Ephesians 5:22–33 (NKJV)
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.Ephesians 5:22-33
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
In the last passage discussed, verse 21 sums up the idea of sober living by instructing the readers to submit to one another in the fear of the Lord. He then moves into this passage with the admonition for wives to submit to their own husbands as to the Lord. While many quote this passage without the prior verse, that instruction for mutual submission in verse 21 colors the meaning of this particular passage in a slightly different hue. Rather than one using this discussion of order in the home as a club with which to beat women into submission, one should see this not just as a placement of authority, but rather as divinely-appointed roles based on basic needs assigned to men and women. While not all people are strictly included in particular sets of standards, for the most part men and women are wired differently and, therefore, respond to different stimuli and flourish in different roles. Generalizations can be tricky, and do not apply in every case, yet this passage teaches of the need for women to be loved and cherished, and the need for men to be valued with respectful admiration. With this in mind, entire studies and a very popular book have been compiled discussing this idea of love and respect as the primary relational needs of men and women in the marital relationship.
Looking at Paul’s discussion here, we see this comparison unfold in the idea of wives respecting the work, protection, and success of their husbands, while husbands are to selflessly love, edify, and protect their wives. Each is given the example of Christ and the church, as Christ selflessly led and protected His bride, even to the point of dying for her, while the church followed the leadership of Christ and respected His position as the Head. While this language is not so popular in society today, and the idea of a “head” rings sour in the hearts and minds of those who do not want authority labels attached to gender, this is still a Biblical principle that bodes well for marriages if couples will embrace it, not as a model of boss and employee, but rather mutually submissive spouses with defined roles.
When I counsel couples entering a marital relationship, I speak to this very situation. Husbands are not the “boss” of the house, but the natural leader. Wives are not the servants of their husbands, but they do willingly serve. This is less a matter of superiority than it is of suitability. It is also a matter of what each member needs. Generally, women desire to be cherished, treated as the delicate vessel that God created her to be. She is not one of the guys, but a gentle nurturer of husband and child, strong but delicate at the same time. Men desire to go and conquer, provide and protect, express their wild and strong side, while being able to love their spouses and receive, when deserved, their adulation and appreciation. This is the picture that Paul attempts to paint in this passage on order in the home. Look at the duties of each member of the marriage relationship before you assign authority. This relationship is more about submission to the needs of each other than it is assigning who is in charge. Touch one another with the velvet gloves of love and respect, and no one will need to drop the hammer on the other.
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