July 12, 2013
By Skip Heitzig
“Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let wives be to their own husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:22-24).
This command to submission has been abused over the years by some who think the wife’s role is to be a slave. But a fair and balanced look at what this means will give a different picture. Paul is speaking to Christian wives, who were truly liberated women because of Jesus Christ. Jesus treated women with honor and respect in an age where they were despised.
In the Greco-Roman world, men had absolute authority over their wives—their freedom, even their very lives. The woman’s life was tantamount to enslavement. Even the Jews, who had the high ideal of marriage, had a low view of women.
Among Christians, there was a big difference. In the early church, women were very active, and even had positions of honor. It was truly revolutionary. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
In Paul’s writings, submission in marriage means to rank underneath, to relinquish one’s rights willingly. It is to be this beautiful, willing, submissiveness to a man who is filled with the Spirit, loving like Christ loved the church. It does not imply superiority versus inferiority; it’s simply a matter of functionality. 1 Corinthians chapter 11:3 states, “The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” That’s in a functional sense, not in essence or nature or character. In a marriage, a husband is not superior to a wife.
The purpose to this submission is “as to the Lord,” submitting as you would submit to the Lord, to please and glorify Him, as an act of worship to Him. If Jesus made a request, your response would be, “Absolutely!”
Women: The men in your lives may not command or inspire much respect. They may be insensitive, they might even be unbelievers who care nothing about Christianity at all. Yet a complementary text in 1 Peter 3:1 says, “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives.” Without a sermon or any criticism, by your godly example, they could be won over to Christ. I’ve seen it happen, on more than one occasion.
The pattern of submission is in Ephesians 5:23: “For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.” The role model for the husband is Jesus Christ Himself, who submitted to His Father to become a servant, to go to the cross to pay for sins, the ultimate act of submission. The role model for the wife is the church, which submitted to the Lord’s direction. This is the farthest thing from tyranny.
Verse 24 gives the parameters of submission. “Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” Jesus is the example, so “in everything” means everything that is consistent with the nature of Jesus Christ. Colossians 3:18 says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” This means you don’t violate scripture by following him into sin and call that submission. Also it does not mean submitting to physical abuse.
This leads to a very important conclusion: Women, be careful who you marry. Ask yourself this, “Can I submit to him now, before I’m married? Does he represent Jesus to me? Does he love me like Christ loved the church?”
But be flexible. If you expect perfection, you will be frustrated. So, ask yourself, not just “Is he a good leader?” but also, “Am I a good follower? Am I allowing him to take control, or am I on his case all of the time?”
Marriage takes commitment and hard work. A man is certainly not superior to a woman. But God’s order is: The Father as the head of Christ, Christ as the head of a man, and man as the head of woman. Let us submit to Him, and be filled with His Spirit so that we can conform to that order.
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