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Ranking Under a Responsible Authority
Submission and headship from Ephesians 5:22-24
Have you ever seen a dried flower? I’ve seen my wife Jean save flowers from a special occasion and dry them out. A dried rose can be a special reminder of a joyous time. But take a closer look–once this dried plant was a very beautiful flower with a bright color, sweet smell and soft petals. Now it is dried out, brittle, and has no life at all.
Many of our marriages have had a similar experience. At one time they were vibrant, alive and beautiful. Now it seems like the life has gone out of them. You can still glimpse what was once there, but now the color has faded and the marriage has become dry and crusty.
Maybe this letter, sent to eminent theologian and scholar, Dear Abby, resonates with you? This lady writes: “Do all marriages go stale after 25 years? Ours has. My husband and I don’t seem to have much to talk to each other about anymore. We used to talk about our kids, but now they are grown and gone. We watch a lot of television and read and we do have friends, but when we’re alone together, it’s pretty dull. We even sleep in separate bedrooms now. Is there some way to recapture that old magic? Signed, THE SONG HAS ENDED
Friends, the Bible says God has a better plan for your marriage. In 1 Peter 3:7, the apostle Peter called marriage “the grace of life.” Marriage is supposed to be the hot fudge on the ice cream of life. Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 9:9, “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life.” Marriage is to be a reward.
Yet the fulfillment of that relationship is elusive. A marriage that continually gets better, richer, and more satisfying is rare today. Do you ever feel like there is an elusive, ideal marriage out there that deep down you would like your marriage to become, but it seems impossible for that to ever happen? Have some of you given up on your marriage? You nod your head to the idea, but secretly believe it just doesn’t work.
You may have grown up in a home where conflict was a way of life, and so you have little hope anything will be different in your home. A few of you were non-believers when you started your marriage, and you still struggle with some of the consequences of patterns you started years ago. Some of you have always had a Christian marriage, yet deep down you know things are not healthy. And there are a few marriages here that are in shambles, and if it weren’t for the social pressure, you’d have bagged it long ago. You don’t look forward to Sunday, because it is such a job keeping up the pretense that everything is okay when it’s really not. Others of you have seen God do good things in your marriage, but you long for more, or at least a little more romance,
“Is there hope?” The answer is yes–God’s Word and God’s Spirit are the most powerful agents for change the world has ever known. We are going to look at God’s Word in Ephesians today and give you hope for change in your marriage. Open your Bibles to Ephesians 5 and follow along with your outlines.
Now I can hear some of you say, “Is the Bible really gonna help?” Yes, it will, but only if you are willing to do things God’s way. Often we Americans want the Band-Aid quick fix. We want to make a quick surface change, but not deal with the real root problem. So if my marriage becomes a mess through my sin as a spouse, to avoid further pain, instead of mending the broken bone many try to give it a Band-Aid fix. What do Band-Aids look like?
Blame the other person–obviously in my marriage, “It’s Jean’s fault”
Divorce–just start all over and pretend like nothing really happened
Get busy with other things–work, sports, ministry or hobby
Ignore one another–give each other the silent treatment
Focus on the kids–keep it together for them
Singles–they just go to another church and look for fresh meat
But all of those are like putting a Band-Aid on a broken bone–they don’t actually fix the problem. You and I need to turn to Christ, depend on His Spirit and live by His Word in the midst of a loving church community that knows every Christian battles with sin, if we are ever going to mend the bones of broken or hurting marriages. And Christian, because of your new position in Christ that the book of Ephesians talks about, because you have been made new, because you have the indwelling Holy Spirit, you have all you need to release God’s resources in your marriage.
This morning we will look at three verses–Ephesians 5:22 to 24, and we’ll see the key to releasing God’s power in our marriages is to fulfill the roles that God has given for a husband or a wife to follow. Hope can be realized in your marriage. Maturing marriages are built on God’s design–on biblical roles.
Now some of you are not married, but many of you singles will be married at some point, and it is crucial for you to apply these truths before you get married. These are principles that all Christians live out to some degree–everyone here this morning is male or female (though a few of you have been beasts this week) which means there is truth for you to apply. And be warned–these verses are strange to our ears. This is not what you hear in the media or from your friends. Some of you may never have heard God’s design for husbands and wives, and today’s passage will shock you, and for some may even cause you pain.
When the boys were small and they would get a laceration (that’s the word for a cut, for those of you who don’t have a doctor or nurse in your family), we would wash that cut with soap and water and the boys would cringe and sometimes cry because the soap would sting so badly–that was just last week for Dan. They would say, “Oh Daddy, it hurts,” and it would break our hearts, but we knew what we were doing was best for them.
