Families. They’re so important. They’re the place where our most significant relationships are. Husband. Wife. Children. Parents. They’re the place where we learn so much about our lives. In a Christian family, they’re where we first come face to face with the good news of Jesus.
When you think about it, it’s not surprising how much the Bible speaks about families. God values families. The first commandment that comes with a blessing is one that involves our families. Time and again in the Old Testament, God tells parents to pass on to their kids the stories of what he had done. And I believe that that is still God’s plan for our families today. Our families are meant to be places where we can together explore the goodness of God. Where we discuss God’s goodness with each other.
One of the books I’ve been reading speaks about how godly homes have a beautiful fragrance to them. They carry the smell of grace and peace. Can you spot it when you walk into a Christian home? Does the fact that you are a Christian make a difference to your home? I honestly believe that God would have that our homes filled with his presence. I believe he intends our families to be places where we grow in our walk with Jesus. And as that happens, our families will be a demonstration of God’s goodness to our friends and neighbours.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring what a godly home looks like. And some of the ways that we can seek to grow godly families. This week, we’re beginning with the most basic of family arrangements: the husband and the wife. How does our being Christians affect the way that husbands and wives are meant to interact with each other?
I realise that today’s passage comes with a bit of baggage. Just about everybody knows about verses 22 to 24. A lot of feminists would say that this passage shows off the chauvinistic qualities of Christianity. They laugh and say how ridiculous it is to assume that women have to submit to men. And they’re right in that. But they’ve missed Paul’s point. But even the church has made the mistake of misusing this text in the past. There are those who used Ephesians 5 to say that women are under the authority of men. Some of you might even have heard it said that it’s God’s plan that husbands have the final say in any marriage. That husbands are in charge. I’ve heard it said. Many times.
But you might have noticed that our Bible reading this morning didn’t begin at verse 22. And for good reason. Because verse 15 to 21 are vital to understanding what Paul has to say about husbands and wives. I’m sure you’ve heard that old say that if you take a text out of context, all you’re left with is a con. You’re left with half the story.
Well look at verse 15. What Paul is talking about is the nitty gritty of living Christian lives. Paul’s urging us to be careful about how we live as Christians. He wants to be wise in the decisions we make. He wants us to take advantage of every opportunity that we get. He wants us to understand what the Lord’s will is. In other words, says Paul, we are to live wisely. The context for Paul’s discussion of families is us being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Paul says some pretty important things about what our Christian lives should look like. But I’d like to look at the last point he raises. Because part of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit is submitting to one another out of reverence for Jesus. All of us, as Christians, are called to submit to each other. And that doesn’t mean letting everybody else run my life. Submission is about humility. It’s about respect. It’s about being willing to let somebody else call the shots. It’s about being willing to take second place. It’s about being like Jesus. We do it out of reverence for Jesus. When we submit to one another we are emulating Jesus’ approach to life. We’re saying that we value somebody else so much that we’re willing to lose out on what we want so that they can be better off.
Doesn’t that descibe Jesus to a T? Isn’t that what he did? He submitted to the cross for our sake. As Paul puts it in Philippians 2:8, Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death. Not because he wanted to die, but because he loved us so much. Because his love for us was greater than his desire to not die. And he didn’t want to die. But he submitted to the agony of death for our sake. That’s what submission is about. It’s about how much we value each other.
We live in a world where the idea of submitting to each other would be treated as a joke. Australia’s all about being the best you you can be. It’s about self-actualisation. It’s about chasing after your own dreams. But, says Paul, as Christians filled with Holy Spirit, we are called to give up our rights so that we can support each other. Submission to each other is love in action.
And that can mean that sometimes we don’t get our own way. When we submit to each other, we deny ourselves. And that’s not something that comes naturally to most of us. We need the Spirit’s help. Submitting to each other is a God thing. It’s what happens when we are filled with the Spirit of God.
So that’s the context in which Paul is writing: what a life filled with the Spirit of God is to look like. The theory is that we submit to each other. And what Paul does in verses 22 forwards is to show us a few examples of what that looks like in our everyday lives. In other words when Paul says that wives are to submit to their husbands in verse 22, he’s showing us an example of what Christians submitting to each other looks like. And when he talks about husbands loving their wives, he’s doing exactly the same thing.
