Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:22b “. . .submit yourselves. . .”
These words are not present in the Greek text. The verb in our present text is understood, and dependent on the present participle in verse 21.
Our text begins Paul’s discussion of how a family should be managed. Like churches (EP 4:7-13 and elsewhere), families have a God-given organizational structure to follow. The family, conceived and created by God, belongs to God, and is to be managed according to His prescribed management style.
In any group, to maintain order, cohesion, and direction, there must be leadership. When a decision has to be made, the group members need to agree on who should make it. The Bible gives this role in the family to the husband.
Husbands, I urge you to use this authority only as a last resort. Encourage discussion and input. Seek consensus. All involved are equals. Often the wife and children’s ideas are better than the husband’s. Once adequate input has been received, if no consensus is reached, and a final decision has to be made, this prerogative resides with the husband.
Note that Paul said nothing about individual submission until after he collectively placed everyone under an umbrella of mutual submission. A wife is called to particular submission in a setting requiring mutual submission.
In a Christian family, equality is always the beginning premise. Happy homes are built on mutual esteem. “The best security blanket a child can have is parents who respect each other” (Jan Blaustone).
Submission of a wife to her husband is never the subjection of an inferior to a superior, but the voluntary–emphasis on voluntary–submission of one equal to another. Not even God forces people into submission. Husband, never yell at, or hit, your wife. Do not try to coerce submission. No woman is to endure beating or abuse from a brutal or drunken husband. A wife is not the pawn of “a little, miserable, poorly-made toy of a man who is the head of his wife because he could not make himself the head of anything else!” (Parker).
Submission does not mean a wife is to cowtow or resemble a muzzled ox. She rather willingly submits in her attitude, and then manifests it in words and deeds. She submits because she chooses to. Hers is a voluntary submission which accepts the husband’s leadership as rightful, not because he is better than she is, but because this is God’s organizational plan for the family.
In all relationships, ultimate satisfaction is found in finding one’s God-ordained role and fulfilling it. God’s arrangement, always created in love for all involved, is in every situation the best plan for everyone. Since submission to the husband is ordained of God, the wife can be certain it is the surest way for her to find true happiness and fulfillment.
Eph. 5:22c “. . .unto your own. . .”
“Own” here is more than a simple possessive. I call it a possessive of endearment. It sounds a note of intensity, as when we say a person betrayed his “own” country, or a mother deserted her “own” child. Each wife has her “own” husband, a special and precious man who is exclusively hers.
Husbands belong to wives as much as wives belong to husbands. Each belongs to the other, a truth pictured in the unique physical relationship they share. “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 C 7:4).
Husband-wife is an extraordinary relationship, unlike any other in the human realm. I find it significant that in this section on the family, Paul did not tell wives to “obey” their husbands, but did tell children and servants to “obey” (6:1,5). In Titus 2:5, Paul instructs wives to be “obedient to their own husbands,” but the fact he avoids the word “obey” here in Ephesians implies a wife’s obedience is not identical to the obedience of children to parents, or of servants to masters. A wife does not fill the position of a child, or of a servant.
The wife accepts a marvelous role. Along with her husband, she enters into life’s most precious relationship, a bond paralleled only by the relationship between Christ and His Church.
Husband-wife is the highest of all human relationships, higher than parent to child, spouse to parent, sibling to sibling, friend to friend. The parent-child relationship is priceless, but secondary, a product of the love between a husband and a wife. Employer-employee relationships take much of our week, but are secondary, and are largely a spouse’s attempt to provide economically for the other spouse.
Young people, you need to understand and accept the priority of your parents’ relationship. When I was a boy, Dad always let Mom buy an extra milk-shake, ride in the front seat of the car, pick the motel we stayed in, etc. Dad was teaching me a valuable lesson, though it was painful at the time. To Husband, Wife matters most.
Husband-wife is the first human relationship that God ordained. The relationship itself is extremely important. Thus, every married person must do things which demonstrate not only the importance of their spouse, but also demonstrate the importance of one’s relationship with that spouse. We are not merely friend with friend, homemaker with breadwinner, employee with another employee. We are husband and wife, and the relationship is critical.
Two people can live under the same roof, encourage one another, and brag on each other, yet not fully develop their relationship. A husband and wife can be complimentary of each other, yet live on parallel tracks, their lives not intersecting in a meaningful way with regard to the relationship they have.
When I married Ruth, she was already a career woman, a school teacher living on her own. We left for seminary, and she continued to work full-time. When the children were born, she came home. As John and Becky grew into adolescence, she started part-time, and ultimately went to full-time, work.
Ruth recently decided to give up employment for a while because we both sense a need to spend more quality time together. This is a major sacrifice on Ruth’s part. I know she will some day want and need to go back to work. In the meantime, it is hard for me to express how much it means to me as a husband to have a wife willing to give up something of value to her in order to enhance our relationship. She already thought I was a good provider, pastor, father, friend, son, brother, and so forth. We have always been mutually complimentary toward each other. Ruth came home to make a statement about the importance of our relationship as husband and wife. Her sacrifice has given me a great sense of security and has reminded me again of how important I am to her, not only as provider, pastor, and friend, but as her “own” husband. It is that kind of sacrifice that makes a marriage great.
By the way, I know how I must respond to her sacrifice. My role is to make concessions for Ruth, to be extra careful to protect her feelings of self-worth, and in my schedule to make time for her, thereby making a statement of my own regarding the value of our relationship. On most days, we are setting aside quality time to be alone together, to talk, to get off the parallel tracks, and to bond as one.
I challenge all husbands and wives, each week seek to spend three to five hours alone together enhancing your relationship–no TV, no movie, no children, no interruption, just two of you eye to eye, discussing life and making a statement about the importance of the relationship which binds you together.