As you apply God’s marriage principles to your life, His way is always best, but sometimes you will want to say, “Oh Father, it hurts.” Don’t forget that the end result will be healing and a healthy relationship. So today, if you start to say, “Ouch,” don’t throw your Bible at me, rather remind yourself that God’s cleansing truth is good for you.
Paul describes transforming truth for marriage this way in Ephesians 5:22 to 24, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” In this passage there are some introductory transitional thoughts in verse 22, then two main truths in verses 23 and 24–so my outline today reflects Paul’s emphasis, showing us the introductory thoughts, then two main keys. Help us understand submission and headship, Paul.
First The extent of submission
Paul starts verse 22 with wives–in the Greek there is no article next to “wives”, no qualifier. Paul doesn’t say, the wives, just wives, telling us Paul meant this truth for every Christian wife, no matter what. The extent of submission is for every believing wife.
In New Testament times, women were considered little more than servants. Many Jewish men prayed this prayer each morning:
Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe who hast not made me a Gentile.
Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast not made me a slave.
Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, who hast not made me a woman.
But in contrast to their culture, Paul and the rest of the New Testament writers elevated the role and value of women. Read with me Galatians 3:28 where Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Every believer in Jesus Christ has exactly the same salvation, the same standing before God, the same divine nature and resources, and the same supernatural promises and inheritance. But in matters of role and function, God made distinctions.
Yes men and women are equal as to value and worth, but the Bible clearly teaches there are also distinctions in roles and responsibilities. God is very clear, but our culture is very confused. A number of years ago, People magazine included a dialog between a psychologist and his 7-year-old nephew. The professional asked the boy, “Is Michael Jackson a boy or a girl?” The boy thought for a moment, then answered, “Both.”
Everything God has designed for men and women has been mocked and confused by the media and educational system. But our Creator’s original blueprint has not been lost–we have the Bible, and God begins this discussion of the household in verse 22 by stating that His design applies to all Christian wives. What is the distinct role of the wife?
Second The boundaries of submission–be subject
Repeatedly, the Bible commands all Christians to submit in various areas of our lives–to government, police, elders, parents and more. But the idea of submission is actually distasteful to the typical American mind. No one can tell us what to do. We don’t like it. But here God calls Christian wives to submit to their husbands. Submission is to place oneself under the authority of another. It is the opposite of “I alone am the master of my own destiny.” Rather, submission says, “I will entrust myself to the authority and responsibility of another–my husband.” This takes an extreme amount of trust and vulnerability–yet that is what God requires of every believing wife.
The verb “be subject” is assumed here from verse 21. Literally, the Greek of verse 22 says, “wives to your own husbands.” This reminds us that mutual submission is a result of being filled with the Spirit in verse 18. The connection to verse 21, then verse 18 reminds us that all Spirit-filled Christians are submissive. So for a wife to fulfill her role of submission, she will need to be completely dependent upon the Spirit.
Some have looked at verse 21, “submit to one another,” and have wrongly concluded that Paul meant for husbands and wives to submit to one another in their marriage. Even though Christians do submit to each other, Paul is saying, in the marriage the wife has a special role of submission to her husband.
Look at chapter 5:2–we are all commanded to walk in love, but the husband is uniquely commanded to love his wife in marriage
In the same way in 5:21, we are all going to submit to one another as we are filled with the Spirit–but in the household, the wife is uniquely commanded to submit to her husband
Verses 22 to 33 are God’s directives for the household–and in that household, wives and husbands, children and parents, and in the first century slaves and masters had unique roles
In the household, wives are to submit—literally rank themselves under their husbands and relinquish their rights. The middle voice of the verb “submit” tells us the woman submits herself, not that her husband submits her. She initiates submission.
And notice that she is called to submit to her husband, she is not called to obey like a child in Ephesians 6:1–nor is she called to obey like a slave in Ephesians 6:5. A wife’s submission is unique–a wife is not a servant or a slave, but is one with her husband. There is a movement today to make the wife into an advanced child. I have actually seen a Christian book where there is a wife literally worshipping her bearded, north Idaho husband on the back cover. These are the same people who think slavery is good, the South should have won the Civil War, we should stockpile food, drink our own moonshine and marry our first cousin.
That is not what Paul is describing here. Your wife is your partner. She is one with you. She is not yours to command, but yours to protect, love, lead, serve and die for. This is why Paul reminds us of . . .
