This is the final installment of a short series on marriage by one of our blog contributors, Linda Rice. Read below to see the final part in this marriage series, and if you need to catch up on previous posts, head to our “Blog” tab!
Submission* for anyone is difficult and risky. Yet, Ephesians 5:22-23 says “the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church” and “as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” Submit to him? Her eyes narrow, brows furrow, body stiffens, “Why should I?!”
Minus the attitude, that is a good question. While the fact that God has commanded submission is a sufficient reason, there is much more. The resistant woman has zoomed her focus so narrow that she fills the screen of her own mind with herself while off screen is the rest of an immense landscape. It is important to see this command in context. Therefore, let’s zoom out and then back in to begin to understand the command.
When you zoom out on the book of Ephesians the two verses of 5:22-23 shrink to their place within the big picture. Overall, Ephesians answers the question, “How does the church work in God’s kingdom plan?” It tells us what the church is and how it works in history, like why prophets and apostles came before pastors-teachers. It explains how one may enter the church through salvation and that believers in the church comprise one new humanity in Christ. It also explains how the church witnesses to the world by applying those truths in practical living. Where do authority and submission fit on this theological map, for wives in particular?
Godly submission is wrapped in the context of supernatural blessings. (1:1-14) Ephesians begins with a stunning catalog of spiritual blessings. Along with all other believers, a woman in Christ is loved, chosen to be saved, made holy, and adopted as God’s child. In Christ she is redeemed, lavished with grace, and forgiven. In Christ she was sealed with the Holy Spirit, confirming the promise that she will inherit eternal life with Jesus. Does she have reason to be grateful or what! Whatever submission means, it is obviously wrapped with love.
Godly submission acts out of a privileged identity in Christ. (1:1-14) All of the blessings are given to those who are “in Christ Jesus,” “in Christ,” “in Him,” “in the Beloved.” The believer is placed in Christ, who submitted to the will of His Father even unto death. Imagine — united to the very Son of God! This is the identity of the believer. Whatever submission means, it is characteristic of a believer because it is grounded in a heavenly identity in Christ.
Godly submission acts toward an exalted purpose. (1:1-14) Why all of these blessings? They are “to Himself,” “to the praise of His glory,” “to the praise of His glory,” “to the praise of His glory” (1:5, 6, 12, 14). Her identity in Christ is for the purpose of imaging the identity of Christ, so He will be exalted. Therefore, while she rightly enjoys His gifts, they are not primarily for her indulgence, not for building her self-worth, but for her to value the worth of Christ. His blessings to her display His glory. Whatever submission means, it is for a purpose far beyond herself — to the praise of His glory.
Godly submission is fueled by supernatural resources. (1:1-2:10) In Christ, a wife is given powerful resources — the wisdom of the Word, hope, knowledge of the riches of His glory and the surpassing greatness of His power. Raised and seated with Christ, she has access to the Father, and has works to do that He has already planned for her. Whatever submission means, she has all that is necessary to do it.
Godly submission is lived in the context of building the church: local and universal. (2:11-3:22) She is a fellow-heir, equal before the Lord with all other believers in His eternal kingdom. United with them in God’s family, she is an integral part of God’s great building project — the church. This church is composed of believers in her local church and spanning the globe, every ethnic group, and two-plus millennia. A wife is one stone being fitted into the immense dwelling — get this — of God Himself! To what purpose? “To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.” Whatever submission means, it is an essential part of a magnificent and monumental building project which extends immeasurably beyond herself, her home, and even her lifespan.
Godly submission is an essential labor for growing the church. (4:1-5:17, 33) The church is the body of Christ. Its growth is His work. Yet, He also commands that we work. Walking in love, in light, and in wisdom, a wife can be used by God to help unite and fortify His beloved church. God weaves her into His work of adorning the beauty of her local church and the church universal which God will present to His Son. Whatever submission means, by it a wife gets to participate with God in the growing of the body of Christ.
Godly submission is powered by the Holy Spirit. (5:18, 21; 6:10-24) The command in 5:18 to “be filled with the Spirit” is carried out in “speaking,” “singing,” “giving thanks,” and “being subject…wives to your own husbands…” Submission so goes against our natural inclination that it requires divine strength. In addition to the Spirit, God has provided His armor to overcome our sin nature. Whatever submission means, it requires the Holy Spirit’s empowerment and, when practiced, displays the Holy Spirit’s work — to the praise of His glory.
Looking at this broad satellite map of Ephesians laid on the table before you, zoom in on 5:22-6:9.
Godly submission is practiced in specific relationships, not generalities. (5:22-6:9) Chapter 5:22-6:9 narrows the focus to relational practicalities, listing the administrative responsibilities of husbands, wives, children, slaves, and masters in the nitty-gritty of down-home relationships. Each exercises authority or submission according to his God-given role. Whatever submission means, it requires living in accord with God’s ordained authority-submission structure.
Now zoom closer to a a section particular to wives. Verses 5:22-27 say,
“Wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her; that He might sanctify her…that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory…holy and blameless.”Ephesians 5:22-27
Godly submission by a wife images the body of Christ loving Christ. Submission is not for oppression; it is for imaging. How does the church work in God’s kingdom plan? By submission to her husband in the power of the Spirit, a wife shows the beauty, joy, and blessings of being ruled by Christ. How does the church work in God’s redemptive plan? By submission to her husband in the power of the Spirit, a wife shows the radical difference salvation makes in one’s life. The godly submission of each wife (and each person in his/her particular role per 5:22-6:9) in the local church promotes peace in that congregation and magnifies the radical difference the Holy Spirit makes in the body of Christ in which they participate. Whatever submission means, it places a wife into the exalted purpose of imaging the body of Christ for a witness to the world and the joy of God.
Here’s my point. What I do with submission to my husband is vital for the very reason that it is not just about me and my rights in our little house on the prairie, a speck on the globe and a tiny blip on the line of history. The same goes for you. The issues of submission and rebellion can be traced all the way back to the Garden (and before). Submission glorified God; rebellion dishonored Him. Submission preserved perfection; rebellion wrecked the world. Rebellion pits wife against husband, child against parent, employee against employer, citizen against ruler, man against God, and earns hell. By submission to the Father, Christ bought forgiveness and eternal life for those who submit to Christ.
When we wives struggle with submission to husbands, it helps if we stop filling our mental screen with self and zoom out to see the greater landscape — that how a wife applies God’s command to submit…
…will hamper or help her husband in his obedience,
…will model for her children how to rebel or how to honor authority,
…will hinder or edify others in her local church,
…will tear down or build the body of Christ,
…will besmirch or enhance the image of Christ,
…will resist or contribute to God’s plan for His rule,
…will adorn or hinder the gospel of redemption.
What she does with God’s command to submit will withhold or increase glory to God.
*Note: By “submission” I do not mean doormat theology or silence when oppression should be exposed. Biblical submission means “to rank oneself under,” to willingly and not under coercion place yourself under leadership.