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The Role of Man and Woman

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
June 6, 2024 12:01 am

The Role of Man and Woman

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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June 6, 2024 12:01 am

Perhaps more people than ever now misunderstand the relationship of men and women in marriage. Today, R.C. Sproul looks to the Bible to explain the roles that God has ordained for husbands and wives.

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R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) was known for his ability to winsomely and clearly communicate deep, practical truths from God's Word. He was founder of Ligonier Ministries, first minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew's Chapel, first president of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine.

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Nathan W. Bingham is vice president of ministry engagement for Ligonier Ministries, executive producer and host of Renewing Your Mind, host of the Ask Ligonier podcast, and a graduate of Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. Nathan joined Ligonier in 2012 and lives in Central Florida with his wife and four children.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul

What God says to me as a husband and to you as a husband is you are responsible to love your wives like Jesus loved the church.

The same Jesus who is responsible to manage the universe promises and keeps the promise to hear every prayer that comes to Him from His bride. He listens to His bride. He cares about His bride.

So much does He care about His bride that He lays down His life for His bride. When the topic of marriage comes up, one area that can be controversial is the discussion of the biblical roles of men and women, the role of the husband, the role of the wife, and that's our subject on this Thursday edition of Renewing Your Mind. Marriage is under attack, and if we are to defend and promote marriage, we need to ensure that our views are biblical. That's why we're featuring this series, The Intimate Marriage, this week, and we trust that under God's blessing, what you've heard this week will help your marriage to flourish. I do encourage you to request the entire series, though, as it will give you access to the study guide so that you can go even deeper. You can learn how to request access at So what are the roles of husband and wife, and why is it controversial?

Here's Dr. Sproul. Welcome once more to our study on Christian marriage, and this will be our last session together. And I've saved the controversial material to this time because what we're going to be looking at here is the role of the man and the woman in marriage. I think it's important that we give some attention to this question as it is addressed in the New Testament because of the high degree of controversy that has surrounded this issue in recent years. And so I'd like to direct your attention, if I may, to the instruction that we receive in the fifth chapter of Paul's letter to the Ephesians. And I'm going to begin at verse 21, where we read these words, submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

That is usually seen as the connecting statement between what Paul taught earlier in this epistle and what will follow now after it. And some see in this verse a key indicator for how what follows is to be understood. It says that this verse calls us to mutual submission one to another, and then what follows is wives submit yourselves to your husband, children to your parents, and so on. And so some say that really what the text is saying is that all of our relationships as Christians, employers, employees, masters and slaves, children and parents involve a posture of mutual submission. So the way we should really read this text is wives submit yourselves to your husband, husbands submit yourselves to your wives. I don't have time now to go into all of the technicalities that are involved in understanding and handling this passage, but just let me let you know where I stand on that.

I think that is a serious distortion of this biblical text that involves what we would call an exegesis of despair. I don't think that anybody would be inclined to treat the text this way if we didn't have the kind of controversy going on in our culture right now about the roles of men and of women, because if we applied that consistently throughout the text, we would have to say, parents, obey your children, and as Christ is the head of the church and church is the head of Christ, if we reversed it throughout, it would just end in such bizarre madness that the passage would make no sense. Rather, I think, as the consensus historically of biblical interpreters has been, that what the apostle is saying here is that every Christian at some point is called to submission.

No one of us is a sovereign of our own. There are all kinds of places where I must submit to the authority and the leadership of others, and there are places where you are called to be submissive to. But let's look then at what the apostle does command here, and notice that he introduces this by saying submit yourselves one to another in the fear of God. And frankly, what terrifies me about the controversy that surrounds this text is that I see people enraged saying, who does the apostle Paul think he is telling wives that they have to submit to their husbands and so on? And they get so angry about this, and I say, wait a minute, if this is simply Paul the apostle's chauvinistic side coming through and human insight, then it is a statement of supreme arrogance, and I wouldn't blame any woman in the world for being outraged by it, but be careful. If Christ is who He said He was, and He was speaking the truth when He said, all authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me, that is if the authority of God is given to Jesus and then Jesus gives that authority to His apostles, then what we're struggling with in this text is not against some Jewish rabbi's insights, but we're struggling against the law of God. If this is the Word of God, then we need to listen humbly in the fear of God. Well, having said that, let's look and see what about this text is so controversial or the beginning part where Paul says, wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands as unto the Lord. Now the second phrase doesn't bother many Christian women. They are perfectly willing to submit themselves to the authority and the leadership of Christ. But here Paul is saying that there is to be an analogy that a wife is to submit herself to her husband in a manner analogous to how she would submit herself to Jesus Christ.

