Revive Our Hearts Podcast

God’s Beautiful Design for Women, Day 41

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth explains how your marriage can put the character of God on display.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Because the husband/wife relationship is patterned after the God/Son relationship. The Head of Christ is God. And it’s patterned after the Christ/Man relationship. The head of the man is Christ. See? Headship is all around—not just in marriage.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, for April 3, 2017.

For the last several weeks women have been enjoying Nancy’s brand new book Adorned. To go along with the release of the book, Nancy is teaching related material in a series called "God’s Beautiful Design for Women: Living Out Titus 2:1–5."

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Just to refresh our memory, let me read the passage that we’re looking at here. I hope that you’re getting Titus 2:3–5 into your mind, your head, your thinking. I hope you’re memorizing it, meditating on it—not just letting me do all the thinking for you, but that you’re letting this get into your heart and into your life.

It’s such a powerful, beautiful passage. We could spend a lifetime studying and then trying to live it out together. Paul says to Titus, “You need to challenge these older women to live exemplary lives that manifest the gospel, and that these women have a calling”—not just some women, not just some specially gifted women, but all of these women, as they get older, are to become teachers.

It doesn’t mean that they set up a classroom or teach a Sunday school class or speak on the radio or a podcast. But they’re to be teachers—life to life, woman to woman. They’re to “teach what is good, and they’re to train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, to be pure, to be working at home, to be kind [we looked at that over the last couple of sessions], and [now we come to one of the toughest ones in the whole list—it’s the last quality] they’re to be submissive to their own husbands, so that the word of God may not be reviled.” [see Titus 2:3–5).

As I’ve been doing radio interviews with different outlets, talking about this book (and some written interviews as well), one of the questions that’s been asked over and over again is: As you look at some of these concepts—like working at home, submission—do you really think that readers and listeners can buy that today? It seems so out there,  so far-fetched, so from a different era!

I’ll be the first to admit that these are definitely counter-cultural concepts, completely out of step—like this one about being submissive to their own husbands—with our fiercely independent, egalitarian Western world.

You bring up the word “submission” in most settings today—even often among groups of believers—and you can expect people to look at you as if you were an alien from another planet!

Now, when I first started teaching thirty-five years ago or more, at least in the church there was a basic belief in this. People might not have lived it, but they at least would acknowledge that this is what the Scripture teaches. Today, you cannot assume that at all, even within the church. It is a different era.

I think there are some reasons for that, that make that understandable. This whole area of domestic violence, abuse, is such in our world today that this concept of submission has become particularly abhorrent and objectionable to a lot of people. 

It’s often argued that the church’s teaching of submission in marriage actually promotes and fosters the abuse of women. There are many Christian writers saying this today—bloggers who are saying this—some theologians who are saying this.

So we need to be prepared to think this through from a biblical perspective. Is God’s Word still true? Is it still beautiful? We believe that it is, but there are most people out there who do not believe that.

How can we live and present this in such a way that it’s compelling? I received a strong response years ago to a chapter I wrote on this subject of submission in marriage. This writer said, “How can you actually believe and print these things?! Do you know that men, here in the U.S. and in other nations, use things like this to dominate, beat, and kill their wives?”

Now, let me just assure you. I am not for—and, more importantly, God is not in favor of—men dominating, beating, and killing their wives. God hates that! I hate it! It breaks my heart; it breaks His heart. It should break our hearts!

But there are those who are saying, “If you teach on submission in marriage, what’s going to happen is, you are actually promoting abuse. You’re promoting men abusing their wives. You’re fostering it. You’re part of the problem for teaching this principle.”

The whole idea of submission—particularly in the context of marriage—makes many women feel weak, worthless, and vulnerable to controlling or angry men. And that’s not surprising, when you think of how many women—some women in this room, and women that we know, women in our circles—have been mistreated, abused, violated by male authority figures that they thought they could trust and that they should have been able to trust.

We need to acknowledge that. It doesn’t do any good to say, “No, that’s not a problem.” It is a problem! And that needs to be a concern—a huge concern—to us.

