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Sunday, August 22, 2010 | Comments (28)

What makes a family work? Is it authority—a firm-ruling father who keeps the peace? Activity—weekly date nights and regular family outings? Availability—members who make time for one another? According to Scripture, a key ingredient for a successful family is submission. Society scoffs at the very mention of the word, but God places submission at the top of His list for a unified family.

When our culture brings up the topic of submission, it’s usually to mock or malign it. After all, we live in an age where prideful self-assertion and ambition are major hallmarks of personal success. Sadly, that same attitude is brought home to the family, with disastrous results. Mutual submission may sound like a strange success formula to the world, but God’s ways are higher than our ways—and always better.

Listen to John’s sermon excerpt, then join the discussion in the comment thread.

Listen to this 9-minute clip:

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#1  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Sunday, August 22, 2010 at 9:39 AM

Fathers are head of the house. If a father dies, then it's pass to

the oldest son. The oldest would teach the younger and respect the mother. It's not like it anymore in someways. The world would let

women be the head of the house which might weaken the family and the

world wants the father to be under her law.

If it's a strong godly woman whom lost her husband or he left her, families may be strong if oldest son takes charge. But what if a

mother only has a daughter or a oldest daughter and a younger son,

what can she do? God can be in charge of family in any situation.

God bless.

#2  Posted by Mary Elizabeth Palshan  |  Monday, August 23, 2010 at 8:57 AM

Hello Dan Wilson:

Not to start a firestorm of controversy, here, but could you please back up your statement (Biblically, of course) that the oldest son is to take the head role in the family while the Mother is still living and the Father is deceased?

I can find nowhere in Scripture that this is supported. I could be missing something though. It would not be a first. :)

This whole topic of the First Family is an amazing topic. I hope more people contribute. Great comments, Dr. MacArthur.

#3  Posted by Fred Butler  |  Monday, August 23, 2010 at 9:20 AM

I am curious also what happens if a father only has daughters? Or what happens when the eldest son hates the family because he is a rabid unbelieving Christ hater?

Jesus stated that he would bring a sword to divide fathers from sons, mothers from daughters, Matthew 10:34-36.

Certainly it would be ideal if an older son was to take up the role of helping support his family if his father happened to die unexpectedly, and there was OT regulations for the oldest brother to take as his wife his older brother's wife if he were to die, but I am not sure if we can make such a strong case for this model as the operating principle for the NT church. Seems like to me the church a whole would step up to help in cases like this rather than it expected to go to one older son.

#4  Posted by Mary Elizabeth Palshan  |  Monday, August 23, 2010 at 9:41 AM

This is interesting, isn't it Fred? I just had a friend email me this from

"The firstborn became head of the family and thus succeeded to the charge of the family property, becoming responsible for the maintenance of the younger sons, the widow or widows, and the unmarried daughters. He also, as head, succeeded to a considerable amount of authority over the other members. Further, he generally received the blessing, which placed him in close and favored covenant-relationship with Yahweh"

Now, whether this means the oldest son usurps the authority of the other parent, in this case the Mother, I am not sure. I know there are passages where children are told to obey their parents, as in both of them, and their instruction. I will have to look them up.

Also, as you mentioned above about a rabid Christ hater taking control; I would hate to think of a drug induced, irresponsible son, who has no idea of what it takes to be a responsible teen let alone a parent, take control. There is something to be said for the wisdom of the aged and the experienced. In many ways you do not learn what it is to sacrafice until you become a parent.

#5  Posted by Fred Butler  |  Monday, August 23, 2010 at 9:55 AM

The reference Bible you link is geared more toward a family in a theocratic society, which Israel certainly was during the time of the OT. Such a society is no longer existent, at least currently, and the closer parallel would be the NT church. We do have NT instruction about taken care of widows and other individuals who would find themselves in these kind of situation, and the OT birthright laws don't apply as far as I can tell.

#6  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Monday, August 23, 2010 at 3:37 PM


I was thinking of something else like during WW1 or WW2. Smiles. I guess God would be in charge.

#7  Posted by Christy Perez  |  Monday, August 23, 2010 at 4:22 PM

what if the husband isn't trying to be the head of the house, does this make the house have conflict? and if it does how do i resolve this?

#8  Posted by Tommy Clayton  |  Monday, August 23, 2010 at 4:36 PM


Good question. In an upcoming post we’ll treat wives submitting to their own husbands (Eph. 5). But for now, 1 Peter 3:1–6 speaks to the issue you raise. Verse 1 says, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives.”

