Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
Ephesians 5:22 through Ephesians 6:9
Whew! Few verses in the Bible rile up people as much as these verses. As my community group has been reading Ephesians, we had to eventually get here. It was an excellent discussion and I came to realize a few things about these passages that I thought I might share.
1. This is an ideal situation
One of the common issues people have is that you can’t just be subject to your husband; for what if he is unrighteous or wants you to be unrighteous? Same goes for children and slaves. Unrighteous masters will want you to be subject to them in all things, righteous or not. However, Paul is not necessarily addressing what you do in those kinds of specific circumstances, instead he is addressing HOW things SHOULD operate, ideally. Similar to how we are told to NOT sin, ever. Is it possible? Probably. Is it likely? Not without hard work. Just as ideally we should, ought to be, and are striving for living without sin and be righteous like Christ is righteous, so to is Paul describing how our familial relationships should be.
If everything is as it should be, the husband should be subject to Christ. The wife should respond and be subject to her husband, because her husband is righteous and loves her as he loves himself; and thus wants the very best for her. The children should obey because the parental commands speak to their Christ-like nature.
Paul speaks to the foundation of economics here, that all action is purposive and works to better the situation for the one acting. “for no one has hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it”. To love your wife as yourself means you nourish and cherish her; and if you are leading your family then you will lead in accordance with what is best not for solely you, but for those you love.
Does Paul mean then that the wife should always be subject to the husband? He does say she “ought to be” subject to him in “everything”. That’s a pretty strong statement, and you can read it a few ways.
- You can read it as a command directed towards wives only: “wives, submit yourself to your husband in everything”. I think this is the most common reading.
- You can read it as a command directed towards husbands only: “husbands, be righteous as Christ is righteous so that your wife can righteously submit to you in everything”
- Or, you can read it as a mix of both. Which I have come to think is a more appropriate reading.
Wives should seek to be able to submit to their husbands in everything, just as husbands should seek righteousness so that the wife can submit to everything. Paul isn’t commanding subjection and submission here, but encouraging behavior and thoughts towards an ideal situation. If I don’t match up to the situation Paul lined out; my wife isn’t submitting, my children aren’t obeying, my slave isn’t obedient (not really relevant to me I suppose) then the issue isn’t with them, but probably with me. Why aren’t things flowing like Paul described? Perhaps I am not being righteous as I should be, not being subject to Christ as I should be, or nourishing and cherishing my wife as I would my own body.
2. Be Subject, as to the Lord
This was probably the most critical revelation here, and leads from the above. While looking at my Bible, I suddenly saw all these addendums to the commands that I had previously ignored. It was as if they were marked in bold in my Bible, and for visual circumstances I will post the relevant verses below.
- Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
- Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church
- So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.
- Children, obey your parents in the Lord
- Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh,…, as to Christ
All these commands are given context. The commands aren’t just given arbitrarily, or given to mean in all cases, in all things. Like the Ten Commandments “You shall not commit adultery.” There isn’t any context given, which implies that the context is in all things, “Do NOT ever”. But again, the context given for the above commands are “as to the Lord”, or some similar variation.
So what does that context mean? I read it as being a sense of “where he is doing the will of Christ”. Or, you should not submit yourself to a command that is contrary to Christ’s teachings. Submitting yourself to your husband when he is being rotten and unChrist-like is ignoring the context given; and contrary to the Lord. Obeying your parents when they want you to steal something, is contrary to the Lord. We are not commanded to obey our parents in all things, righteous and unrighteous. But to obey our parents in the Lord.
I think we all innately understand the above topics. “Sure we are supposed to obey our parents, or submit to our husband or love our wife as our-self …. but!” There is always that ‘but’, and that is exactly why the above thoughts are so important. That ‘but‘ is critically important! (Authors side note: I am purposefully ignoring, but also smiling at the verbal connotations of the preceding sentence) And is exactly what Paul is addressing. We should seek to live as Christ; be as Christ and be perfected by Christ. We should seek a solid family foundation where everything flows smoothly from Christ through Husbands, through wives, through kids. If a rock diverts the flow of a river, you don’t blame the pebbles after the rock, but the rock itself. So should I, as a husband, seek to look at myself when my children aren’t obeying, or my wife is having issues. As is often the case, Paul brings us back to the inevitable relationship between Christ and I. It’s rarely about someone else isn’t it?