Yesterday and today I posted a wholly inadequate, there is so much more that can be said, two part series on holiness in marriage. Today I will address the roles of the husband, the wife, and the couple in marriage, yesterday I addressed some basics about marriage and holiness. These posts are adapted from my seminar on holiness in marriage at the 2016 Grace Advance Mid Atlantic Equipping Conference. The audio from all of the conference sessions is available here.
The Role & Responsibility of the Husband – To Love and Lead His Wife
The primary role and responsibility of the husband is to love his wife. The command to love your wife is repeated in Ephesians 5:25, 5:33 and Colossians 3:19. In all three instances, the command is a present active imperative, which means it is a command to be followed at all times and in all circumstances. The verb translated as love in all of these verses is agapao. Agapao means to love not only in words and affections but in deed, in such a way that the lover always seeks the best interests of the one loved. It is not devoid of affection both in word and feeling, quite the contrary, it is full of them. But this kind of love always results in action.
And The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25-27).
- He gave Himself up for her (5:25). – The husband’s love is to be sacrificial to the point of laying down his life (John 5:13).
- He sanctified her (5:26). – The husband’s love for his wife is to result in actions that propel her toward greater Christlikeness.
- He presents the church to Himself (5:27). – A husband’s love for his wife should be informed by the knowledge that in some way he will be held accountable for her spiritual wellbeing and sanctifications.
Secondarily, the husband is to lead his wife. The Husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23). Harrold Hoehner, the foremost evangelical scholar of Ephesians commenting in Ephesians 5:23 says this:
In the present context Christ’s headship is like that of 1:22 where He is the ruler or has authority over the church…it needs to be restated that the headship of the husband does not connote any sense of qualitative superiority to the wife . . . In God’s administration the role of the husband’s headship is positional power. His headship and the wife’s submission exist for the sake of harmony.
The headship of the husband is not a position of domination or intrinsic authority, but an order established and ordained by God for efficiency in the home.
Additional Commands for the Husband
Be Gentle – “Husbands love your wives and do not be harsh with them – Colossians 3:19.”
The command translated as “do not be harsh with them” is me pikrainesthe pros autas literally be not become embittered toward them. The word translated harsh or bitter means “to cause bitter feelings, to embitter, make bitter in an affective sense.” And the substantive form of that word refers primarily to something having a bitter taste, and secondarily an embittered attitude. The Idea here is not to develop an attitude toward your wife where all she says and does rubs you the wrong way and as a result you snap at her, tune her out or otherwise not treat her as more valuable than yourself.
“showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel” – 1 Peter3:7b. All this phrase, “weaker vessel,” means is that women (as a general rule, and all things being equal) are physically weaker than men, and because of that husbands need to go out of their way to treat them with gentleness. The word for weaker here, asthenes, always pertains to physical strength and is often used to describe the loss of strength due to illness. Women are simply constitutionally different than men, and you need to be mindful of that and act appropriately. You must never act in such a way that your wife could be intimidated or threatened by you. And you must never strike or in any other way put your hands on your wife in an angry matter.
Live In An Understanding Way – “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way” – 1 Peter 3:7a
The phrase “in an understanding way” is kata gnosin literally according to knowledge. Knowledge of your wife, your situation and the word of God. Every person, including every wife has a unique constitution, history, strengths and weaknesses. And every family’s situation is unique and in a state of flux. What remains unchanging is the Word of God; a godly husband will work to understand his wife and their situation and the Word of God so that he can bring the word to bear in their unique situation, in the way best for his wife.
What is never commanded
- There is no command to rule over your wife.
- There is no command to cause or force your wife to submit.
- There is no command to “discipline” your wife.
Putting it all together, a godly husband living in holiness with his wife, will love her in action, word, and deed, mindful of his responsibility before the Lord for her spiritual well-being and sanctification before the Lord. He will lead her so that they function efficiently as a unit. He will effectively bring the Word of God to bear in her life. And he will never use his position or physical strength to exploit his wife.
The Role & Responsibility of the Wife – To Submit to Her Own Husband
The primary role and responsibility of the wife is to submit to her husband. “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands” – 1 Peter 3:1a. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” – Ephesians 5:22. “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” – Colossians 3:18.
