In this lesson we are going to tackle two words that most people shy away from when discussing marriage – headship and submission. Instead of flinching, we are going to tackle these concepts head on (sorry for the pun). We will do it the only way that will bring us truth and peace – Scripturally and in context. Here we go.
Ephesians V: Christ and His Bride – Husbands and Wives
THE MYSTERY AND THE HEADSHIP
One of my husband’s greatest enjoyments is doing jigsaw puzzles. He is a whiz-bang at it. My contribution is to find the end pieces for him: I cannot even put them together. However, the Lord can help me put Biblical “puzzles” together and I am going to explain one of the greatest puzzles He has ever shown me.
Eph 5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Eph 5:22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.
Eph 5:23 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.
Eph 5:24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
Eph 5:26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,
Eph 5:27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Eph 5:28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
Eph 5:29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—
Eph 5:30 for we are members of his body.
Eph 5:31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
Eph 5:32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Eph 5:33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
The essence of this passage is the mystery (v.32) that refers to Christ and His church, His bride. It is, therefore, essential that we look at that first before going to the earthly husband-wife relationship. Like all mysteries, or puzzles, the only way they can be solved is to look closely at each piece or clue and then connect it to the others. Our first clue is “fullness.” There will be a number of other Scriptural clues throughout this report.
Eph 1:22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,
Eph 1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Eph 5:23 states that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which He is the Savior. If head had meant authority, the appropriate designation for Christ would have been “Lord” instead of “Savior” which is consistently a self-sacrificing, life-giving servant role in the New Testament.
The word “fullness” means completion and denotes union. This verse clearly shows that the relationship between Christ and His church, His bride, is one of two help meets, each of whom is incomplete without the other. As head, Christ gives the church fullness. He provides for the church’s growth. The function is not one of authority but of servant provider of what makes the church’s growth possible.
Isn’t it interesting that Adam was, in a sense, complete within himself before Eve. Yet, after God so wisely had Adam review and name the animals, Adam realized he was alone. How similar this is to Eph 1:23 when it was said of Jesus that He fills all in all yet He needs a “fullness” to complete Him – namely the church, His bride. So too does Adam realize he needs something to complete him. God creates the woman from within man himself and that same man only then says “This is NOW bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” The man, Adam, was one and alone. From his side God formed (builded up) a woman and Adam NOW felt complete and proclaimed such infinite, intimate love that he affirmed that love and her by saying she was “bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh” and for her he left his father’s house and became hers alone. NOW Adam was complete. NOW Adam had his fullness.
23 And Adam said:“This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.”
– Genesis 2:23New King James Version (NKJV)
When God first instituted marriage it was before the Fall and before sin entered the Garden – therefore, the Marriage of Adam and Eve was His ideal marriage. It is this kind of marriage, this kind of help meet that God ultimately desires; this kind of submitting one to another; this kind of headship.
It is for the bride of the LAMB that the church is to be trained. She, like Jesus, the Lamb of God, is to be trained in servanthood, humility and the giving up of her “rights.” One of the last acts of Jesus on this earth was the beautiful and humbling one of washing the feet of His apostles:
Jn 13:13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.
Jn 13:14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.
Jn 13:15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
The earthly marriage is an echo of the heavenly one. The tie-in between the two can be seen in the book of Hosea in this amazing passage:
Hos 2:16 And it will come about in that day, declares the Lord, that you will call Me Ishi and will no longer call Me Baali.
The Words Ishi and Baali both mean “my husband” but the concepts are totally different. Ishi is the Lord’s type of husband – one who has a true agape love for his wife, a husband of servanthood. Baali, named for Baal, the false god, is a husband of domination.
Ishi and Baali both signify my husband, but Ishi is a compilation of love and sweetness and familiarity, Baali of subjection. Ishi is “my man”; Baali is “my lord.” This intimates that in gospel times the church’s husband will be the “man” Christ Jesus, made like unto His brethren, and therefore they shall call Him Ishi not Baali (Henry).
Ishi is a term we may not realize we have seen before. It is the name Adam used for himself in the garden when he saw Eve and knew she was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Ishi (Adam) knew he would leave all and cleave to his Ishah (Eve) and God decreed that the two of them would become one. It is to these verses in Gen 2 that direct reference is made when the Lord speaks of the marriage He desires with His bride. This is our pattern.