Here are John MacArthur’s thoughts on that verse and the passage in general. It addresses your question head on. Enjoy:

I’m glad Peter said this, because inevitably someone will say, “You don’t know my husband. If I submit to him it’s going to be awful. He’s not a Christian, and he doesn’t obey God or His Word. How in the world am I going to submit to this man?” That verse was written to answer that kind of response. Even if the husband doesn’t obey the Word, the wife is to submit. And by her life the husband may be won. Wives, instead of writing “Repent” on the bottom of his beer cans, or pasting little notes in his lunch pail, or giving him another gospel presentation, set your life in response to God’s ordained pattern for marriage. You may, without even using the Word of God, win him by your behavior.

Verse 2—You may ask, “What kind of behavior will win my husband?” Peter answers, “Chaste conduct coupled with fear [reverence].” Wives should revere their husbands, manifesting a certain awe and respect. In other words, not only is her life chaste (pure behavior, conduct, and living), but there is also a reverence or an awe that looks up to him and respects him.

Verse 3—If a wife is concerned with her husband—if she is in awe of him and if her conduct is chaste—her husband will not only be won by her attitude but also by its manifestation. Peter says in verse 3 that her adorning will not be the “outward adorning of plaiting the hair [the weaving of gold and silver bands], and of wearing of gold or of putting on of apparel.” In other words, if she preoccupies herself with such external adornment, she is in violation of the standard. Why? Because someone who is submissive doesn’t call attention to herself.

Verse 4—Instead of being preoccupied with external adornment, verse 4 says, the woman should be concerned with “the hidden man of the heart,” or “the secret of the heart” (the word man isn’t in the Greek text). In other words, don’t work on the outside; work on the inside. Instead of focusing on that which is corruptible (apparel, gold, braided hair), concentrate on developing “a meek and quiet spirit.” The word meek (Gk., praus) means “quiet and gentle.” The word quiet simply means “silent and still.”

There are women today who are boisterous and loud, demanding their rights, parading and marching, and proclaiming the injustices done to them. That isn’t God’s standard. The Bible tells women instead to cultivate a meek, quiet, gentle, still, peaceful, silent spirit. Now that doesn’t mean wives are to never offer their opinion. It means they are to understand that God expects them to be humble and still. That is the beauty and strength of a woman.

Note that all this is “in the sight of God.” The Greek word enopion means “face-to-face with.” As you’re standing face-to-face with God, He doesn’t care what your hair looks like or how much gold you’re wearing or if you have on the latest fashion; He’s looking for a meek and quiet spirit. In His sight, a meek and quiet spirit is “of great price” (Gk., poluteles). Poluteles is the same word used in Mark 14:3, when the woman opened the alabaster box and took out the precious ointment. A meek and quiet spirit is precious and valuable to God.

Verse 5—“For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands.” That has always been the standard. Holy women focused on the inside. Why? Because they trusted God. They adorned themselves with a meek and quiet spirit in submission to their husbands.

Verse 6—Peter gives an illustration of one such woman: “Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord [a term of respect, awe, and reverence]; whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any terror.” As Abraham is the father of the faithful (Gal. 3:7), Sarah is the mother of the submissive. Daughters of Sarah are those who call their husbands lord, are submissive to him, and “are not afraid with any terror.”

I hear women say, “I’m afraid to submit to my husband, because if I do, I’ll lose my rights. He’ll run me down.” But those holy women mentioned in 1 Peter 3:5 trusted God and had no fear of obeying Him. They knew that if there ever was an abuse, God would take care of the results. If you obey God and submit to your husband with a meek and quiet spirit, respond the way God wants you to respond, and don’t have any fear in doing that, you can believe that God will honor your commitment—no matter what.

#9  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Monday, August 23, 2010 at 4:51 PM

I lost a friend two days ago, Jerry to cancer. He has left two children under 12 yrs old with his wife, that why I said something

in post #1.

God bless

#10  Posted by Tommy Clayton  |  Monday, August 23, 2010 at 4:57 PM


I'm truly sorry to hear about your friend's passing. I will lift up his family in prayer. May they turn to Christ for grace and strength during this trial.

