Proverbs 12:4 

4An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, But she who causes shame is like rottenness in his bones. 

The Proverbs direct us in the way of wisdom and teach us what it is to imitate the character of our Lord and Savior Jesus. Even as Proverbs 12 has contrasted those who love instruction with those who hate correction and the good man with the wicked man, so today it contrasts an excellent wife with a shameful wife. 

The Scriptures extol marriage as one of the greatest gifts that God has given to humanity and an excellent wife as one of the greatest gifts that God gives to an individual man. “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord” (Prov 18:22). “Houses and riches are an inheritance from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord” (19:14). Marriage is among God’s greatest gifts to humanity because it is “a great mystery” (Eph 5:32) that symbolizes the relationship between Christ and His Church. The husband images Christ while the wife images the Church. Wives, therefore, are called to reveal in their lives the way that the Church relates to Christ Himself. As Paul writes to the Ephesians:

22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. 

An important biblical distinction is between indicatives and imperatives. Indicatives are statements of fact while imperatives are commands. “Christ died for sinners” is an indicative. “Believe in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins,” is an imperative. So note in Paul’s instructions that we have both an indicative and an imperative.

The indicative is “the husband is the head of the wife.” This is the way that God has structured the marriage relationship. God created the woman to be a helper comparable to the man – to assist the man in fulfilling his calling to fill the earth and subdue it. So if you are a wife this is your identity. It is not an imperative, it is an indicative: your husband is your head. Hence, God united you with him to be a helper comparable to him – to assist him in fulfilling his calling to fill the earth and subdue it. That is his calling; your calling is to help him achieve it.

So what is the imperative that emerges from this indicative? Paul is very clear. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Now the Greek behind this word “submit” means “submit.” Paul clarifies later, “Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” So how does the Church submit to Christ? By listening to Him, honoring Him, obeying Him, praising Him, respecting Him. If you are a wife, it is in this way that you are to relate to your husband – you are to submit to him as to the Lord, and to be subject to him in everything. Listen to him about the finances, training the children, relating to your friends, cleaning the house, working outside the home, etc. Now all this entails, husbands, an immense responsibility on your part to rule your household as would Christ Himself who is the head and Savior of the body – sacrificing for the protection and blessing of His bride. But our text today speaks to wives not husbands.

So, wives, you are to extol the beauty of the Church in the way you relate to your husband. Such a wife, a wife who clearly honors and respects and submits to her husband, is an excellent wife and, Proverbs declares, the crown of her husband. She demonstrates that her husband is a true king, capable of ruling his family and the world under God.

But, Proverbs insists, a shameful wife is rottenness to the bones. A wife who disrespects her husband, who scorns him in public and in private, who manipulates and cajoles him, who nags and berates him, who refuses to listen to his voice is rottenness to the bones – wearing him down, increasing his stress level, and undermining his ability to accomplish the tasks to which God has called him. He is weakened – and when a storm comes he will likely break just like a rotten branch or tree.

So what of you? If you are a wife, are you striving to be an excellent wife, a crown of glory on your husband’s head, enabling him to fulfill his calling? Or are you a shameful wife, rottenness to his bones, inhibiting his ability to do what God has called him to do? Reminded that our marriages are to extol the relationship between Christ and His Church and that many of us husbands and wives have failed to live up to our callings, let us confess our sin to the Lord.