So, humanly speaking, I get this reaction. To our finite, fallen minds, the whole idea of submission in the context of marriage sounds unfair—even preposterous—to our egalitarian culture. And part of the problem is that there are so many misconceptions—wrong ideas—about what submission means, what it looks like.

As a result, so many—even within the church—have completely rejected the whole concept. And this is not an easy one to handle. We’ll get a lot of response to this series, and some from people trolling the Internet who—for years to come—will be slamming something I have said in this session.

It takes courage to stick your neck out and to talk about these things. But I so believe that God’s ways are good and right and true! I’m going to try to say it as carefully as possible—not to misspeak, not to speak where the Scripture doesn’t speak—but to call us to understand the wisdom of God that is infinitely higher than our finite, human wisdom.

In fact, in my book called Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, the chapter I’ve written on submission to our own husbands is called "An Unexpected Blessing: Discovering the Strength and Beauty of Submission." I worked long and hard on that title, because I wanted a title and a subtitle that would communicate that this is something beautiful.

But is it really true that submission—as thought about God’s way—is a blessing? Is it really true that it brings strength and beauty? Well, this is where we want to explore God’s heart on this subject.

I know many of our listeners, and many in this room today, are not married. Could I just say to you, “Please don’t check out.” The principle of submission applies to all of us in one way or another—men, women, young, old, married, single—and understanding it will help you in many different relationships—with parents, with children, with employees and employers, with church leaders—not to mention that, if God has a spouse for you down the road, understanding these principles on the front end would be a good thing. As a relatively new wife myself, I’m so grateful for the opportunities I had as a single woman to cultivate a submissive heart.

You may be widowed, divorced, never married. As an older woman, getting these principles will equip you to train young women in your life in what it does and doesn’t mean to submit to their husbands.

When Paul says to train young women to be submissive to their own husbands, he’s using a Greek military term that means "to place yourself in an orderly fashion under something or someone, to subject oneself, to place oneself in submission." This is a voluntary act done on the part of the one who is being submissive.

So submission is an acceptance of God’s order for husbands and wives, but it’s broader than just marriage. In fact, you see this theme throughout the book of Titus. You see that unbelievers are characterized as being insubordinate (Titus 1:10), being disobedient (Titus 1:16), and Paul says in Titus 3:3, “We ourselves were once foolish [and] disobedient.”

Being disobedient, rebellious, insubordinate, throwing off authority—this is a quality of people who don’t know Jesus and who have not experienced the riches and power of His saving grace. Then, Paul says that submission is to be a characteristic of believers in general, not just wives toward their husbands.

He says in Titus 3:1, “Remind them [all these church people, these believers] to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient.”

Now, as it relates to submission in marriage, I want to address over the next couple of days some of the confusion, some of the misconceptions about submission in marriage that make it inconceivable that this would be right, to so many people today, and that makes it seem culturally off the charts, irrelevant. Consequently, so many dismiss it as a result.

I want to start today by just laying two foundational presuppositions, foundational points or principles about submission. Then in the next session we’ll get into more of working it out.

The number one point is that submission was God’s idea. Now, you know that, but it’s important that we get this. Submission was not an idea that some chauvinistic guys cooked up to suppress women. This is not a man-made system.

It was part of the original plan of our Sovereign Creator. He has woven relationships of authority and submission into the very fabric of the universe. This is how God created things to operate—with structure, with order—in the church, in the workplace, in the courtroom, in the White House, in your house. This is for everyone.

There are those who perform theological gymnastics to conclude that the Scripture does not actually call wives to submit to their husbands. And you can read whole books that have been written to make this point.

But a plain reading of the text, both here and in Titus 2 and in many other places in the Old and New Testaments, clearly sets forth the principle of headship and submission in the marriage relationship.

Now, I understand those are “fightin’ words” in a lot of places in our world today, but the Bible is the pure authoritative revelation of God and His will. It’s the operator’s manual for our lives. It explains how the world works, how we work, how marriage works. We don’t get to pick and choose which parts we like and which we want to toss out.

And I want to say that this is good news! For who knows better how life should function than the Creator and Designer of life, Himself? So, first, submission was God’s idea.

Number two: God’s ways are good. They’re good. They’re not just true and right—they are that—but they’re also good and beautiful. God delights in His creation; He delights in marriage. His ways are for our blessing, our benefit, our protection, and for His ultimate glory.

