Jan 24, 2014
neil

What does the Bible mean when it says that wives are to submit to their husbands?

As I mentioned in the last post the Bible has a lot to say about marriage not least because the principles behind how we ought to behave towards one another as Christians in general can be applied to the marriage relationship in particular. So if the Bible says love one another, be patient with one another, they are lessons for Christian marriage.

But it is in Ephesians 5v.22-32 that we find Paul identifying that it is in husbands and wives living out their God-given gender roles that we find a key to healthy and happy marriage. Our marriages are modelled on the relationship witnessed between Christ and the church.

Today, we start where Paul starts and a word to wives.

Wives submit to your husband v.22-24

Now I recognise how counter-cultural and for some downright offensive  Paul’s words appear here. Many are tempted to simply ignore these words or to relativise their meaning for our own time and culture. But let me highlight five reasons to see wisdom for today  in this command.

1. Paul’s words are to wives not to the husbands. What that means is that submitting to the leadership of the husband in a marriage is active and voluntary. It’s an instruction to the wife not an invitation to a husband. Paul has a lot to say to husbands but compeling your wife to respect and submit to your leadership is not one of them.

 2.  All Christians are called on to submit. We shouldn’t think that submitting is something only married women are asked to do. The reality is that ALL Christians face multiple situations and circumstances in which God calls on them to willingly and voluntarily submit to the leadership of others. Men and women must submit to Christ in becoming his disciple (Matt. 7:21-23), also to submit to local church leadership and discipline (Hebs. 13:17), to the civil authorities (Rom. 13:1-7) and of course to their employers (Eph. 6:5-8).

 One writer comments: We live in an ordered universe, in which there is authority and submission to authority everywhere (cf. Rom. 13:1). Authority and submission relationships are therefore natural and necessary.

3. Not all types of submission function in the same way. They differ, often radically, from one another. Time doesn’t permit me to build a case here. But in the context of the Bible as a whole we see, for example, that a wife is not called on to submit in the way for a child submits to its parents.

4.There are limits to our submission. We should only ever obey the word of a husband IF his leadership is consistent with what the Lord Jesus calls on us to do c.f. Acts 4:18-20.

5. This is an invitation to be like Jesus. Jesus always and only did the will of his father in heaven.

So Paul in 1 Corinthians 11.3 says: Now I want you to realise that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. In Ephesians Christ is the model for servant-leadership in headship. But in 1 Cor. (and elsewhere) He is the model for submission. If we think that submission is simply just wrong then we are taking issue with Jesus. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he died showed what an extraordinary thing this submission is. He said to his Father (this is Luke 22.42):

‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’

6. It functions differently in different situations. It is self-evident that this aspect of a marriage relationship will look different i) from couple to couple, ii) generation to generation, and iii) one culture to another. There are plenty of women in the Bible taking initiative, exercising leadership, managing others and in every way using their God-given gifts and abilities. This is not a call for women to be passive and subservient!

7.  No-where does God give us a list of what men and women are to do. This is not about who manages the money, or does the washing up, or has the highest paid job.

8. It is a blessing. Submitting to the leadership of a man who is seeking to love you as Christ loved the church should bring us great blessing. A husbands job is to be deeply ambitious for the spiritual growth  of his wife (and children). Ambitious enough to make you his personal priority and spiritual focus.

A word to single people thinking of marriage

If you are a woman hoping one day to marry. You need to look for a man who, v.32, you can respect. This has nothing to do with his dress sense, or ability with money, etc., but everything to do with whether you would be willing to let him lead spiritually in the marriage relationship.

I’m sure that means it is not a good idea if you are a woman to marry a new Christian who would need to constantly look to you for a lead in spiritual matters.   This instruction of Jesus also shows why it is positively dangerous to marry a non-Christian who cannot lead you into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Leave a comment

Facebook Twitter RSS Feed