[Editor’s Note: This summer we at BtT are running some older but good posts. Look out for all new content in August. This post originally appeared on October 25, 2008.]
Portrait of a Redeemed Wife
In Ephesians 5:21-24, 33 Paul instructs the godly, redeemed wife. His words, both to her and her husband, should be read in the greater context of the entire chapter, especially verses 1-2, 8-9, 15-20. Two guidelines for marriage are set before her. First, she should honor her husband with her submission (vs. 21-24) and secondly she should honor her husband with respect (v. 33).
Submission is an attitude that leads to action. It has the idea of yielding ones rights and “followship” to another. It is a theme repeatedly addressed in the Bible and in a positive context (e.g. Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 2:13, 18). The word implies no inferiority whatsoever. Men and women are ontologically and essentially equal before God as His image-bearers. A wife’s submission is functional in terms of her divinely ordained responsibility in marriage. I believe this is reflective of what we discover in the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are ontologically, essentially and equally God. They are, to use classic Trinitarian language, co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial in relationship to each other. Yet in His assignment to redeem us from sin, God the Son is willingly submission to His Father. Thus the Son can affirm essential equality with His Father when He says, “before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58), “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30), and “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), while also using “sending language” [e.g. the Father sending the Son] as well as saying, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work” (John 4:34), “I always do what pleases Him (John 8:30), “I honor My Father” (John 8:49), and “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). The Bible is clear there is no inferiority in yielding to the leadership and direction of another.
Now a question naturally arises: are there occasions when a wife’s submission to her husband would actually be inappropriate and the wrong thing to do? I believe the answer is yes, if he were to ask or require her to do something unbiblical, unethical, immoral or illegal. In these particular context, her allegiance to Jesus would supersede her submission to her husband. Further, submitting to ones husband does not entail spousal abuse. Submitting to physical beatings and putting one’s life and the lives of the children in danger is not biblical. It is actually foolish and unwise. A time of separation may be in order. It may even be necessary to have an abusive husband arrested for his criminal activity against his wife and family.
Verse 33 also calls a wife to respect her husband. Now this is a good time to transition from the disciplines of biblical and systematic theology to that of practical theology. Scanning scripture for reoccurring themes and then attempting to package them in a manageable form, what are some specific ways in which a wife can bless her husband as she seeks to honor him with her submission and respect? That will be the subject of our next article.