Read Ephesians 5:22-33
This is going to be a long post but stick with me because in the end you will never have a problem with the word "submission" again.
Today we will carefully examine a section of Scripture that most women have struggled with for centuries. The modern woman of today finds it extremely offensive and some Christian men who have misinterpreted it, use it as an abusive form of control over their wives. It all stems from this one verse: "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord." Let's look into the Word of God and find out exactly what it means to submit to our husbands.
Before we begin, please grab a coloured pencil or highlighter and open your Bibles to Ephesians 5:22-33. Every time you see the word "own" colour it in, or underline it. Do something to make it stand out. You will see why in a minute. Don't have your Bible handy? Visit Biblegateway.com and highlight the word "own" there. It is an excellent site for Bible study as they not only allow you to highlight, but you can take notes that are saved for you as well. So, go highlight the word "own" and then come back here. I'll wait...I'm not going anywhere.
Now, that you have done that, let's look at these verses in context. At the beginning of Ephesians chapter five, Paul encourages the Ephesian converts to be "imitators of God" and so he lays out several keys and examples on how a Christian should live and what is expected of them. Last week, we looked at the Eight Keys to Godly Living and one of the last keys precedes the verses for today. But before we look at that, let's look at the entire section which says:
17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God (Ephesians 5:17-21, NKJV).
As you can see, Paul is setting the context on how we should live for the Lord, and what that should look like in how we relate to each other as members of Christ's body. Last week I shared the meaning on what it meant to submit to one another "in the fear of God". Here it is again: "The word fear in Hebrew is yirah and means "awe or reverence". The "fear of the Lord" means to have an overwhelming sense of His glory or worth. Submitting to one another in the "fear of God" therefore, means we submit out of reverence for God and His holiness. This kind of submission means we do not try to use our wealth, gender or position to "bulldoze" someone into doing what we want. Instead, this kind of submission is done with respect and love for each other and our unity in Christ, out of reverence for God."
Now, with that in mind, let's look at the first few verses and the word "own" that I had you highlight.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:22-24).
Ever wonder why that word "own" is there? Or why Paul had to make such a big deal about wives submitting to their own husbands? The Ephesian converts were a particular concern for the Apostle Paul because Ephesus was the capital of idol worship in the Roman world. It is here where most idols were made and sold. And it is here where the acts of idol worship involved prostitution, orgies, and other sexually immoral acts. This is the culture the Ephesian converts came out of, but it still went on around them every day. These immoral acts did not stop because some became Christians. Every day they struggled with reverting back to their old ways. But, the early believers were torn because of two false doctrines that were sweeping through the church.
The first false doctrine spread was antinomianism. Antinomianism is the belief that you could sin all you want and still be saved because of grace This doctrine, is something that is still promoted today in churches, through leaders like Joseph Prince. The other false doctrine being spread was by the Nicolaitans. They put themselves forward as believers in Jesus Christ and, at the same time, practiced black magic, offered sacrifices to numerous idols and were sexually immoral, all while teaching new believers that all these things were okay with God. In Revelation 2:6 Jesus commended the Ephesians for hating the practices of the Nicolaitans.
Despite that, these false doctrines were spreading throughout the early church because of the practice of idol worship. This is why Paul stressed in Ephesians 5:11, "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." He was earnestly trying to help the Ephesians understand what life in Christ was supposed to look like - and it didn't involve the occult and sexually immoral practices of idol worship. Keep this bit of history in mind as you read this section of Ephesians.
Getting back to the word "own" - because of the sexual immorality involved in idol worship, Ephesian wives (and their husbands) thought nothing about sleeping with other people, hence the reason why Paul needed to stress the importance of wives submitting to their own husbands, as to the Lord.
Now, did you notice that last part - as to the Lord? It goes back to submitting to one another (Eph. 5:21) in the fear of God. So we submit to our husbands because we have reverence (fear - yirah) for God. Why? Because the husband is the head, as Christ is the head of the church and Jesus is the Saviour of that church. So the church as a whole is subject to Christ. We are under his authority. Not in a dogmatic "you do what I say" way, but because His ways (His authority) are for our benefit, that we might become like Him, sanctified, ready to serve Him not only in this world but in the one to come.
Now here is the kicker - we submit to our husbands not because they are superior in any way, but because God has placed upon them a huge responsibility for our spiritual welfare.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. (Ephesians 5:25-27, NKJV).
Again, keep the history of Ephesus in mind. As wives are to be subject to their own husbands (no longer submitting to other men), husbands were to love their own wives. How? As Christ loved the church. And how did Jesus love the church? He gave Himself up for her! And this is what husbands must do for their wives. Why? For one purpose - to sanctify and cleanse them. Jesus is counting on husbands to see that their wives are properly loved and washed (the Greek word is "loutron" and means bathed) in the Word, so that when Jesus comes again, both husband and wife will stand before Him holy and without blemish.
Submission therefore, has nothing to do with women meekly doing whatever they are told, or being subject to the whims of other men. Submission is solely in relation to the husband and wife partnership that is entered upon marriage. Women submit to their husbands out of reverence for God, with the knowledge that the husband is responsible to do everything in his power (give himself up for her) to ensure she will be loved and washed (or bathed) in the Word of God.
Ultimately, we are each responsible for our relationship with the Lord. Single women answer to Jesus alone. He is their head. But those who are married enter into a unique covenant with God. The two become one (Ephesians 5:31) just as Christ and the church are one. And their relationship as Christians is made stronger because of this.
I want to make one thing very clear before I finish. This doesn't always mean the man is right in every circumstance. It also doesn't mean the woman is always right. God's Holy Spirit resides in each of us and He leads and guides each of us equally. So a husband and wife who read the Bible together and pray together will be so much stronger in the Lord and in hearing His voice, then they would be if they ignored this aspect of their marriage. Therefore, if you keep Christ as your head in your marriage submission will come easily.
“The woman was made out of Adam’s side. She was not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved.” - Matthew Henry