A Sermon preached on October 22, 1989. Recorded, transcribed, and Revised.
Open your Bibles to the fifth chapter of the book of Ephesians. Beginning at verse twenty-one we read, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church; and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth it and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church. For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.”
I am going to speak to you on the statement in verse twenty-three, “the husband is head of the wife.” I'm going to speak on this for two reasons. One is because it's the truth of God. The other is because I believe there is a need for it. I believe there is a need for it throughout the church and the world today, and there is a need for it right here in this congregation. We live in a very soft age in which softness has become a virtue, in which masculinity has been taken out of men, (and femininity out of women), and in which husbands don't know how to be heads to their wives.
I believe that it has become a rather rare thing in the world today to see a husband who is really head of his wife. The world tends to like it that way. We don't have headship any more in marriage. We have partnership. People profess, “No, the husband isn't the head over the wife. We are a partnership, and we're happy. We like it this way.” But I'll tell you two things concerning that. You may be happy in such a situation, but God isn't happy. The second thing is: you may be happy, but you're not near as happy as you could be if the husband were really head of the wife. God's ways work. God's ways are for our own good, and the world's ways do not work, and they are not either for our eternal good, or our present happiness. You may say, “Well, what harm is there if we have a partnership in our marriage?” And you may point to examples of what you may call “good marriages,” even where the wife is the head, and where they are apparently happy, and where things apparently run smoothly, and say, “What harm is there in it?” And I say, I don't know what harm there is in it, in that particular case you're talking about, but we are to be governed by truth, not consequences. Even if I cannot point out to you what the harm of it is, and even if you cannot point out to me what the harm of it is, I believe that there is harm in it, because God's ways are better than man's. Man is not wiser than God. The reason that we husbands are to be heads over our wives is not primarily because of the good that it's going to do for our wives, but because God said so. God created the man to be the head over his wife, and I am to take that place of headship, not because of the consequences that will be involved if I don't, nor because of the consequences which will accrue if I do, but because God says so. Nevertheless, it is for our good to obey God.
Now in the fifth chapter of the book of Ephesians, in the twenty-third verse we read, “For the husband is head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church, and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” Now we hear a good deal of preaching in modern Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism about wives submitting to their husbands. And this is as it should be. It's Bible. It ought to be preached, but I want to suggest to you that a wife cannot submit to her husband if he doesn't require anything of her. Christ is the head over the church, and requires unconditional, absolute submission to himself on the part of the church, but he gives us something to submit to. He requires something of us. In other words Christ is a head to the church, and not a figurehead. He requires something of the church. And I will say in the second place, he doesn't require easy things. Most of the things that Christ requires of his bride are hard things—very hard things. He says, for example, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” And he says, “If any man come after me and hate not father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” Christ requires things of his body, and he requires hard things. In other words, what I'm saying is, Christ is not soft on you. If you belong to his bride, he is not soft on you, and he does not let you do whatever you please to do. He has a purpose, and that purpose is not merely to please you, or to make you happy. Now he wants to make you happy, but he takes the long way around to make you happy. He makes you happy by making you holy. He doesn't make you happy by allowing self-indulgence. He commands self-denial. He does not baby his church. He does not pamper his church. And he does not seek by any and every means to please his church. He seeks to make us what we ought to be. Now that is the business of a husband. It says in this verse, Ephesians 5:23, “For the husband is head of the wife, even as Christ is head of the church.” In the same manner in which Christ is the head of the church, the husband is the head of the wife. And Christ is not soft on his church. He doesn't baby us. He doesn't pamper us. He requires hard things of us. And by the way, he enforces his requirements.
Now the head, in the nature of the case, makes the decisions. The head leads. The head rules. We'll talk about that a little further in a minute. But I want to say that I think there is a deficiency not only in the world and in the neo-evangelical church, but I think there is a deficiency right here in this congregation in this respect. It is not the business of the head merely to give approval to the ideas of the body. It's the head's business to do the thinking. It's the head's business to lead. It's the head's business to make the decisions, not merely to put his stamp of approval on the body's decisions. The head is not to follow the body around. The head leads the body. Sometimes I wish I could plant a tape recorder in some of the houses of some of the folks in this congregation, and let some of you wives listen to the way you give orders to your husbands. In fact, I believe that if some wives would give orders to their children the same way they do to their husbands, the children might even shape up. Well, you do hear it—you do hear the way you talk to your husbands—but you seem to be unaware of the fact that you are doing anything wrong.