As we look more closely at Eph 5 this concept of headship, not as a rule, but as a self-sacrificing, nourishing, cherishing love becomes more apparent. In accordance with His headship, Christ “gave Himself up for the church”, “sanctified her ,”and “presents her to Himself in glorious splendor.” This headship is a total giving, a total surrender. This is the standard a man is to use as he is head of his wife. Jesus has said the husband is to love his wife with the same self-sacrificing love in which Christ loves the church. A husband would, like Jesus, spare nothing, even his own life, for his wife. As Jesus nourishes, cherishes and dies for His church, so, too, the husband is to do the same for his wife. As Jesus causes the “growth of the body for the building itself up in love” (Eph 4:16), so, too, the husband is to be concerned with the growth of his wife.
In Eph 4:13-16 the emphasis is on the growth of the body of Christ, the church, toward spiritual maturity. The husband who follows Christ’s example will likewise do all in his power to help his wife in her spiritual growth. Such a husband will not force his wife into a mold that stifles her gifts, her spirit. Unless he has such an attitude of deep concern for his wife’s freedom and growth, he is not loving her as Christ loves the church. (Scanzoni and Hardesty)
The husband, in acting like Christ did in His headship, will be conformed to Jesus. By his actions the husband will allow his wife to also be conformed to the Lord.
When two people become one flesh, this does not mean that the identity of the one (the wife) is absorbed into some mystical oneness with the other (the husband), but that both are conformed to a common personality of which each partakes, in which each shares, by virtue of the marriage relationship. And this common personality` is Jesus (Jewett).
Since I am a wife, when I dwell on the roles of the husband and wife in a marriage, I find that the Amplified version of Ephesians 5:33 guides me in my actions:
33 However, let each man of you [without exception] love his wife as [being in a sense] his very own self; and let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband [[a]that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates, and esteems him; and [b]that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly].
– Ephesians 5:33Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)
Before we go one step further, we are going to go one step back. It seems that whenever anyone discusses submission the discussion always begins at v.22 – “ wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as to the Lord.” In context, however, we need to take a step back to verse 21.
Eph 5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
This is a command to all Christians not just wives. Verse 22 is simply further explaining the wife’s role of submission in marriage in v. 21-24 and 33. In the fuller rendering of the concept of” submitting one to another” in verse 21, we can see the husband’s “submission” in verses 25-33. The remainder of the verses in chapter five, therefore, simply lay out how both wife and husband are to go about this. It is also always our reverence for Christ that defines the mutual submission of one to another – even in marriage. Ultimately our submission is really to the Lord. Keeping that simple thought in our minds will make any “hardship” in marriage a joy because it is, after all, done unto Him.
It is necessary to get a clear, workable and Biblically accurate idea of submission before we proceed. The Bible requires submission of wives to husbands. Yet this word submission has been often misunderstood. The wife is not to kowtow herself to her husband. The Amplified Bible in v. 33 uses these words for submit: respect, regard, prefer, praise, admire him exceedingly.
It would be wise, particularly in this case, because it has created so much controversy, to dig deeper into a Concordance – based explanation and a respected commentary on the word “Hupotásso “ (submit).
Hupotásso means to submit (to yield to governance or authority), to place in subjection. It is important to note that many of the NT uses are in the passive voice with a middle voice which signifies the voluntary subjection of oneself to the will of another. Husbands and wives both need to understand the voluntary nature of the submission called for in the marital relationship lest it be misapplied.
One another (240) (allelon) in Ephesians 5:21 means each other and speaks of a mutuality or sharing of sentiments between two persons or groups of persons. Allelon is a reciprocal pronoun which denotes that the encouragement and edification is to be a mutual beneficial activity. As each one submits, encourages, loves, etc. the other member, they both benefit. This is God’s description and prescription for a healthy marriage(qtd. in “Ephesians 5:21-22 Commentary.”)
In the attitude of true Christian submission, to do what the husband requests would be the joy of the wife’s heart. She would place his needs above her own. She would die to any rights she might have, choosing rather to consider his needs and desires instead of her rights. She would look at the submission of Jesus to His Father as her model – doing everything in an attitude of heart that desires to do her husband’s will rather than her own. Nothing would ever be inconvenient, tedious, or burdensome that her husband would request of her. She is his servant as much as he is hers. She willingly chooses to submit her will to her husband as Jesus submitted His will to the Father’s. All she did for her husband would be in an attitude of respect, honor and esteem and with a wholehearted joy. In this she would find peace.
If the two had a conflict or a decision to make, in the attitude of Christian submission, the wife would fully and completely express her opinions and feelings on the matter, being respectful of the husband as he would be to her. She would be “naked and not ashamed” (Gen 2:25) laying bare all of herself to her husband. She would not be silent; neither would she try to persuade him, manipulate him or use her feminine wiles on him. She would pay him the courtesy and respect of giving him all the input of her feelings on a matter. She would also go to the Lord, Who is her Head, and submit herself to Him by laying bare all her feelings and would not leave His presence until she had the perfect peace in her heart as to what God’s will is in the situation. If that meant allowing the Lord to deal with sin within her, she would willingly submit and die to self. As the husband has laid down his self life and his will in the situation, so, too, would she. She would totally conform herself, just as he has done, to the perfect will of God. She would not put the additional, and unscriptural, burden on her husband of going only to him and not also to the Lord. She is to be obedient to the verse in 1 Timothy 2:5 that states that not even her husband is to be a mediator between her and God: only Jesus has that right. “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5 (NKJV).
