Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:24a “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the
wives be to their own husbands. . .”
The Church is fulfilled, not demeaned, by her role of submission to Christ. Neither the Church as a whole nor any individual believer has ever lost anything of true value by being subject to Christ. Likewise, submission brings a wife wholeness. The same God who created this world to be a place where the Church and believers are fulfilled by submission to Him also created marriage in such a way that a wife is elevated and enriched by her submission. When a marriage functions properly, a wife is no more demeaned or squelched by her submission to her husband than by her submission to Christ.
Eph. 5:24b “. . .in every thing.”
Within marriage, the wife is to submit “in everything,” a phrase we must view in context. “As unto the Lord” in verse 22 sets the limit. A wife must submit “in everything” consonant with the character of Christ. A wife must never commit sin for her husband. Sapphira followed Ananias’ lead in lying to God. Wifely submission did not excuse her behavior. She was smitten along with her husband (AC 5:1-11). Christ alone is a wife’s supreme authority.
Two months after my parents married, they left for college in Walnut Ridge AR. One Saturday night Dad told Mom they would sleep late the next morning and not attend church. This fifteen-year-old girl, away from parents, alone with a twenty-one-year-old ex-marine, responded, “I always go to church.” Next morning, she got up early, put on her one Sunday outfit, a pretty yellow dress, and gently asked Dad, “Are you going to church with me?” Dad yelled, “No! I’m going to sleep late!” Mother was not harsh, she was kind and sweet, but went out the door and walked to church. Dad, steaming mad, decided to teach her a lesson. He left home to show her who was boss. He hitchhiked into town and loitered a while. Having no money, being hungry, and missing Doris, about 2:00 p.m. he decided he was being foolish. He hitchhiked back home, went to church with her that night, and they have been going to church together ever since. I’m glad Mom knew Jesus was her ultimate authority.
Even with qualification, “in every thing” might sound “offensive to modern woman with her far-reaching freedom in society” (Taylor). Nevertheless, as believers, we must trust God, and obey Him. Much secular literature deals with the family. Some is good, some bad. Since marriage is not man-made, be wary of man-made suggestions regarding it. The best way to have fulfilled family members is for each to fill their role as God prescribes. God’s plan for the family, outlined in the Bible, is for the exaltation and fulfillment of every family member. To disregard and cast off one’s God-given role hurts the family and spites one’s own self. God’s ways are not burdensome.
A wife is free to fulfill any role outside the house, but at home must accept Biblical guidelines for a wife. This week I was asked if I thought it possible for a wife to exert authority in the business world and to switch into the submissive role at home. It has to be possible, for God Himself outlined the paradigm. He gave women equal dominion with man over the creation (GN 1:26-28), yet also ordained that within marriage wives are to be submissive to their husbands “in every thing.” Mary, wife of Prince William of Orange and heir-apparent to the English throne, was asked what role her husband would fill if she became Queen. She promised William he would always bear the rule in their home, and asked only that he obey the command, “Husbands, love your wives,” as she sought to obey “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands.”
Wives, Scripture commands you to focus on submission to your husband. You are his equal. He is not to coerce your submission. There is no legitimate means of enforcement. Your submission must be voluntary, and must be.
Eph. 5:25a “Husbands,. . .”
“Husband,” derived from the Old English “house-band,” denotes one who holds a household together. A husband keeps his family undivided. He holds it together, as a band keeps together a sheaf of wheat. A family should never be deprived of one who unites, but unfortunately many husbands do not act like “house-bands.” They often do not know how to be the glue which holds their family together. Thus, we turn to Holy Writ for help.
Eph. 5:25b “. . .love. . .”
The Biblical counterpart of “Wives, submit” is not “Husbands, command” or “Husbands, rule,” but “Husbands, love.” A wife’s main duty is to submit, a husband’s main duty is to love. This over-riding thought controls all else.
The true husband is a royal man who rules by benevolent influence–no sharpness, no severity. His love is so strong that he leads almost always by gentle persuasion, rarely by direct command.
Forcing the husband to focus always on love was Paul’s way of safeguarding husband-authority from abuse. Without this command, husbands would exploit their leadership role.
The term used here is “a·gap·a·te,” the word used of divine love. God is “a·gap·e” (1 J 4:8). No love is more demanding than this. Paul could have used “eros,” which refers to erotic love, sexual passion. If you have the kind of marriage God desires for you, physical attraction will be a vital part of it, but this is not the main thing. Paul could have used the beautiful word “phil·e·o.” Normally used for bonds of family affection, “phileo” referred to brotherly love, being very fond of a person. In strong marriages, Husband and Wife are good friends. They do like each other, but Paul chose to use “agapate,” which denotes a love that is totally unselfish, that refuses to seek its own satisfaction.
“Husbands, agapate,” love as God loves. These words were a radical, straightforward, bare-knuckled, no holds barred, attack on the custom of Paul’s day. Husbands provided for, and had children by, wives, but rarely loved them.
The same dangerous mind-set haunts marriages still. A subtle cultural stereotype is wreaking havoc in many marriages. We emphasize motherly love, and wifely love, but downplay husband-love as being not macho, not manly.
Men in America are losing softness and gentleness. Many husbands are miserable because they deny the way they are made. Bowing to cultural influences, they refuse to let their God-given inner love and softness surface, and choose to be artificial, plastic, cold, hard, macho men.
I know. It happened to me. Raised on the wrong side of the tracks, to survive I learned to be rough and tough, or at least to bluff people into thinking I was. My Grandma Hill says I was the cuddliest baby she ever held, yet I have had to spend years rediscovering that loving, tender side of my original nature. I had to go through personal and professional tragedy before my tough, business tycoon, CEO exterior began to peel off. In brokenness I started to find in me a long buried softness that had been yearning to come forth.
Many husbands share this dilemma. Culturally reinforced hardness on the outside is squelching God-given inner softness which yearns to express itself. Soft love dwells somewhere within every husband, for He who creates us commands us, “Husbands, love,” and what God commands, God provides.