"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:22-24)
Now we come back to this word from Paul. Wives are to submit to their own husbands (not all men). In Christian marriage, the wife should respectfully submit to her husband. As we observed in our last post, these words present a challenge to the modern reader.
Perhaps we can find help in the phrase “as to the Lord.” This does not mean, as some wives have believed, “as long as her husband acts like the Lord.” No man is without flaw, and neither is any woman. We bring our imperfections into our marriages. This also does not mean, as some husbands have believed, “like he is the Lord.” A husband's word is not Scripture. He will say and do things which contradict Christ. He does not deserve worship, nor does he deserve submission, but Christ gives him, as we’ll see, leadership. But this phrase is best understood to mean “as a way for her to worship the Lord.” Many Christian wives have found solace by worshipping Christ, who is perfect, by following their husbands, who are not.
Paul continues by explaining “the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.” As he does in other passages, Paul appeals to the order God has established. This is not chauvinism, but creationism (1 Corinthians 11:3-12, 1 Timothy 2:11-13). The husband is the head, not because he has earned it, but because it was bestowed on him by the order God established. This concept is difficult for us to comprehend because we expect leadership roles to be earned and attained, not granted and bestowed. Those with the most schooling, the highest marks, or the greatest success are supposed to lead. But husbands do not earn the position of the leader through education or success. Instead, they are granted it from Christ. It is undeserved. It is grace.
So Paul concludes wives ought to “submit in everything to their husbands.” The church is his model for this exhortation, for it is the bride of Christ and is supposed to follow Christ’s leadership in everything. In Christ’s union with His church, the church is to follow his lead. The vision is clear. Jesus is the head of the church, the husband. When his body, his bride, hears his will and responds to it, they are effectual and fruitful. When his church ignores his leadership, as it often does, it becomes a shadow of its potential. The church should submit to Jesus so that it can be effective, everything it should be for Jesus here on earth.
The same idea follows the Christian couple into their marriage. They are to want Christ’s mission and success to follow them into their marriage and family. So one part of the equation is for the wife to follow her husband’s lead. The wife chooses to place herself as an equal underneath another equal, her husband. She comes under his leadership, as the church should with Christ, for the effectiveness of the marriage and family.
Paul cannot even fathom any tyranny or brutality here. He is about to describe the husband as one who lays down his life in sacrificial love for his bride. If a man uses Paul’s words to excuse brutality or abuse, Paul would not see him as Christian. What Paul sees is men on the mission of Jesus Christ, men who have allowed the gospel of Christ to penetrate their core. Since the church works best with Jesus as the head, the marriage and family also work best when the husband leads well.
During Fall 2017, I taught Calvary Monterey the book of Ephesians. During the series, I also wrote about Ephesians in sixty-plus short, devotionally styled posts. Each Thursday, through 2018, I will release a post. I hope you enjoy. For the entire series, please visit nateholdridge.com/united-for-unity-posts.