Her husband needs to know what God is saying to her so that they may confirm each other and be in perfect union with the Lord. However, it would not surprise her, especially in a situation where she is the one who is more troubled and fearful, if the Lord simply told her to let her husband decide for both of them. She would know that she was obeying God’s direction to her and would trust the Lord for giving her husband guidance.
It was thus that Sarah obeyed Abraham [following his guidance ] calling him lord. And you are now her true daughters if you do right and let nothing terrify you [not giving way to hysterical fears or letting anxieties unnerve you].
– 1Peter 3:6(AMP)
On the other hand, if she felt it was in contradiction to the Lord’s will, she would not even attempt to conform herself to her husband’s will. She would remember that Eph 5:22 says “Wives, submit yourself to your husbands in the fear of the Lord.” Her prayer would be simply: Father, allow us both to be in agreement with your perfect will for our lives. If, after she and her husband had gone to the Lord in prayer and submission to His will, there was disagreement between them, she, as well as he, would realize that neither of them can dare decide what to do until they are in total agreement with the will of God and each other. If there is disagreement, they would both have to re-submit themselves to the Lord and each other and humble themselves still further until their wills, individually and together, were in total agreement with His. Neither can ever go against God’s will just to please the other since that would be a denial of the ultimate purpose of their marriage – and that is training in total surrender to the will of God so as to be conformed to the image of Jesus and prepared for being the Lamb’s bride.
Neither the male ego nor the female ego “win”; both are broken by Christ to express a life of surrender to Him, surrender to each other and surrender to the world for which he died. (Williams)
Hence, this earthly marriage is seen as nothing more than the training ground for the heavenly marriage. Everything here is done with Jesus as the model, with Him occupying chief place, with us being conformed to His image. The husband learns how to give selflessly; the wife learns the same. In the action of both of them laying down their lives for each other, they become one in Jesus.
In Eph 5: 25 (Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her), the key word is “give.” Wives are to submit themselves to the giving of their husbands. Husbands are to be the head of their wives as they give themselves to and for their wives. Here is service – the giving of one to another. Here is the mind and attitude of Christ which renounces its rights to live humbly in the world (Phil 2: 5-11). The ground for all this is that the command of Genesis 2:24, the union of the husband and wife in one flesh, is now fulfilled redemptively in the union of Christ and His church (Eph 5: 31-32). Since we are members of His body, united to Christ, this must manifest itself in the marriage relationship. Apart from Christ and the church, the union of marriage in “one flesh” will never be possible. Only as we are united to Christ are we united to each other. The ordinance of marriage can now only be fulfilled in Christ. (Williams).
A BEAUTIFUL EXAMPLE OF A CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE
1Pe 3:3 Let not yours be the [merely] external adorning with [elaborate] interweaving and knotting of the hair, the wearing of jewelry, or changes of clothes;
1Pe 3:4 But let it be the inward adorning and beauty of the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible and unfading charm of a gentle and peaceful spirit, which [is not anxious or wrought up, but] is very precious in the sight of God.
1Pe 3:5 For it was thus that the pious women of old who hoped in God were [accustomed] to beautify themselves and were submissive to their husbands [adapting themselves to them as themselves secondary and dependent upon them].
1Pe 3:6 It was thus that Sarah obeyed Abraham [following his guidance and acknowledging his headship over her by] calling him lord. And you are now her true daughters if you do right and let nothing terrify you [not giving way to hysterical fears or letting anxieties unnerve you].
1Pe 3:7 In the same way you married men should live considerately with [your wives], with an intelligent recognition [of the marriage relation], honoring the woman as [physically] the weaker, but [realizing that you] are joint heirs of the grace of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered and cut off. [Otherwise you cannot pray effectively.]
Ge 18:10 [The Lord] said, I will surely return to you when the season comes round, and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son. And Sarah was listening and heard it at the tent door which was behind Him.
Ge 18:11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in years; it had ceased to be with Sarah as with [young] women. [She was past the age of childbearing].
