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.
Beginning in verse 21 of chapter 5 of Ephesians our minds are turned toward the idea of submission. We have already defined submission as: lining up under a specific authority. What submissions looks like is fleshed out in what is called the “household table” of Ephesians 5:22-6:9. Verses 22-24 begin this “household table” with instructions to wives – specifically that they are to be subordinate to their own husbands. Now wait a minute … subordination conjures up ideas of exploitation and oppression often associated with backward cultures. But the authority described in Scripture is not synonymous with tyranny, and submission does not imply inferiority. Neither is Paul erecting barriers between the sexes.
Having described the one new man that God is creating in His Son (Eph 2:15), with its focus on our oneness in Christ, in particular Jew and Gentile, but also male and female, slave and free (Gal 3:28), Paul is not here destroying his own argument by erecting barriers between the sexes, ages or ranks of society, that he has already claimed to have been abolished in Christ. Wives, husbands, children, fathers, slaves and masters all have different roles, but they are equal in personhood and honor – each made in the divine image. The idea of submission to those given roles of authority is not in any way dreadful – in fact Christ submitted to the Father’s authority, even though Christ is no less honorable or glorious than the Father. Only in our upside-down, wrong-seems-right society, is the command to submit considered so appalling.
The motivating statement behind the command to wives to submit to their husbands, is that the husband is head of the wife. The origin of the husband’s headship is grounded in creation – especially the narrative of chapter 2, and elaborated on in 1 Cor 11:3-12 and 1 Tim 2:11-13 (read these texts along with Genesis 2:18-25 to get a good handle on the biblical basis for headship). What is important to understand is that the nature of the husband’s headship lies not in how good or bad a man he might be; the wife’s submission to her husband is not conditional on his loving her; but its basis is in Christ’s headship of the church. In order to understand submission then, we must understand how the church submits to Christ. Just as the church is to be in happy and complete submission to Christ and there is no area which is not under His authority, so wives are to submit to their husbands in every area of life. The divine intention of marriage is that the two become one flesh and function together – not as a ‘two-headed monster,’ but under one head – just like the church. This anticipates God’s ultimate plan to bring back all things into unity under the headship of Christ. Human activities such as divorce, separation, rebellious speech, and mocking in marriage, stand in opposition to this plan, painting a different picture than what God intended for marriage to portray. The church’s submission to Christ leads to blessing, growth, and the unity of God’s people; similarly, the wife’s submission to her husband, as she seeks to glorify God, will ultimately lead to divine blessing for herself and her household.
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