Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives, submit to your husbands as 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … In this same way, husbands outht to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (verses 21-25, 28-31)
A very wise woman I knew would read this passage to couples in preparation for marriage and preface the portion to wives by saying to the man, “Now, don’t you listen to this,” and would then preface the portion to husbands by saying to the woman, “Now, it’s your turn – don’t you listen to this, either.”
Of course they listened anyway. Plus, they’d already read the entire passage previously and knew full well what it said. But her point was well taken. This is not a passage for husbands to hold over their wives, nor vice versa. Rather, this is a passage that gives challenging instruction to both, individually.
Let’s start with the husband. “Love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” What more challenging instruction could be given? Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and then said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15). Husband, do that. He laid down his life, and the Apostle Paul wrote, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who … emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant … becoming obedient to the point of death” (Phil. 2:5-8, NASB). Husband, do that. “Consider others better than yourselves” (Phil 2:3), Paul wrote, again reflecting on Jesus’ example. Husband, carry that out with your wife.
These instructions, of course, are for all believers in all circumstances. But Paul here tells husbands they have a very specific calling to live this Christ-shaped love in the most intimate relationship of their lives. “Love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.” It’s compelling instruction for the whole of life. And if a husband sought to do this well, how could his wife not be blessed and cherished and strengthened and built-up?
And what about wives? “Submit to your husbands as to the Lord,” the text says, running us, full speed, into the word in Christian discipleship which is perhaps most difficult to embrace in our current age. “Submit.” The further word, “head,” is hotly debated, specifically regarding what it implies for the husband’s role – is Paul saying he’s the undisputed “boss”, or is there a different nuance? We won’t enter that debate now. The word “submit” is challenge enough. What it implies is a laying aside of one’s own privileges for the sake of the other, as in washing feet. It implies “emptying” oneself, not clinging to rights and position, instead yielding for the good of another, as Christ did on the cross. It implies looking out for the interests of others, considering them better than yourself, as Christ’s example compels us to do. And, of course, “submit” is Paul’s instruction for all believers, regardless of gender, submitting to one another “out of reverence for Christ.”
My point is that in so many ways the separate challenges for wives and husbands are like flip sides of the same coin, the coin being the life and death example of Jesus himself. Oh yes, there are further depths to plumb in the marriage relationship, but don’t miss this ongoing basic challenge of living selflessly, just like Christ.
If husbands and wives could fully embrace this teaching, regardless of how well their spouse embraced their own side of the coin, consider what blessing would flow in a world of fracturing marriages.
To Christ be the glory.
Lord Jesus, thank you that your example gives us light and direction in the whole of life, including the intimacy of marriage. Strengthen husbands and wives to embrace your life. Strengthen me. For your name’s sake. Amen.
Pray: If you are married, ask the Lord to strengthen you this day to step more fully into his own example as you live with your spouse. If you are single, choose a married couple you know and pray the Lord’s rich blessing upon them.