In fact, if there was any doubt, if you look into the original Greek, the word “submit” doesn’t actually appear. It’s inferred from verse 21. It’s carried over. It’s like Paul’s saying, “all of you submit to each other. Wives do it. Husbands love your wives. Because Jesus did that. Do it out of reverence for Christ.
You see, when Paul mentions submitting to husbands he’s not speaking about husbands being in charge. In fact, what Paul is saying was incredibly radical thing. Back in those days, most women had very few rights. In many ways, they were as powerless as slaves. It was a chauvinistic society. Women were considered, generally, to be inferior to men. They weren’t allowed to give evidence in court. Their lot in life was to get married and have kids. In a lot of cases, the world wasn’t too different to some of the stricter Muslim countries today. Women didn’t mix with the men. Think of the Jewish temple – the women weren’t allowed to go into the inner courtyard. They were second class citizens.
But Jesus changed all of that. You just have to read through the gospels – particularly Luke – to see how well Jesus treated women. The first witnesses to his resurrection were women. Because the truth of the matter is that in Jesus there is no longer any distinction between men and women. All the walls that segregate society are gone in Christ. There are just Christians and non-Christians. We are all priests under Jesus – regardless of our gender. We are all equal in Christ. Galatians 3:28 puts it well – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
That’s Paul writing! You are all one in Christ. And that’s how it worked in the church! Men and women meeting together. Paul writes about women who were deacons in the church. Women who had authority over certain areas of their local community.
So why, then, does Paul go and tell wives to submit to their husbands? I think part of the answer is in what he says in Titus 2:5. He calls on wives to submit to their husbands so that nobody would malign the word of God. In Christ, these wives were – are – equal to any man. But to give the gospel an opportunity to reach into the community of the time, Paul asked the women to give up their right to independence. Voluntarily. For the sake of the Word of God. For the sake of the gospel. Out of reverence, as verse 21 puts it, for Christ.
There’s no natural order built into creation that says that women have to submit to men. Christian submission is a voluntarily thing – a joyful reaction to God’s Spirit in us. Wives are called to submit to their husbands because all Christians are called to submit to each other. And Paul urges wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. As part of giving control of your life to Jesus, wives are challenged to sacrificially, voluntarily put their husbands before themselves.
Paul does goes on to say that husbands are the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. But I don’t think headship means being in charge. Remember, Paul’s speaking about putting our faith into practice. Verse 21 – it’s about submitting to each other. Being the head of the family is about taking responsibility for the welfare of the family. It’s about putting your wife first before yourself. It’s about loving her till it hurts. It’s about being willing to put up with anything just so that she will be okay.
Paul never tells husbands to rule. He tells them to love. To love like Jesus loves us. With the kind of love that went to cross for the sake of the church. Just as Jesus submitted to the cross for our sake, husbands are called to submit for the sake of their wives. Being the head of the family is about being the family’s servant. Just as Jesus humbled himself on the cross, became a servant. For us.
Christ loved us so much that he died for us. The ultimate submission. That’s the kind of headship demanded of Christian husbands. I think the best symbol for Christian marriage isn’t so much a wedding ring. It’s a cross. It’s about giving up for the sake of the other. It’s about husbands loving their wives no matter what. It’s about wives pampering their husbands egos! And just like the cross makes us one with Jesus, so marriage makes husband and wife one. United in submission to each other for the sake of Jesus.
Let me finish here. Christian marriage should look like Christian life. It’s all based on what Jesus has done. It’s about submitting to each other. Wives. And husbands even more so. And us blokes need to take this to heart. If you are a Christian husband, submitting to Christ at home is a tough call. In love, you’re wife must always come first. Let her win – because you love her enought to not have to win. And if you’re a Christian wife, submitting to Christ means that you need to be willing to give in. It’s about letting your husband win – because you love Jesus – and your husband loves you.
And if you’re not a husband or a wife – like me – the principle for husbands and wives applies to us as well. Submit to each other.