21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ: 22wives to their own husbands as to the Lord, 23because the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the Church, His body, Himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives submit to husbands in everything. 25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26in order to sanctify and cleanse her by the washing with water by the word, 27to present the church to Himself glorious, without stain or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish. 28In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own flesh. He who loves his own wife loves himself. 29For there was never one who hated his own flesh, but he feeds and takes care of it, just Christ does the church. 30For we are members of His body. 31For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. 32This mystery is great: but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33Nevertheless, let each love his wife as himself, and let the wife reverence her husband.
And now we come to one of the most consistently misunderstood passages of scripture. Many is the time that I’ve heard someone defend gender subjugation with this passage; the ignorance about not only the text itself but the process of hermeneutics is overwhelming in our movement. It is critically important that we not begin the pericope with the infamous “wives submit to your husbands” phrase, because Paul doesn’t. In the Greek text, 5.21 is the proper beginning of the pericope, not 5.22. And 5.21 has Paul telling the Ephesian church that all people are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. In particular, in this section in which Paul goes over some “household codes,” or practical ethics for home life, he is speaking to both husband and wife and being in mutual submission to one another. The husband is the “head” of the wife, but the Greek for head (κεφαλη) doesn’t necessarily mean “authority” but rather “source.” In other words, the husband has been called to be the source of life and provision for his wife. Again, this does not mean that it is unbiblical for women to make more money than men; rather, it means that husbands are to be so faithful to their wives that they can be totally counted upon to provide WHATEVER is necessary—in particular, emotional validation, love, support, encouragement, laughter…..WHATEVER. As Christ is the source of life for the church, sot he husband should be for the wife. The wife should have “reverence” for her husband, which is another way of saying that she should consider his needs ahead of her own. She should have such respect for her husband that his needs and desires surpass her own. Conversely, the husband should love his wife as Christ loved the church. And how did He do that? He considered her needs to be of much greater import than His own. He died for her. He humiliated Himself from His exalted position for her. He has provided for her and is returning to snatch her away. Husbands should be every bit as protective and selfless in their love for their wives. Marriage is the great metaphor for the God-Man relationship, and is particularly helpful in understanding the Christ-Church relationship. It is particularly noteworthy that Christ submitted Himself to what was good for her rather than Himself. Talk about faithfulness! There is literally nothing that she can do to cause Him to leave her.
There are two ways we can apply this: first, in our literal marriages. How would life be different in America today if we all treated marriage in this way? When a wife sees her husbands needs and desires as more important than hers, and a husband sees his wife’s needs and desires as more important than his, they are no longer two people striving to live together under the same roof, but are ONE FLESH. When they are engaged in a constant endeavor of mutual self-submission, they are modeling God’s faithfulness. Once my wife knows that there is literally nothing she can ever do to cause me to abandon her, the end result is a confidence and happiness in marriage that God designed. When we strive for this level of faithfulness to our spouses, we model God’s love for mankind.
Another way that we apply this is to recognize the significance of the church in all of this. If the church is Christ’s bride and He considers her so important that He died for her, is still providing for her, protects her, and is coming back for her…..shouldn’t she be as important to us? Our American mindset of treating “church” as something that is optional is the very opposite of faithfulness. Until we start teaching faithfulness to the local church, we shouldn’t be surprised when the divorce rate continues to be as it is. We have completely forgotten faithfulness. Our faithfulness to our church is akin to our faithfulness to our spouses. If that faithfulness is tenuous and conditional, then it isn’t faithfulness.
How faithful are you today? How faithful to your spouse? How faithful to your church?