Our good and wise and loving God would never ask of us something that is not for our ultimate enjoyment, joy, benefit, and blessing. So if we ignore or reject His good plan, we do so to our own detriment, our own harm—as well as to the harm of others—and to the gospel itself.

Now by saying that God thought up this way of submission and His ways are good, I’m not saying that submission is easy. It can be, in certain settings, excruciatingly hard! I’m not saying it comes naturally. In fact, for those who are not in Christ, it doesn’t come at all. It doesn’t come naturally to any of us until the Spirit of Christ comes to indwell us.

And until that point, we all naturally resist yielding to authority of another—whether it’s God’s authority or human authority. Regardless of how we may feel about this whole concept of submission at times—trying to work it out in tough situations—I want you to hear me when I say that biblical submission is a good and gracious gift from the Lord.

It’s a good thing. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s a heart attitude, a way of life, to be embraced for our own blessing and for the blessing of others.

Now, as I was preparing for this series the first time I taught it, many years ago, I assumed that most Christian women understood the concept of submission. Whether they like it or not, whether they lived it or not.

As I was preparing this original series, I had a dinner with a number of Christian women—including a couple of pastors’ wives—and I realized, as we talked, that a number of them had no concept of biblical submission when they were young wives. They had a lot of misconceptions.

I asked them, “When you first got married, what did you think submission was? What did you think it meant? Did you embrace it?” And, this is important, because Paul is telling older women to teach younger women to be submissive to their own husbands.

I realized as I listened to these older women by now talking about how they felt about this when they were newly married, I realized, “Younger women need to be taught!” That’s what Paul said to Titus.

One woman said, “My idea of submission was doing what my husband wanted me to do—if I agreed with it or liked it.” That was her concept. Another woman said, “I not only did not know about submission, but my mother was a strong-willed German mother who often ran over my dad with her demands and sarcasm. If I would have understood biblical submission earlier in my marriage, we could have avoided many hurtful arguments.” This is a thing that needs to be learned; it needs to be taught. And so, I want to lay out some basics.

Now, I want to say, we cannot—in three days here—cover every base about submission. It’s a big subject! We’re not going to be able to answer every question or address every situation, but I want to give a foundational understanding about of what submission is, what it isn’t, and why it matters.

I want to remind us that this call for wives to be submissive to their own husbands is not based on how wise or spiritual or godly or capable a man he may be. It’s not based on whether you like his personality or his style or his manner of leadership. And it doesn’t mean that he is smarter than you are or that he’s more spiritual, that he’s more capable. This calling is based on God’s design and order for marriage.

You’re familiar—I think most of us are—with the passage in Ephesians 5 (you hear it at almost every wedding!). Ephesians 5:22–25 kind of outlines this order.

It says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” And, by the way, how people can write whole books on saying that the Bible does not call wives to submit to their husband, theologically . . . I mean, you shouldn’t have to have a PhD to interpret this. It’s plain. So, we need to start with the assumption that this is God’s plan, and it’s good, and we’ve got to figure out how to live it and how to enjoy it!

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. [Here’s the basis for that.] For the husband is the head of the wife [there’s a structure, there’s an order] even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.

Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. [And not to leave out husbands, because they’re a part of making all this work,] Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

So the context for submission—looking at that one paragraph in Ephesians 5—is faithful, exclusive, covenant relationship, and the context—the backdrop—is a husband’s sacrificial love for his wife, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.

I want to commend to you a book that has just come off the press, written by my precious husband Robert Wolgemuth. It’s called Like the Shepherd: Leading Your Marriage with Love and Grace.

I’m not going to talk to the husbands in this series, but Robert does talk to the husbands in this book. It’s a beautiful book. It’s beautifully written. It’s written out of his life experience and his love for God’s Word.

In fact, he said to me when we were dating, “You talk to the women about all this stuff on the radio and podcasts and at your conferences and in your books. Who’s talking to the men?” I said, “I don’t know. That’s not my calling.” That’s where this book was born.