Now that is a powerful level of submission. That is giving to the husband a significant level of authority. The analogy continues, for the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church. So that in a manner similar to the way in which Christ is the head of the church, so the man is the head of the wife.

And I've seen all kinds of games being played with that text by commentators who want to get out from under it. But the obvious meaning of headship in the New Testament and in the Greek language is to be in the position of preeminence and in the position of leadership. And what I understand this text to be saying is that in the home, the husband is to be the head of the home.

This is not a license for tyranny. This is not a license to demean the woman or to treat the woman as a slave, but the responsibility for final authority and for leadership in the home is vested in the husband. And if the woman resists that, if that interpretation is correct, obviously, if the woman resists that, she is resisting God.

It's God who gives that directive. And so as I say, I'm frightened when I hear women protest so vehemently against this. Again, if they're protesting against me, that's okay.

They're protesting against other human beings, that's okay. But if the protest is leveled against God, then that is a very, very serious matter. Now, another question immediately comes up here, and that is, should a woman always and under all circumstances submit herself to the husband? I've seen teaching going about the evangelical Christian world that talks about a chain of command and says that this chain of command is so ironclad that a woman is responsible to obey her husband no matter what her husband tells her to do. If her husband tells her to engage in prostitution, she is to follow in godly submission in that role.

If the husband tells her she is not allowed to go to church on Sunday morning, she must refrain from going to church on Sunday morning. Ladies and gentlemen, that runs counter to everything the Scripture tells us about obedience to God. Yes, there is a delegated level of authority in the Scriptures. God is supreme.

He delegates to Christ. Christ delegates to the apostles, and we're told that all authority in this world ultimately comes from God. And we are called to be submissive to kings and to honor the princes and to obey the civil magistrates and so on. But elsewhere the Scripture makes it clear that we are to obey those in authority over us only on these two conditions, only when that authority commands us to do what is right or forbids us from doing what is wrong. Let me say it another way, that a woman or anybody may disobey authority whenever that authority commands that person to do something God forbids or forbids that person from doing something God commands. In those two instances, if there's a conflict between the authority of God and the human authority, not only may we disobey that human authority, we must disobey that human authority. We see that in the New Testament where Christ commands His apostles to preach the gospel. They begin to preach the gospel, and the authorities come to them and tell them to stop preaching the gospel. And what do they say? Should we obey God or should we obey men?

And the answer is obvious. If there's a conflict between what God commands and what men command, we must obey God so that if a husband commands his wife to engage in prostitution, she not only may disobey Him, she must disobey Him. If that husband demands that she refrain from going to church where God requires that every believer not neglect the assembling together of the saints, she must disobey her husband and be there. But what happens if he commands her or forbids her from going on the Wednesday night service? She's inconvenienced, she's upset, she's disappointed, and so on, but God does not command her to be in church on Wednesday night.

That's not the weekly assembly of the saints. And at that point, she has to bend over backwards to be a submissive wife. Not a doormat, but she is to show her commitment to God and to Christ by her willingness to submit herself to her husband's leadership. There's one consolation here for the women that I think maybe God has a sense of humor, where He says, wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands. It's not like you have to submit yourself to everybody else's husband and that every guy has authority over every woman.

That's not what we're talking about. Submit yourselves unto your own husbands. And I like the word own there because the word for own in the Greek is the word idion, from which we get the word idiosyncrasy, which indicates a person's own private peculiarities, something that is unique to the person. And it's also the Greek word from which the English word idiot comes. So a little bit of loose translation may read like this, where God says, wives, submit yourselves to your idiot husbands.

It's like, I know that they're idiots, but I want you for My sake to submit yourselves to them anyway. You hear constantly in our culture the myth of the 50-50 marriage. I can't think of anything worse because in a 50-50 situation where there is no final authority, what fallen human beings tend to do in that situation is to be locked into a perpetual power struggle where everybody is agitating to get 51 percent of the stock to get control. God settles that. God says, final say, authority and leadership is vested in the man.

I'm not so sure that's a privilege so much as it is a weighty, weighty responsibility. I'd like to have a word with women. I know that women have been crying out for the past decades bleeding about the way in which we have interpreted this passage where men have bought into the myth that the only way God could tell women to submit to husbands is if men are naturally superior to women. That is not true whatsoever. Subordination in terms of division of labor in the Bible never carries with it the idea of inferiority.

