Paul is very short and to the point here in verses 18 and 19: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.”
These are controversial in some circles, in fact in many circles, and that causes some Christians to dismiss this altogether and say that this was a cultural thing, not necessarily something that applies to us today. The problem with that is that it’s repeated in multiple other places in the New Testament, and the reasons given for these commands aren’t cultural at all. Verse 18- “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” That doesn’t sound cultural; that sounds universal.
The more detailed parallel passage in Ephesians 5:22-24, says it this way: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” Now, I don’t want to go into detail as to what that means, because we’ll actually be covering this exact passage in April, so you can look forward to that. But the main thing I want you to see here is that this command is not cultural. It’s based in God’s creative design for marriage.
Now it’s really important for us to understand what this means. These words, “submit to your husbands,” another way of putting that is “be subject” or “to put oneself under.” This does not mean the husband compels the wife to do this. This is an absolutely voluntary act. This command is for woman to submit to the loving leadership of the husband. It’s NOT a command for the husband to subject her to his leadership. You see the difference there? It’s incredibly important for us to see the difference. Submission is different from obedience. In this passage obedience is commanded to children and servants, not wives. I want to be as clear as ever that never does Scripture condone the husband being overbearing in his attitude with his wife. Submission does not mean servitude, nor being a doormat, it means putting yourself under the loving, sacrificial leadership of your husband, which brings me to the command for husband.
Verse 19- “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” This love that’s commanded is a covenant love; it’s a choice. It’s not just an emotional love at all, it’s something you choose and promise to your bride. This reminds me of this language we use sometimes: I fell in love! I fell in love. What are you implying by saying that? You’re implying you couldn’t help but love this person! That’s good, there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. I’ll say when I started getting to know Lauryn, I really couldn’t help but love her. So, in a very real sense, I fell in love with her. BUT, and this is a big but, love is not just something we can’t help.
It’s not just some big pit you fall into and can’t get out. Oh, I fell in this pit called love and I can’t get out, at least for now. Love is more than that. It’s a choice to serve and lead your bride for better or for worse! In other words, the excuse that many men give in our culture when they desire divorce, the excuse that says, “I can’t really do anything about it; I don’t love her anymore.” That excuse, it’s a farce. You can’t blame some abstract thing called love that comes and goes, because we have no control over it. We can’t do that, as Christians. Why? Because love is a more than emotion. It’s also a commitment to absolutely never forsake your spouse.
Once again, the parallel passage in Ephesians 5, which we’re looking at in April, spends NINE verses explaining what it means for the husband to love the wife. It’s a massive command. We’re called to love our wives like Christ loved the church! You realize how, exactly, he loved the church? He died for it! I can’t help but think that while the command for wives to submit to husbands is more controversial, the command for husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the church is more difficult! Maybe they’re both challenging commands, but the point here is this isn’t a 50-50 give-and-take type of relationship. It’s a 100%-100% give give give give give no matter if the other person ever gives back. Why? Because that reflects the Gospel!
The Christ-Centered Marriage
Such a profound truth, that our marriages can, in effect, give a picture of the Gospel with the people around us. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” That’s Romans 5:8. In marriage, “While one is yet selfish, the other still serves.” What a picture of the Gospel, that the husband would be so committed to following Christ and to loving and leading his family that your bride would gladly submit to your leadership, and gladly follow you. That’s a beautiful thing, and also an uncommon thing. That’s the Christ-Centered Marriage.
This is an excerpt from a message Ryan preached at Raintree Community Church on March 13th, 2016. As soon as it is available, you can read or listen to the entire message by going HERE.