Now I come to it! What does it mean for wives to submit in Ephesians 5:22? That’s the rub isn’t it? Well, again Paul points to the relationship between Christ and the Church. How does the Church submit to Christ? The Church submits to Christ as the Head of the Church and as her Savior. Christ is the Church’s sole source of love, care, protection, and provision. He is the leader of the Church. So when Paul says that wives are to submit to their husbands, what he means is that wives should recognize and acknowledge through their thoughts, words, and actions that they recognize their husband is whom God has joined them to in order to love, care, protect, and provide for them. God has given the husband the responsibility of being the leader of the house and therefore he should be respected as such.
Paul says in verse 22 that wives should submit to their husbands as to the Lord. That means two things. First it means that this submission is an act of love for God. One of the ways that wives are to show their submission to God is in living in submission to their husbands.
The second thing meant is that this submission should be done in a way that is fitting to the Lord. This submission is neither blind nor absolute. Did I just hear a sigh of relief? When Paul says wives should submit to their husbands in everything, he means every area of family life, not literally everything. If husbands are asking or requiring their wives to do things that are contrary to God’s will, wives are certainly not to just go along and do it. Husbands are not the ultimate authority, Christ is.
Husbands are to love their wives. The reason Paul gives for this is in Ephesians 5:25-27, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
The headship of the husband is patterned after Christ’s loving, caring, and sacrificial leadership of the Church. If you want to understand the leadership that Christ requires of husbands, you need look no further than Matthew 20:25-28 (NLT) where Jesus said to His disciples,
You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Leadership is not about lordship, it is about servanthood. Paul gives two reasons why husbands should be willing to live this kind of leadership towards their wives.
The first is that they should love them as they love themselves, even as their own bodies. Christ so closely identified Himself with the Church that His identity is bound up with her. The Church is His body, they are one. When Christ serves the Church, He serves Himself. Likewise when the husband serves his wife, he serves himself.
That leads right to Paul’s second motivation in verse 28, to love your wife is to love yourself. Not caring for your wife is essentially ignoring the needs of your own body. As Paul says in Ephesians 5:29-31 (NIV) After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
If we would be godly husbands, we will love our wives in a way that incarnates and illustrates the way that Christ loves, cares for, and leads the Church: His love drove Him to give everything He had, even His life, so that she had everything she needed. A Husband needs to be devoted in the same way to his wife.
If you are like me, then you may be feeling overwhelmed by what Paul says about marriage. You might be saying, “What hope do I have? I am far from loving my wife like Christ loves the Church!” or “I have been so bad at submitting to my husband.” Or, even more likely, “If you only knew my husband, he is so frustrating—what a bum!” or “If you had a lousy wife like mine you would understand why I can’t do that!”
Allow me to quote Charlie Jones again. “Thank God for your lousy wife! Nothing drives a man to Christ faster than a lousy wife! Thank God for your lousy husband! Nothing drives a woman to Christ faster than a lousy husband!”
Paul sums everything up in verse 33 saying, However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
So we might say that the submission that love flows in shows itself in wives giving respect to their husbands and in husbands giving love to their wives.
The problem is that our old natures keep us from wanting to relate that way. When we follow our own desires we get caught in cycles of arguing, griping, nagging, and resentment. I love this quote from Martin Luther, “Think of all the squabbles Adam and Eve must have had in the course of their nine hundred years. Eve would say, ‘You ate the apple,’ and Adam would retort, ‘You gave it to me.'”
Someone once said, “A successful marriage demands a divorce; a divorce from your own self-love.” That divorce from self-love, or more properly selfish-love, is accomplished by submitting to one another out of reverence to Christ.
We are not told to submit to our spouse because they deserve it or earned it, but because our love for Christ should drive us to do it. It is an act of love.
Let me submit to you wives out there that what your husband wants more than anything is your respect. If you want to see your husband beam with love for you show him that you respect him.
Don’t walk up to him in the presence of his friends and start complaining about what he forgot or what he hasn’t gotten around to yet.
Don’t gossip about him to your friends.
Don’t go off on him in front of the kids.
If you have something that you think needs to be said, follow this rule: Ask Is it necessary? Is it encouraging? Is it edifying? Does it treat him with dignity? If you can answer yes to those four questions, then what you say will be respectful and loving.
Most importantly, tell him that you respect him. Look him right in the eye and say, “Honey, I just want you to know, I respect you.”
Let me submit to you fellow husbands out there that what your wife longs for more than anything else is your love.
Billy Graham said,
Dogs are quick to show their affection. They never pout, they never bear a grudge. They never run away from home when mistreated. They never complain about their food. They never gripe about the way the house is kept. They are chivalrous and courageous, ready to protect their mistress at the risk of their lives. They love children, and no matter how noisy and boisterous they are, the dog loves every minute of it. In fact, a dog is still competition for a husband. Perhaps if we husbands imitated a few of our dog’s virtues, life with our family might be more amiable.
Take some advice from the dog and show some love for your wife.
Don’t complain about the state of the house.
Don’t balk when she asks for help with the dishes or laundry.
Don’t gossip about her to your friends.
Don’t go off on her in front of the kids.
Take the time to listen to her, hold her, talk to her, and more than anything else tell her that you love her. Look her right in the eye and say, “Honey, I love you.”
Martin Luther—who by the way was a great husband—said, “The Christian is supposed to love his neighbor, and since his wife is his nearest neighbor, she should be his deepest love.”
Christ calls us to submit to one another out of reverence for Him.
Don’t put any conditions on it.
Humbly put away your rationalizations, grudges, gripes, self-righteousness, and pride.
Don’t wait for your spouse to earn it or deserve it. That isn’t why we are supposed to do it, and if we do we will never start.
Wives: respect your husbands.
Husbands: love your wives as you love yourselves.