Yesterday I began a short series called A Picture-Perfect Marriage. This is my attempt to study what Paul says about the marriage relationship being a picture, a portrait of Christ and the church. Having laid that foundation, I now want to look at how the wife fulfills her part of that portrait.
Here is what Paul says to wives: You make your marriage an accurate portrait of the real marriage when you willingly submit to your husband’s leadership. You have the unique task of displaying the gospel in your willing submission to your husband. Here is the text I am drawing on:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:22-24)
In this relationship that serves as a portrait of Christ and the church, it is the wife who is called to be an accurate portrait of the church—at least an accurate portrait of what the church is called to be. Wives, this is your calling from God. It is your duty and your privilege. As you relate to your husband, you are to be toward him as the church is toward Christ. That is a little bit abstract so let’s see how it takes shape by asking three questions: What, how and why?
First, the what question: What are you to do to complete your part in this portrait? The answer is, You are to submit to your own husband in everything.
Paul says, “Wives, submit to your own husband.” Let’s not miss your own. A woman is not to submit to every man, as some people may teach, but to her own husband. The Lord has determined that there should be a leadership structure within marriage but this does not mean that women are to submit to men in general. The head of the church is Christ and the church is to submit to him; the head of a wife is her husband and she is to submit to him.
She is to to submit in everything. That is an intimidating statement and we need to deal with that word everything. We need to be careful that we don’t make it mean more than it says. If you want to be ridiculous you could say that I could now order my wife to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and she would have to obey me. But of course we know that a wife is to submit to a higher authority before a lesser one. The whole idea of a hierarchy of authority is that there are levels of authority; if a lesser authority tells you to disobey a higher authority, your submission needs to be to the higher authority. So let’s not make in everything more than it says.
Yet let’s not make it mean less than it says either. It is an all-encompassing phrase which means that you really are to obey your husband in everything that isn’t directly contradictory to what a higher authority says. You are not free to follow his leadership or ignore it as you see fit. Really, the only time you are to refuse to follow your husband’s leadership is when you can come to him with your Bible and say, “Here is where God says that I may not submit to you.” You don’t have to believe in what he says and you don’t have to like what he says, but you do have to follow him. This will not always be easy and yet the Lord calls you to submit to his leadership. This is the role God has given you—a role in which you can beautifully display the gospel. You aren’t submitting to your husband for your own happiness or peace, but to be that display, that portrait.
So that is the what question: you are to submit to your own husband in everything. But how? How is a wife to submit?
The answer is, You are to submit willingly. There isn’t any such thing as forced submission—that is just servitude or slavery. God calls you to submit to your husband with joy and freedom. Submitting to your husband is not just your wifely duty, but your unique calling and privilege, the unique way that you can make your marriage an accurate portrait of the real marriage. Paul doesn’t impose this upon you as a cross to bear. He doesn’t apologize for this and comfort you as if this is in any way undignified or dehumanizing or a negative result of the fall into sin. Not at all. He isn’t describing a kind of submission that makes the wife completely passive and broken; he doesn’t describe something here that robs you of your will or dignity. Paul simply and unapologetically describes this position of submission as your God-given role in the created order and your unique contribution to the marriage relationship.
Paul wants you, the wife, to understand that God has made you to fulfill a unique role in the display of the gospel and he wants you to embrace this role joyfully and voluntarily. He is calling on you to understand who God has made you to be and then be glad to fulfill this role with true joy because in submitting to your husband, you are able to be a great display of the gospel. No one else can do this. Your husband cannot do what you are called to do here.
And now the why question: Why are you to willingly submit to your own husband in everything? Because ultimately your submission is God-ward. You are to submit to your own husband as to the Lord.
Your submission to your husband is a component of your greater submission to Christ. Submission to husband and submission to Christ are not two different things. The wife’s motive in submitting to her husband is to submit to Christ by submitting to one of the lesser authorities to whom he has delegated authority. When you submit to your husband, when you submit willingly and joyfully, when you submit to your husband as a God-ordained authority in your life, you are being a picture of the bride in the real marriage—the bride who submits to Christ, the bridegroom.
How do you live with this in view? How do you take verses from the Bible and live in such a way that you are now doing your part to be that beautiful, sharp, accurate portrait of the church. I’m glad you asked.
Well, why not begin like this: In your mind, in your heart, in your marriage, always be thinking about this question: “How does the church submit to Christ? How do we as Christians relate to Jesus?” That is how you are to then relate to your husband. I will grant that you aren’t to begin worshipping him or singing hymns to him, but you do need to give him respect, to make much of him. You are his helper, which means your life is wrapped up in his.
Whatever he longs to be, however he intends to use his gifts and passions and calling, you are to join him in that. His mission is your mission, his calling is your calling, his passion is your passion. So join him, serve him, love him, respect him and you will be your part in this portrait, this image of the real marriage.
Tomorrow we will see how the husband does his part to complete this portrait.