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)
Yesterday we learned how important context is when it comes to understanding what we read, be it the Bible or any other document. Before proceeding with today’s verse we need to review its context because it is complicated and nested.
In this part of Paul’s letter he is calling on believers – those who are part of God’s family [John 1:12-13] – to live according to our status as God’s children [Ephesians 4:1]. As such we are not to live like the world around us [Ephesians 4:17]. We are to imitate God [Ephesians 5:1] by allowing ourselves to be filled by the Holy Spirit [Ephesians 5:18]. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit we will, among other things, willingly submit to one another [Ephesians 5:21].
Beginning with today’s verse Paul will give three practical examples of submission in human relationships: marriage, families (i.e. children & parents), and the workplace.
He starts off discussing submission in marriage, first by telling wives to submit to their husbands. He will discuss how the husband should give himself up for the wife beginning a few verses later.
What is very interesting about today’s verse is that the word submit does not exist in the original Greek. It simply says “Wives, to your own husbands”. The verb is omitted because it is implied from the prior verse which spoke of mutual submission. Our English translations add the verb for readability.
The idea that is being conveyed in this verse, and the ones that follow, is that people in various relationships sacrifice their own desires in order to benefit others within the relationship and the organization as a whole. When people pursue selfish ambitions, organizations (including marriage) fail. This is not a new concept in our studies. We saw this same idea previously in Ephesians as well as in our study of Philippians earlier this year [Ephesians 4:1; Philippians 2:3-4]. God calls us all to live lives that are voluntarily unselfish and characterized by humility.
It’s important to note that this verse calls on wives to submit to their own husbands. This verse is not saying that women are inferior to men. The context of this verse is not society in general. There is no biblical reason why a woman couldn’t be a leader in government or business. In fact, there are numerous examples of female leaders in the Bible including Deborah, Esther, Priscilla, and Lydia [Judges 4; Acts 16:14] to name a few. This command only applies to a woman’s role as a wife. Know-nothing critics of the Bible have misled millions of people into rejecting God on the faulty premise that this verse devalues women. It does no such thing.
To further clarify this point, Paul writes that a wife should submit as to the Lord. This phrase is very important because it tells us two things. First, it reminds us that this command is not meant for unbelievers. Paul’s audience (an important part of the context) is believers.
Second, this verse is telling us that when a woman places herself under the leadership of her husband she is not being obedient to him, she is being obedient to Christ. This phrase makes it clear that the true authority in a Christian woman’s life – or in a Christian man’s life – is not another human being. It is Jesus Christ.
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