I’m hoping—and I believe—it’s going to be a great encouragement to a lot of husbands, because it’s kind of the other side of the coin, here. Like the Shepherd: Leading Your Marriage with Love and Grace is available at our Resource Center at ReviveOurHearts.com, if you or your husband would like to have a copy of it.

So we see from this passage in Ephesians that there is much more at stake than just your marriage or mine. It’s a bigger picture—it’s the redemption story—the picture of Christ’s love for His Church, Christ dying for His Church, giving up His life for His Church.

Christian marriage is supposed to be a picture—a painting—of the relationship between Jesus and His people, Jesus and His Church. It’s an object lesson. And that is the ultimate reason for us, as wives, to choose the pathway of submission to our husbands and for men to love their wives like the Shepherd—as Jesus does.

Beginning in the early chapters of Genesis, continuing through the New Testament, the divine order of headship and submission is set forth as being timeless and transcultural. Some theologians would say, “That was a different era; that was a different time. God’s revelation is different today.” No, this is timeless. It transcends time and cultures because the husband/wife relationship is patterned after the God/Son relationship. The Head of Christ is God. And it’s patterned after the Christ/Man relationship. The head of the man is Christ. See? Headship is all around—not just in marriage.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:3, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” This is not a demeaning relationship. This is not a relationship of inferiority (and we’ll go into that in more detail in tomorrow’s session).

But I want you to see that husbands and wives, and men and women, all are called to submit themselves to God’s good, beautiful order for our lives. All our submission is under God. Your husband is called to be submissive to His Head, Christ. There’s an awesome responsibility on men to be submissive in everything to Christ, their Lord.

A wife’s submission to her husband gives her the privilege of representing the mystery and the beauty of the Son’s submission to His Father. You see, Father and Son are both fully God. They are fully equal. Yet the Son chooses to submit Himself to the will of the Father—perfect equality with pure submission.

Jesus said in John 6:38 (and in many other places), “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” So the submission of Christian wives to their husbands is a powerful and beautiful picture of the Son’s submission to His Father, and the church’s submission to Christ. 

This is how we put the gospel story on vivid, technicolor, compelling display! This is how we adorn the gospel. And, conversely, when husbands, wives—any of us—fail to fulfill our God-given role in the marriage, we tarnish that picture of redemption and we bring reproach on Christ and on His gospel.

So for those who are married, I would just ask you—I would ask myself—“What does my marriage say about the relationship between Christ and His Bride? What kind of picture does it paint?” I don’t want to mar that picture! I don’t think you do, either.

Leslie: When you hear a message like that, do you realize that Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth labors to get the nuances just right? She wants to courageously teach what the Bible says about submission—even if it’s not popular. And she also wants to be clear that the Bible doesn’t condone or encourage violence or repression of women. Instead of falling to the extremes, she’s trying to get us to the gospel.

That’s what marriage is ultimately about. She does the same thing in her latest book Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together. We’d like to send you one of these books, and it’s our gift when you support Revive Our Hearts. You’re able to hear us today thanks to listener support.

But we have been facing some serious budget needs and really need more listeners to step up and contribute. So if you appreciate this balanced approach to tough topics, would you contribute whatever you can? When you do, ask for the book Adorned. The number is 1–800–569–5959, or donate at ReviveOurHearts.com and you’ll find the page to request the book.

Tomorrow, find out why one woman stood in line to see Nancy, held up a volume Nancy had written and said, “I hate this book!” And she really meant it. Hear the rest of the story tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Nancy’s back to pray that we will live out this concept of beautiful, biblical submission.

Nancy: And so Lord we pray, as we dive and delve into this topic . . . It’s a tough one! For a lot of women today, it’s kind of like waving red in front of a bull. It’s tough, and so many women have been so deeply hurt, and they need to see the goodness and the lovingkindness of God our Savior.

They need to see His sacrificial love, His beauty, His magnificence, His goodness. So, Lord, may they see that in my marriage to Robert. Thank you for the joy of being loved as I have been by this man. I pray that my response to him—that our response as wives to our husbands—would say to the world, “Listen! This is a beautiful gospel! He’s a great God and someone whom you want to know—because of what you have seen in our lives.” Make it true, I pray. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants you to help wives display the beauty of the gospel. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

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