In Western society, we are altogether too familiar with the words of Ephesians 5:22-24 (ESV), and how this passage has been abused, which says:
“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.”
The problem here is that this is so often interpreted by unwise men as offering carte blanche. It is a stupid husband indeed who tries to rule his wife, and indeed his family, by fiat. (Don’t believe me, men? Go try it. Don’t blame me if you end up in couchville. You’ve been warned).
What is indeed too quickly forgotten is that this passage is addressed to “wives”–not husbands. And we husbands would do well to “forget” that it’s even there. Besides, who among us can make his wife “submit,” or obey a command of God, when not even God Himself compels anyone to do so? (See above line about “couchville”).
Men, we would do well to leave the commands addressed to the ladies to the ladies. Fair enough? Beyond this, First Corinthians 13 tells us that “love does not seek its own,” and trying to make someone do something they don’t wish to do is not love–it’s compulsion. (Let’s also not forget “do nothing from selfish ambition”).
The next part of these hotly contested verses in Ephesians (vs. 25-28), reads as follows:
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”
Whoa! Heavy words! This kind of love requires great self-sacrifice (just as is expected by God of the ladies) on the part of men. It is indeed a high calling, and not something to be taken lightly. Heaven has put us on notice, men, and we are “encompassed by a great cloud of witnesses.”
Are we indeed loving our wives this way? (Irregardless of whether we think they’re living up to their part of the bargain?) If so, why is, and has there been, a feminist movement? Who do the ladies feel as they need to fight for their rights? Unless there was, and is, an abridgment thereof? Think about it, men.
Now in the spirit of “fair is fair,” please notice that the foregoing section is addressed to husbands, and not wives. Thus, wives, you would do well to “forget” it, and the corresponding passage in your Bibles. Because it is not addressed to you–as the other verses are not addressed to husbands. Else, if as a wife, you find yourself demanding that he sacrifice for you, you risk engaging in the same kind of compulsion that men are so often guilty of. Make sense?
At root, both sides of this coin–both sets of verses–are about giving. Giving in a spirit, in an atmosphere, of love. As mentioned above, “love does not seek its own,” rather love gives. It, like Mexican food, is the gift that keeps on giving. And giving.
Love, like Jesus, gives beyond all common sense for the sake of the beloved. That is my understanding of these verses in Ephesians. The problem is that we often muck things up when, like busybodies, we get our noses out of joint when the other party isn’t–in our estimation–living up to their obligation (as we see it).
Since when can any of us make anyone else do anything? Again, even trying to do so is compulsion–not love. Not giving, but taking.
There’s much more that could be said here (and the implications go far beyond gender), but know this: all of us–men and women–are created in the image of God. As such, we serve a Lord who is who is as equally opposed to misandry as He is to misogyny. Else why do the Scriptures say “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but all are one in Christ Jesus?”
Because this is a serious, thorny issue replete with all kinds of baggage, I realize tackling this in a blog post is akin to trying unravel the Gordian knot. That said, how do you see it? Am I too much of a complementarian, or too much of an egalitarian? Have I stepped on your toes?