Because of the grace of God shown toward us in Christ and due to the gratitude we experience as redeemed people, we must walk “worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called” (Eph. 4:1). As members of Christ’s church, this walk involves serving one another (Eph. 5:21). Moreover, the Christian imperative to serve appears often in Scripture (Matt. 20:20–28; 1 Peter 4:10).
The meaning of service, however, differs according to our specific vocations. Obviously, the pastor serves his congregation differently than the layperson. He preaches the Word of God, administers the sacraments, and provides leadership and vision for his people. His leadership is a specific form of service that fulfills the Lord’s general call to serve others just as the layperson’s following of the pastor is a particular kind of service that obeys this same command.
Let us keep in mind this principle of the call to service as we consider Paul’s teaching on the roles of husbands and wives. Husbands and wives are to serve one another according to the principle of mutual Christian service, but the form this service takes is gender-specific. Thus, Ephesians 5:21 cannot be used to deny male headship and authority in the home. Wives serve their husbands by submitting to them (vv. 22–24). Husbands serve their wives not by submitting to them but by leading them and by loving them with a sacrificial love in imitation of the way that Christ loves the church (vv. 25–33).
The submission that the apostle enjoins upon wives in verses 22–24 is not the kind of service that all believers, husbands included, must render to one another in the church (v. 21). Wifely submission is a particular submission, one in which she obeys the Christian obligation to serve within the parameters of the marital covenant. Wives must follow the leading of their husbands, not every man in this world.
Furthermore, a husband’s authority is not absolute. The wife submits to her husband “as to the Lord” (v. 22); thus, she follows his direction insofar as he does not ask her to sin. There are innumerable applications that flow from this call to wise submission, and we will consider many of them over the next few days.