William J. Stewart | Is That Really What It Means?
For years, I’ve heard concern, even defiance from both non-Christian and Christian women to a particular Bible text. Their ages range from early 20s thru mid-70s. Some were single, some married, some divorced. But one thing they all had in common was a skewed idea about what the Bible says on marriage. Perhaps some heard a pontificating man use the text to affirm male dominance. Some may have read the work of a raging feminist spewing hatred about archaic Bible concepts. Or it may be that some simply read it themselves and failed to see the whole picture. Whatever the case, Ephesians 5:22-24 has been sorely mishandled at times. Notice the text:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
We have emphasized the necessity of context. When a verse or even a short series of verses are not looked at in their context, falsehood or misunderstanding can result. Take a moment to read Ephesians 5:15-33.
Our context begins with an appeal to wisdom. Verse 17 specifically tells us to “understand what the will of the Lord us.” Of our relationship to one another in Christ, verse 21 says we should be “submitting to one another in the fear of God” (cf. Philippians 2:3-4; 1 Peter 5:5). As Paul continues to write, he presents three common relationships wherein submission exists. That doesn’t mean the relationships parallel one another—just that they all display submission in some way or another. The three relationships are: husband & wife; children & parents; and masters & servants. We’ll only be focusing on the husband/wife relationship.
Any organization— a business enterprise, educational institution, religious assembly, government, or a sports franchise—must have appropriate roles and structure if it is to succeed. The same is true for the family unit. Being the Originator of marriage (Genesis 2:17-24), the Lord decides who will be given leadership in marriage. This role was given to the man (Genesis 2:17; 3:16).
Those who oppose what the Bible says about the husband’s headship will often say that it makes the wife a slave, that the husband is made superior to his wife, that he will always gets his own way, etc.. The text must be misused to get to any of these results. If the text is followed, the result is selfless leadership in the home which focuses on what is best for the wife and family, not the man.
1 Corinthians 11 speaks of the concept of headship, giving examples beyond the marriage relationship. Notice:
…I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:3)
As the husband is given headship over the wife, so Jesus has headship over humanity, and the Father over His Son. It is no more oppressive for a woman to be subject to her husband than it is for us to be subject to Christ, or for Christ to His Father. Further, the husband is commanded by God regarding how he will exercise his role. He is to imitate Christ. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (v 25). He died for the church! Husbands are to love their wives as they do their own bodies (v 28). A man does what is best for his own body; likewise, he is to do what is best for his wife.
Three verses in the text address the need for a wife to be subject to her husband (v 22-24). The rest of the text (v 25-33) is about the need for a husband to have a sacrificial love for his wife, such that he would suffer harm, even death, if needed.
If a man’s decisions are based upon what is best for his wife (not himself), would that not make it easy for a woman to be subject to him? And if a woman respects her husband’s authority (v 33), will that not make it easier for him to love her, even to the point of death? Basically, if both husband and wife will commit to obeying God’s direction for marriage, it will produce a happy and productive marriage.
Leadership doesn’t mean dictatorship. A good leader will listen to those under his charge. A man who makes decisions without his wife’s input shows himself to be unwise, maybe even sexist. Though he is the leader in marriage, every husband would do well to remember that his wife is his equal before God (see Galatians 3:28).
In verse 24, Paul said the wife is to be subject in everything. That does not mean if he tells her to do something wrong, she must do it. It is qualified by the statement in verse 22, “as to the Lord.” The Lord does not command wickedness, neither can a husband command his wife to do evil and she be bound to submit to it.
Finally, if a man is not the kind of husband Paul says he should be, that does not free the woman from being the kind of wife the text says she ought to be. Two wrongs do not make a right. His disobedience to God is not countered in some way by her also disobeying. Peter speaks to this, indicating that her obedience may affect her husband for good, causing him also to obey the Lord (1 Peter 3:1-7).
Let’s be the husbands and wives God wants us to be.