “Well, I’m not sure that that is a very good starting point for conversation with people who don’t believe.” Well, it may be or it may not be. Interestingly, when Paul was dealing with the intelligent folks in Athens, that’s exactly where he started, wasn’t it? You remember his opening line was that “the God who made the world and everything in it…”[4] That’s where he starts: “God made the world, and he made everything in it.” And he is the one in whom all authority is founded.

And having made the world and everything in it, he has not left us on planet Earth to try and figure it all out on our own—a bit like a Christmas toy that came with no instructions, no directions, and you just sat on the floor and looked at your wife and said, “What am I supposed to do with this thing here?” The people in our world today, that’s where they are. They’re sitting, as it were, on the floor, looking out on one another and saying, “What are we supposed to do? How do I make sense of who I am, where I’m from?” Well, it’s come with the Maker’s instructions. And the instructions are both authoritative and they’re sufficient. This Bible tells you where you’ve come from, this Bible tells you how you’re getting there, this Bible tells you how it’s all going to end, and this Bible tells you the wonderful story of how God has pursued men and women, despite the fact that we’re rebellious towards him, in order that he might have a relationship with them. And in that relationship, he establishes his authority and calls for our submission.

So the submission that is called for in Scripture—that is, a submission that is part and parcel of society and marriage and so on—is according to the authority that is there in the order established by God.

The Direction

Now, in verse 22 you will see the direction that he gives or the instruction that he gives; in verse 23 you will see the explanation that he provides for the direction that he gives: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” I think it is fair to say that that is clear. That is clear. And it flies in the face of political correctness. Because it flies in the face of political correctness, it is not uncommon to find Christians who are embarrassed by this statement, who then are defensive and apologetic. And the reason for that is not because it is impossible to understand; it is because it’s virtually impossible to misunderstand—that the verb to submit is a pretty clear verb, translated elsewhere by Paul, of course, as “obey.” Hence, in the order of the marriage service, the question is addressed to the wife, “Do you promise to love, honor, and obey? Will you submit to this man who’s supposed to love you in this particular way?” Now, all of that, you see, is founded in the purposes of God.

I found it quite interesting—I thought I’d just go to my paraphrases and see whether my good friends toe the line in relationship to “submit.” And unfortunately, J. B. Phillips has let me down. And you know I’m a great fan of J. B. Phillips. He translates this, “You wives must learn to adapt yourselves to your husbands.” Not good enough. Uh-uh. Not good enough for me? No, not good enough for the text. “Adapt yourself” is not the same as “submit.” It’s good, but it’s not what the verb says. Peterson, in The Message, similarly, he says, “[You] wives, understand and support your [husband].” Still doesn’t get there, does it?

The biblical teaching is simple, it is politically incorrect, and it is quite wonderful. Simple, politically incorrect, and quite wonderful, in that it means what it says. It just means what it says. Submission is the humble recognition of God’s divine ordering of society. Society cannot function as God established it without the principle of submission being both understood and applied. So, for example, this is not a principle that is unique to marriage. We’re going to see that it involves children. Children are to submit to their parents.[5] When you read in the book of Hebrews, you realize there that church members are to submit to their church leaders.[6] When you read Romans chapter 13, in the opening verses, we’re told that we as citizens are to submit to our authorities.[7] And so, too, “wives … to your own husbands.”

Now, I’m going to tell you something that you won’t know unless you read the Greek. There is no verb to submit in verse 22. “Oooh,” you say, “and you just made such a thing about J. B. Phillips!” Yes, I did, but here’s the point: verse 21 says, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, to your own husbands.” In other words, he says, “Here is the principle: it is the principle of submission.” In a general way, it is part and parcel of our relationship with each other. In order for us to function effectively in the body of Christ, there needs to be a willingness to submit to one another. And he says, “And this principle—this general principle of submission—then has to be worked out in very specific ways: submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives to your husbands, children to your parents, employees to your employer.” That’s the way in which it goes.

So, if it means what it says, let’s make sure that we don’t make it say something that it doesn’t mean. So, let me approach it in this way.

