The Southern Baptist Convention created a stir over it a few years ago. In a Republican presidential debate Governor Mike Huckabee was questioned about it. Are wives supposed to submit to their husbands? Is that what the Bible teaches? If so, what does that mean and not mean? How does that apply to the twenty-first century?
Ephesians 5 addresses this controversial issue. The passage begins by telling us to imitate God and “walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us.” It goes on to tell us not to participate in any impurity, immorality, greed or even coarse jesting. As children of God we are to walk in light and learn what pleases Him, even exposing deeds of darkness. We are warned to walk as wise and not as unwise people, and to understand the will of the Lord.
So how do we understand God’s will and walk in wisdom? “Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and spiritual songs, …making melody to the Lord; always giving thanks to God; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” Let’s not forget that God’s design in marriage is for the two to become one flesh, not that one would dominate the other (v.28-31).
Readers of the Bible know that even Satan takes verses out of context and uses them against us, so I wanted to establish context before we look at the next verses. The verses before and after, “wives, be subject to your own husband as to the Lord,” clarify the meaning and remove much of the barb of the verse.
God designed marriage to reflect the mystery of Christ’s union with His bride, the church. Christ has never used His authority to use or abuse His bride. Quite the contrary, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” The context is a loving relationship where the couple’s best is more important than either individual involved.
I have been amazed at how many wives have come to me beaten down by a verse that in context gives wisdom to a marital relationship so both parties can have their needs met and thrive. When a wife has been oppressed by such, I can guarantee the other 32 verses of the passage have been overlooked. I can’t count how many times a non-Christian husband who knows no other verse in the Bible has used this one as a club to beat his wife into compliance with his sinful and greedy ways, which, as cited above, is NOT what submission is about. Wives are not to enable spouses in wrongful behavior.
The word submission comes from a military term meaning “to rank under.” 1 Corinthians 11:3 says Christ is ranked under the Father, and every man is ranked under Christ; a wife is under her husband. Children and governments also fall in line as taught in other passages.
Ranking has to do with roles and order, not value or ability. Christ is equal to the Father, but is ranked under Him in a different role. Everyone is ranked under someone. All of us are under Christ and are accountable to Him in how we treat those over and under us. As Commander in Chief, Christ won’t lead a husband and wife in opposite directions or to violate His law of love. Christ models servant leadership.
After telling us Holy Spirit governed people submit to one another, Ephesians shows what that looks like. The wife submits to her husband’s authority and the husband submits to his wife’s needs, a mutual submitting to one another.
Wives need to feel loved and cherished, so husbands are told to nurture, sacrifice and cherish their wives. Husbands need to feel respected, so wives are told to respect their authority. This is not giving a license to male domination or female passivity.
Some justify male domination from Genesis 3 which is listed with pain in childbirth and toil and thorns as the consequences of sin. That is what can happen without the intervention of the Holy Spirit. But Ephesians tells us that is not God’s will. He desires Spirit filled headship which is very different from carnal domination or passive aloofness. An organization or family without a head is unstable and insecure. Ephesians is teaching God’s best. But what happens when the chosen head abuses his authority? Does the Bible address that? We will look more at that next time. (Read Part 2 .)
God’s best to you,