It is inescapable, the primary command for wives in scripture is that they submit. The word translated “submit” in Ephesians and Colossians and “be subject to” in 1 Peter is hupotasso. This word means “to be or cause to be in a submissive relationship.” It must be noted that there is a reflexive sense to this word, submission is a volitional act, this is not a command to be dominated by your husband, or to be ruled over by him, rather it is a command to choose to live under his headship and authority voluntarily and joyfully.
Ephesians 5:22 illuminates the manner in which wives are to submit, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” This doesn’t mean that wives are to submit to their husbands to the same degree as they submit to the Lord, as if the words of the husband carry the weight and authority of Scripture. The wife should never submit to her husband when he requests that she sin in any way (cf Acts 5:29).
Rather as to the Lord is about the manner or quality of the wife’s submission to her husband. It is to be voluntary, joyful and motivated by love. As Jesus said in John 14:15 love for Him is expressed in submission to Him. Submission to Christ is not grudging or odious, but voluntary and joyful.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30
This is not to say that Christlikeness in the husband is a prerequisite for submitting to him. The role of the husband as the head is not based on merit, ability, talent, intrinsic value or even the spiritual condition of the husband, rather it is based on the God established order in marriage as expressed in Scripture. Even unbelieving husbands are to be submitted to; “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives – 1 Peter 3:1.
Important note – physical or sexual abuse is always a legal matter, being the victim of battery is not biblical submission.
Other Commands for Wives
Respect – “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” – Ephesians 5:33. The word the ESV translates as “respect” is phobeo, translated as reverence in Ephesians 5:21 and often as “fear.” As Peter T. O’Brien observed:
It is no slavish fear…Rather the wife’s fear of her husband, which reflects the fear of believers who are subordinate to those in authority over them, recognizes his God given position as head. Her’s is the answer of a free and responsible person…which is neither conditional on her husband’s merits or performance.
What is never commanded
- That all women are to submit to all men (other than the command of all believers to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ).
- To absorb and accept physical abuse or to submit to church leaders who order you not report a crime to the police.
Simply put, a godly wife seeking to walk in holiness in marriage will joyfully submit to her husband, regardless of his merits, abilities, or spiritual condition because it is commanded by God.
Responsibilities of the Couple – To stay together, to satisfy one another and to pray together. The key text for understanding the bible’s instruction to married couples is 1 Corinthians 7:1-10.
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. – 1 Corinthians 7:1-10
The primary responsibility of the couple is to stay together. For the Christian couple, divorce is never commanded, ideal or preferable. With the exception of the case of sexual immorality, divorce is never an option or permissible for a Christian (Matthew 19:9). If marriage is to be a picture of the inseparable relationship between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:32) it must be permanent. Holiness in marriage, reflected in the permanence of marriage, is not a 50-50 proposition, it requires a 100% commitment from each spouse.
Secondarily, holiness in marriage requires a commitment and dedication to the sexual relationship within marriage. The sexual relationship is reserved for and part and parcel of the marital relationship. It serves as a hedge (not a guarantee) against sexual temptation. Holiness in marriage means neither spouse ever uses sex as a bargaining chip, either as a carrot or stick.
Finally, couples are to pray together. That the only acceptable reason to suspend the conjugal relationship in marriage is as a fast to empower the couple’s prayer life, shows that by implication, couples are to pray together.
Just as holiness in every other area so life is a matter of obeying the relevant commands of Scripture, so too holiness in marriage is a matter of conforming your marriage to the commands of scripture for the husband, the wife, and the couple. There can be no holiness in marriage, if these commands are disregarded. Few areas in life are so thoroughly ordered in Scripture as marriage. Far from being ambiguous there is a clear biblical blueprint for holiness in marriage.
 Harold Hoehner Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary pp 739-40
 A Greek Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG) p 812
 BDAG p 1042
 Peter T. O’Brien The Letter to The Ephesians p 437 While the charges of plagiarism against Dr. O’Brien are serious, and his commentaries are no longer suitable for citation in academic work, his plagiarism, from what I can tell, was both unintentional and inconsequential, and I believe his works are still valuable resources for pastors.