Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:22-24 ESV)
There are no shortage of articles, sermons and even books written about this topic, and yet, it still seems to leave a bad taste in women’s mouths. The temptation is to assume you know what it means and then you either have to decide if you’ll accept your own interpretation, or dismiss it as a “cultural topic” and irrelevant today. (Since women back in Paul’s day were certainly not as strong and independent as we are today!) *sarcasm intended there*
Don’t neglect to read on in the passage…
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, (Ephesians 5:25 ESV)
Wife, what if submission to one’s husband doesn’t mean you can’t have a strong personality and opinions? Maybe submission doesn’t mean the man makes all the decisions. What if spiritual leadership, in it’s truest form, means your husband sacrifices his desires, wants, and comfort on behalf of his family in order to lead them into the holiness that Christ desires from us? Who could balk at that?
When James is leading me and our family well, he is continually sacrificing his comfort on my behalf. Who wouldn’t want to follow a leader who doesn’t demand respect and authority but, in humility, lays down his life for others? Sometimes leading me spiritually means James takes the kids and tells me to get out and read my Bible and pray for longer than 5 minutes at a time. Sometimes that means that when it’s been a hard day and the kids aren’t listening and whining, he takes over and lets me recover alone. (Hello, introvert here…) Being a spiritual leader doesn’t mean he tells me what to read or how to pray. But he provides the space and the ability for me to do so when life is overwhelming and too chaotic for me to carve out that space on my own. He makes sure it happens.
A few months ago, we announced a BIG change in our family. We are leaving our church and everything we’ve known for the past 3+ years in order to become full-time staff missionaries with Cru. What no one saw was the countless conversations James and I had leading up to that public announcement. James didn’t make that decision on his own and drag us along with him. We didn’t even make this decision together in one neat little conversation. In fact, when we started praying about what was next for our family, I had more opinions than he did. We talked. Sometimes we argued. We prayed. We prayed more. It was hard. But never once did James demand we do what he says we should just because he’s the husband and is supposed to be the leader. Being a spiritual leader does NOT mean you make the big/hard/risky decisions for your family on your own. In our case, it meant James needed to listen to me and my heart a little more and take a somewhat risky step of faith.
When done well, a husband leading and a wife submitting is a very beautiful and essential representation of the Gospel. Jesus leading his people and conquering their enemies actually looked NOTHING like what his followers thought it would look like. They wanted a ruler to come and destroy their political enemies. Jesus instead came quietly and humbly and then died on behalf of his people, conquering our greatest enemy itself—sin! When we, as his people, submit to his authority in our life, we are not submitting to a harsh, demanding authoritarian ruler. We are submitting to the most selfless, patient and loving King we could ever know. No one who could truly see that would demand it be otherwise.
Unfortunately we don’t always get it right. We allow our sinful natures to tell us God must be wrong, instead of dealing with the reality that maybe our idea of what it means to lead and submit are probably incorrect.
A few important things to note here, particularly for single men and women:
-Male headship and female submission is only required within the context of the marital union (or family context with a believing father and daughter). A single woman is not under the authority of the single man sitting next to her at church.
-A single woman should be careful to not demand the man she is interested in or is dating be the perfect leader from the get-go. He deserves patience and grace as he earnestly seeks the Lord and learns to lead. Be careful in dismissing a man who may be a young believer simply because he doesn’t know how to lead well. Just knowing how to lead a Bible study of 6 guys in no way prepares him to lead a wife and family in daily pursuit of the Lord. It’s messy, hard and takes time to cultivate that kind of humble heart.
-In the same respect, a single man should not discount a woman as a potential marriage partner simply because she has a “strong personality” and he doesn’t think she’ll know how to “submit” well. If a woman says “I won’t submit to a man!” don’t dismiss her as an unbelieving woman. It’s likely she has no idea what true biblical leadership and submission really means.
If your heart bristles when you read Ephesians 5, stop for a minute and pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to work in you to see truth clearly. In marriage, we are seeing and displaying a mere shadow, a foretaste of the coming King and Christ’s reign among the Church. Let’s prepare the way for him to return well! Let our marriages be grace filled testaments to our submission to the Ultimate Authority, the true King, who entered into our brokenness amidst sheep and camel dung as an utterly helpless babe. He led the way to a restored relationship with God all the way to the cross. He gave up his comfort, his right to riches, his perfect communion with his Father on our behalf.
If a man desires to model that for me and our family, there’s no one on earth that could convince me not to go with him.