Ephesians 5:22-24, 33b – 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 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. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
If we were tempted to change the message of the Bible at any point today because of the change of the cultural norms and standards, it would be the message that stands at the head of this paper. The women rights groups do not rally for husbands to stop loving their wives. The women’s movement challenges the Bible’s calling for the women to be subject to their husbands. Culture says, “Women are equal” or “Women need not submit to their husbands” or “Women have the same responsibilities.” So culture says, “Let us change the message of the Bible.” The Churches are falling like dominoes.
It is the husbands who have failed to love their wives as Christ loved the church that is the problem and not that women should not submit at all. “But the word of our God shall stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8; see also Psalm 119:89, 160). God’s Word is not dated. The culture of the day did not rule the Bible’s teaching. Apostle Paul was not a chauvinistic bachelor. His writing in Ephesians, as all the rest of the Bible’s teaching, were written under the reliable guidance of God’s Spirit. They are based on both the creation of the human race and the salvation of the church. “For Eve was not created first” Paul says in the first letter to Timothy, “but the man” (2:13). That’s creation. “As the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands . . .” (Ephesians 5:24). That’s salvation. God’s Word comes in every age to the wives, “Be subject to your husband.” So if husbands do their part, it is not controvercial that women should submit to their husbands. Notice that Paul spoke first to husbands before requiring women to submit. Submission is a response to the love of the husband. The two are linked.
Sometimes we misinterpret this, with disastrous results. Some suppose that when a wife subjects herself to her husband, she becomes a nothing, to be treated as a servant. She may never open her mouth, never offer a suggestion, much less ever question or criticize her husband’s behavior. This may be the Eastern or Muslim culture, but it surely is not the Biblical picture. Christ certainly does not treat us in this way. Yet some Christian husbands treat their wives as though this were the case. If they do, it only shows their insecurity, their own failure to love their wives. We should read what Proverbs 31 says about a godly, virtuous woman.
Generally, submission is an attitude of heart and walk of life. Submitting, we put ourselves under the authority and rule of another. It may be children to parents, citizens to government, employees to employers, or wives to husbands.
When the book of Ephesians teaches the woman’s submission, it does that by comparing it to the Church’s relation to Jesus Christ. In doing that, it points out several characteristics of submission that help us to identify is as true:
It is COMPLETE. There is no area in which the Church is not subject to Jesus Christ. It’s not true that the Church says, “In matters of doctrine we will submit to Jesus, but in matters of practice, we will do our own thing.” It’s not true that the Church may say, “At certain times we will submit to Jesus, but at other times, we are free.” In all things and always She is subject to Christ. So, for the wife to say, “I will submit to my husband when he is here, but not when he is gone,” or, “I will be subject as long as he gives me what I want, as long as he is nice to me,” is to disobey Jesus. He said, “So let the wives be (subject) to their own husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:24).
That raises a problem, though, when the husband is not only mean, but tells the wife to do something that Jesus forbids. What then? The Bible does not say, “Obey in everything.” It says, “Be subject in everything.” With the same reverent attitude that we would have if we would have to disobey a king, she would say, “I cannot obey you in this matter.” Submission does not always necessarily require obedience, but does require a calm, prayerful spirit. That points out that submission is:
FROM THE HEART. Throughout the Bible, God calls His people to give Him their heart. He did not and does not want outward worship only. He requires inward worship. “Rend your heart, and not your garments” was the cry of the prophets. Filled with God’s grace, the Church obeys the Lord from the heart, with a love for Christ, from a heart pulsating with a feeling for His Lordship. This is the behaviour of the godly wife to her husband. It is not just outward, as some make it. But, as Peter says it in his letter, “let it be that hidden man of the heart” (I Peter 3:4). So the only marriage that will have this is a marriage where the husband and wife have had “heart transplants” by the Holy Spirit of Christ.
Submission is VOLUNTARY. The Church is not subject to Christ because She is forced against Her will, but is such because of the wonderful grace of Jesus to change Her from a rebel to a beautiful Wife (see Psalm 110:3). So the wife does not submit only because she must, but willingly. Why? Because:
Submission also PROCEEDS FROM LOVE. Does the church love Christ? Of course! And out of that love comes the Church’s submission that is willing, voluntary, from the heart, and complete. God calls women to love their husbands (Titus 2:4). Out of that love flows a beautiful subjection.
The main objection to this teaching is that it degrades the honour of the woman, makes them “nothings.” To this, we respond with a friendly question: “Was it degrading for His honour when Jesus subjected Himself to His parents (Luke 2:51)?” Jesus was God Himself Who willingly put Himself under two of His lowly creatures. This in no way degraded His honour or made Him inferior. If Jesus could submit without giving up a speck of His dignity, so can wives. We may also ask, “Does the Church lose Her dignity when He submits to Christ? Does it detract from Her beauty, Her honour, Her ‘churchness’ to give Herself wholly to Him?” Of course not. Indeed, is it not exactly this that makes the Church a beautiful Bride? It is! It’s a beautiful woman who places herself under the authority of her husband: willingly and from the heart.
Then the Church is subject to Christ, there is also freedom. There is unspeakable bliss for Her. Although the world cannot understand this, this is the freedom, this is the joy, this is the bliss of the Christian wife!
As with the calling of husbands to sacrifice themselves for their wives in love, this calling for the wives is so difficult. Really, it is impossible. The possibility for women to live as Christ calls them is only by the power of Christ’s grace, which He gives richly to those who fear Him.
In Jesus Christ is deliverance from our natural rebellion. In His work is forgiveness for our failures in the past. For the present, in Christ there is power to overcome a sinful nature, to become the kind of wife God wills women to be. There is power in Christ. This exalts the Church and honours our great God.