One of the classic passages in the bible on Marriage is Ephesians 5:21-33 This is probably one of the most quoted and preached from passages on this subject. Most times preachers will use this passage a a bludgeoning tool to get wives or husbands to act accordingly. I always thought that this was a misuse of the passage.
“Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the Savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” Ephesians 5:21-33
I am a firm believer that this section is a very clear passage dealing with the glories of being in an “In Christ Relationship”. It has more to do with the believers union with Christ than it does as a handbook or a self-help guide to our earthly marriage.
Does the passage offer some good advice to husbands and wives that can be applicable to their marriages? Absolutely, but is that the primary intent of the passage, I don’t think that it is. But with that in mind let me share a few things about the passage that I have struggled with.
The passage starts with a clear declaration of submission of husband to wife and wife to husband. It is often conveniently neglected to note that the passage starts with mutual submission. Most preachers that I have heard jump right to the wives responsibility of submission and they neglect the husbands obligation to do the same.
Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
Moving from mutual submission I believe that the Apostle Paul then uses the wife to illustrate that submission. And just because he uses the wife to illustrate this principle is in no way negating the mans obligation to be submissive as well. Consider the verse later in the passage that tells husbands to love their wives. Are we to presume that just because the husband is the primary addressee of that verse that the wife is not expected to love her husband? I hope not. What a dysfunctional way to live out a marriage. I will love you but never submit to you, and you will submit to me, but it’s okay if you don’t love me. I cannot see that as the intent here. But rather going back to verse 21 there is a mutual submission, and a reciprocal love. Both submission and love are two way streets.
But nonetheless Paul chose to use the women to illustrate submission, and the man to illustrate love, so let’s stick with that.
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
Early in my marriage, I would read that verse and think…”Aha, it is my job to ensure and insist on my wife’s submission”. Men, I highly recommend that you get that attitude out of your system as soon as humanly possible. That attitude led to nothing but strife, and angst, and rancor, the exact attitudes and temperaments that Ephesians chapter 4 warns against. So through my own fault I caused division right off the bat with my attitude. Funny thing is, when I ceased insisting on submission, My wife wound up being voluntarily submissive. Funny how that works. Another example in this picture is that Christs submission to the Father was completely voluntary. God did not force His son into the subservient role or to go to the cross unwillingly. Everything and anything that Christ did, he did voluntarily and out of love for the Father. So men, consider this: A forced submission is not submission at all. Only a voluntary submission is worth receiving. Tyrants around the world receive forced submission every day, but in the hearts of those they are tyrannizing is hatred, spite, venom, and a willingness to turn on the tyrant at any opportunity. I do not think you want to live in those conditions.
After I got passed my Tyrant phase I would feel guilty reading verse 22, as if I was reading someone Else’s mail. It is addressed to the women, so maybe I should not even read it, there is nothing there for me. But then recently in reading through that section again I found something very striking, (to me at least).
The verse tells “WIVES”…”Submit yourselves” (A voluntary action)… “unto your own husbands” (Not all men, but only to your husband)…, “As unto the Lord.” It was in that last phrase, “…As unto the Lord.” Where a light bulb of sorts went on in my all too stagnant brain.
God is asking women to submit themselves unto their own husbands in a very specific way; “…As unto the Lord”. If that is the case, what then is my role? If I am NOT Christ-like, how difficult would it be for my wife to submit to me as unto the Lord? But if I were a godly man, being continually conformed to the image of Christ, and I lived just such a life in front of my wife and my kids. Then it would make sense for her to submit to me, as unto the Lord.
So you see men; even though we do not have an explicit command in verse 22, we have an incredible responsibility. We must be like Christ, if our wives are going to be able to submit to us as unto the Lord. We would have to be, (if you will pardon the liberty) “Lordly”. I know for many years I had been expecting submission from my wife when I was not particularly Christ-like.
Consider this men; perhaps if we are not like Christ, then maybe, just maybe, God will let our wives off the hook in regards to that submission. Maybe not….perhaps that is too speculative, and we should leave such considerations between God and a wives conscience. Again, that part is her mail that she has to answer.
But ladies, consider this; Maybe the whole idea of submission has been repugnant to you for a long time. Perhaps I as a man have no business trying to teach you what all that means and how all that applies. Believe me, I know my weakness in this area. But, would it be easier, could it be better, if the man to whom you were striving to be submissive to was a man of God, who was willing to give himself for you, who loved you to the death, and honored his vows in every way? In a word; a man who is like Christ?
Well maybe that is asking too much. Bottom line; there has to be grace exhibited in both directions. Men, your wives will never be perfectly submissive to you, get over it! Show some grace, exercise that spiritual gift called “Forgiveness”, and move on. When you figure out how to be perfectly Christ-like in every way, then go ahead and expect perfect submission….Oh but wait, if you were perfectly Christ-like, you would be perfectly gracious and forgiving. Looks like we are stuck with learning grace and forgiveness.
Women, your husbands will never be perfectly Christ-like. So what are you going to do about that? Will you rebel and manipulate, and castigate until they are? I hope not; a gracious, kind and forgiving women will win that man toward Godliness much quicker. Do you withhold submission until he is perfect? Please don’t! Show mercy; truly it is the strong one who has the character to give in first. Maybe that is all it will take. And remember, Christ’s submission was voluntary and so too should yours be. If a man tries to force a women to be submissive, she will shut up like a clam.
But getting back to the root of the passage…Paul says in verse 32
This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
Our marriage relationship, whether good or bad, is a model to the world of the relationship of Christ’s love for his Church. Paul said that this is a great mystery, and maybe that is why we don’t get it, or take so long in understanding even the basics. And maybe it is because it is a mystery that he gives us a lifetime together to figure it out.
Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband Ephesians 5:33