Ephesians 5: 22-24
People seek answers on making their marriage or other relationships better. In the United States, look at the popularity of television personalities like Dr. Phil or Oprah Winfrey as well as the readership through generations of advice columnists Dear Abby and the former Ann Landers. Books and numerous articles in magazines continue to attract seekers for learning how to make a good relationship. Please note that, for this blog, I will be talking about marriage, but the principles can be used in other relationships as well.
WARNING! If you read only parts of this blog series about marriage or read them out of context, you may think you know what I’m about to say. However, your assumption may be incorrect. Please read this blog on “Wives” all the way through AND the blogs on “Husbands” that will follow. You may gain new perspectives on what you’ve been previously taught or understood. Also, please read the previous blog on interpreting the Bible for a perspective. Thank you for giving me that courtesy.
Let’s begin with a look at the passage on “Wives” as presented in Ephesians 5: 22-24. I have heard this preached many times during my life – and it leaves oppressed people more oppressed without any gain of personal freedom. The Bible is about freedom, not oppression.
As noted in my previous blog dated March 23, 2021, probably the earliest letter that we have from the Apostle Paul is 1 Corinthians. In it, Paul expounded that single believers should not marry and married believers should act like they are single. Why? Because Paul was convinced that Christ was going to return very, very soon – any moment – and believers shouldn’t waste time with relationships. Instead, they need to spend their time telling others about the Good News [Gospel] of Jesus Christ. About five years later as he wrote the letter to the churches around Ephesus, the immediacy of his viewpoint had mellowed. By the time of Ephesians, Paul says in effect, “Okay, Christ has not come yet; he is on his own time. People are getting married, so maybe it’s time for me to address marriage issues.”
“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.” [Ephesians 5: 22-24. NIV]
WOW! Let’s just throw Paul in the garbage and not listen to anything he has to say! Many women mentally shut down and left the room (or turned off their computers) as the word “submit” popped up. I want to remind you to read this entire series before you make a judgment as to what Paul is writing. Let me help you out.
“Wives.” Paul is not talking to husbands. He’s not talking to men at all – he is addressing wives. Men need to stay completely out of this. Men should read this as a Bible teaching, but they are not to require or demand anything in the relationship. When men get involved, here’s what they often read: “Wives, submit to your husbands. For the husband is the head of the wife. Wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” The man uses it as an excuse to become a dictator over women in the household and at church. The woman then becomes an oppressed person in the relationship and without a voice.
Women, on the other hand, may ignore the passage or try to explain it away. However, it says what it says: “Submit (or be subject) to your husbands.” But the verse doesn’t stop there: “. . . as to the Lord.” In context, submission is a voluntary yielding in love. A man can’t coerce or force or browbeat a wife or partner to do this. And the woman is not expected to be a “doormat” in the relationship, having her thoughts and feelings walked over.
When two people go out for a drive, one is the driver (male or female, it doesn’t matter) and the other is the passenger. The driver is in control of the car. He or she is the “head” in the car and the passenger submits or yields to the skills of the driver. In an ideal world, a smart driver will listen to suggestions or input from the passenger as to the direction the car should be driven. And in turn, the passenger doesn’t reach over and grab the wheel every time the passenger disagreed with the direction of the driver. The passenger provides input, but the driver is the one responsible for the direction and safety of the car. Traffic laws will tell you that.
Now carefully read the following: This idea of the husband being the “head of the wife” is problematic only because of incorrect interpretation. This does not mean that the husband is the boss or dictator. What is a “head”? Isn’t it the sensing part of the body that takes care of the body and sees to the needs of the body? Yes, it controls. It directs my hand at the end of my arm to reach out to take a glass of water and drink it. Does it do so as a boss or a dictator? Or is it because the body needs some water, and the head works to provide what the body needs? The head guides, and its control of the body is not for its own benefit, but for the benefit of the entire body.
Do you remember the description I used in the previous blog to describe the overarching message of Ephesians? The theme of Ephesians is “The Church, of which Christ is the head.” Note the title for Christ in verse 22 is “Lord,” which is an often-used title for Jesus (as in “the Lord Jesus Christ”). There are no two ways about it: “Lord” means boss, but as a caring boss who takes care of those of whom he is in charge. However, here in verse 23, the term for Christ is “Savior.” This term is usually used for God or God the Father, but here it is used for Christ as the head, not as a boss but as one who takes care of someone, who rescues, who saves. Still bearing reference to the church, the verse refers to the church as “his body.” Again, Christ as the head is going to take care of the church as his body.
Verse 24: “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”
Too often, people only see “wives should submit to their husbands” and they throw up a mental block. Is it shameful to submit? The key is “as the church submits to Christ.” It is to the church’s shame when it doesn’t submit to Christ. Have you ever been in a church like that? I have. I can tell you that it doesn’t feel good. I have pastored after two church splits, because those churches couldn’t seem to catch on to the glory and well-being of submitting to Christ. At one church that was having problems, people told me that it felt horrible to step into the church. They couldn’t wait for the service to end, so they could get out of there. That is not a healthy church.
My wife brought up an interesting viewpoint this afternoon when I discussed this with her. When a person becomes a believer by accepting the message of Jesus Christ, they become a part of the Church. They voluntarily choose to follow Christ in faith and make him head or Lord of their lives. Submission to the leadership of Christ comes in response to following Christ.
Congratulations! You made it to the end of this often-controversial passage! I want to leave you with two thoughts. First, women: thank you for hanging with me to the end. We don’t often hear this teaching in our churches or our homes. I hope that it gave you something to think about. Secondly, men: continue with me through this series as the husbands/men have a different path toward freedom in relationships. I will probably post the next blog about husbands at the beginning of next week. I hope to “see” you there!
Categories: How Can the Bible Relate to Us Today?