Ge 18:12 Therefore Sarah laughed to herself, saying, After I have become aged shall I have pleasure and delight, my lord (husband), being old also? [1 Pet. 3:6]
To understand these verses and their relationship to the rest of this report, we need to look back to Genesis 18 which relates the story of the three angels – One of Whom was the Lord – coming to Abraham and, within hearing of Sarah, tell him – and Sarah – that next year at this time they will have the child of the promise. Sarah, realizing the advanced age of each of them, laughs and remarks to herself: After I have become aged, shall I pleasure and delight my lord being old also? But knowing that she has not been concerned with the external adorning of herself but with the inward adorning of the hidden person of the heart (1Peter 3: 3-4), and knowing that the promise of the Lord was true (for she “hoped in God” 1Pe 3:5), she takes delight in the fact that her “lord” will delight in her. The connotation of the word “lord” is not found here to be in the context of a ruling relationship of husband over wife, but rather it is used in an affectionate, loving way.
Sarah assumed her place at Abraham’s side with dignity and grace. She hoped in God and she adorned herself with the eternal garment of a true womanly spirit born of her wifely vocation under God…Women may attain real beauty of character and spirit only by patiently putting on the apparel of God’s grace as it is known in Christ. (The Interpreter’s Bible)
The verses go on in 1Peter 3 to remind husbands that while the wife holds a weaker position physically, she is to be honored nonetheless because she is, with him, a “joint heir of the grace of life.” The word “honored” in v.7 means “with the highest degree of esteem.” His relationship with her is to reflect the fact that she and he are both equal before God. The husband is also to remember the equality of this situation as being joint heirs of grace with the admonition that “his prayers not be cut off.”
Husbands are also counseled that the treatment of their wives is related to their spiritual condition and growth. The spiritual or prayer life may be definitely hindered by self-centeredness in marriage. While marriage is a gift of God for the happiness and welfare of mankind, it is more than an end in itself: it may really be a means of grace through which husband and wife enter more fully into companionship with God. (The Interpreter’s Bible)
Theirs is to be a marriage based on love, respect and obedience to the will of God. Since they are both “joint heirs,” it is obvious that they are both enjoined to a union that depends on Jesus. Hence, what blends them together is the affection and esteem in which they hold each other coupled with the unassailable fact that they enjoy equal rank spiritually in the kingdom of God as “joint heirs of the grace of life.”
A Sad Reminder
Marriage is one of the most fulfilling, precious gifts the Lord has given us. I tried to write as balanced a report as I could according to the Scriptures.As I wrote this report, there were some goals I had in mind. It is written in the hopes of eliminating any power struggles in marriages. On the contrary, humility and servanthood as regards both husband and wife are stressed. It is written so that each partner lives up to his/her potential to be trained in servanthood to eventually become the bride of the Lamb of God.
It cannot be stressed strongly enough that any teaching that upsets the balance of the marriage union – “the two becoming one flesh” – is to be rejected. Any teaching that would advocate placing the man in a dominant role or the female on a pedestal are both wrong. Neither one embodies the heart of a servant.
Phil 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6. Who, being in very nature God,did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 6. but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!
– Philippians 2:3-8
That is how He was the Lamb of God and that is how we will become the Bride of the Lamb. That is the marriage that this earthly marriage is training us for.
Can you change your focus from “submission” to doing everything in “reverence to the Lord?” It will make marriage infinitely sweeter.
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Next week we are going to tie up some “loose threads.” (Yes, I know I was “punny” again – my husband encourages it). For those of you late to this blog, it might be of value for you to know that the very first person I discussed this entire report with was my husband. Through our discussion I understood even more clearly what the Lord was trying to show me. He’s a quiet guy but – if any of you remember an old advertisement – when he talks, everyone listens. He, our two children and myself were all saved within a four month period. The “children” married believers and the four grandchildren have all committed their lives to the Lord. We’ve been married 52 years – he’s a keeper. We were married for 13 years before we knew the Lord. Since we’ve known Him, our marriage – always good – has grown even better. Interestingly, individually, we have also grown. All of this growth can only be attributed to one simple fact: both of us have grown in our walks with the Lord. That’s the whole secret to a marriage that brings total fulfillment – the Lord is the Head of both husband and wife.
I would like to thank my fellow consultants for all their assistance in getting this blog published: Hannah Hall, Michelle Arrington, Ariel Mcgarry, Carol White, J.P.Wilhelm, and Tracy Yoder. Their encouragement and patience have been invaluable to me.
Jewett, Paul King. Man as Male and Female: a Study in Sexual Relationships from a Theological Point of View. W.B. Eerdmans, 1990.
The Interpreter’s Bible. Abingdon Press, 1982.
Williams, Don. Apostle Paul and Women in the Church. Gospel Light Publications, 1987.
Featured Image: Taken from LuAnnsLooseThreads at http://luannsloosethreads.blogspot.de/p/knit-mitered-square-sock-blanket.html