Must Wives Submit To Their Husbands and Husbands Sacrifice For Their Wives? #283
Hello friends and happy Monday to you! Today we are reading 1 Kings 8, Psalms 89, Ezekiel 38 and Ephesians 5. A few notes on those passages before we dive into our big Bible question. Ezekiel 38 is quite interesting, because many consider it a last-days/end-times passage. As we read, listen closely and see if you can understand why. Our 1 Kings 8 passage is extremely long – it is the SECOND longest chapter in the Bible, actually. Oddly, our Bible reading plan author, Robert Murray M’Cheyne has us read it all in a day, whereas he breaks up Psalms 119 (only about 300 words longer than this passage) into SEVEN days! More importantly for us, however is Solomon. Behold Solomon’s amazing leadership in this passage. Consider his amazing prayer – and how the glory of the Lord filled the temple. Consider that Solomon saw and experienced this – that he spoke to the Lord prior to this, and that he had astounding wisdom…and then remember that, at the end of his life, Solomon’s heart was not wholeheartedly devoted to God. He was distracted by too many wives, too many idols, too much gold, etc. Is Solomon in Heaven? I’ve no idea, but it is a real question, and a warning to us when we consider his life. Nobody can get away with consistently disobeying God’s commands and turning to serve and worship other Gods, not even the wisest man in the world.
A controversial big Bible question is on tap today, so this is a good time to remind you of something – two things, actually.
#1 I didn’t write the Bible. If you agree with certain parts of it, or disagree with certain parts of it, know that I am responsible for none of it. My interpretations might be off, of course, and I am indeed responsible for that, but I find that most of the Bible is quite clearly written (like today’s passage) and there’s no real question about what is said. There are exceptions to that, of course, but by and large, the Bible is quite clear, and the big question is not whether or not we understand it, but whether or not we will obey it.
#2 Do not take my word for it. I can honestly tell you that I am trying my best to understand and teach what the Bible says, but as I have mentioned before – there are areas where I am wrong. Nobody has perfect theology or a perfect understanding of the Bible – much less, me. That means you need to be like the noble Bereans and study the Word yourself. NOT to see how you FEEL about it. Your feelings and my feelings are unreliable guides – don’t trust them to interpret and understand Scripture. But you need to study the Word yourself to know what it says – know what it says in context, and how other verses inform and shed light on the passage you are reading. So – let’s read Ephesians 5 together. It is a glorious passage, and it contains one of the more controversial passages in the entire Bible.
Great stuff there. I named my first ministry – an online ministry that sought to help people addicted to pornography – after this passage. The year was 1995, and the internet was quite young, but already pornography was pervasive and already people were addicted, and so I began a ministry called Exposing the Darkness, based on Ephesians 5:11. Of the many things we could talk about in this passage, I think we should talk about the very, very controversial part, so let’s read it again:
21 submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, 23 because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. 27 He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. 28 In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 since we are members of his body. 31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. 32 This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.
The controversial part of this passage is, of course, vs 22, where wives are told to submit to their husbands. Some people find this absolutely barbaric and old fashioned, and I understand why. Taken out of context, Ephesians 5:22 could lead to a lot of abuse in marriage, and could represent a pretty sweet arrangement for a husband. But we don’t take Scripture out of context, we need to understand Scripture in context, and here in this passage, Paul is going to give instruction to husbands AND wives. Wives are given one set of instructions and husbands a different set of instructions.
To wives, Paul commands submission, and gives us a clear metaphor to understand what type of submission is being commanded. Some people have spent much time arguing over the Greek word that is translated as ‘head,’ here – some say it means something like chief or leader, others say it means something like ‘source,’ as in the source of a river, or something like that. Both meanings are possible given the range of meanings of the Greek word, but the real important and clarifying part is where Paul says that wives should submit to their husbands like the church submits to Jesus. That is a very strong and convincing illustration that doesn’t really leave much wiggle room. Should wives submit to their husbands? The Bible says yes, quite clearly in this passage, and several others. I recognize, of course, how difficult this command is for a wife – especially a wife married to an imperfect husband. I know lots of husbands, and I can imagine that submitting to them in any way would be very difficult. In fact, I know a woman married to a guy who does a daily Bible reading podcast, and I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes and hear this command from Paul. So – is there any question grammatically that Paul commands wives to submit to their husbands? I would say no – it is there in black and white, it says what it says. BUT – it’s not fair -it’s old fashioned – you don’t know my husband – THIS ISN’T RIGHT, I hear you say. Remember – I didn’t write this passage, and also, I believe it is absolutely right and proper and wonderful BECAUSE…of what Paul wrote to husbands.
Husbands have a command here to love their wives. Big deal, you say – we’re all supposed to love! I hear your eyes rolling and your angry comments. It’s not fair – wives have to submit, and all husbands have to do is love. Objection noted, except for this ONE HUGE THING that Paul makes a HUGE DEAL about, writing far more to the husbands than the wives so that he ensures that they really understand what he is commanding. How are husbands supposed to love their wives? “ just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” Ah…now this gives us some great clarity. Husbands aren’t just supposed to love their wives by saying I love you a few times a week, or by giving them flowers, or the occasional hug, or doing chores, or being kind of sweet, or whatever…oh, no – nothing like that. The bar is raised as high as it could possible go here. Husbands must love their wives the way that Christ loved the church AND GAVE HIMSELF FOR HER. What did Jesus do for the church? He died for the church – paying the price for the sins of the church, and suffering immensely on behalf of the church. Further, He is in Heaven now ever living to intercede for the church – so this isn’t a one time act of love, but an ongoing present, active, continuous always love for the church. HUSBANDS MUST LOVE THEIR WIVES LIKE THIS. Sacrificial love. Deeply sacrificial love. Ongoing and always love. Was Jesus selfish? Was He self-serving? Did He come to BE SERVED or come to SERVE? How did Jesus treat the church and His disciples? That is the model for how a husband should love His wife. Is this easy? Absolutely not – it is virtually impossible, but that doesn’t give husbands a remote excuse to not try – they must, must, must love their wives sacrificially without a gram of self-serving in there.
In a biblical marriage, the husband serves and sacrifices in every way, and the wife submits. Neither is easy, and this is obviously different from what most in the world think of as marriage, but I would argue that it is absolutely biblical and absolutely beautiful. Is it easy? Not even close. Is the Bible’s teaching on marriage set up in a patriarchal way to benefit the husband? The only way to argue for such a thing is to denigrate the cross of Christ and minimize His sacrifice. The husband in a Christian marriage is not there to be served but to serve, and to give his life for his wife in a similar way that Jesus gave His life for the church. Paul here in Ephesians 5 gives us a glimpse into a wonderful mystery: that husbands and wives model the ministry of Jesus and the reality of the gospel in their interactions with each other. When a husband sacrifices himself and serves his wife, that honors Christ. When a wife submits to her husband, that honors Christ, and I think that is beautiful. Does my marriage model these principles? Not always – my wife and I love each other very much, but submission and sacrifice/serving are difficult, but I can tell you that our marriage is best when I am serving and sacrificing for my lovely wife, and when she is submitting. When we model submission, sacrifice and serving, we model the wonderful way that Jesus interacted with His Heavenly Father.