And now, let’s move on to a highly controversial portion of the book of Ephesians…
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– for we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’
This is a profound mystery– but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:21-33 NIV).
There are some things in this passage that are sure to irritate the beliefs and attitudes of many people living in the 21st century. Maybe it’s the use of a word like “submit” (meaning, “to be subject to” or “obey”) when talking about male/female relationships. Or perhaps it’s a feeling of resentment caused by the seemingly outdated idea that a husband could actually be called the head of the wife. To some, these verses make a husband and wife relationship sound more like a master and a slave than a partnership of human beings who are equal before God.
Now it might be tempting to look at these verses and think, Well, that teaching was OK back in the first century but things are different now and those ideas don’t apply to people living today. But before we jump to that conclusion, we should note that the pattern that God gives again and again for male/female relationships in these verses is Jesus’ relationship to His people, the church. This is important because Jesus is the same today as He was when this passage was first written (see Hebrews 13:8) which means that these teachings are also just as applicable for relationships today as they were back then.
One good way to understand and apply the ideas within this passage is to think of them in terms of responsibility. You see, God has given each partner in a relationship his or her own set of responsibilities. For example, God has given guys the responsibility to take the lead in a relationship, making sure that the woman that God has given him is loved, honored, and secure. He must take the lead in making sure that her needs are met and he also carries the primary responsibility of maintaining a God-honoring dating or marriage relationship. In fact, a guy must be willing to go so far as to die for the woman that God has given him if it ever became necessary to do so, “…just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
On the other hand, the wife must respect her husband as it says above. Now it’s great when a guy has the respect of his coaches, teachers, peer group, teammates, or others. But it really means a lot when a guy knows that he has the respect of the woman that God has given to him. A guy who knows that he has the respect of someone special has a deep sense of strength even if he doesn’t always realize it or say so. A Godly woman can really do a lot for her guy by making sure that he knows that he has her respect.
But what about all that “submission” stuff in those verses quoted above? Does this mean that a guy can act like a king and order a woman around as if she were some kind of employee? Well, the answer to that question is no. You see, before we even get to the part about “wives submitting to husbands,” take another look at the verse that comes right before it…
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NIV).
“Submit to one another,” means that there are times when it’s sometimes right for a man to submit to woman. For an example, let’s say that we have a couple in a relationship. Like most couples, each partner in this relationship has different strengths and weaknesses. A smart couple will recognize this fact and willingly submit to each other when it comes to making decisions in areas when one partner may be more skilled than the other. In this way, both partners show reverence for Christ (the One who gave them their individual gifts, skills, talents, and abilities) and respect for each other.
But what if there’s a strong disagreement in the relationship and both partners have different opinions about what’s right? Well, there are a few steps that a couple can take to help find the right answer…
1) Pray together. Remember that James 1:5 tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (NIV).
2) Talk about it. An open discussion of the issues can hopefully lay the groundwork for a solution that everyone can live with. A Scripture such as Ephesians 4:29b that says, “Say only what is good and helpful to those you are talking to, and what will give them a blessing” is a good one to use in guiding such a discussion.
3) Get some good advice. Don’t be afraid to ask for some counsel from trusted, mature Christians, for Proverbs 1:5 says, “let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance” (NIV).
Remember that God desires for male/female relationships to reflect Jesus’ love for His people. A God-honoring couple can help achieve that by following this good, one-sentence guideline for relationships taken from Ephesians 5:33…
“… each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (NIV).