Wives be Subject to Your Husbands?
An egalitarian wedding reflection for Nick and Amy on Ephesians 5
Ephesians 5:21-33 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
Amy and Nick, you have chosen the very important, but often misunderstood and misinterpreted scripture of Ephesians 5 for your wedding day. This passage, wrongly interpreted, has been responsible for many marital problems. –People have wrongly used this scripture, taken out of its historical context, to create an artificial hierarchy in a marriage; to put one of you completely in charge of the other; to say that the husband should always be in charge of the wife no matter what.
–But that is not at all what this passage is advocating. In fact, what it is saying is exactly the opposite. This Ephesians 5 passage is the most radical statement of equality and mutual submission in marriage that Paul could make in his first century context, — a time where women were not typically educated, and when husbands legally had complete and total control over their wives.
You see, the key to this passage is often ignored first verse, Ephesians 5:21, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Let me say that again, “Be subject to ONE ANOTHER out of reverence for Christ. That little phrase is the pivot point upon which the rest of the passage rests. You can think of that little verse as the fulcrum of a tetter-totter. The rest of the passage moves in relation to that first all important verse, first one submitting then the other. The passage goes on to give specific instructions for a wife, who was simply a possession in the first century context, and instructions for the first century- legally- in- charge, husband; but in the very beginning of this section, Paul instructs both the husband and wife to submit to EACH OTHER; just as both of you have given over your entire lives to Jesus Christ.
You see, when we give our lives up to Jesus, we give up complete control. All that we are, all that we make, all that we do and all that we can become ALL belong to God. We are no longer our own. We become servants to the living Christ. -And it is this type of complete submission in love that is being described here, this is how you are to submit to each other: in the same way that you submit to God.
Now how would this work out practically, in your marriage, you may wonder? How do you know who is supposed to submit when? Well, let’s create a scenario. Let’s say that you two come home one day and discover that your dishwasher has broken. One of you, NICK, is really good with reading schematic diagrams and figuring out what part to order. So you take a look at the dishwasher and conclude: for certain it is the pump. Now, it would be really silly for you Amy to insist that it was the impeller that was broken when Nick was certain that it was the main pump. Nick has a lot of expertise in the parts department, he works with parts every day; so in this case you would submit to Nick and agree that yes, it was the main pump.
But on the other hand, one of you, AMY, is really good with figuring out finances. So when Amy says, Nick we need to wait until next Saturday after your next paycheck is cashed in order pay for this $125 dishwasher part, it would be silly of you to go ahead and write a check for the dishwasher pump the next day. Amy has a lot of expertise in the finance area, she tracks amounts of money all the time and may have just paid the property taxes, or bought you an expensive birthday present. So in this case Nick, you would submit and agree to hold off on the purchase until next Saturday.
You see, submitting yourself before the one that is greatest, is the most fundamental expression of love. It involves knowing someone so intimately, so completely and understanding your own limitations in light of who they are that you give in to them completely. It is this submission in love through relationships that we first learn by giving ourselves to Christ, who is far greater than us. And it is by modeling this submission to each other, out of our love and our relationships in our marriages that we can give all the more glory to God in this time and place.
May it always be so. Amen.