I remember reading Ephesians as a newer Christian and being shocked as I came across the Apostle’s words in chapter 5:
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)
I quickly became nervous because my wife was a brand new Christian and I was about as biblically literate as a flannel board. My first thought was, “This can’t mean what I think it means.” And my second thought was, “How in the world am I going to sell Christie on this?”
The first question was answered with a “yes” and a “no”. The concept of male leadership, even headship, was correct. However, I had this wrong perception of some type of bizarre patriarchal suppression of the wife by the husband. In my mind leadership and submission seemed to demean rather than provide for her flourishing.
Husbands are to Lead Like Jesus
The Bible does not call husbands to lead out of some superiority but out of humility. Instead of lording over our wives we are to lovingly lead them. A Christian marriage is not supposed to look like a Roman occupation but rather Christlike sacrifice. As a husband, I needed to be willing to actively love my wife (Eph. 5:22-32), leading her with sacrificial service that reflects the humility of Jesus. This is to reflect death to selfishness in my life, in every single way. It’s not just Paul in Ephesians either, he says similar things in Col 3:18-19, Titus 2:3-5, and 1 Cor. 11:1-3. It is a right reflection of Christ as a husband to lovingly lead his wife.
So that is the first question or issue. But, how about the second?
Wives are to Submit Like Jesus
As I thought about this more and more and talked with my quickly maturing godly wife, I found that the answer for the wife is much like the husband. It is about Christ.
In 1 Cor. 11:3 we read:
“But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3)
This verse, set in the overall chapter concerning biblical submission, anchors its premise in the submission between Christ and the Father. Isn’t that something? The Christian wife should consider her Savior when she considers her calling to submit to her husband in the Lord. She is to think much upon the submission of the Lord Jesus himself as he left heaven’s throne to himself put on the apron of service in his submission to his Father’s will.
What’s more, his submission was not because he needed to for himself, but rather he needed to for sinners like us. In order for him to save a sinner, even one, he needed to submit to this will. And he did it completely. The Father is not “better” than Jesus–both the Father and the Son are God! However, Jesus willingly takes the role of submissive son for the purpose of redemption. Every moment of every day, Jesus submitted to his Father. What did this look like? Well, it was more than the covenant of redemption. Jesus submitted to an earthly father who was imperfect, and earthly mother who was a sinner, to earthly governments and authorities who were flawed. The perfect one, Jesus, embraced this calling of submission to imperfect people because he was saving imperfect people. Wives should let this walking, talking gospel instruct and motivate them to stand firm in the grace of our Lord Jesus, knowing that your labor is not in vain. They can, with gospel gratitude, embrace their calling to submit to their (imperfect) husband because this is the path of Jesus.
Let’s put it another way: Husbands and wives, Jesus is not telling you to do anything he hasn’t already done. Further, he is not telling you to do anything that he hasn’t empowered you to do through the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18).
This might not be what you immediately think about when you read the words submission and head. However, the gospel is overflowing out of both roles. Jesus is the model and motivation for both leadership and submission.
This is good news indeed.