June 16, 2014 Broadcast

The Role of Man and Woman

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Feminism and the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s has had a profound effect on the church, and has led to a great deal of discussion on gender roles in marriage. In this lesson, Dr. R.C. Sproul reveals the relationship between gender roles, and the possibility of having an intimate and satisfying marriage.

From the series: The Intimate Marriage

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Respectful Wives

  2. devotional

    Understanding Husbands

  3. devotional

    Spousal Roles

Respectful Wives

Reformed theology has always affirmed the biblical truth that divine sovereignty is not antithetical to human responsibility. While it is true that God’s election of some to eternal life is the only thing that guarantees the salvation of His people, God’s people must demonstrate their faith by living a life of obedience and repentance.

The teaching of 1 Peter reminds us of the compatibility of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Peter writes to an audience made up of “elect exiles” (1:1–2) who have been brought to new life by the Father and whose life is guarded by Him until the day of their glorification (vv. 3–5). This audience was enduring a time of suffering necessary for the purification of their faith (vv. 6–7). In order that this purification would happen, Peter calls his audience to be responsible and stand firm, continuing to rejoice in the hope of Christ while setting their minds wholly on His grace (vv. 8–25).

In doing so, Christians persevere and demonstrate their election. God has already made those of us in Christ to be His people (2:1–10); therefore, we must live accordingly, abstaining from the passions of the flesh and living honorable lives so that non-believers may be drawn to Jesus (vv. 11–12). One way this can be done is through submission to our authorities insofar as they do not command us to sin (vv. 13–20). On occasion, we might have to submit and suffer for doing good, just as Jesus did (vv. 21–22). Yet as we obey these commands, we stand firm in our faith, and, like Christ, trust the one Judge of all, confident that we too will be vindicated (vv. 23–25).

In today’s passage, Peter tells us that wives should live honorable lives by being subject to the authority of their own husbands (3:1–2). In a few days we will look at this idea more carefully as we study the roles of men and women in marriage. For now we will simply say that in deferring to her husband’s authority, the wife reflects the created order (1 Tim. 2:11–14) and so testifies to God’s reign. This does not mean that a wife is to suffer abuse or commit sin at her husband’s request, but it does mean that a wife must respect her husband even if he is not a Christian.

Understanding Husbands

As we continue our study of how Christians can live honorably among non-believers and stand firm for Christ in their marriages, we come to Peter’s instructions for Christian husbands. Having established that wives are to come under the authority of their husbands in the marital relationship, Peter now explains to the husband how this authority is to be exercised.

We read in 1 Peter 3:7 that husbands are to live with their wives in an understanding way, honoring them as the “weaker vessel” in the relationship. But what does Peter mean when he calls the woman the “weaker vessel”? We must note that Peter does not have in mind here the idea that women are somehow inherently lesser than men spiritually. As the rest of the verse explains, wives are co-heirs with their husbands of the grace of life.

When Peter speaks of the woman as the weaker vessel, he likely has several things in mind. First is the idea of physical weakness since, generally speaking, men are physically stronger than most women and could use their strength against their wives. Secondly, Peter may also have been, without endorsing this view, responding to the idea that women in his day were viewed by much of society as weaker in dignity than men. Unfortunately, the continued objectification of women in our own society testifies that this remains an implicit assumption for many people even today. Finally, Peter may also be speaking of women having the lesser authority in the marital relationship.

Considering these emphases, Peter recognizes that it can be tempting for husbands to exercise their authority in a cruel and demeaning way. Therefore, in keeping with the biblical teaching on the dignity of both men and women, he calls husbands to honor their wives as the weaker vessel. Far from taking advantage of their own physical power, objectifying their wives, or using their authority in a cruel or demeaning way, husbands must instead respect their wives and exercise leadership lovingly and considerately. When this is done, the prayers of the couple are not hindered.

Spousal Roles

We conclude our study of Christian marriage today by looking at the roles God has given to men and women within the context of marriage. Each spouse has specific duties that he or she must fulfill if the marriage is to be glorifying to God.

Today’s passage is one of the several places in the Bible where these roles are outlined. In Ephesians 5:22–24 we read that wives are to submit to their husbands as they submit to Christ. Since Christ is the head of the church, the husband is the head of his household.

That men are invested with a special leadership role within the context of the family does not in any way mean that women are somehow inferior to men. Our doctrine of the Trinity tells us that subordination and equality go together hand-in-hand. The Son of God is equal in dignity to the Father but nevertheless is in submission to Him (John 1:1; 5:19). Similarly, the wife is equal in dignity to her husband though she is called to submit to his leadership.

Such submission is not an excuse for tyranny. The task that Scripture gives to the husband is to love his wife (Eph. 5:25–28) just as Christ loves the church. He must be willing to lay his life on the line for her. He must cherish her so much that he works to help her grow even more beautiful just as Christ works to present His bride to the Father without spot or blemish (v. 27).

Loving her this much means that he will never forbid her to do anything that God commands or command her to do anything that God forbids. It also means that he will remember that she is a person and not to be run roughshod over when decisions are made. He will respect her opinion and work to compromise when necessary. Nevertheless, the two will not agree at times and in these cases the wife is called to submit insofar as she does not sin by doing so.

Let us note when one spouse fulfills his role, the other will find it less difficult to fulfill hers. The husband will more easily love the wife who respects him and the wife will more easily submit to the husband who loves her as Christ does. Let us therefore fulfill our roles so that our spouses will fulfill theirs.

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