Ephesians 5:22-33Theme: Love and submission.This week’s lessons teach us the only path to marital bliss. LessonOur real failure is that we do not follow God’s directions for marriage. This is what Paul is concerned with in Ephesians, as he gives instructions first to the wife and then to the husband. To the wives he says, “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” (vv. 22-24).
I want to admit at this point that in my frequent teaching about marriage, particularly in the many wedding services I conduct each year, I have tended to move slightly away from what this passage teaches. The passage teaches that wives are to be submissive to their husbands and that husbands are therefore to exercise a certain headship over wives. This is unpalatable teaching, of course, particularly because of the feminist movement. Trying to be sensitive to what I suppose are the legitimate concerns of women’s advocates, I have sometimes approached the matter of submission in this fashion: I have pointed out that the instructions given to wives are preceded by a verse that says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (v. 21). As a matter of fact, the verb translated “submit” is actually a participle in Greek, which links it to the verbs that come before. They are participles too, and they tell what it means to be filled with the Spirit: speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord, and giving thanks to God the Father for everything (v. 19-20). These are things every Christian should do, and submitting is likewise one of those things. Why then does Paul say that wives in particular are to submit to their husbands? I was tending to say, “It is because this is something wives have a particular difficulty doing.” And likewise, “Paul tells husbands to love their wives, because this is something husbands have difficulty doing or at least doing well.”
However, this is not a fair treatment of the passage. True, wives do have difficulty submitting to their husbands, and husbands do have trouble properly loving their wives. But to approach the matter of submission this way is greatly to lessen Paul’s teaching.
The reason I say this is that submission is the major concern of the Apostle, not only in these verses, but in the entire passage leading up to a description of the Christian’s spiritual warfare in chapter 6. He offers three examples of submission: (1) the submission of wives to husbands, (2) the submission of children to parents, and (3) the submission of slaves to masters. This is not to say that the submission is identical in each case. Neither wives nor children are slaves, nor are women to be childlike in their marriages. That is not it at all. Each of these relationships is unique. Nevertheless, they have this in common – that each involves submission. And it is for this reason that they occur here, after the topical sentence “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” They are examples of what Paul means when he talks about submission.
Moreover, this is why the pairs are mentioned in the order they are. We do not usually say “children and parents.” We say “parents and children,” putting the older and more responsible person first. Similarly, we say “masters and slaves” rather than “slaves and masters.” In each case, the order should be reversed in the normal presentation. The reasons wives, children and slaves occur first in these presentations is that the duty Paul chiefly wishes to emphasize is their submission.
Why do marriages fail?
To what types of relationships can Paul’s teaching on submission be applied?
ReflectionHow do we know that submission is a biblical principle?
ApplicationMake a list of the relationships in your life that place you in a submissive role – child to parent, wife to husband, church member to pastor or elder. Are you practicing this biblical mandate? Make a particular effort to practice submission wherever you are falling short, so long as doing so doesn’t require you to forsake God’s ways.