First of all, let’s make it absolutely clear that the directive here for a wife to submit to her husband does not imply in any way inferiority. Inferiority. All right? That is often the charge that is laid to the person who says, “Now, this is what the Bible has to say.” No, the Bible is very clear that we are equal in dignity as made in the image of God, and in Christ—those of us who are believers in the Lord Jesus—we are equal in redemption, in that, as Peter says in 1 Peter 3, we are heirs together of the grace of God.[8] Our standing before God as made in his image is entirely equal. Our standing before Christ as redeemed in Christ is entirely equal. There is no sense in which that is not the case.

That, however, does not negate the direction that is here. So, what we’re dealing with when we talk in terms of this submission is, if you like, the kind of submission that is my hand to my head. It’s imperative that my hand is in submission to my head. In fact, if this starts to go, it may be an indication of convulsions, it could be a case of some kind of atrophy, whatever it might be—something is broken, something is wrong. There’s no sense in which it is a matter of inferiority; it is the order of things. And that is what is being provided for us here.

Now, the reason this is important is because if we’re dead honest—and we ought to be very, very honest—our wives in many cases are wiser, more competent, in all kinds of areas than we ourselves are as husbands. And you don’t have to get very far into your marriage to realize, “God has given me this wife as a helpmeet, as part. Therefore, so why would I not listen to her? Why would I not delegate to her privileges in which she is peculiarly competent?” However, the delegation is not abdication. And very often the temptation on the part of the husband is to take a holiday for the rest of his life under the disguise of, “Well, I’m just recognizing how omnicompetent my wife is. I mean, there is nobody can take the garbage out quite like my wife. I mean, it’s almost an art form.” You know, that kind of stupidity, right? So, let’s be clear: when the Bible talks about submission, it has nothing to do with ability. It’s not about ability. It is about order. It’s about God’s order.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones has a wonderful story at one point in his writing where he describes going to preach somewhere in the United Kingdom, and he is in the home of a minister and his wife; they are providing hospitality. And as they are sitting together and talking before they have the meal, Lloyd-Jones says to himself, he says, “You know, this wife is substantially brighter than her husband.” That’s his own assessment. Wasn’t my house, but it was a similar house. And he goes on to say, “Although this was really obvious”—and I’ll just quote it, because I think it’s so helpfully accurate—he says, “in a very clever and subtle way … she would put arguments into [her husband’s] mouth.” The things that—he didn’t really comprehend the situation, you see? So she would put the arguments into her husband’s mouth, “but she always did so in such a way as to suggest that they were his, and not hers!”[9] That’s beautiful, you see. ’Cause she’s not going like, “Oh, come on, Rodney! You’re such an idiot.” But rather, she’s making it look as though Rodney is peculiarly alert, because she loves him, and she prefers him, and she submits to him.

The submission of a wife is not passive, not subjugation, not the result of coercion. It is to be voluntary rather than enforced and joyful rather than begrudging[TO7].

So it’s not inferiority. Secondly, the submission of the wife is not passive. It is not passive. It is active. In other words, it is not subjugation. The submission of a wife is not to be the result of coercion. When we read further down in the text, we’ll realize that there is nowhere where the husband is given the responsibility to tell his wife about how it is that she’s supposed to submit. That’s not part of his job. It’s not part of his identity. So, it is not that the wife is coerced into this by a dominating or tyrannical husband. But what is it? Well, the submission that is called for is to be voluntary rather than enforced and is to be joyful rather than begrudging. Voluntary rather than enforced and joyful rather than begrudging.

With that said, you will notice a number of things. First of all, that the call is to “submit to your own husbands,” not to everybody’s husband. He’s not giving a general direction here about the place of women in society. He’s giving a specific directive concerning the role of the wife in the home. “To your own husbands…”

Secondly, “as to the Lord.” As to the Lord. And back up in verse 21, if your Bible is open, you’ll remember he has said, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” When he gets to the issue of children, 6:1: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord.” When he gets to bondservants and masters: “Obey your earthly masters … as you would Christ … doing the will of God from the heart.”[10] So in other words, the whole issue within the framework of marriage, then, is that the desire of the woman to submit to the Lord is revealed in part in her submission to her husband. That’s what it means, “as to the Lord.” “Part of my responsibility,” says the wife, “to you, Lord Jesus Christ, is to live under your lordship. And because I’m going to live under your lordship, I’m going to submit to this guy. Not perfect, horribly imperfect in many ways, dumber than a brick in certain areas,” and so on. This is just her own private conversation; she’s not saying this out loud.

