In his 2012 sermon The Willful Submission of a Christian Wife (Ephesians 5:22-24), John MacArthur preached on I Peter 3, and when it came to verse 5, he had this to say (35:27-36:08):
Holy women have always done this. Holy women, women who hoped in God, this means redeemed women, this is how they’ve always adorned themselves, by being submissive to their husband. Illustration: Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him Lord. Now, don’t get carried away, Men. Please. But you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.https://youtu.be/4VNlRzWhf90?t=2128
MacArthur’s warning to the men in his audience was met with laughter by the congregation. Whenever a pastor has to preach the text as written, he can bet money it will produce anxiety in the minds of the women listening. The condescending exhortation for men to get over themselves is meant to dispel this anxiety from the ladies’ minds. The laughter you hear is not one of humor, but of relief. “Oh, thank God. For a minute there I thought I had to call my idiot-husband lord. Ha! Like that’s ever gonna happen.”
But let’s say John MacArthur went in the other direction and said something like the following:
Ladies, there is no mistaking what God has commanded of you. Your husband doesn’t simply sit in the place of Christ in your marriage, but you’re to address him as lord. He isn’t The Lord God, but, he is your lord. And I gotta tell you, Ladies, I’ve never heard of a marriage ending in divorce after the wife started calling her husband Lord.
These statements would also be met with laughter, only it would be one of nail-biting anxiety. Pastors know full-well that women cannot abide being corrected for their failures in a relationship. In 2016 Doug Wilson wrote that he (and his wife in an unquoted portion of the article) encounters this phenomenon when counselling married couples:
Even though the world gets conviction of sin all wrong, this climate does mean that the simple message of repent and believe is one that can still be delivered to men. The men usually expect it, which is good, because they deserve it.
But that is not the case anymore with women.(…) Now I know that some women have done awful things to men also, and I take it as a given that this can and does happen. I do not assume that the man must be the worst offender. But in the counseling I have done over the years, the thing that usually wrecks the woman’s joy is not the fact that her sin is equivalent to the man’s, or greater than the man’s, or less than the man’s, but rather the fact that her sin is untouchable. We are dealing with a culture-wide insistence that women not be held responsible for what they do. This assumption has crept into the church, even into the conservative wing of the church, and has now been weaponized.https://dougwils.com/the-church/peril-zero-sum-counseling.html
This obviously poses a problem for women when they’re confronted by 1 Peter 3:5. On one hand, the Christian church has taught them to demonize anyone who would dare criticize their failures towards their husbands. But then, the Bible does say that wives should call their husbands Lord. This naturally makes them worried, because a daunting truth is looming on the horizon. “Uh-oh… But if the Bible does teach this, doesn’t that mean I’m the bad guy?”
But this anxiety is a great opportunity for a preacher. He could take that very opportunity, knowing the fear that has been stirred in the hearts of the women listening, and say,
“Ladies, most if not all of you have failed in this area. You don’t respect your husbands, and if I bet money, none of you have ever dreamed of calling your husband lord. You may even hate your husband, but if you’re a Christian woman, your duty is clear. Obey your husband and call him Lord. I know, I know, you hate what I’m saying. Right now you may be thinking, “I won’t. I can’t. It’s just never going to happen.” That’s true, but only without God’s help. Maybe you’ve disrespected your husband for years, and you’re thinking it’s way too late to turn things around now. I’m telling you right now- it’s never too late. I’m confident that if you make it a regular point to beseech the Lord for his help, you will not just call your husband Lord, but your attitude towards him will change, and you will respect him like you never have before.”
This is the kind of preaching that women need to hear. This is the teaching that will help a disrespectful wife grow and mature in her faith. MacArthur’s approach is to stunt that growth, and to encourage women to snort at the idea that they should obey 1 Peter 3:5. We again see why the Christian church is feminist in nature. MacArthur has been preaching for a loooooooooong time. If he still can’t get this right, then it’s no wonder most of us are getting it wrong.