Third The intimacy of submission
Notice verse 22, “to your own husband.” Your own husband communicates intimacy and ownership. Let me remind you why this is not possible without Christ. Before the fall, man was created first and given headship over his wife as loving leader, provider and protector. And she was called to be a supportive and submissive helper. That original relationship was so perfect that his headship over her was a consuming love for her, and her submission to him was a consuming love for him. There was no selfishness that marred their marriage. Each lived to God’s glory and for each other, the way God created them to.
But when Adam and Eve sinned, everything changed–and we have struggled with selfish sin ever since. We don’t teach our kids to sin, it comes naturally because their very being is corrupted. Now in relationship, both men and women are self-preoccupied and self-serving. Instead of loving headship, men seek to control and abuse women–instead of loving submission, women seek to control and nag men.
In order to have a marriage experience God’s blessing, sin must be dealt with, and that only comes through Christ Jesus. God became a man in order to take the punishment that we men deserve for our sin. So Jesus died on the cross and took the punishment from God that we deserve for our sin. So when someone turns from their sin in repentance and completely depends on Christ in faith, then God not only forgives you, cleanses you and makes you ready for heaven, but He also transforms you so as you depend upon Him, you can overcome your selfishness and serve others. You can put to death your pride and care for others, you can die to self and love your wife or submit to your own husband.
Notice the middle of verse 22, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands.” A wife is called to submit to her own husband; not to every man. He alone is responsible for her, and it is to him that she submits. Just a quick side thought–this is the root of some marital conflict, for when a wife works outside the home and must submit to a male boss who is not her own husband, it can undermine God’s design.
God desires the Christian wife to willingly make herself subject to the one she possesses as her own. And never forget, couples, you both belong to each other in an absolute equality. The husband no more possesses his wife than she possesses him. He has no superiority and she no inferiority, any more than one who has the gift of teaching is superior to the one who has the gift of mercy.
Jean and I say, “What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours.” There is no prenuptial agreement, no dividing of assets–in marriage, you give yourself away. You gave yourself to your spouse, you don’t belong merely to Christ anymore. You also belong to your mate. It is no longer I and me, it’s now us and we. But what would motivate that behavior?
Fourth The motivation of submission
Verse 22 ends with, “as to the Lord.” “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Paul is not calling husbands “lords” here, nor is he saying for the wife to submit to her husband with the same intensity as she would submit to Christ. Paul is actually telling wives that as you submit to your husband, you are submitting to Christ since it is Christ who gave you your husband.
The Lord says if you feed and clothe the poor from a heart of love for Christ that you are actually loving Christ Himself in that act. In the same way, as a wife submits herself from the heart to her husband, she is actually submitting to Christ. Paul is integrally tying together a wife’s submission to her husband with her submission to Christ. If you refuse to submit to your husband, don’t fool yourself into thinking you are submitting to Christ–you are not. Yet on the positive side–you are submitting to Christ as you submit to your husband. It is a very tangible way to submit to Christ. But what is the reason for this design?
KEY #1 The passion for submission
Look at verse 23, “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.” Again in verses 22 to 24, the original language points to two main emphases, two facts–one in verse 23 and the other in verse 24. And key in verse 23 is the fact of a husband’s headship.
Notice the first word in verse 23–it is “for”, or because. This is the stated reason for submission. Here is the passion behind why wives submit. The husband is the head of the wife. The mood of the verb indicates that Paul is giving an undeniable fact. He knows there are loser husbands in Ephesus. He knows there are men there who are not living up to their responsibilities in their marriages. He knows there may be non-Christian men parading as Christians in the Ephesus church. But still Paul states it is a fact–the husband is the head of the wife. In fact, the tense he uses tells us no matter what kind of husband you have, he is continually, all the time your head. Each husband, no matter what, is continually the head of his wife.
The word head is kefalh–it can literally refer to the physical head, but it also describes two requirements God has given to husbands. See if you can determine what headship means from these verses. Colossians 2:10, “and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority.” Paul uses the head earlier in Ephesians, and it is clear what he is describing in Ephesians 1:22, “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.”
Just like Christ is head over the Church, so the husband is the head of his wife–and just like the Church is subject to Christ, so the wife is subject to the husband. So headship describes two extremely intimidating truths for husbands. First, you are responsible–you are accountable to God for your marriage and your family, and elders for your church. It’s your fault. Stop blaming your wife, kids, job or background–you are responsible. Second, you are the authority–you are to lead your marriage and family like Christ, and toward Christ.