“So what in the world are you doing submitting to him?” That’s what the culture would say. “Why don’t you kick his… Why don’t you get him outta here?”

“Well, it’s as to the Lord.”

“What Lord?”

“The Lord Jesus.”

“Oh, so, I mean, that’s the issue.” That’s the issue.

“To your own husband, as to the Lord”—look down to verse [24] as it closes—“in everything.” In everything. It’s getting worse, isn’t it? Why can’t it say, “in certain things,” or “in the areas that I’ve chosen,” or “in our agreed areas of division of labor”?

Well, what is the point that he’s making? He’s not calling for some unthinking, slavish obedience. The point that he’s making is this: the response of the wife in this way is not to be piecemeal, if you like. It’s not to be reluctant. It’s to be wholehearted. It’s to be the reverse of what Solomon writes about when in his Proverbs, as he goes through a number of pithy statements, he makes the observation, “A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike.”[11] So, he says, “A quarrelsome wife is like a dripping tap.” It’s drive you nuts after about a minute and a half. That’s what he says. So if the response of the wife is the constant challenge, the constant redirection, the constant desire for whatever it might be, it’s hard to see how that squares with the direction that is given here. In fact, says Solomon, “to restrain her is to restrain the wind.”[12] It’s like a runaway train.

Now, with that said—and we’ve said it as clearly as we can—we also need to go to the other side of the equation, as it were, and make sure that when we look at this little phrase, “in everything,” we recognize that Paul is not suggesting a kind of unconditional obedience. An unconditional obedience. In other words, the husband has no authority to call the wife to submit to that which God has not ordained for the well-being of society. It’s not, as one commentator said—it doesn’t mean that the wife is in the hands of one who has authority to command what he pleases. That is not what it means. It can’t mean that, any more as civil jurisdiction, that the person who is in the place of God in exercising civil authority in a nation has freedom to command whatever they want to command. That’s why you have the statement made by the apostles in Acts chapter [4], where they say, “Hey, you better judge whether it is right for us to obey you or to obey God.”[13] Because if the state commands what God forbids, or if the state forbids what God commands, then civil disobedience is an inevitable response to that kind of legislation. But it is an exclusion. It is an exception. We ought not to be, as citizens of a country, going around constantly saying, “Well, I’m not sure if we have to, I’m not sure if we have to.” And at the same way with the wife.

However, there are exceptions in the bounds of marriage. There have to be. For example, in circumstances of domestic violence. A husband has no right to subject his wife to physical or sexual abuse by the misapplication of the principle that is here made straightforward. No, if we look at it, and we allow it to settle in our minds, we say to ourselves, “I’m not sure that I can do anything other than take this at its face value.”

The Explanation

If that is the direction and it is clear, what is the explanation for this? Why is this instruction given, or on what basis may we then submit to this and apply it? Well, that takes you to verse 23: “for”—the conjunction leads us in—“for the husband is the head of the wife … as Christ is the head of the church.” Paul is arguing two things there. First of all, from the doctrine of creation: “for the husband is the head of the wife.” We’ll look at that now. And then, “as Christ is the head of the church.” In other words, the issue of redemption.

First of all, in this matter of the headship within the purposes of God in creation. The reason for the wife’s submission, says Paul, lies in the fact that God has given to man the place and the role of leadership. God has given to man the role of leadership. And he has done this from the beginning. For homework, read elsewhere. Read what Paul has to say in 1 Timothy chapter 2, or read what he has to say in 1 Corinthians chapter 11. You needn’t do it now; you’ll get distracted. But when you go to both of those places, you will discover that what Paul is arguing is from the doctrine of creation.

If you dialogue with yourself or with other people on this matter, you will find that one of the pushbacks to this instruction comes along this line: Paul lived a long time ago; Paul was this, Paul was that, and therefore, what he was dealing with was a cultural issue. Well, Paul did live a long time ago, and I think there probably are cultural applications to the principle that he expounds. But if you look carefully, you will discover that he is arguing not out of the culture of first-century Rome, but he is arguing from the doctrine of creation. And what he makes clear is that God made Eve from Adam, he made Eve after Adam, and he made Eve for Adam. All right? Read it in Genesis.

