“Boy Keith, you were really hard on the ladies yesterday, weren’t you? Telling them to submit to their husbands, whether their husbands know what they’re doing or not!” Well, I’ve got news for you, gents. If you thought I was hard on the sisters yesterday, the wringer I’m going to put you through is going to make yesterday seem like a kiss on the cheek. You see, I’m always a little uncomfortable telling people to do something I’m not going to do myself. I really felt like what I said yesterday needs to come from a woman, ideally a woman who’s been married for several years. The only reason I could say what I said is because that’s what the Bible says.
But I’m under no such restraints or ambivalence or reticence when it comes to talking to men. I’m a married guy, having been joined to my lovely bride for several years now. I’m not (currently) a dad, but that’s not what we’re discussing at the moment. As the saying goes, when I point the finger at you as a husband, I’ve got three pointed back at me.
First off, you might be wondering why I have verse 21 listed in today’s reading. I’m suggesting you read vs. 21, then skip ahead over the instructions to wives (which we discussed yesterday) and see what Paul (inspired by the Holy Spirit) has to say to (married) men. Why did I do this? Because we need to understand that verse 21 applies to us as much as to our wives. Verse 21 isn’t restricted to wives: It’s a general call to all believers to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Before I rile up those who think I’m watering down Paul’s instructions in this chapter, please hear me out. The clarifying question is not “Should husbands submit to wives out of reverence for Christ?” The answer to that is yes, since this verse is a general principle which applies to all of us as believers. The question is “Should husbands submit to wives in the exact same way that wives are supposed to submit to their husbands?” If the verses we read yesterday mean anything, then the answer has to be no. Wives are specifically called to submit to their husbands, and husbands are not given a converse command: Nowhere in Ephesians chapter five are husbands as husbands commanded to submit to their wives.
So if vs. 21 applies to husbands, then in what sense does verse 21 apply to us in our relationship with our wives? Well, Paul lays it out in the rest of today’s passage. Husbands are supposed to submit in the sense of modeling Christ towards his church in his relationship with his wife.
He’s commanded to love his wife “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” What did Jesus do for his Bride? How did he “give himself up for” her? He died for her. He literally bled out for her.
Let’s camp out on that for a moment, shall we? How does this comport with the stereotypical household in which the man is considered “the head of the house”? How well is this view compatible with the picture of a man sitting in front of his TV, yelling at his wife to get another beer? How about when he physically or emotionally abuses her? When he belittles her? When he shows ingratitude for the hard work she’s done, either in the home or outside it? Is there any sense in which a husband who treats his wife like that is obeying verse 25?
Christ put his Bride’s needs before his own, which is probably one of strongest understatements of all time. He literally gave up everything for her benefit and well-being.
To understand how we’re to “submit” to our wives, I think it’d be good to look at it in terms of leadership. In the biblical view (made most explicit by Christ), church leadership is servant-leadership. This means a leader who’s not afraid to assert his authority for the benefit of those he’s leading, but who never asserts it for his own ego or for personal gain or to lord it over others. In that sense, he’s “submitting” to the congregation under his authority. It certainly doesn’t mean he fails to listen to the concerns or suggestions of those he leads: He needs to listen to them and weigh them carefully. He needs to be humble enough to seek wisdom from the Lord and from other people when needed. Depending on the leadership structure, he needs to have others to which he’s accountable, like an elder or deacon board or church committee. But when it comes down to it. . . he’s the leader. He needs to make the tough decisions and not constantly second-guess himself. And within the structure under which the congregation has agreed to live under, they need to submit to him in the sense of giving him the final say in the direction the church is going to go. He does not submit to them in the exact same sense that they submit to him.
What am I getting at, brothers? You’re the spiritual leader in your home. That’s a given. It’s not a question of whether you’re the leader or not. The only question is whether you’re going to be a good one or a lousy one.
We’ll get to more details on how we're supposed to love her in tomorrow's posting. In the meantime, let’s all examine ourselves. If I’m commanded to love my wife like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her, what does that mean as far as how I treat her? In how I speak to her? In how I touch her? Do I put her needs before my own?
Lord Jesus, I’d like to think I’ve made improvements in this, but you seem to be telling me I have a looooooooong way to go. Please, love my wife through me. May the way I treat her, talk to her, touch her, and appreciate her be in line with who I’m supposed to be. Please.
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