Archaic. Smells of male superiority, female inferiority. Opens the door to wife abuse. Maybe okay 2000 years ago, but not now in the 21st century when women are well educated and proven leaders.
Here’s the text this is all about . . .
“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 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. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 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.’ This is a profound mystery– but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:22-32),
Hold on! This is a bone-rattling ride. CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE IMAGES CHRIST’S “MARRIAGE” TO HIS CHURCH.
Twice the church is referred to as the “bride” and “wife” of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7; 21:9) . . .
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready . . . One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.'”
Paul describes that relationship this way . .
- Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
- To make her holy
- Cleansing her
- To present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless
- Christ feeds and cares for the church
Now Paul draws comparisons between Christ’s relationship to his “bride” and Christian marriage . . .
- Wives submit to their husbands as to the Lord.
- For the husband is head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church—its Savior.
- Wives submit to their husbands in everything as the church submits to Christ.
- Husbands love their wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy . . . and to present her to himself as a radiant church.
- Husbands love their wives as their own bodies . . . no one ever hated his own body but . . . feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church.
In other words, Christian wife and husband, ponder Christ’s “marriage” to his church and relate to your wife/husband like that. This is Christian marriage. This is holy marriage. This is staggering.
Human marriage is messy. Routine days. Moments of passionate romance and foolish, “little-things” wars. Dish-washing, laundry doing, house buying, children raising, illness enduring. And in the midst of all that, as the husband loves his wife as Christ loves the church and the wife submits to her husband as the church submits to Christ, their marriage images Christ’s marriage to his church.
This marriage, writes Paul, is “a profound mystery”. Why “mystery”? Marriage’s deepest meaning has been partly hidden but is now being revealed: marriage images the relationship between Christ and his church. “If you want to understand God’s meaning for marriage,” says John Piper (founder and teacher of desiringgod.org), “you have to grasp that we are dealing with a copy and an original . . . ” The original is Christ’s “marriage” to his church; the copy is a Christian man and woman united in marriage.
But how do we love like Christ and submit like the church? How can we carry out Paul’s admonitions? Do we draw up specifications, rules? I (the husband) make all major decisions. You (wife) decide where to grocery shop. Or, you (wife) get a decision every three weeks. Or, if we disagree, I (husband) win, no matter your (wife) input.
Well, this text often comes down to decision-making. But, of course, Paul’s teaching is broader than just decisions and deeper than rules.
Here’s how Lois and I did it. We heard Ephesians 5 preached. Periodically read it. Understood I was to love selflessly like Christ. She was to submit respectfully like the church. We trusted the Holy Spirit to work in us the love and submission he wanted. Then, we just did it. Oh no, not perfectly. In fact, in the first few years I was pretty immature, not the model self-giving lover. Still, Lois submitted. Fifty-five years later, we’re still at it–still loving, still learning.
Still leaning (harder; we’re older) on Jesus.
Leaning, because every day I fall short of loving like him. Yet, by his grace, he causes our marriage to (somewhat) image his to his church. That’s not only holy. It’s a wonder.