Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord

The Greek word for ‘submit’ (hupotasso) means to place oneself in a lower rank than someone else.

 As we look at Paul’s first set of instructions on the responsibility of mutual submission in marriage, it is important to remember that his writings have divine authority. I know it’s become popular today to dismiss anything that Paul says about women and marriage because his teaching often contradicts popular cultural aspirations about gender and egalitarian concepts of marriage. Nevertheless, we mustn’t forget that Paul’s writings represent the mind of God. As the apostle Peter says, “Paul writes with the wisdom God gave him. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). So Peter makes it clear that the apostles believed Paul’s writings had the status of Scripture.

 When it comes to Paul’s instructions to women, he says that their responsibility within marriage is regulated by the command in 5:21 that all Christians should submit to one another. His command to wives is as follows, “wives to your husbands as to the Lord.” The word ‘submit’ is missing, though it’s clearly implied. This is obviously deliberate on Paul’s part. The fact that he does not repeat the word, ‘submit’, suggests that wives are not being singled out and given a subservient status. Instead, they are simply called to do the same as everyone else in the church, that is, submit to one another.

It should be of interest to us that Paul starts and finishes this short section by specifying whom wives should submit to: “their own husbands” (v24). Paul does not envisage women as a group coming under the authority of men in general, nor are men automatically elevated to a position of authority over all women. There is nothing inherently wrong with a woman being a political, educational or business leader. Paul only speaks of submission in terms of a married woman’s responsibility to her own husband’s headship. In other words, a wife’s submission is seen in the love, service and cooperation that she offers to her husband.

What exactly does a wife’s submission involve? The Greek word for ‘submit’ (hupotasso) means to place oneself in a lower rank than someone else. In other words, it means the wife should seek to please her husband before herself. We should notice that in a Christian marriage, this is a reciprocal responsibility of both the husband and the wife. Each must serve the other. A Christian husband is meant to give himself up for the wife as Christ gave himself up for church. This requires that a husband must not serve himself, but must devote himself to serving the best interests of his wife. The wife’s responsibility, in turn, is to offer her husband cooperation and loving devotion.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that the idea of submission is not exactly the same as that of obedience. The Greek word for ‘obey’ is hupakouo. This is what Paul required of children and slaves (Ephesians 6:1, 5). However, a wife is neither a child nor a slave. She is an equal partner in the most personal and intimate relationship in the world. She is involved in a union where the two parties offer themselves to one another in mutual devotion. They belong to one another and the Christian pattern in the marriage relationship is that both husband and wife should serve each other’s needs before their own, based on the example of the relationship of Christ and the church.

What does Paul mean when he tells husbands to love their wives?

“Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”

(Ephesians 5:25)

 What does Paul mean when he tells husbands to love their wives? The word, ‘love,’ is used in many different ways today and much of this usage betrays an underlying confusion. When Paul talks about love, particularly in reference to a husband’s love for his wife, we need to remember that he speaks about love in a special sense. In the Greek language of the first century there were a number of words that were sometimes used to describe what we commonly call ‘love’. If we are to understand Paul’s instructions to husbands, then we need to understand this and know the different meanings.

Essentially, there are four words in Greek that are used to express the different shades of meaning in the word ‘love’. The first of these, the word eros, from which we get the English word, erotic, refers essentially to love between the sexes. It relates to sexual passion and attraction. The term itself is not actually found in the New Testament, and this has led some Christians to conclude that this kind of love is unworthy of a believer. But is this so? After all, human beings have a physical and emotional nature, so it seems reasonable to think that sexual love is natural, even if at times people express it in perverted ways.

I know that some Christians think that romantic love is irrelevant in marriage. They have the idea that a Christian man can marry any Christian woman. A man once said to me that he felt that he could marry any of the women in his local church. Well, perhaps, but I’m sure there would have been a lot of women heading to the exits when they saw him coming. I don’t think that we can discount the idea of sexual attraction. It seems to be a factor in drawing certain men and women together and some of the resentment that women have for arranged marriages suggests that this is so. If you’ve seen the comedy, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you’ll know exactly what I mean. It’s good and natural that there is a physical attraction between a husband and a wife, but that’s not what Paul is saying here.

Now there are other words in Greek for expressing love as well. One of them is the word phileo, from which we derive the English word ‘philanthropic’.  It refers to fondness or affection for someone. Another word is storge, which has to do with family affection such as a child’s love for its mother or father.

However, when Paul speaks of a husband’s love for his wife, he uses the Greek word, agapao. This word is always used in the Bible to describe God’s love for us. It’s not that the other forms of love don’t come into a Christian marriage – they do. A quick reading of the Song of Solomon should dispel any doubts that romantic love has a central place in marriage. The Bible definitely affirms the physical side of life (1 Timothy 4:4).

Nevertheless, what Paul is saying is this: faith in Christ makes a real difference to a marriage.  Above and beyond the natural attraction that two people may have for each other, and over and above their common interests and companionship, there is an even higher love to which they can rise. A Christian marriage needs to be crowned and glorified by the presence of the divine love that is expressed by the husband to his wife.

How should a Christian husband treat his wife?

We must not forget that this is part of his responsibility of mutual submission in his personal relationships.

“Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”
(Ephesians 5:25)

How should a Christian husband treat his wife? While some men treat their wives as little more than a convenience, the apostle Paul tells us that Christian husbands have a special responsibility to “love their wives as Christ loved the church.”

When we think of a Christian husband’s responsibility to love his wife, we must not forget that this is part of his responsibility of mutual submission in his personal relationships. Of course, it would be easy to think that because a husband is referred to as the ‘head of the wife’ that he thereby gets to impose his will and desires on her whenever he likes. However, this is not so.

It is interesting that Paul doesn’t say, “Husbands, keep your wives in place; order them around and control their lives.” Instead, he says, “Love them just as Christ loved the church.” This means that Christian husbands should love their wives in the same way that the Christ shows His love for the church; sacrificially, tenderly, and with a servant’s heart. There is no suggestion here that a husband can act unilaterally, throw his weight around, or dominate his wife.

I know it’s easy for some men to interpret the idea of headship in terms of power and the right to command. However, if we are ever tempted to think this way, we need to remember that Jesus expressly disavows any ideas of headship, leadership and authority that exclusively focus on command or domination.

I suppose it’s not surprising that men are often confused about this. After all, even the apostles had confused ideas about leadership and authority right up until the time that Jesus died. The Gospels tell us that they generally understood authority in terms of power, control and privilege. On one particular occasion, Jesus challenged these notions: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over their peoples, and their officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But it shall not be so among you. Instead,” He said, “Whoever wants to be great must become a servant and whoever wants to be first must become your slave. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).

On the night on which He was betrayed, Jesus gave a very poignant reminder of this principle by washing the apostle’s feet. In the first century world, washing the feet of houseguests was the work of a menial slave. Although Jesus was their rabbi, He took upon himself a slave’s uniform and performed a slave’s duty for His followers. Afterwards He said, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you… Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:12-17).

Do you see Jesus’ point? He’s reminding us that even if we have authority over others, as Christians our task is nevertheless to serve other people selflessly. This means that a Christian husband, while he may be the head of his wife, nevertheless has the responsibility in that position to serve his wife and minister to her needs. For a Christian, authority always requires service.

Be Filled With The Spirit

William Wilberforce, the British social reformer, says in his book, A Practical View of Christianity, that nowhere is the difference between nominal Christianity and the true faith more apparent than in a person’s awareness and experience of the Holy Spirit.

Oh what a feeling

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