Now, you see, this is where the doctrine of Scripture comes into play, doesn’t it? If you’re sitting there going, “Oh, well that’s the Genesis. I mean, what do we know about Genesis? I mean, that’s the mythology passage in the Bible,” some of you are saying to yourselves. Well, Jesus didn’t think so. Clearly, he didn’t think so. He didn’t think Noah was a children’s story dreamt up by somebody. No.

When God made man and woman, he made them equal, but he didn’t make them identical.

Here’s exactly what it says: made from him—a rib was taken out of him—made after him, as a companion and a helpmeet, and for him in that way. And when God made them, he made them equal. But he didn’t make them identical. You may have noticed that! It’s fascinating to me! I don’t allow myself too much of a Bypath Meadow here, but it is quite amazing to me. I wanted to begin this whole series with two pictures up here, but then I thought, “No, it wouldn’t be good.” I wanted to put a naked man and a naked woman up there, then they probably—the elders would get rid of me out of the church.

But I wanted to start like Vince Lombardi, you know: “This is a ball.” Right? Let’s start here: this is a man, and this is a woman. God made them equal; he made them wonderfully, deeply different. He made them to go together; he made them to fit together—anatomically. Things fit, you will notice one day, if you haven’t noticed yet. And not only physiologically but psychologically. Their parts—Adam and Eve’s, men and women’s parts—and their roles are not interchangeable according to the Bible. You may think that you’re Mr. Mom, but you’re not. According to God, he has made you wonderfully different, purposefully so, equal under creation, equal as the heirs of grace of God, and he has done it in this way for the good of humanity, because he knows best, he’s the Creator. Marriage is not a construct that we came up with. Marriage is not a human invention. Marriage is God’s plan and pattern for all of time.

Now, people know this. Some of you work in the delivery room. I can pretty well guarantee that there is a phrase that you have never heard in the delivery room. It eventually goes whoop, out comes, and someone says, “Oh, look! It’s a person! It’s a person!” They don’t! “It’s a boy!” How do you know? We can talk about this, but not in public. “It’s a girl!” You need nothing other than human physiology and a modicum of common sense to realize the immensity of the rebellion that exists in the culture to the authority, power, order of Almighty God. This is the ultimate turn-it-on-its-head. And this is where we live, and that’s why this sounds so incredible.

What God has established from creation, no culture is able to destroy. I guarantee you! No culture has ever destroyed it, and no culture ever will destroy it. The culture will destroy itself before it destroys God’s design. Hence the fall of Rome. Hence the fall of Greece. Hence the fall of so many of these empires, because they said, “We will have no god to rule over us. We will do it our way. This is what we believe about this.” And so it is that a destroyed culture will eventually stand and have to acknowledge that God is God. Because from the very beginning, what is declared is not culturally contained or limited; it is timeless and it is universal.

That’s where we are. That’s why the challenges of the day are not about superficial things. They’re not about people’s preferences. They’re about the very central issues of the Godness of God and the humanity of humanity.

So the question is then inevitable. Somebody would say in the course of conversation, “Well, how then did things get so upside down? How come we’ve got it upside down and back to front?” Well, again, how are you going to answer that without your Bible? We just read it in Genesis chapter 3. That’s why I read Genesis chapter 3. The answer to that question, “Why are things inside out and upside down?”: because in terms of man and woman, in terms of human sexuality, all of these elements have been badly soured by man’s rebellion and disobedience against God.

So, for example, in Genesis 3 we have the record. The serpent comes and deceives Eve, and she listens to the serpent rather than listens to Adam. Adam in turn listens to Eve instead of fulfilling his responsibility to lead Eve, and neither of the two of them listen to God. And the result is disastrous. It’s disastrous.

So God says, “Here’s how it’s gonna go from here, folks. Let me tell you how this will work.” To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing.” There would have been no pain in childbearing. There would have been no reason for any kind of anesthetic help. There would be no epidurals. No. No, no, no. “In pain you shall bring forth your children.” It’s one of the implications of the fall of man. “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband.” Instead of desiring to submit to your husband, you’ll just try and assert your leadership over your husband. That’s how it’ll go. “But he will rule over you.” Whether that means he will rule over you the way that he should or he will rule over you in a desire to dominate you according to his own desire, I’m not certain. I think probably the latter rather than the former. But you see, here is where the Bible comes into play.

