Post Title: The Way of Submission
In Ephesians, chapter 5, we find one of the most historically abused texts in the church (along with other scriptures about women interpreted by male theologians). Let's start reading where every man loves to begin, in verse 22, Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
In the name of religion and spirituality, it has been used and abused by a fallen masculine nature to subjugate women in ways that contradict the very spirit of the text. For instance, we conveniently begin reading at verse 22 while ignoring verse 21, Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Messiah).
Our reading should begin at 5:1 because Paul's theme is, Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. The point is that just as Christ loves us, we need to love others. Paul then explains how husbands should love wives and wives should love husbands. He continues elaborating his imitating God theme to include parents and children (6:1-4), servants and masters (6:5-9).
So to women, Paul says, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. And to men he says, Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Based on our study about the nature of the masculine and the feminine—both original intent and fallen reality—you can see that Paul is essentially saying the same thing to men as he is saying to women. He is simply stating it in terminology suitable for each!
Submission is a voluntary act of adapting oneself to the other in love.
Women, you are exhorted—out of love for Christ, out of imitation of God—to voluntarily adapt yourselves to your husbands in love. And to voluntarily adapt yourself to your children by esteeming their best more highly than your own; by giving them precedence over yourself. That is the pattern, just as Jesus gives precedence to others over his own needs.
Then Paul turns around and really gives it to us men. What he asks of us is far more demanding—to love as Christ loves. The love he speaks of here is a sacrificial service, requiring self-denial. It is important to notice that the only renunciation and subjugation expressed in these texts is the man renouncing and subjecting his fallen nature in order to lift up his wife.
Does Messiah Jesus lord it over the church? No. That, he teaches, is the leadership style of pagans.
If you want to love your wife as Christ loved, you serve her. Headship is not a dirty word. It has been made so because of false masculine identity. Paul's mindset says, follow me as I follow Christ. What it means, men, to be the head of your home is to be able to say to your wife and children, follow me as I follow Christ.
Paul is not talking about headship here in any sense of hierarchy like the husband is the head of the company and the wife is vice-president (if the husband is gracious; if not, she is the secretary). No, no, no! Remember Genesis. Paul knew these scriptures far better than you and I. Men and women have different functions and qualities, but not different statuses.
Under his kingship, Jesus has restored us to the equality that God intended.
To wives, Paul says, "Given your feminine nature, here is how you love your husbands. You relate to them by voluntarily adapting yourself to their needs in love." And to husbands, he says, "Given your masculine nature, here is how you love your wives. You relate to them by subjugating that tendency to domineer and instead, serve them—even by giving up your life as Christ did."
As men, our first order of ministry is to our wives and children. They are not our only ministry, but they are to be our top priority. Paul says this is the criterion for ministering to God's family at large (the church). To be an elder you have to show yourself to be a leader at home because the church is nothing if not an extended family. If you have not discipled your wife and your children, if you don't lead by a godly example, if you don't engage in sacrificial service in love, then you are not qualified to lead (to be the head of the family of God), His church.
I will say to you women the same thing. If you are in a covenant marriage, your first order of ministry (not your only) is as a wife and a mother. You have no higher calling. I suspect when we get to heaven the real heroes are going to be wives and husbands who raised their children and nurtured one another in love.
Lest you be tempted to despair about your situation, please remember Paul got to chapter five of Ephesians by way of chapter one (perhaps re-read Ephesians 1:3-14). Our subject is men and women in the kingdom. All this is a work of the Spirit by grace, through faith (Eph 2:8).
You see, the human tendency is to think we will heal our brokenness by joining up with someone else. Only they are broken too, and we both discover the mathematics of the dysfunctional soul is multiplication. Brokenness × brokenness leads to more brokenness. If you are half-broken and you marry someone who is half-broken, together you are not whole but more badly broken.
Here is good news. The mathematics of the kingdom is addition. It is the plus of the cross. If you bring the cross to bear in your brokenness and the cross to bear in your mate's brokenness, then you have wholeness in Christ. You are complete in him. Women and men can function individually and together in various creative, powerful ways once each has come to completeness in Christ.
If we don't intentionally practice the presence of God, we unintentionally practice the presence of our broken self-image.
We must recognize it and repent; it is idolatry. On the other hand, if you give the King rule and reign in your life—if you put the government of your life upon his shoulders—then you enter into the shalom of a child of God and the wholeness of his household.
But it must begin with repentance and a recognition that you have been seeking other gods; that you are trying to find your identity in someone or something else. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is your Creator. Only in his presence, by way of the cross, do you come into the fullness of who you are because you are made in his image.
From that fullness comes a dynamic unity that can change a church, community, nation, and even the world.
The following is Dwight's prayer, at the end of this moving message, for those in attendance.
"Father, forgive us, but more than that, restore us to your divine pattern, to your very intent and purpose. We desire to have intimate fellowship with you, to hear your voice of approval so we don't have to seek after others. We long to receive your peace so we don't try to create our own, to receive your love so we can truly love others."
"Father, that is a gracious gift we petition you for, and we know by faith it is already available because Jesus paid the price for that gift. So please help us to come to a realization and a recognition. Let this teaching be a catalyst to encourage every man and every woman to find their completeness in Christ. For if that happens, then you are enthroned and your Name is lifted up. It is our heartfelt desire Father, that your kingdom come and your will, not ours, be done."
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.