The Third in a Three-part series on Marriage
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour … Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy … each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” … (Ephesians 5:21-33 – read the whole passage)
I read from this passage as part of my homily at a marriage ceremony I conducted not too long ago. There were other pastors at this happy occasion. At the end of the service one of them said to me that I was brave for speaking from this passage because of the controversial nature of its ideas in today’s society.
To be sure there is something of a cringe factor when reading this passage because in liberated Western culture today we have difficulty with words like “head” and “headship” or “submit” and “submission”. Sadly, we have copious examples of how these words have been misapplied resulting in much abuse and hurt.
I have to say though, that we find the proper meaning for these words from the person of Jesus himself. After all, Paul is saying that a marriage between a man and a woman is supposed to take its example from the relationship between Jesus and His Bride, the Church. So despite the pejorative meanings that our contemporary culture has attached to these words, they actually need to be understood in the light that Jesus sheds on them by his own example.
So we see, for example, that as Head of the Church, Jesus is by no means domineering or controlling, although you could argue that he had the position and the power to do so, as Master of the Universe. In fact, instead we see that:
- He added value to children in a culture where children were valueless (unless you become like a little child).
- He brought dignity to women at a time when women were treated as second-class (revealing who He was to the Samaritan woman at the well, or his Resurrection to Mary Magdalene).
- His motley crew of nobody disciples were so empowered by being with Jesus that through their lives the world has forever been transformed!
- He laid down his life for the sake of His Church, making her a holy, radiant Bride without spot or wrinkle. (This is his ultimate demonstration of headship.)
Therefore, following the example of Jesus, headship can only be properly understood in terms of empowering servant-leadership. The husband is meant to love his wife (and family) in a self-sacrificial manner. After all, in this passage, Paul points out it is the redemptive aspect of Jesus’ actions that is the model for us as husbands.
It is my observation that as I love my wife in this radical Christ-like manner that she feels safe enough to submit to my position as head. She does not do so in some compliant, passive manner; nor would I want her to do so. We are submitted to one another and we get to be co-leaders with Christ.