That’s why when we said over Christmastime at one of the talks that I was giving, I said, “You know, we can think about our world in terms of the good, the bad, the new, and the perfect. Good, bad, new, perfect. Good: God’s creation. Perfect, absolutely good. Bad: the fall of man, rebellion against God. The new, when Genesis 3:15 is fulfilled in Jesus: “The offspring will bruise his heel and he will crush his head.”[14]

In other words, in Jesus we have a second Adam. The first Adam disobeyed, rebelled, created chaos. Christ comes as a second Adam, and he obeys where Adam fails. He takes the judgment that Adam deserved. So that what, as a result of the fall, is distorted and broken, the Lord Jesus then renews and repairs. So that Christian marriage, according to the pattern and plan of God, is only possible in Christ.

It’s not possible to even approximate to this, because by nature, I don’t want to love my wife the way Christ loved the church. That’s going to take a tremendous amount of effort, and a lot of other stuff too. And you don’t want to submit to your husbands. Goodness gracious!

So why would we do it? Well, because God says we would do it. Well, how would we do it? “Holy Spirit, breath of God, breathe your life into my miserable little existence. Fashion me according to your purposes. Make it possible for me, in my marriage, to give something of at least a flashlight in the darkness through all the bits and pieces—through the times of success and failure, the disappointments, the bad parts of the journey, the times when we’ve almost ruined it completely, but here we are, we’re still alive, we’re still here. And we’re saying, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, help me now. I don’t know how much longer we’ve got left in this amazing experiment of marriage down here. But help me then to do what your Word says.’”

You cannot have a united church without united marriages.

Because, you see, you can’t have a united church unless you have united marriages. I said to you last week, one of the ways that you’ll bring the end to Parkside Church is by a wholesale rebellion against the authority and sufficiency of the Bible. True. Let me tell you another way: by revealing that rebellion against the Bible in continuing to say, “It’s okay for me to get divorced. It’s okay for me to leave him. It doesn’t matter. This is my concern.” You cannot have a united church without united marriages. It is for that reason, you see, that marriage really, really matters. Because as we said last Sunday, this is not about us; this is about Christ and the church.

So the question is, “Do I care enough about Christ and the church to bring myself in line with the authority of the Bible, even when it is so fundamentally demanding, so politically incorrect?” That’s the question. And some of us are answering, “No.”

Father, I pray that you will help us. I pray that you will help us in these matters. We daren’t go wrong. Some of us have gone wrong; we’ve slid off the tracks, but you in your great mercy have restored us. Thank you that you are the God who repairs the years, who restores the years that the locusts have eaten.[15] Thank you that we’re able to look back and say, “Yeah, that was a complete mess, but how good and great you are.”

And Lord, all of us need your help in this, because we’re all sinful. We’re all selfish. We all demand our own way. All like sheep have gone astray, every one to our own way,[16] and we have no hope apart from the fact that you have borne the judgment that we deserve in your very own selfless love on the cross. And we need some kind of cross-shaped understanding of what it means to be in a marriage—some cross-shaped understanding of what it means to be a wife and a husband. And we pray that as we think these things out and as we continue to look to our Bibles, that you will save us from failing to say what the Bible says, or by failing on account of saying more than the Bible says. We ask for your grace and your help. And we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.


[1] See Psalm 119:105.

[2] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians: God’s New Society (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1979), 215.

[3] Roger Walters, “Another Brick in the Wall” (1979).

[4] Acts 17:24 (ESV).

[5] See Ephesians 6:1.

[6] See Hebrews 13:17.

[7] See Romans 13:1.

[8] See 1 Peter 3:7.

[9] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in the Spirit in Marriage, Home and Work: An Exposition of Ephesians 5:18 to 6:9 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), 111.

[10] Ephesians 6:5–6 (ESV).

[11] Proverbs 27:15 (ESV).

[12] Proverbs 27:16 (ESV).

[13] Acts 4:19 (paraphrased).

[14] Genesis 3:15 (paraphrased).

[15] See Joel 2:25.

[16] See Isaiah 53:6.

Copyright © 2020, 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.