I do not mean that the body ought never to initiate anything, or suggest anything, or to plead or protest. To use God's own illustration of the head and the body, the fact is, your body sends a thousand suggestions to your head every day. Stomach says, “I'm hungry.” Head says, “Let's eat.” Shoulders say, “We're cold.” Head says, “I'll put on a jacket.” And if the fingers are shut in the car door, those fingers send constant, impassioned demands to the head, and the head does not feel it is giving up its dignity or its authority if it says, “Open that door, and take care of those fingers.” “No man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth it and cherisheth it,” and of course the head consults the needs of the body. A French proverb says, “Love is the rule of women,” and a man who loves his wife is no more afraid or ashamed to be ruled by her needs than the head is to be ruled by the needs of the body. Love isn't ashamed to yield to a large segment of her whims, either—delights to do so, in fact. But still the head is the head. The head decides where the lines are to be drawn. The head takes the lead, and determines the course.
Now I want you to turn back to the third chapter of the book of Genesis, and we're going to read about the judgement that God prescribed for the woman because of her sin. It says in verse sixteen, “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Now, it's a legitimate question which you can ask, whether Adam was meant to rule over Eve before they sinned. I really think so. I think the man is the head of the woman by creation, not just as a result of sin. But nevertheless, since the fall, it is certain. It is the husband's position to rule over the wife. Now it may be that folks who have been raised in our American democratic libertine society—we don't like to be ruled over. Nobody wants to be ruled over, and wives may not want their husbands to rule over them. But nevertheless the Bible prescribes, “He shall rule over thee.” Now to “rule over thee” is not merely to put his stamp of approval on your decisions, and to let you run the house, and he give his stamp of approval to everything that you do. The husband is to rule—to make the decisions, to lead the way, to determine what's to be done, because “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” Christ really rules over the church. Christ really prescribes what is to be done. He doesn't leave it for us to decide what we want to do, and merely put his stamp of approval upon it. He tells us what to do. He is the head. He rules. And “as Christ is the head over the church, so the husband is head over the wife.” Now I want you to understand, I feel a little sorry for wives who have it preached to them from Fundamental pulpits, “You must submit to your husbands,” when the husbands aren't giving the wives anything to submit to. They're not taking the lead. They're not ruling over her. They're not making the decisions. It's as though we're going to our Lord to know what his will is, and every time we go to him, and ask him his will, and seek his wisdom, and say, “Lord, what would you have me to do?” he says, “Do whatever you like.” We don't have such a head over the church, and men ought not to be such a head over their wives.
But the next thing I want you to understand is that these things which I am preaching are not hard sayings. A wife's happiness is bound up in her husband ruling over her. Though it was as a result of her sin that God said to the woman, “Your husband shall rule over you,” yet it's for her good that it should be so—just as much as it's for the man's good that he should eat bread by the sweat of his face. It was a discipline put upon him for his sin, but nevertheless, it's good for him. It's for his happiness. You know the man that is on welfare is not happy like the man that is eating bread by the sweat of his face. I believe that it is for the woman's good that her husband should really be a head to her. I believe it's for her happiness.
Now back to Ephesians chapter five. This does not mean that a husband should be an autocrat, and do as he pleases without consulting his wife's wishes. Of course it doesn't mean that. Verse twenty-five says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself.”