#11  Posted by Paul Tucker  |  Monday, August 23, 2010 at 11:43 PM

Great Stuff Folks:

But hard stuff as well, women are taught to be aggressive and take the headship in the family, modern day womens movements generally advocate lesbianism and women bearing children outside of a hetero marriage. Or single parent families. Gay rights activist work aggressively to win members to their cause so that there is an increase in homosexual behaviors. It is due to the "god of this world" warring against heaven. his motives are clear, his minions are organized to do his bidding. And they are blinded to the consequences of their actions. When the world system takes over in a flood of self-centered desire, all hell will break loose. Our job is to resist the urges of this world system. John is right, following the Biblical prescription for the family is the only way we should go. Submission to one another via the authority structure which God has given is really the only one that makes sense. It is non-competitive, non-aggressive, and is outward looking from one's center. This is the form of love that the world needs. (Just thinking)

#12  Posted by Rick White  |  Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 7:53 AM

I think Christy brings up a great point especially for the men. I believe that if we were to actually live the self-sacrificing life described in Ephesians 5:21-25 our wives would have no problem at all submitting to us. But, as the article points out, we bring home the prideful self-asserting attitude of the world and then can't understand why our wives are reluctant to be submissive. I'm not saying that that is an excuse for the wife to not submit, but along with the headship in the family also comes the responsibility of the husband to do his part based on the biblical instruction given to him.

#13  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 1:29 PM

Thanks, Tom

Jerry lived a wild life up to a month ago. When he found out about

the colon cancer, he repented and came back to Jesus then he came

back a month ago with his family, then he died peacefully last Sat.

He was only 43.

#14  Posted by Eileen Harris  |  Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 1:34 PM


I believe that Tommy, had the best of intentions when he posted his reply, but I think that the way he worded a woman's role to be in complete submission to her husband is dangerous.

#15  Posted by Gabriel Powell (GTY Admin)  |  Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 1:52 PM


Would you mind explaining what you mean? Tommy was quoting John MacArthur, so I'm not sure which portion of his comment you believe to be dangerous.

#16  Posted by Tommy Clayton  |  Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 1:54 PM


My reply was actually an excerpt from a book John MacArthur wrote titled, The Fulfilled Family. I made certain to credit John with the material, even though I am in complete agreement with everything he wrote in that section.

Also, I can’t find where the phrase “complete submission” was employed in that response, even though God’s Word never charges women—or men for that matter—to half-heartedly or partially obey His commands to submit. For example, in Ephesians 5:21, where Paul calls believers to “submit ourselves to one another in the fear of Christ,” Do you think he meant to completely do that, or only partially? I think you may be confusing the concept of “submission” with “obedience.” If that’s the case, I understand your concern and I think an upcoming post will help settle that issue. But for the sake of clarity, in what specific ways do you find a wife submitting to her husband to be “dangerous”?

Were you able to listen to the sermon excerpt featured in this post? I think that would help as well.

Thanks Eileen.

#17  Posted by Elaine Bittencourt  |  Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 3:25 PM

Just wanted to say thank you for all the comments so far, I've been enjoying this series.

Christy, you make a very good point, as it's been already noted. A husband needs to be the head of the house spiritually as well, and I have seen a lot of husbands who happily pass on that role to their wives. But what about in those cases where the husband is the unbeliever then?

#18  Posted by Orlando Delgado  |  Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 3:58 PM

Thanks Tommy,

That is my wife’s testimony as it relates to those years when my heart was not with the Lord. I know she prayed and always kept a humble heart towards me. I was not a bad husband that abused her or anything like that. Instead I was using profane language in front of her as casual conversation. I hated and let her know that I did hate Gospel Music. I am convinced that through the sovereignty of God, her prayers and the prayers of many devoted Christians worked in harmony for a transformation in my heart. I have learned to submit myself to her wisdom and her character as well. I praised the name of our Lord Jesus for the transformation the Holy Spirit has made in my heart.

On the other hand I have a friend whom I have been ministering for some time that has come to know Jesus. He is new in the faith. His wife has not come to grips with the Word and the faith in our Lord Jesus. She has been threatening with divorce, and to take away his almost one year old baby from him. This situation is tearing him and me apart. My advice to him has been to maintain himself prayed up, and to continue to provide the Christ like example. I can testify his hunger for the Word as I see him studying the Bible (JMC Study Bible).

May the Lord continue this pouring of blessings He allows using GTY through JMC and staff.

#19  Posted by Christy Perez  |  Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 4:34 PM

Praise GOD orlando, GOD has worked in your life and through your wife as being obedient to our LORD and as for your friend i will be praying for his wife's salvation and just pray that GOD will take control of their lives and will see the full benefits in the end. GOD bless you.

