Today’s text: Isaiah 23-25 Ephesians 5:17-23
Dr. James Dobson published a book titled What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew about Women. While his intent was for the book to be read by the husband so he could better understand and build a deeper and more rewarding relationship with his wife, often that was not the case. Frequently, at least among our friends, the book was read by the wife and became a checklist to innumerate the many deficiencies in the bum she married. About the time the excitement started to wind down Dobson’s publisher released a second book titled What Husbands Wish Their Wives Knew About Men and round two started with a vengeance. I do not recall any points where Dobson erred in his presentation. It seems that trouble was not in what was written but rather how it was applied by the unintended reader.
In today’s text Paul is writing to the Christians at Ephesus and in this portion of the epistle he has just turned his reader’s attention towards their personal relationships. In Ephesians 5:21 Paul urges his readers to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Unity in the church is important. Bickering or quarreling amongst believers consumes resources, creates division and ultimately diminishes the effectiveness of the body. When we get to Ephesians 5:23 we find one of the most commonly misapplied or misquoted scriptures of the Bible. Paul here focuses his address to the wives and says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” The comparison he makes is that the relationship of the wife to her husband is to be reflective of the church’s submission to Jesus. This does not put the husband in the place of the Lord but rather is illustrative of the attitude and nature of submission. As was the case with Dobson’s work too often this scripture is used by the wrong party to illuminate perceived deficiencies in the other. It is important to note that by definition submission is a voluntary action. To force, leverage or compel the act of submission violates the definition and the act is no longer rightly call submission but rather merely compliance.
So why would anyone want to submit so profoundly to another? While it is beyond the prescribed reading of today’s text the answer is found in 5:25 where Paul now turns the full weight of his address towards the husband. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Paul is requiring a sacrificial love. A kind of love that fully understands the cost of grace. A love that devotes itself completely to the good and provision of the wife. A kind of love that is attentive to the need of the wife. A love that listens and bears up under the burdens she carries. The kind of love that never leaves or forsakes. The kind of love that we experienced when we received the gift that was purchased for us on Calvary. When husbands consistently love their wives as Christ loves His bride the whole submission thing melts away and unity becomes the fruit of commitment.