Christ's love for the church, of course, moves him to consider her best interest. It does not move him to be soft on her, because it is not for the best interest of the church that Christ should be soft on it. He has a purpose, and that purpose is to sanctify his church. In other words, Christ rules over the church in such a way as to bring her to do as she ought, not to allow her to do as she pleases. And a husband's headship over his wife ought to accomplish exactly the same thing. Christ is in the business of taking this church of his and making it something that's worth something to him—making it a glory to him, a glorious church not having spot or wrinkle, so that when he sits on the throne of his glory, his church may be there with him, and be a glory to him. The way that he accomplishes that is not by softness. He requires something of his church, and he requires some hard things. He seeks her good, not merely her pleasure. Our love for our wives will certainly move us to seek their best interest, but it will not move us to be soft. And by the way, I am not using the word “softness” as an opposite of hardness, or harshness. I'm using the word “softness” as the opposite of firmness. Christ is firm with his church. He requires hard things. When a young man comes to him and says, “Lord, I'll follow thee withersoever thou goest,” he says, “Foxes have holes, and the birds have nests, but the Son of man has not where to lay his head. I want you to understand what you're getting into here.” Another man comes and says, “I'll follow you wherever you go, only let me go first and bury my father.” And he says, “Let the dead bury the dead: you go and preach the gospel.” That was a hard thing he was requiring. He is not soft—he's firm. He consults your good, not merely your pleasure, and a husband ought to do exactly the same for his wife.
A husband, then, will distinguish between his wife's whims and her needs. I don't mean a husband should never grant his wife's whims, but he shouldn't let her live on them. I believe in ravishing your wife's heart with love—with treats and sweets and dainties and delicacies and flowers and sweet nothings—with whatever the ingenuity of love can devise to make a feminine heart feel loved. But that's not the same thing as being soft and indulgent with her. And all of this applies equally to raising children, by the way. A husband's love will make him soft-hearted, tender-hearted, but not soft-headed. You don't want softness in a head. I had a landlord once who had quite a few tenants, and he was very soft on them. He had tenants who would go for months without paying their rent. He had tenants who would not pay their bills, and he, the landlord, would get stuck with his tenants' bills, because they didn't pay them. Now the fact of the matter is, this man was very soft-hearted. He felt sorry for these people. They were having financial difficulties, and he felt sorry for them, and did everything he could—bent over backwards to help them out, and was extremely soft. And you know what? He didn't do them a bit of good! They did him a great deal of harm. But he didn't do them any good by softness. He confirmed them in all their deficiencies of character. And that is exactly what you men do when you're soft on your wives. The head is not to be soft. You may have the softest heart you please, and I hope you do. The head, though, is not made to be soft. Softness is no favor, either to your wife, or to your children. Instead of sanctifying them, and making them such that they will be your glory and joy, as Christ is seeking to do with his bride, you confirm them in all their worst traits of character.
Years ago I knew a couple—in fact, I was quite close to them for a while—an older couple, and this woman had gained ten pounds a year for twelve years. I don't know if she was overweight when she started, but for twelve years she gained ten pounds a year. And she used to talk very freely about it, and she would always say, “John warned me. It's my own fault. I have nobody to blame but myself. John warned me over and over again.” Now I suggest it was not John's business to warn her, it was his business to rule over her. His business was to be her head, not her conscience. His business was not to warn her, but to require something of her, and to make sure she did it. That's the business of a head. Now I think I know a little bit about ladies (and about men, too), and I have a suspicion that if instead of warning her, this husband had laid down the law to her, she would have put up a great fuss. She would have said, “Oh, John, you're being hard on me. You're being unreasonable. You're being impossible.” Isn't that what ladies do when you lay down the law to them? They know how to do it, and they know how to weep a flood of tears in the process—just like you do when God requires something hard of you. But still, if God requires it, he requires it, and won't back down for your crying.
The problem is most men back down, and give in, and instead of being a head to their wives, they let their wives be a head to themselves. But don't misunderstand me. There is nothing more sacred on earth to a man's heart than a woman's tears, and there are times when men are unreasonable, and when they ought to back down. But there are also times when they ought to stand firm, even against a river of tears, and it is the head's place to understand and determine what those times are. And let me tell you this: when you are soft, and give in to your wife's whims, and give in to her pleadings, she may love you to pieces for letting her have her pleasure, and do as she pleases, but I'll tell you, she will love you ten times more for your firmness, if you lay down the law, and require something of her.
I believe I know women that well, and I believe there are probaby women here that are saying “Amen” in their hearts. She may love you for your softness, but she'll love you ten times more for your firmness.