So in marriage there's no less dignity, no less importance, no less value to the woman than to the man. And if it's men who teach that, then that is a misrepresentation of what the Bible is commanding, and it is men distorting their role and using it as a license for tyranny. And that has happened. And women have cried out, that's enough. And so we've listened to the cries of women, and I think we need to hear them. But women, I think there's something you need to hear from them. And the reason I want to mention this is because men won't mention it. Some psychiatric studies were made, and it was discovered that the American male on the average has five times more nightmares than the American woman. You say, well, what does that have to do with this? So here's what it has to do with. The single number one fear that crops up in nightmares for the American male is the fear of providing for his family. I don't think we all really understand the significance of that. It's also said that when men get together and talk privately with each other, they talk freely about sports and about business and about women, but they won't sit there in a group and say, I'm scared. I don't know if I'm going to be able to handle this responsibility.

Because men are taught from the time that they're small boys that the moment they stand in that church in front of the minister and in front of the congregation and say, I take this woman to be my lawfully wedded wife that he's taking upon himself, he feels the responsibility ultimately for her welfare and for the welfare of their children. I find, and I'm not proud to admit this, I find that one of the things that I worry about the most in my life is money. And the thing that I worry about is not can I have enough money to buy a new car. What I worry about is, will I have enough money that if I die, my wife is going to be okay?

Do I have enough money to see to it that my kids are educated, that my kids are fed? I just feel the weight of that responsibility because that's what the culture has imposed on me. But it's not just this culture. That's generations of humanity. From the Garden of Eden onward, the woman was created to be a helpmate, not a servant. She's created as the queen of paradise.

Adam's the king. And it's not that Eve is the slave girl. She's the queen. She's a partner. She's a co-laborer. But she is a helpmate.

He is given the fundamental responsibility ultimately to make sure that the garden is taken care of. Okay, so this may be difficult for a woman to respond to because she said, does that mean that I don't have any brains? Does that mean that I don't have anything to say?

Of course not. I can't think of three times in my own marriage where my wife agrees with my understanding of this text. She believes that under God I am to be the head of the house.

And we disagree about decisions all the time. But she's not a stick or a stone. She's a human being. And I am called upon to respect her judgment. I am called upon to respect her insight. I am called upon to respect her person. And if she disagrees with a policy that I think that we ought to engage in, it would be ungodly of me to ignore her and just simply to say, hey, women are to be seen and not heard.

That is not the attitude of the Scriptures. We talk it out. And I would say the vast majority of our decisions are made jointly. And maybe three times we've had an impasse where we couldn't agree. And I'd say, well, honey, a decision has to be made. And I bear the responsibility. So I'm going to have to ask you to submit. And I'm fortunate.

Those three times she said, okay. But I understand the difficulty of that. But this is the way that God has ordered His creation. Therefore, as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. As far as I'm concerned, that's the easy part of the passage.

Of course, the grass is always greener on the other side. I think women have the easy role here to perform. I wish all I had to do was submit and let my wife have that position of leadership and authority in the house. The hard part comes now. Listen to what God says to the man. Husbands, love your wives. Now, but just stop there. That wouldn't be so bad.

But listen to what He said. Love your wives as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it. I've never met a woman who said that she would have a hard time submitting to the authority of her husband if her husband was Jesus. She would never have to be afraid of being exploited by Jesus. She would never be a victim of tyranny. She would never be a victim of abuse. She would never be a battered wife.

She would never be an abused wife, would she? And what God says to me as a husband and to you as a husband is you are responsible to love your wives like Jesus loved the church. How much does Jesus love the church?

I mean, look, Jesus is elevated by God to the right hand of the Father. That means He is placed in the seat of cosmic authority. He is responsible to run the universe, for in Him and by Him and for Him are all things.

Do you understand what an administrative nightmare it is to organize and operate and manage the universe every day? If ever a husband had an excuse to say, I'm too busy with more important things than to talk to my wife, it would be Jesus. But this same Jesus who is responsible to manage the universe promises and keeps the promise to hear every prayer that comes to Him from His bride. He listens to His bride. He cares about His bride.

So much does He care about His bride that He lays down His life for His bride. I tend to be a leader more than a follower because I have found precious few people in this world that I'm willing to follow. But it is exciting when I find somebody I admire enough and respect enough and trust enough to follow. And one thing is important to me before I follow someone. I don't want to follow somebody into an ambush. I don't want to be loyal to somebody only to have that person turn on me and shoot me in the back.

