THE BIBLICAL PATTERN FOR MARRIAGE
"Wives, be subject 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, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 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, because we are members of his body."
- Ephesians 5:22-30
The idea of a wife submitting herself to her husband is quite controversial these days. It's certainly not a 'Politically Correct' notion. However, even many Bible-believing Christians don't really understand what the Bible teaches about this concept. So, my first Bible Lesson on my redesigned and relocated site will aim to clarify this important issue. Please try to put any preconceived ideas you have aside, and approach this with an open mind.
Now, a lot of people never get past the words, 'Wives, be subject to your husbands...'. They've heard enough. "How DARE you suggest that a woman should be a SLAVE to her husband, you Neanderthalic chauvinist pig!" they say (not realizing that the Neanderthal tribe was fully human, and had a larger cranial capacity [i.e., more room for brains] than modern humans. But I digress...). "Don't you know that women today don't have to grovel at a man's feet?" Or words to that general effect. It's kind of sad, because if they would read the rest of the passage and really consider it, they would realize that this isn't what Paul was talking about at all.
By comparing the way a wife should be submissive to her husband to the way individuals and the Church should be submissive to God, Paul makes his definition of 'be subject' clear: A voluntary, joy-filled 'servitude' with lots of fringe benefits. We who have believed in Jesus are servants of the Lord, but also children of the Father, and brothers and sisters of Christ. We have a deep relationship with God based on love. A wife's submission to her husband must also be as a matter of love, not duty - love for her husband, and love for the Lord.
Even so, if you only read the first three verses you could still get the wrong idea. It's Paul's words about how the husband should treat his wife that drive the real point home. The husband is to love his wife 'as Christ loved the Church, and GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR HER...' (emphasis mine). The husband is not to rule over his wife, he is to serve her by putting her well-being ahead of his own, and sacrificing at least some of his own interests in order to provide for her needs - physical, emotional and spiritual. Remember Jesus' words to the disciples: "...whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:26-27) The Bible emphatically does NOT teach that the wife should be a slave and her husband the master. The husband is to be the leader of the couple, but he is to lead by continual self-sacrifice, putting his wife before himself just as Christ put all of us before Himself. If anyone is to act as a 'slave' in the marriage relationship, it is the husband. The wife, in turn, is to be subject to her husband willingly and joyfully, not as a slave but as a beloved partner.
Another reason for the wife to be submissive is discussed by Peter: "Likewise you wives, be submissive to your husbands, so that some, though they do not obey the word, may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives..." (I Peter 3:1). Let's face it, guys, as a gender we have a much greater tendency to get out of control than the ladies do. Their willing and joyful submissiveness can serve as an example to us of how we should behave toward God, and sometimes we really need that. Peter also talks about the husband's role: "Likewise you husbands, live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman as the weaker sex, since you are joint heirs of the grace of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered." (I Peter 3:7) I believe Peter was saying in effect that husbands should not take advantage of their wives' submissiveness, but honor them for it, remembering that the two of them are equal partners in the way that matters most, i.e., 'joint heirs of the grace of life'.
Let's clear up a few more misconceptions about all this. First, a wife being submissive does NOT mean that she is to just keep quiet and obey. She has every right to voice her opinions, and even to press a point if she is truly convinced she is right. By the same token, the husband is obliged to listen to his wife on all matters, and seriously consider her views. A good leader never tries to figure everything out for himself, he allows others to do what they are good at - and in every marriage there will be many things the wife can do better, or is able to understand better. The good husband treats his wife as the beloved partner she is, not as a servant, and willingly yields to her judgment in such matters. It is only when all discussions have failed and a complete standoff occurs that the husband should exercise his ultimate leadership right. There needs to be a final authority when there is no other option. Sure, this privilege can be abused, but that doesn't invalidate the Biblical pattern for marriage. In fact, in such cases the wife is fully justified in lovingly quoting Peter to her husband, challenging him to give her the consideration she deserves.
To sum it all up, the Biblical pattern for marriage calls for both partners to serve each other in love. Both are equal in their relationship with God. Both have the same basic rights as human beings. The husband is the 'senior partner', but he is to lead by serving, just as Jesus Himself did. He is to regard HIMSELF as a slave, not his wife. They are to work together to make their life together good, and each other better.
I hope some of you are pleasantly surprised to learn that the Biblical model for marriage isn't the one-sided 'master-slave' situation you had been misled to believe, that the command to love one another as God loves us (the Greek word for 'love' being 'AGAPE', which basically means a spirit of self-sacrifice) is not invalidated by the words 'I do', but in fact is enhanced by them, for both wife AND husband. The 'submission' spoken of by Paul and Peter has nothing to do with men being better than women (because we most certainly AREN'T!). It's merely about God appointed roles that should be carried out in love - because God always knows best, whether we understand His purposes at a given moment or not.
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