#20  Posted by Elaine Bittencourt  |  Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 4:36 PM

Orlando, thank you for your comment. I will be praying for your friend and his wife.

God bless you!

#21  Posted by Suzanne Marsh  |  Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 4:47 PM

Comment deleted by user.
#22  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 5:51 PM


Some great posts.


I remember when my dad said while in the hospital when he had a

heart attack 5 yrs ago. My dad told my mom that he was man enough

to bear it. My mom told my dad that Jesus is only man enough to die

on the cross for our sins and he is alive. My mom's submission to my dad even he is non-believer shows how noble is my mother. It teaches me something. Smiles. It shows that a christian woman like my mom can pray and be a good witness to her unbelieving husband.

Does it help?

#23  Posted by Eileen Harris  |  Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 7:23 PM

Hi Tommy,

I did listen to the 8 min. clip and I also read the sermon. Please forgive me if I'm wrong, but I came away with the understanding that Pastor MacArthur, was discussing "Submission" in general, not in women specifically. God over Christ, Christ over Man, Man over Woman, and Parents over Children. Instead I feel this blog is inordinately obsessed with submission on the woman's part.

Later on in the sermon, Pastor MacArthur, talks about specific gender roles but in such a way as to give Man, Woman and Children the confidence to submitt with peace. Your answer to Christy, seemed to me a laundry list of do's and don'ts for women.

I have always felt that Submission, needs to be taught carefully. In my experience, I have seen it used as a club.

Complete submission was my phrasing, but that's what I took away from your answer.

Yours in Christ,


#24  Posted by Mary Elizabeth Palshan  |  Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 10:01 PM

There seems to be no more dreaded word in the Bible than the word submission. A proud person will bristle at the very word. But we are all called to submit, even Christ submitted to the Father.

My parents were not Christian parents, but submission was well understood in my home. My mother always yielded to my father’s wishes. She always respected his wise council and guidance, and even though they were not Christians, I believe that the Lord truly blessed my parent’s marriage, because there was always peace in my home growing up. I, too, followed in this pattern, in my own marriage, and respected my husband tremendously, and he in turn, even though he was not a Christian, showed me the same love and respect.

To me submission is nothing more than showing honor and respect, and we "ALL" are told to submit to one another. But God has also ordained a hierarchy to which we all must lovingly acquiesce. It is His way, and if we truly love the Lord, it becomes our way, too. A quiet and still spirit is not only beautiful in a woman, but it is beautiful in a man, as well.

Dear Dan Wilson:

I am so sorry to hear about your friend, Jerry, who died of cancer. I will pray for his wife and young children.

#25  Posted by Tommy Clayton  |  Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 10:57 PM


I’m encouraged you took the time to listen to the audio excerpt, read the entire sermon and come back for interaction. Thanks for being an informed commenter. You’re correct, the sermon clip addressed mutual submission within the body of Christ (and by implication, the home). John wasn’t dealing with headship, authority, or specific roles within the family until nearly the end of the clip. However, some of the questions in the comment thread were related to that subject, so that’s where the discussion went. Case in point—Christy Perez.

Let’s take another look at her question: She asked: “What if the husband isn't trying to be the head of the house, does this make the house have conflict? And if it does, how do I resolve this?”

Here’s how I understood and processed her inquiry. (1) Her question dealt directly with male headship: Husband leading home. (2) Her question dealt directly with disobedience in male headship: Husband failing to assume role of leadership in home (3) Her question dealt directly with her responsibility in the matter: How does the wife of a disobedient husband respond?

In my estimation, that is a question Peter directly addresses in chapter 3. Christy did not say whether or not the husband in question was a believer or an unbeliever. The word “disobedient” in 1 Peter 3 probably refers to an unbelieving husband. However, the principle is the same for the wife in either case.

Because of those elements, my answer to Christy’s question came from John MacArthur’s faithful exposition of that text in a book written for families. I don’t see it as a “laundry list” at all. It’s direct instruction from an inspired apostle given to women in a very unique and challenging situation.

I agree with your assessment that submission should be taught carefully, but I’m having a hard time seeing how anything in this post or the ensuing comment section has treated it carelessly, or worse, (in your words) dangerously.

I’m sorry your perception of this blog (I’m assuming you mean the current series on the family) is one of a group of people inordinately obsessed with female submission. You’re entitled to that opinion, but do you not think it a bit premature? After all, at this point, we’ve only posted 6 entries on the family, and only 1 of those posts deals with submission—and it’s mutual submission.