But can you imagine how liberating it is to follow somebody that you know in advance is prepared to die for you? That's the responsibility I have to my wife. But I'm to love her, not just a feeling of warm fuzzies, but I'm to live in such a way that she understands that I am prepared to sacrifice my life for her.

And you see how this thing works out mutually? That's hard for me to commit myself to anybody, to a woman, to that degree to say, I'm ready to die for you, for your well-being. And it's particularly difficult for me to love my wife in that degree when my wife is fighting me at every step of the way. And on the other hand, it is very, very difficult for a woman to submit herself to a man she doesn't trust. But what would happen to our marriages if I would take my responsibility seriously and I quit reading what it says to her, and I just paid my attention to what it tells me to do, and I got busy with my own responsibilities, and I started to love my wife the way Christ loves His church. I don't think I'd ever have a problem with submission. Unversely, I think if she dedicated herself to being a helpmate, she would find that that would be returned by sacrificial love and that she would never feel tyrannized. I really believe that.

I really think that would happen. I know a few years ago a book that shocked the Christian world and made a big hit even in the secular society was that book by Maribel Morgan, The Total Woman. It talked about being creative and all the different varieties and stuff with your wife, greet them at the door in the fancy costume, and it became kind of an end joke and all the men liked it and all the women didn't like it. Poor Maribel got all kinds of hate mail and calls.

She stayed in bed for two days after the thing came out and cried, and she really did. But she made a statement in the book, and I read it through a man's eyes. And the statement in that book, Total Woman, that I have never forgotten was the statement.

She was speaking to wives, and she said, �Woman, here's a secret.� She said, �Your husbands don't want your advice. They want your admiration.� Now, I can imagine a woman reading that and being furious and saying, �See? He doesn't value my advice. All he wants is for me to massage his ego. All he wants me to do is make him feel like a hero.� And I could see how that would be very demeaning for a woman to read that kind of advice in a book. �Hey, ladies, your husband doesn't want your advice. He wants your admiration.� But guess what?

I don't know whether he wants your advice, but I know he wants your admiration. When I read that, I said, �Here's a woman that understands men, because men have the most fragile egos in the world. The most fragile thing in creation is the human ego, and of the two egos, I think the male is the more fragile.� I know that if I speak to a thousand people and 999 of them say, �That was a terrific job,� and my wife says, �Mm, B minus, I'm devastated.� I want my wife to admire me, and she wants me to love her. She wants me to cherish her. She wants me to honor her. And there's a sense in which God calls me, and this could be easily distorted, to be Christ to her, not simply to be her Sir Galahad, but to be her priest, because the apostle goes on here and says, �Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it, that he may sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of the water by the water.� Here, this doesn't mean that I'm supposed simply to clean up my wife and remake her and change her, but that I am to protect her integrity and that I am to offer her to Christ at the end of our life and say, �Here's the bride that you gave me. Don't find any bruises on her, please. Don't find her wounded by my tyranny, but I hope that the bride that I present to Jesus at the end of my life will be one who is whole.� That's what he wants.

This isn't a battle. This isn't a competition for authority, but it is that place that God created that we looked at originally, where the two shall become one flesh, and Paul goes on to say, �This is the mystery, that men should love their wives as their own bodies, because no man ever hated his own flesh, but he nourishes it and he cherishes it.� That's my job, to nourish her and to cherish her. And in that, Christ is honored and marriages are made whole.

That was R.C. Sproul concluding his series, The Intimate Marriage. Thanks for joining us for Renewing Your Mind. If you have questions about marriage, perhaps specific questions about so-called gay marriage, whether a Christian can attend that kind of ceremony, for example, then request this week's resource bundle with your donation of any amount. In addition to lifetime access to the complete Intimate Marriage series from R.C. Sproul and the study guide, we'll send you two copies of a brand new resource from Ligonier, a field guide on gender and sexuality. Prepared by Ligonier's editorial team, this timely book answers many of the questions that are being raised today within the church and provides biblical responses to the false ideas that are being promoted in schools, on college campuses, and across social media. So request these resources and help fuel the spread of trusted teaching by calling us at 800-435-4343, donating at, or by clicking the link in the podcast show notes. Tomorrow you'll hear a recent conversation with two of Ligonier's teaching fellows addressing a number of timely questions, including whether a Christian should attend an LGBTQ wedding. Be sure to listen then here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-06 03:06:34 / 2024-06-06 03:16:22 / 10

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