Ephesians 5:22-24 “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.”
If we lose the picture the Apostle Paul is using here, we won’t understand these words at all. Almost every picture we have in our heads for the word “submit” involves someone getting less–less freedom, less power, less dignity, less influence. What if there were a picture of this kind of relationship that showed you getting something more? The picture exists. It is the picture Paul paints in this passage.
First, how do we relate to Jesus here? Do we think of all the rules we have to keep? Is life with Jesus mostly about the things you have to give up or the work you have to do? Some people who don’t really know Jesus think about him that way.
But our relationship with Jesus always starts at the cross. Long before any of us ever knew Jesus, he loved us so much that he let himself be crucified. For six hours he slowly suffocated. For six hours he hung as our substitute, paying the penalty for everything from our petty little sins to the great crimes of history. After six hours of pain and agony you and I will never know, he cried out “It is finished,” and gave up his spirit. “No greater love has anyone than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” You are those friends, and Jesus laid down his life for you.
After Jesus rose, he returned to heaven. Since that time he has been running the universe. Sometimes we don’t get it. We don’t understand the choices Jesus makes or the way he runs the show. But one thing we can surely appreciate is this: he wove together the events of the last couple thousand years in a way that brought us to know him as our Savior. He did it even though he never owed us anything. He did it all for free.
Now, what is the proper way to respond to love and salvation like that? Do we fight, and contradict, and criticize the one who is saving our lives? About 30 years ago missionary Mark White was teaching a course in Christianity at an African university. Most of his students were new to the Christian faith. Some of the things they learned didn’t make sense to them. They considered their native god great and powerful. This Christian God who lowered himself to become a man, and then died, didn’t seem very “great” to them.
The missionary explained that there are two kinds of greatness. There is the greatness of the rich and powerful: the way they perceived their god. Then there is the greatness of the brilliant student who goes to the university and becomes a doctor. When he graduates, he doesn’t set up his practice among the wealthy to make himself rich. He spends his time helping the poor and healing their diseases. That is the greatness of someone who stoops to serve, greatness like Jesus.
Finally, to illustrate his point, he told a parable about a man who saw all the ants who came into his house being crushed or poisoned to death. So he magically turned himself into one of the ants to warn them of the danger. Jesus became one of us, not just to warn us, but so that he could spare us from death.
When the missionary had finished making his point, one of the young men in the class suddenly blurted out: “If that is true, then Jesus is my Lord.” Jesus is my Lord. What does that say about the relationship? If Jesus has loved me so much, if he has made such great sacrifices to save me, I will follow him wherever he leads, no questions asked. He has earned my trust and submission.
“Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” A Christian wife’s submission is not forced. That would have no value. It is freely given. It does not mean that she is going to be her husband’s doormat, merely his maid. It doesn’t require her to stop having and speaking her own opinions. It means: let him be a leader; follow him; support him; communicate your needs to him; trust him; even serve him.
You know that all of Christian life is about being a servant. Even Jesus says that he did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Marriage is an excellent opportunity to live as Christian servants. Wives submitting to their husbands is one way we do so. It’s a picture of the way Jesus’ Church, all of us, follow Christ.