There's another thing involved, though. She may love you for your softness, but she won't respect you. If you're firm, and require of her what she ought to do, she will not only love you, but she will respect you and admire you. And I will tell you, I have heard women talk about their husbands, when their husbands have been firm with them, and laid down the law, even in something which was not easy to do, and I could feel the ADMIRATION in the very tone of voice. Women want a head—a real head, and not a mere figurehead. They may protest, and they may plead, and they may tell you you're unreasonable, but if you stand firm, they will admire and respect you as well as love you. The husband that warned his wife, instead of putting his foot down and requiring something of her, he didn't do her any good. He could have. He could have been firm with her, and quit warning her, and put his foot down. He could have said, “Not one grain of sugar will ever pass between your lips until you get down to your proper weight. And that means no candy, and no ice cream, and no cakes, and no pies, no applesauce, and no jam on your toast, and no syrup on your waffles”—and she would have admired him for it. And she wouldn't have loved him any less. She would have loved him more, because he would have made her what she ought to be—and what in her heart of hearts she wanted to be—instead of just indulging her pleasures.
I have seen some cases where husbands have put down their foot, and acted as a head. And I have seen the very salutary effect it had upon the wives. I knew another couple once, who did not have a good marriage. We were at their house one time, and I was sitting in the living room talking with the husband. The wife was in the kitchen with my wife. The husband and I were making plans for something in the near future, and the wife walked into the room, and said, “You might as well not plan, because I'm not going to be here. I'm leaving.” She said, “I've had it. I have no joy in this marriage. I have nothing to stay here for. I'm taking the car tomorrow, and I'm going home to my mother.” Well, we were dumbfounded. We sat there in silence for a full half hour. She had spoken her piece, and gone back to the kitchen. We sat in absolute silence for half an hour. Finally, the husband stood up, and he said to his wife, “You're not going anywhere.” He said, “I'm going to fix the car so it won't run, and you aren't going anywhere.” Do you know what her response was? She said, “I'm glad. It makes me secure. It makes me feel like I'm wanted.” Now you understand he was requiring a hard thing of her, when she had just gotten through saying, “I have no joy here. I have no reason to stay here. There's nothing in this marriage, and I've had it.” He was requiring a hard thing of her when he said, “You're not going anywhere.” But he was requiring her to do what was right, and she was glad. It gave her some security, and you know the wife needs that.
Turn to the third chapter of First Peter. It tells you in First Peter chapter 3, in verse 7, “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” The wife is the weaker vessel. You may debate all you please about what this means—about how the wife is the weaker vessel. But when you're done debating it will remain a fact that the wife is the weaker vessel. She needs somebody to lean on. She needs somebody to look up to. She needs a head. She needs somebody to follow. She needs somebody to revolve around. She needs all of this. I don't mean that she needs someone to look after her as a child does. I'm not talking about anything like that. I'm talking about the inward need of her heart. The same scripture which tells her that her husband shall rule over her tells her also, “Thy DESIRE shall be toward thy husband.” It belongs to feminine nature to need this. But unfortunately, in our day it's very often the other way around. The wife is doing the leading, and the husband is following. The husband revolves around the wife. And, by the way, when you see that situation, you often see in the same families that the husband and wife both revolve around the children. It ought not to be. The wife ought to revolve around the husband, and the children around their parents. The woman was created for the purpose of being a help suited to her husband, and her earthly fulfillment (her happiness, that is) is bound up in fulfilling the purpose for which she was created. God did not create a square peg to fit into a round hole, but gave her a nature which does find its fulfillment in the purpose for which he made her.
When Billy Sunday died, (his wife relates this), she went into the room where his body lay, and put her forehead on his cold, dead arm, and cried out to God, and she said, “God, if you have anything on earth left for me to do, you'll have to show me what it is, because Billy was my whole job.” Now the fact is, he was her whole life. That's where a woman's real happiness is. Every old maid could tell you that, but some wives haven't discovered it. A lot of wives have discovered it, though, and their hearts are crying out for a real head, and it is for their sakes that I am preaching this sermon this morning. The wife is the weaker vessel, and she needs a head. God created her that way, and he created the man to be her head. She needs somebody that's bigger and stronger than she is, somebody to look up to and lean upon. I read an account once upon a time in some secular magazine—and I do something of that nature once in a while, for I am always studying human nature—stories of some of these career women, and, of course, this was the modern feminist movement glorying in its shame. But one of these women unwittingly revealed the real feminine nature which lay buried under this perverted feminism. She was a truck driver, and one thing that she said impressed me. She drove big trucks, and she said, “A good truck is like a good man. It's big, and strong, and it takes you where you want to go.” Now, that is the kind of a man that women want. They may protest. They may pretend that they want a partner that they can be on an equality with, but in their heart of hearts, they want somebody that's bigger and stronger—somebody that they can look up to, and somebody that they can obey—somebody that will lead them, and make them what they ought to be.
