One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how some Christians seem to have taken this section of scripture completely out of context. They ascribe roles to the husband and wife in a marriage that are completely out of sync with what these verses are saying.
These scriptures need to be taken into context with many of the other verses about marriage, and especially the relationship between Christ and the church.
Part of the issue with these verses is that there is one scripture that is completely missed out that gives the best explanation of how the roles of a husband and wife in a marriage should work.
The Key Verse
I have seen Christians who read these words and ascribe a completely subservient role to the wife where the husband seems to have all the power in the marriage and the wife has little or none.
This is not how a marriage is supposed to be and this is evident when other scriptures are brought into context with this one.
What seems to be missing from many of the interpretations of these scriptures is the first verse. Look at these words.
“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
This verse is too often overlooked, but the importance of the verse cannot be overstated. This verse does NOT ascribe the wife to a subservient role or the husband to a superior role in the marriage.
Instead this verse shows the overarching principle for the two partners in the marriage, both husband and wife. The rest of the scriptures in this end section of Ephesians 5 then expand on this overarching theme.
When we look at this verse we see that husband and wife are equal or should be equally yoked to one another. They both have a role to play and their roles are very different in the marriage, but they complement and complete each other so that the marriage is strong and whole.
Keeping this verse in mind, let’s look at the rest of this section of scripture.
Husbands and Wives
The first part of this section of scripture speaks about the attitude and behaviour of wives.
22 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:22-24)
The scripture tells wives to be subject to their husbands because the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church.
What it does NOT say is that the wife is subservient like a slave to the husband, always doing whatever he says and having no mind or will of her own.A wife is not some kind of a slave or a second class citizen in the marriage cow-towing to every whim of the husband.
Such thinking is completely false and totally at odds with the truth of Christian marriage.
Consider some of the other scriptures about the role of a good wife.
Going back to the very beginning when God created mankind, God made all of the animals and brought them to Adam to name, but no animal was found to be a fit companion or helper to Adam, until God created Eve. Eve was not created to be a slave or a servant, but to be a companion and helper. She was someone who would stand beside Adam so that he would not be alone.
This was the beginning of the rite of marriage and both partners were equal, which we see in these words that state:
“Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)
When a man and a woman come together in a marriage they become one. Each has a different role to play in the marriage, but both are indispensable and equally important to the marriage. Neither is greater than the other since they are one and they must be equal for the marriage to be strong and whole.
Within the marriage the wives are subject to the husband to the extent that he is the protector and provider. But this does not mean the wife has no voice or role to play in these aspects too. One only needs to consider the words of Proverbs 31.
A good wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not harm all the days of her life. (Proverbs 31:10-12)
Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” (Proverbs 31:28-29)
These are not the words one speaks about a slave, servant or second class citizen. These are words of high praise, in awe and a blessing over one who is a loved partner, companion and wife. And if you read the rest of Proverbs 31 from verse 10 to the end, you see that this woman is industrious, wise, giving, caring and a blessing to her husband and all with whom she comes into contact.
This wife loves her husband as is evident by her actions, and she is equally yoked to and loved by her husband. He does not look down on her but nourishes, strengthens and lifts her up with praise as she likewise does to him.
The wife is called to respect her husband, and I am sad to say that modern society is destroying that respect for men both as husbands and fathers. Sitcoms on television and the roles of husbands and fathers in movies and popular culture has demeaned the role of the husband and father. They do not get the respect that they ought to receive.
In much of popular culture the husband or father is depicted as dim-witted, slow, dense and lacking depth or care. What does that do to relationships in real life? How much has the role of a father and husband been damaged by television shows like The Simpsons, Roseanne, Two and a Half Men, and so on.
Gone are the days when the role of husband and father was respected and revered as both relevant and important in shows like Father Knows Best, My Three Sons, The Andy Griffiths Show and so on.
Popular culture exalts the role of women as superior to men. It is often the woman who is the heroine, the leader and the one to restore family order in television, movies and books. Men are typically vilified when marriages break down, and yet often women should bear as much or more of the blame as men.
I am not being critical of women in saying these things, but just note that this is the way of popular culture and it opposes the will and the way of God.
Men and women were created to be different but equal and each has their own roles and responsibilities in a marriage. Neither can be truly effective without the other. When both parties in the marriage are working together properly and are equally sustaining the other, being subject to one another as verse 21 in this section says, then the marriage works the way God established and planned it to work.
As for husbands, the next sections speak about the role of the husband in the marriage and it is NOT that they should be superior to the wife. Consider these words.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25)
Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, (Ephesians 5:28-29
“…however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33)
You will note in these verses of this section that the husband is told FOUR times that he is to “love” his wife, and that this love is to be like the way that Christ loves the church. There is a message in that that we need to take notice of.
First we see that Christ loved the church so much that He died for the church. He gave His life so that we could live.
This is not the action of one who sees the other as lesser than themselves but is the ultimate act of love by one for the other. Christ subjected Himself to a most painful, heinous and unwarranted death for the sake of the church. He did not lord it over the church allowing the church to try and work for their salvation but established the path for us to follow so that the church would be set free.
Now consider what love is for a moment.
There are many aspects of love and we see some of them detailed in 1 Corinthians 13.
4 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; 5 it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Look closely at these attributes of love. These are the attitudes and attributes of God’s love and the love He has for us, as Jesus too has for the church. And it is these same attributes of love that God wants to see developed in every Christian.
All of these attributes of love show an attitude of caring for others and of putting the other person first. In particular in verse 5 we see that “…love does not insist on it’s own way…”
When husbands treat their wives as being subservient or see themselves as superior, how is that showing love? How are they not insisting on their own way?
And don’t forget what is called the “Royal Law” in the book of James 2, verse 8, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
Surely a wife is closer than a neighbour and is due much more love and respect since the husband and wife are one.
And again we see these words in the book of Colossians.
“Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” (Colossians 3:19)
Again we see that husbands are required to love their wives and not be harsh with them. To treat a wife as subservient to the whims of the husband is surely harsh treatment. But to love the wife is to treat them with respect, not insisting on your own way, and treating them as Christ treats the church: strengthening and nourishing them.
I have barely scratched the surface of this topic of marriage and husbands and wives in Christ. But I hope it is sufficient to show that wives should not be considered subservient to the husband as some seem to believe, nor are wives to be masters of their husbands. For a marriage to work properly and effectively in Christ, both are different and have differing roles, but they are equal and both should be subject to the other as befits the situation and the roles of the husband and wife.
Love is the key and husbands and wives in Christ are to learn to love as Christ loved the church and be subject to one another.
You might also like:
The Sanctity Of Marriage
Eunuchs For The Sake Of The Kingdom Of Heaven
Marriage In The Resurrection
Marriage And Divorce
Marriage In Heaven
Till Death Us Do Part
A New Commandment
It Isnt A Competition
Living In The Family Of God
Live In Harmony
Love The Great Commandment
Encourage One Another
Sustaining The Church
Celibacy And Marriage Equality
On Marriage And Divorce
Marriage And Freedom From Law
Power Of Love
What Is Love