The husband is the head of the wife. He is responsible for her and has authority over her, and we’ll learn how he is to handle that calling in the latter part of this passage–don’t miss it ladies, you will like it. Not only is this radical stuff today, but you have to understand how much this teaching rocked the Roman world. In Roman culture at the time Paul wrote, the Ephesians had a much different view, and God’s instruction here would impact their culture as much as it impacts our culture, except for different reasons.
In the Roman culture, the father had absolute control over all his family–in Latin this was called Patria Potestas. The father literally had the power of life and death over his children. And even though this authority was primarily used over newborns–whether they wanted a girl over a boy, or whether they allowed a handicapped child to live or not. Under Roman law, legally he could put to death any of his offspring for any serious transgression. And get this, the father’s control over his children continued even after they were married. This varied over the years, but even when a woman married, it was still her father who had authority over her. The wife was independent from and not legally subject to her husband, and could seek a divorce from her husband in conjunction with her father–in fact the father could even initiate the divorce, even against the wishes of the husband. And even though some of you fathers here who have daughters might think this is a great practice, think for a minute what it might have meant in your own marriage.
Paul’s teaching of a wife’s submission to her husband as the head of the family confronts the family structure of the first century Roman. Paul is very clear that the husband, not the father, has the authority over the wife, and consequently the husband is the head of a brand new separate marriage and family. Leave and cleave leaving is an amputation from your parents—“Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”=chop! The Christian wife now looks to her husband as head.
You honor and obey your parents until you marry. After you marry, you honor your parents but submit to your spouse in a whole new relationship. So the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church.
Now look at the end of verse 23, and don’t miss the total picture–if there is a head, there also must be a body. The head leads the body, directs the body and initiates the actions of the body. Remember the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding––Maria Portokalos says, “Let me tell you something, Toula. The man is the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants.”
I believe every time the Scripture calls Christ the head there is always a reference to the body, and the end of verse 23 is no exception. At the end of verse 23 Paul says, “He Himself being the Savior of the body.” And by writing this Paul raises a big question–is the husband the savior of his wife in some fashion? Or is this only a reference to Christ as the Savior of the body?
Possibly there is an idea of you husbands being a protector of your wife, keeping her from physical or spiritual danger. And though that is true, the fact that Paul specifically uses the phrase He Himself, and that the term Savior is always only a reference to Jesus, plus many other reasons, it seems best to see this phrase as referring only to Christ. So then why does Paul, moved along by the Spirit, use this here–what is God trying to tell us? How is this phrase “He Himself being the Savior of the body” supposed to impact our marriages. I am so glad you asked.
The savior of the body has to do with the Church being delivered by Christ from eternal doom because of our sins. Why would a woman submit, and why would a man take the lead? Why would you wives and you husbands die to self in order to fill out your roles in your marriage? It’s painful, it hurts and its difficult. The reason is because Christ died for you, Christ took your punishment, Christ suffered in your place, Christ had God’s wrath poured out on Himself because of your sin. If Christ the head was willing to die for you the Church, are you the body of Christ not willing to die to self for each other?
Your marriage needs to be Gospel-centered, always aware of your sinfulness, your bent towards sin, your inclination towards pride, defensiveness, desire to control, and the ease in which you think only of you instead of your spouse. You do that by remembering Christ being the Savior of the body–He who being totally sinless and innocent took your sin upon Himself. So maybe if Jesus would do all that for you, you can overlook your spouse’s weaknesses, quirks and bents, and fulfill your role.
But you say, “My spouse is crucifying me.” Hey, you said you wanted to be like Jesus, didn’t you? Maybe if Christ would submit to all the torture of the cross for your sin, you can submit to your husband. Maybe if Christ would love you by taking your place on the cross, you can lovingly lead your wife. The passion of submission is Christ’s submission to save you.
Wives, you are not innocent, sinless, perfect, or righteous–and if Christ who was innocent, sinless, perfect, and righteous would submit to the cross to save you from your sins, obviously Christ calling you to submit to your husband is not too great a command. And husbands, you are not spotless, innocent, faultless or virtuous, and if Christ who was spotless, innocent, faultless and virtuous would love you enough to die on the cross to save you from your sins, obviously Christ calling you to love your wife is not too great a command.
You say, “Chris, it is too hard.” Hey, the best lessons in life are from the school of hard knocks. That’s where you get the third degree. And Christ Jesus is not only the Savior of the body, He is also the Head of the Church–the authority and responsible ruler of the Church.
