22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: 30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. 31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.Ephesians 5:22-33, KJV
Are you feeling the tension yet? Our culture seems to fight so hard against this little word that begins with an “s.” Ironic, isn’t it? We naturally combat against the idea of submission, don’t we? There are at least two major problems within us that contribute to our naturally averse reaction to submission. The first contributing factor of our opposition is our corrupt nature. The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith 6.4 says, “From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.” We wrestle against Holy Writ like this, according to Romans 8:7, “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”
The second contributing factor of our opposition to submission is because we often don’t read carefully or patiently enough. It has happened much too often with this text in Ephesians 5. Some modern reader with feministic leanings sees the word “submit” and immediately assumes the Biblical writer to be subjugating women as an inferior class to men. As the saying goes, “If I had a nickel for every time” it happened, I’d be a wealthy man. To be fair, we have all been guilty of not reading the Scripture carefully enough. We all have experience of interpreting the Scripture wrong. As a Bible teacher, I can attest to the feeling of embarrassment when it’s pointed out. Despite all our good intensions to be perfect in our understanding of the Scriptures, we simply are not perfect. So I hope you’ll take this piece of advice seriously; read the Bible carefully, and with a humble attitude.
Context, Context, Context…
You’re familiar with the real-estate mantra, “location, location, location”, yes? As we are reading God’s Word, we could benefit from our own mantra, “context, context, context.” Each passage of the Bible has an immediate context in the chapter, a wider context within that particular book, a wider context within the particular human author’s corpus, and a wider context within the entire Canon of Scripture.
An obvious objection that could be raised at this point is, “Are you saying I can’t understand the Bible without understanding all of it?” I’d answer, yes and no. Yes, in the sense that without knowledge of the entire Bible you and I will inevitably be unable to detect all the beautiful connections. However, I want to say no. No, we are all students and do not possess a perfect knowledge of Scripture, but we can and ought to understand the parts that we do read.
Let’s look back at the context of Ephesians 5 so we don’t lose track of our topic. Remember, the Gospel has implications for my marriage; that is our topic. For sake of time, let’s limit our view of the context to chapter 5.
5 Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; 2 And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.Ephesians 5:1-2, KJV
Paul is instructing the church of Ephesus to live outwardly in harmony with their inward faith. He directly connects the good news to the moral imperatives he has given to his audience. Why? Because these moral imperatives naturally flow out of Holy Spirit-wrought faith. In other words, we are told how to live morally because the gospel ignites our soul’s desire for obedient living through our love for Christ.
As Paul continues in the chapter, he contrasts those moral imperatives with the naturally disobedient lifestyle of unbelievers. His goal is clearly to warn them of the danger that waits to wound a foolishly immoral Christian. The warning leads into a call to live on guard against the naturally dark remnants of our own corrupt nature. How do we live on guard? The answer is beautiful, but often missed in our individualistic thought processes.
Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. 18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; 19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; 20 Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; 21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.Ephesians 5:17-21, KJV
Paul tells us exactly how we are to walk as a soldier on duty. His answer is to make sure you are not AWOL. His answer is to be part of your church. Understanding the will of the Lord is not forsaking the assembly of yourselves together. Understanding the will of the Lord comes through public reading, public prayer, public exposition of the Holy Scripture. We are to be filled with the Spirit as we speak the Christian faith to each other through congregational singing. We are living as good soldiers of Jesus Christ as we give thanks to Christ together in the participation of holy communion. We, a diverse group of individuals, come together as a unified representation of Jesus on earth as we submit to each other in all things. Paul is teaching us to live on guard by submitting ourselves to God’s will and consequently submitting myself to the brothers and sisters of my church.
Well, Now We’re Getting Somewhere…
All of that context, I think, has helped us to be ready to read the passage of Ephesians 5:22-33 more carefully. Submission to God and accordingly to each other in the church is clearly the overarching moral imperative. This moral imperative of submission is an overflowing reaction to the Gospel. Jesus has submitted Himself to the Father in His active obedience in fulfilling the law’s commands, and His passive obedience in satisfying the law’s punishments. Jesus submits, and therefore we submit to be like Him. This isn’t subjugation. This is freedom. This is where joy is found. Hearts naturally crave joy, but can never find it because of their own refusal to submit to God. This submission brings joy to every heart that yields.
What to look forward to in part 2…
- Gospel Imperatives for Wives from Ephesians 5:22-33
- Gospel Imperatives for Husbands from Ephesians 5:22-33
- Three Pastoral/Practical Tips to Help Picture Christ and His Church