If you’re referring to the current discussion in the comment thread, I don’t think your observation is fair. Here’s why: questions often arise in response to a post which do not reflect the theme of that post. I chose to answer Christy’s question, frankly, because I think many wives find themselves in that exact situation. What is a Christian wife to do when the husband she is willing to follow refuses to lead? How should she respond in that situation? Should she abandon her responsibility, thinking her situation to be so unique as to merit exemption? Should she pray for a new husband? Should she file for divorce? Should she post Bible verses all over the house highlighting a man’s obligation to provide leadership within the home? No. Peter tells them what to do. Given another opportunity to answer Christy, I’d point her to that same passage. It’s timeless.

Eileen: I want to invite you to stick around throughout the duration of this series on the family. Our next several posts will deal with wives submitting to their husbands, and then we’ll hit husbands, children and finally, parents. If you feel at the end of the series we’re obsessed with female submission and have dangerously wielded it as a club, then we can take up our discussion again at that point. Fair enough?

On a personal note, I can tell you as a husband and father that I tremble before my responsibility to love my wife as Christ loved the church. If the topic of wives submitting to their own husbands leaves you unsettled, I can assure you I feel your pain when Paul addresses my responsibility.

I hope that helped clarify my purpose in responding to Christy, and I hope you stick around Eileen. I’ve enjoyed interacting with you.

And to Christy: If I misunderstood your question, I trust my comments above explain where I was coming from.

Sincerely in Christ,


#26  Posted by Paul Tucker  |  Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 6:02 AM

Hi Eileen:

I think that one reason that women, in general, "feel" this way is because of broken trust. You want to feel protected in the environment which you live in emotionally as well as physically.

Another reason may be that of social programming- women see themselves in a different light then women of the past did. Today, women are taught, (wrongly I believe), in independence to an extreme. That is, marriage is seen as a contract between two individuals, not two becoming one flesh.

And God mentions the fact that the desire of women will be towards taking headship away from men (Genesis 3) . This is the natural consequence of sin.

Submission does not mean leaving your brain at the threshold of the home, nor does it mean that you should stay in a situation where you are being abused. Submission is "in love", and it works both ways, as Tommy mentioned. Submission causes one to focus out from themselves to look to serve according to the others need- that is why it needs to be both ways. Submission is based on "two becoming one flesh" and thus the image of God in the world. The Love of God is the only way this is accomplished. And to be frank- with my sinful nature I'm not always the most caring of folks- my own desires often take the center stage. When I submit to the Word of God and the Spirit of God that is when things change.

"Headship" is based upon submission as its anchor. The desire for "control" is not based upon that principle. Many women desire to control their husbands, use them to get what they want and give them what they want. He is the appendage, the slave, to their sinful, undisciplined, desire. Many men see headship in the same way, neither brings about the "oneness" of the union depicted in the scripture. When you look at Christ's example, he submits to the Father because he is committed to the Father's program (Hebrews 10), The Holy Spirit submits to the Son, (John 14), But all three are working for the others "good". However, that does not mean that the Son did not have to go to the cross, nor the Holy Spirit did not need to be the "earnest" of people redeemed, but often acting like those who are unredeemed and carnal. Headship sets directions and goals which both are to work for in concert. You will notice that men are to submit to Christ. A man's calling comes from the Spirit of God so that we might fulfill the will of God. Headship is about being first in service to those we lead. (and you can't tell me that that is easy for us self centered men)

Finally, God always has an "open door policy". If you are submitting to your husband and he is not "right" in the head about his responsibilities, and won't get right- God can take him out, (And without the help of "Madina's sweet potato pie"). Just a few thoughts- hope they are helpful an not hurtful. PT

#27  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 5:37 PM

Mary Elizabeth Tyler,

Thanks, Prayer is good.

I like the book of Ruth. It shows how humble Ruth is and she married

Boaz in the last chapter. How she left her lifestyle to follow the true God.

She honored her her mother in law, Naomi. She cared for her and

Naomi point her out to Boaz. Boaz was a godly man and respected Ruth.

It's a beautiful picture of someone growing to close the chapter of old life to a new life. It makes my tears fall. Amen.

#28  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Saturday, August 28, 2010 at 5:15 PM

I mowed the whole lawn for my dad. That's honorable. Smiles.