“Wives, submit to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22).

For many, it’s a troubling or ludicrous command. Cynics quote this verse to prove that the Bible is archaic and irrelevant. A biblically illiterate Neanderthal quotes this verse to keep his wife in a subservient role, insisting her opinion has no value and her contribution to the household is limited to cooking, cleaning, and keeping herself available to his sexual whims. Christian women with husbands who are not church attenders struggle with how to respond to the idea of submission.

Instead of skipping over it, let’s put Ephesians 5:22 in context. Upon further examination, I believe you’ll discover this verse and its surrounding passages are all about empowerment for every member of the family.

Let’s begin with the nine words immediately preceding that verse. Ephesians 5:21 says quite plainly, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” That’s pretty clear. The apostle Paul was writing to believers in the church at Ephesus and all believers everywhere. He expected all of us to have the heart of a servant and put first the needs of others.

Then after introducing the concept of submitting to one another, Paul turns his attention to the family, which is the building block of a healthy society. He gives three examples of how submission works in real life for wives, husbands, and kids. Read them for yourself:

Wives, submit to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior (Ephesians 5:22-23).

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself (Ephesians 5:25,28).

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right (Ephesians 6:1).

Men, women, and children have different needs, so Paul explains how to honor and affirm each of them differently. Children need instruction. Women need to feel cherished. Men need to lead.

Submission is all about putting the needs of other members of your family ahead of your own. But today’s culture doesn’t place a very high value on others. Selfishness, misplaced priorities, and exhaustion keep us from nurturing our own submissive hearts and we have nothing left to give to the people we love most.

  • Busy parents sometimes don’t have the time or energy to instruct and discipline their kids, but that’s what they need. Our kids are counting on us to teach them right from wrong.
  • Distracted husbands sometimes forget to do the little things (and the big things) to express love to our wives. But a husband’s sacrificial love for his bride is critical for a healthy marriage.
  • Exhausted wives sometimes make family decisions without any input from their husbands. She’s trying to manage a household and can’t even get his attention. He feels out of the loop and the family loses his leadership. And he loses their respect.

Can you see the immediate benefits of Ephesians chapter 5 to both a wife and husband? Some theologians call it “mutual submission.” Others don’t like that term, but it’s a pretty accurate paraphrase of how the Bible describes a successful marriage. He feels respected. She feels loved. Both are looking for the best in each other and looking out for each other.