Ephesians 5:21-24 “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 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.”
This is part of a great text for a wedding sermon, but in almost 25 years of ministry, only one couple I have wed chose it. I’ll bet you can guess why. Many brides, and not a few grooms, aren’t enthusiastic about that word “submit.” It sounds like something that goes against equality. That is because most people have caricature of the word’s meaning in their heads. They think it suggests there must be something inferior about a wife. But a God who loves us wouldn’t give husbands a partner who is innately inferior. What kind of gift would that be? The truth is, there are a number of ways in which the female sex surpasses men. When Paul says, “Wives, submit…” he is not suggesting there is something wrong with them.
Nor does the word mean that women become slaves in this relationship. That’s another common misconception of the Bible teaching. Paul isn’t saying that if a woman gets married she never gets to have independent thought again, or she never gets to make her own decision. Marriage doesn’t turn a woman into a glorified maid (though bad husbands have tried).
Have you ever joined something that you didn’t lead? Have you ever been a member of a team, an employee of a company, or served in a volunteer organization? In order for those relationships to work, you have to understand that you have a role which may often call for you to carry out the decisions made by others. Otherwise, you end up with chaos.
I played high school football. You might not believe it if you could see me now, but I started at center my senior year. In order for the offense to work, I had to follow the snap count and the blocking scheme for the play called by the quarterback. I and nine other guys submitted to his leadership on the field, because we were a team, and we wanted to score and win games.
Paul illustrates this even better when he says “… the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church,” and “… as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands.” The Christian couple follows Christ, right? Let’s be honest, sometimes we don’t like submitting to Christ, either. But when we refuse, that never turns out well. When we decide to overrule him, and take our lives in another direction, we cause all kinds of heartache and heartburn for ourselves and the people around us. Unrepented, we could jeopardize our eternity.
In principle, however, we are willing to submit to Christ…because he is Jesus. We trust him to lead. After all, he gave up everything to save us. There never came a point in his saving work when he was tempted to say, “Well, now, this is just too much. I like these folks a lot, but I am not going to do that for them.” He went all the way to the cross and to death. In everything he does, everything he decides, he is only looking out for us. So Paul says, “Wives, just like you can get in line with Christ, and submit to him, you can get in line with your Christian husbands, and submit to them.”
Finally, in asking wives to submit to their husbands, Paul is simply asking them to be Christians. Before he applies this principle to wives, he is speaking to every Christian in verse 21 when he says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” All of Christian life involves being a servant. Even Jesus says that did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. In the family, wives have an excellent opportunity to serve when they submit to their husbands. Let the man lead. To do so is to follow Christ.