Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. (verses 18-21)
Wow. Talk about bullet-points for family life! Here they are:
(1) “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands.” This statement seems completely out of tune with the world in which we now live. You can imagine a present-day author having their book banned simply for including such a statement. We are hyper-sensitive to anything that seems to put women in a subservient role – and rightly so, for women have been short-changed, side-lined, diminished and oppressed, too often, for too long.
But hold up a moment. I’m going to argue that these bullet-points do not unequally target women – more on that in a moment. In the meantime, let’s simply acknowledge that none of us, neither male nor female, love the word “submit.” For those of us in the western world, the word immediately raises hackles. We love freedom, independence, personal rights – we loathe “submit.” But followers of Jesus are called to embrace it. Indeed, Paul charges all of us to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). It’s to be an ongoing posture of Christian life, a distinctive characteristic in the midst of a world that hates the concept. Further, it’s a means of honouring Jesus, for it follows his own example of stripping off rights for the sake of others, stooping down to wash feet, and laying down life that others might be saved.
So, wives, do that for your husbands. Don’t spend your time demanding your own way, standing up for your own rights, asserting your own freedom. Rather, having entered into the covenant of marriage with your partner, submit to serve as Christ did himself. It “is fitting in the Lord.”
Enough said. It will take a lifetime of day-by-day engagement to realize the fullness of the command.
(2) “Husbands, love your wives.” If it seems that men are getting off easy, only being called to a warm gush of subjective feelings, then we need to take a closer look at “love.” The background, of course, is the costly, risk-bearing love of Jesus himself. It caused him to stoop low, leaving heaven, entering human experience, stripping aside divine rights. It propelled him to the cross, through scorn and humiliation, anguish and torment, isolation and death. “Love,” therefore, is a loaded word. Just as the command to “submit” is spoken to all Christ’s followers, so, too, with “love.” On the night before his passion, Jesus said: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). And then he laid down his life.
Husbands, love like that. To do so, you will need to decisively lay aside your own rights for the sake of your wife. Did you think you got to “call all the shots”? How is that “loving like Jesus”? “Do not be harsh” with her, Paul says. Of course – how could you be harsh if you are to love like Jesus?
Husband, this is a calling that stretches. It will take a lifetime of day-by-day engagement to realize the fullness of the command.
These two bullet-points pack an equal punch. It seems to me that if we truly understood “love,” it would easily raise as many hackles as the word “submit.” Indeed, I am convinced the two words are flipsides of the same coin.
So, let’s not complain of unequal treatment. All who enter marriage as followers of Jesus are called to his high standard of coming down, laying aside rights for love of the other.
Embrace the commands. Live them with all you’ve got.
(We’ll get to the other two bullet-points tomorrow.)
Lord Jesus, your teaching and your example are the powerful motive forces for a life of submission and love. Strengthen me by your Spirit to live it. Bless wives to embrace it. Bless husbands likewise. To your glory. Amen.
Reflect: If you are married, consider what difference Paul’s instruction needs to make in your life right now. If you are not married, pray the Lord’s strength on some who are.