Now in verse 6 of First Peter 3 we read, “Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.” This is almost like a strange tongue to the modern society and the modern church. Can you imagine women calling their husbands “lord”? And obeying them? I'm not suggesting that you husbands require your wives to call you “lord.” That would be petty, and I would have nothing to do with it, but you ought to act as a head. Give her something that she can look up to, as the church looks up to the Lord.
Now women need such a head over them, but they can't create one. A man has to be a head. But women are strange creatures. They have little games that they play, and when you begin to act as a head to your wife, when you begin to be firm with her, and require something of her, and especially if you begin to require some hard things of her, she will protest and put up a fuss, and tell you you're being unreasonable, and all sorts of things. Lots of women will do that. It's a little game that they play. I'm not sure why they do it. Maybe because they like to be soft on themselves, as we all do. And she may pretend that she wants a big, soft, stuffed teddy bear for a husband—but in her heart of hearts, she wants a man. She wants a man that's bigger and stronger than she is. She wants a head. That is one of the deepest needs of her being. And men, by your softness you rob your wife of that. Instead of giving her a man to follow, you give her a puppy dog to lead around. When I see such a case, when I see a wife ordering her husband around, or leading him around, I feel pity for the wife, but I rather feel contempt for the husband. I heard a sermon from another preacher once—don't even know what his name was—but he said, “You men who let your wives lead you around, you ought to go jump off a bridge, and let your wife marry a man.” A woman wants a man, with a backbone, that can stand straight and strong, and be a head to her. I have seen women who are, in the depths of their soul, crying out for a man with a backbone, that will be a head to them. They feel that they are the weaker vessel, and in that weakness which belongs to femininity they feel their need to have a man to lean on. But in order to have a man to lean on, they have to prop him up first, so that they can lean on him. What do I mean by that? I mean that when the wife is struggling with something in her character, something that she needs to straighten out, and she needs a man to lean on, and a man to be a head to her, and be firm with her, and require something of her—she has to first prop him up, because he doesn't have enough backbone of his own to be able to stand firm, and she has to require him to require something of her. I know of cases like that. But he ought to be a head to her, and require it of her, even if she's protesting and begging him not to. When I was a boy, I often heard a joke that went something like this: “In our house Dad is the boss. Ma says so, and what she says goes.” Now that's just the kind of head that a lot of women have. They have to require their husband to be a head, or he doesn't do it. And if they need their husband to require something of them, they have to require their husband to require it of them, or he doesn't do it. There are women who know that they can walk all over their husbands, yet they don't do it, just because they know it's wrong. But in the bottom of their heart, they're crying out for a husband that they can't walk all over.
Now, it's of no use to preach submission to a wife, if she doesn't have a husband that requires anything of her. It's not the wife's place to make her man a head. It's the man's place to be a head. And I've seen this, too. I've seen wives who are ready and willing to submit to their husbands, and want to do so, but can't do so, because their husbands don't take the place of headship. A wife ought to submit to her husband “as Christ submits to the church.” By the same token a husband ought to rule over his wife, as Christ rules over the church—for her own good, of course—for her own happiness, for sure. It will make her happy, and not only that, it will make her a glory to her husband, as the church is going to be a glory to Christ, when he gets through with it.
The wife not only is the weaker vessel, but in her heart of hearts she needs to be the weaker vessel. She needs a head. She needs a leader. And she needs a firm head, not a soft head—a real head, not a figurehead. Your business as the head of your wife is not to indulge her in what she wants to do, but to require her to do what she ought to do. I tell you again, you will not lose her love by it. You will gain immeasurably. You will gain more of her love, for you will gain her respect and admiration, and a large part of a woman's love for her husband consists of admiration. And you will secure her present happiness, as well as her eternal good.