Listen, two heads are not better than one. A two-headed cow is a freak of nature–it may get you to stop at Uncle Billy’s roadside café and museum, you may even pay a buck to see it. But you can’t live with two heads. Marriage doesn’t work with two heads. There is only one head in marriage–husbands are to be the authority in their home, the initiator of Christ’s presence in the home. And if there is a little of the Savior in the man’s role, it would be that he is also the physical and spiritual protector.
So husbands of FBC, are you the functional leader in your homes? Do you set the budget, do you set the direction, are you initiating true headship by sharing Christ’s authoritative Word and manifesting the Lord’s gracious leadership in the home? Are you leading your wives toward spiritual health and discipling your children toward serving Christ in the Church and manifesting the Gospel in the world? Are you an adequate provider, and are you passionate about the cause of Christ in your home, at your work and even at play?
FBC is blest to have more men than I have ever seen in a church take up the challenge to spiritually lead their homes this year. None of us are even close to being where we want to be–but we are going for it. I invite the rest of you to join us in our flawed Spirit-dependent efforts in pursuing true biblical headship. How are we supposed to do it?
KEY #2 The model of submission
Look at verse 24, “But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” Nevertheless, in contrast to Christ’s perfect work of saving the body of verse 23, and in spite of His perfect example–the Church in our imperfection is to be subject to Christ, and just like that wives are to be subject to their husbands in everything.
God is reminding us that as the Church, which has been redeemed and regenerated by Christ with a new position and new heart, wants to submit itself to Christ (now here is the application)–so wives ought also to want to subject themselves to their husbands. And the capper–the truly saved woman will attempt, by God’s Spirit, to submit to her own husband in everything all the time.
Obviously this does not mean a wife should submit to her husband in anything that is contrary to the commands of God, for she needs to obey God more than her husband. As the apostles said in Acts 5:29b, “We must obey God rather than men.” A wife is not to submit to her husband in anything sinful, including physical abuse. But as a wife initiates and submits herself to her husband, she does so regardless of a husband’s failure to lead or lack of love. Her submission is based upon her love for and obedience to Christ.
By saying “submit in everything” in verse 24, most likely Paul means full submission. Like the Church is to submit to Christ with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, a wife’s submission to her husband is comprehensive. All her actions, all her heart, all her words and all her attitudes—all of her is submitted to her own husband. And the tense of the verb here is present tense, which means all the time fully in everything.
Ladies, if you would only embrace this truth, you would find yourselves blessed in so many ways. Repent of your fear, confess your desire to control, get over your anger, stop being distant and submit to your husbands with your whole heart all the time. There is no more powerful change agent in the life of a husband than a wife who is submissive from the core of her being in everything.
Nothing boosts a man’s confidence, nothing motivates him more to be a gracious spiritual leader, nothing drives him to be the man God wants him to be than the open support, encouragement and full submission of his wife in everything. I love the little girl who said to her grandma as she was being put to bed, “Mommy and Daddy are entertaining some very important people downstairs.” “You’re right,” said the Grandma, “But how did you know?” “Just listen,” advised her granddaughter, “Mommy is laughing at all of Daddy’s jokes.”
God is not telling you to be insincere, but to be fully submissive, completely supportive with your whole heart in everything, because the opposite is true. Nothing discourages a husband more, nothing destroys a man’s confidence, nothing keeps a man from true, loving leadership more than a critical, unsubmissive wife. But you wives say, “What if I am right?” You really might be–but it is more important to God that you are submissive than that you are right.
“But what if my husband isn’t fulfilling his role of selflessly loving me?” First Peter 3:1 says, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives.” The husband will give an account to God for his failure, but you wives are still responsible to submit; it’s harder, but it is still God’s will.
Get this–God says in verse 24, whenever it is okay for the Church not to submit to Christ, it is okay for a wife not to submit to her husband. So fact one–the husband is the head. And fact two–the Church’s submission to Christ is the model. Now ladies, don’t think for a second that your husband is off the hook–not only is he the responsible, authoritative head, but there is much more that God calls husbands to do. And for the rest of it, you will have to come back in two weeks. Let’s pray.
In all of this, God calls husbands and wives to die to self. Our model is Christ, who died for us. You can’t die to self unless you know Christ personally. You can’t live your role unless you depend upon the Spirit of God, and you can’t unless you live according to the Word of God on your own. Pray and ask God to change you, even if it hurts.