One thing that really bugs me is whenever someone takes a chunk of scripture, ignores the context, and forms a theology, doctrine, and mindset based on it. I’ve been guilty of it myself!
One verse that this seems to often be the case with is:
Ephesians 5:22-24 (NIV)
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
From this chunk of scripture, we seem to have arrived at the conclusion that God’s design and purpose for marriage is that the husband lords over the wife (and children) and that everything within the household is done strictly according to the husband’s desires; full slave-like submission.
We’ve seen the ugly result of where this interpretation has left many families. Many have either been dissolved or still together, but badly broken and dysfunctional.
The problem in this is that we have failed to understand the true context of this scripture and the full purpose and intent for how a marriage is to function by God’s design.
At the very first wedding ceremony when God brought Eve to Adam, He shared with us His plan and purpose for marriage. His will is that the two would become one (Genesis 2:24). In fact, the concept of the husband ruling over the wife did not exist in all of creation until sin came onto the scene and corrupted what God had created pure in Genesis 3:16. Submission to Adam was the punishment for Eve’s sin, not God’s plan and purpose. When we choose to carry this same mindset about marriage, we are not living out the purposes of God, but rather the punishment of sin. (Also, God’s plan was always that the husband be a man and the wife a woman and only married to one other for life, but I’m not going there in this article…)
If this is the case, then why would Paul write this to the church in Ephesus? Isn’t that God’s word contradicting itself? Let’s look again at the true context of Ephesians 5, for example, the preceding verse.
Ephesians 5:21 (NIV)
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Mutual submission leads to unity, cooperation, and oneness. This looks far more like the pre-sin state of marriage which carries about God’s plans and purposes for marriage; that they be united together as one.
We also can’t fail to review the analogy given to the wife submitting to the husband; she is to do it as the church submits to Christ in everything. Although, Christ is the Lord of Lords, He does not lord over the church. He doesn’t force His will, His opinions, and His way of thinking on us. Rather, the church operates in full and willing cooperation with Christ, following His example of leadership with fullness of servanthood and with great joy, seeing the will of Christ done here on earth. Christ fully served the church and even gave His life to be able to present His bride as perfect and without blemish or sin. The church is built up and not torn down by Christ. The church is empowered and not rejected by Christ. The church grows and is encouraged into its full destiny and not snuffed out, put down, and discouraged by Christ. The church is highly valued and adored by Christ and not mistreated or neglected by Him.
In fact, when we look at the context, we find that the wife’s responsibility that we tend to focus on is quite minimal compared to the responsibility of the husband. We completely miss the purpose for marriage if we carry around this serious imbalance that the wife fully submit and the husband just does whatever he wants. Let’s take a look at the husband’s responsibility.
Ephesians 5:25-33 (NIV)
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
The husband is to give himself completely up for his wife, wash her with the word, present her as perfect and blameless, feed and care for her, and love her. This is a heavy and great responsibility before God compared to just submitting to someone!
Hopefully, this shed a bit of light on God’s true plan and purpose for marriage and that it encourages us to place more of an emphasis on our own responsibility in the marriage and less of an emphasis on what our spouse’s responsibility is. Hopefully, it encourages us to have our marriages carry forth God’s true intent; to be one, so fully and completely submitting to one another and cooperating with one another that we are inseparable. What a powerful, fulfilling, and joyful relationship our marriages can and should be!