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“Who says?” You have probably heard these words in an argument. You have probably spoken these words in an argument. The importance of those two words lies in the fact that they get down to the fundamental question of who has the “right” to be listened to and who has the right to be followed. Who is the leader? Of course, the problem in our culture is that no one wants to recognize anyone who is in such a position, that is, anyone who has authority. But as you can see in this issue, God has exercised His prerogative as the Creator of the universe to identify those who are called upon to lead in the church (the elders). He has also established the authority of the civil government (Rom. 13). The Scriptures also give clear guidance for the authority within the family.

Husbands and Wives

There is probably more misunderstanding about the husband-wife relationship than any other in our society. The Scriptures, however, are very clear. A key passage that brings clarity to the subject is found in Ephesians 5. In this chapter, Paul unpacks several practical implications of the new life in Jesus, including how husbands and wives should relate to one another. We begin, as Paul does, with a look at the wife’s role:

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. (Eph. 5:22–24)

As we look at this text, we must beware of the caricatures and misunderstandings that abound. Many years ago, as I was beginning my theological studies, a friend and I were talking and he said, “Hey, Tim, I found my favorite verse in the Bible.” I said, “Really, what is it?” He said, “Wives, be in submission to your husbands.” He followed it with a hearty laugh. I asked, “Did you read the rest of the passage?” Looking somewhat flummoxed, he answered, “Nope,” and slinked away. It was obvious that he had not read on about the complementary roles that men and women are called to fulfill in the context of marriage.

We must first note that men and women are both created in the “image of God” (Gen. 1:26). They are also both charged to have dominion over creation. The Scriptures are unique in the dignity that is afforded to the feminine gender. But it is important to understand that husbands and wives are called to different roles in marriage.

Jesus came into the world in submission and obedience to the Father, but at no time was He inferior to the Father.
Wives: Respectful Submission

The wife is called upon to respect the loving leadership of her husband. The word “submit,” used by Paul in this context, has at its root the idea of “order.” For any organization to function properly, there must be a place where the “buck stops.” The purpose of this arrangement is not so that the husband can give orders but so that there is order in the home. Primus inter pares is a great Latin phrase that captures this dynamic. It means “first among equals.” Below, we will see the nature of the leadership the husband is called to provide.

But let’s dash some of the caricatures about the wife’s role. First, a wife’s submission to her husband is not an expression of inferiority. There are some who think that when one is called to submit to another, this automatically implies that the one who submits is inferior. This is not the case. The most profound example of this is the Lord Jesus Himself. He existed eternally with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the glory of heaven. But, of the mystery of the incarnation, Paul writes:

Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:6–8)

Jesus came into the world in submission and obedience to the Father, but at no time was He inferior to the Father. His submission was for the purpose of accomplishing our redemption. As the God-man, He perfectly fulfilled the law in our place. As the God-man, He perfectly atoned for our sins on the cross. The voluntary submission of the Savior to the Father in the incarnation was designed for a specific purpose, but at no time was He in a position of inferiority.

Similarly, the wife’s respect of her husband’s leadership is not an expression of inferiority but an acknowledgment of submission to God’s plan for order in the family. It is a grave error for a husband to misconstrue his place of leadership as a position of superiority. Remember that Peter described wives as “heirs with you of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is no slave and free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). With regard to our standing in Christ, there is no difference. Husband and wife are equal partakers in the benefits and standing secured by the work of Christ, but marriage is a partnership in which we are called to different roles.

Second, the wife’s submission to her husband in marriage is voluntary. The responsibility to submit does not mean the submission of every woman to every man. It is a unique dynamic established for the orderly functioning of the family in marriage. Therefore, it is very important for a woman to take this into consideration when she is considering marriage. Is the man you intend to marry someone whose leadership you respect and to whom you can submit? If not, he’s not the right man. All too often, women think they can change a man after they marry him. Don’t count on it.

Third, the submission of a wife to her husband is an expression of her submission to Christ. For a wife, following her husband’s leadership is an important aspect of following Christ. Paul writes, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). This doesn’t mean “as if your husband were the Lord” but rather “as part of your obligation to the Lord.” One way to make a very stubborn and discouraged husband is to fail to respect his leadership. While this is the wife’s obligation in the Lord, as husbands, we must always ask ourselves if we are respectable and if we are leading as the Lord intended. This leads us to examine the role of the husband.

Husbands: Loving Leaders

The wife is called to a difficult role, but it is a role that will be much easier to bear if her husband fulfills his responsibility to provide loving leadership. It is interesting to note that Paul addresses forty words to wives but 115 to husbands. In Ephesians 5:25–33, he describes the role of husbands in marriage. The key is verse 25: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

What is the standard of love that is set before husbands? It is the sacrificial love of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is His loving servant leadership that provides the environment for wives to follow. Let’s see how Christ’s love sets the example for the love of husbands for their wives.

First, Christ’s love is unconditional. There was nothing about you or me that deserved or required Christ’s love. Quite the contrary, “God shows his love for us in that while were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Not only did we not love Him, but we were heading the opposite direction in our sin. It is the classic case of unrequited love. This is why our relationship with Him is solely by His grace.

Our love for our wives must be unconditional as well. We have to admit at the outset that the analogy breaks down because we are sinful human beings. We must admit that there were “conditions” that attracted us to our wives including personality, interests, and even good looks. However, our love for our wives is grounded in the commitment that we made in our wedding vows in the presence of God and witnesses. Your love for your wife must be unconditional in that it does not change based on circumstances. Husbands need to beware of communicating to their wives that their love is based on how they look today or how they respond to them today. Our love is based on commitment, not conditions.

Second, Christ’s love is sacrificial. Paul writes that husbands are to love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). To what extent did Jesus love the church? He gave Himself completely for her. His coming was to give Himself in selfless service. We as husbands are told that this is our model for serving our wives. This is so contrary to our natural inclination. We all like to be served, especially at home. Husbands need to be the chief servants at home, ready to do what is necessary around the house and with the children.

Finally, Paul reminds us that Jesus was concerned for the holiness of the church. His love and sacrifice were in order “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so 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” (Eph. 5:26–27). The love of Jesus in giving Himself was not merely that we might be forgiven but that we would be holy. A husband’s primary concern should be that his wife and children are encouraged in their growth in Jesus. As with the wife’s role, being a loving leader is part of the husband’s obedience to Christ.

We can rejoice that God has spoken and taught us what leadership in the home should look like. Granted, these respective roles do not come naturally or easily because of our sinful selfishness. This is the reason that our homes need to be places of repentance and forgiveness where daily reliance on the grace of the gospel and the power of the Spirit are modeled and practiced. Only then will our children see in their parents the reality of the gospel. Only then, according to God’s intended plan, will our marriages reflect the mystery of the relationship between Christ and His church.

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From the November 2017 Issue
Nov 2017 Issue