That dirty word “submission” really gets a bad rap. I remember hearing messages from Ephesians 5 where Paul tells wives to “submit to their husbands” because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. It’s funny, I remember hearing messages about that first part of the passage, but I don’t remember hearing the charge to husbands in the next passage. Maybe I wasn’t listening too hard. Maybe I zoned out. Regardless of what happened, it wasn’t until years after hearing some of these messages that I really looked at the rest of the passage.
I had heard complaints about this passage from mostly women. Looking back on it, I have to say that their complaints were justified. If you don’t take into account what Paul says after this, then you only see a portion of his definition and ideal for submission. After Paul writes about wives submitting to their husbands, look at what he says to the husbands:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
I really think that the reason that this passage evokes such strong negative responses is because of the lack of emphasis on Paul’s emphasis. There are 12 verses in this passage, 3 directed towards wives, and 9 directed towards husbands. Why has there been more of an emphasis on 25% of this passage without a stronger emphasis on the other 75%?
I can only speculate here, but I would venture to guess that it would be much easier for a woman to submit to her husband if she truly feels loved and valued by him. If she feels that he would give anything for her, wouldn’t she feel the same way in return? The husband’s responsibility is being compared to Christ’s love for the church. Christ gave himself up for the church in order that she might be made holy and blameless. Wives are to be top priority to their husbands.
Now, I slowly begin to slump down in my chair as I read through this passage. I realize how far short I fall when loving my wife the way that Christ loved the church. I realize that I have not taken my directive from the Lord as serious as I should. It becomes even more of a conviction as I realize that I have two little boys who will watch me and base their love for their future wives on what they see Daddy doing.
In my 8 years of marriage, I have never played the “I’m your husband so submit to me” card with my wife. I pray that in the next 50+ years of my marriage that I never will. If I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, I won’t even have to ask, it will be a natural progression. Submission is a two-way street and if it’s only one-way, then it’s not really submission. Husbands, we can redefine submission when we truly live out Paul’s words to us: to love our wives as Jesus loved (and loves) the church. When we start doing that, I think we will begin to see that mutuality of this word that has been abused and misused.
Husbands, may God give us strength and wisdom to know how to sacrifice ourselves for the wives that God has blessed us with, and that he uses to make us better servants of Him.