The Holy Covenant of Marriage
Part 3: Submission and Leadership
“Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:24 NIV).
Perhaps no other Scripture is more misunderstood than the concept of submission in marriage. Although there is much Scripture regarding marital roles, perhaps none is cited more than Ephesians 5. It should be noted that the first directive for submission is for general submission to each other. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). This submission is in deference to the ultimate leadership of the husband for the health and harmonious working of the marriage relationship.
One of the more highly debated verses, which occurs later in Ephesians 5. concerns the role of a Christian wife. “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:24). This Scripture is troubling to many wives and needs further explanation. Since the best method to understand Scripture is other Scripture, we see that the concept of submission from Ephesians 5:24 is supported in Colossians 3:18-19. “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” This idea is further reinforced in 1 Peter 3:1. “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives.”
These Scriptures are often misinterpreted to mean that women are viewed as second-class citizens. However, this is not true. Scripture states that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23). A good husband loves his wife unconditionally and is a servant leader just like Christ.
The submission of wives is not like the obedience children owe parents (Ephesians 6:1), nor does this text command all women to submit to all men (only to your own husbands, not to all husbands!). Both genders are equally created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–28) and joint heirs of eternal life (Galatians 3:28–29). Both genders should be equally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14) in their Christian walk with Jesus.
The husband and wife are equal partners but charged with different areas of responsibility. The husband is asked to love his wife and the wife is asked to respect her husband. The final directive of Ephesians 5 details the different requirements of the couple.
“However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:33, emphasis added).” Remember, both are equally called to submit to each other so therefore both are effectively called to love and respect the other.
Equality is an important concept to understand as we probe into marital roles. The equality of the husband and wife is similar to that of God and Jesus. The Son told us He had equal authority as the Father.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Matthew 28:18).
Here, He is proclaiming His divinity and equality to the Father in this Scripture. At Calvary, Jesus, while still being equally yoked to the Father, showed His submission to the Father by stating, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Matthew 26:39, emphasis added). Not only did He die in submission, but He lived and ministered in submission. “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me” (John 6:38). Jesus taught that prayer is a form of submission to the Father. When Jesus gave the disciples the Lord’s prayer, He taught them to pray for God’s sovereign rule (not His rule) by speaking, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, emphasis added).
It is important to note that the focus in these verses is on Christ because husbands do not “sanctify” their wives or “wash” them of their sins, though they are to do all in their power to promote their wives’ holiness.
The leadership of the husband is defined by Paul not as demanding his rights but rather as laying down his life for the good of his wife (Ephesians 5:25).
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
Jesus walked this earth as a servant leader and gave His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45) Jesus is also the head of the church. Men, your primary church is your family, and you serve as a priest for that family. The right next step after reading this is to joyfully and readily serve, honor, and cherish your wife.
Sacrificial action is an integral part of the husband’s role as the head of the home. Again, Christ is a wonderful example of this. He demonstrated servant leadership by washing his disciple’s feet. In marriage, being a servant leader means ensuring that the wife’s material, emotional and spiritual needs are met.
Let me leave you with one final thought. Men, are you giving mercy and forgiveness to your wife as freely as God has given it to you? If not, now is the time to start.
Prayer: Dear God, May we focus our attention on submitting ourselves to You rather than the submission of our wives to ourselves. Amen.
Meet the Author
Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
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