Ephesians 5:22-33: Love and Submission?

Such a reviled word, submission.  Given a different worldview, which concerns itself for others, we set aside our desires and rights for the benefit of another.  Now, this is part of following Jesus because He did the same for us.  The rights and privileges of being God, He put away, becoming human, walking the road of humility to redeem us.  In a desire to serve, Jesus bore the burden of our sin, submitting Himself, leaving nothing left for Himself in body, soul, and spirit.

The Apostle Paul details what this obedience is like, using marriage as a model.  Still, whether married or not, he shows us the attitude, meant to shape us from within, in every aspect of our lives.

Now, we find Paul’s words hard: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is head of the wife as Jesus is head of the Church.  Now as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives must be submissive to their husbands in everything.”

Ouch.  Oh, how we try to soften or ignore those words, revealing we all realize what they say.  Why else do we want to rationalize away what we are to embrace?  Like our Lord is the head of His Church, so is the husband to his wife.  Like every Christian is supposed to respect, honor, and follow Jesus, so is a wife to be toward her husband.

Of course, our sinful nature despises this.  For if someone lives like this, she becomes vulnerable, removing her wall of protection, leaving herself open to potential abuse.  To guard against this, we come up with the wrong solution for this sin-based problem.

“Love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her,” Scripture commands husbands.  Here’s why.  “The two are one flesh.”  The husband isn’t a king who runs roughshod over his subjects but displays the serving leadership of Jesus.

Among His disciples, Jesus led and taught them.  The incarnate, noble Shepherd took care of them and steered them out of harm’s way.  On the night of His betrayal, Jesus stooped down and washed His disciples’ feet—a task for only the lowest of slaves.  After finishing, He told them, “I give you an example” (John 13:15).

In the same way, a Christian husband is to lead in humility and self-sacrificing service.  Like Jesus, He is to care for His wife as Christ cherished His Church, sacrificing Himself to save her.  The heavenly Father calls for a husband to die, if required, to save the life of his wife.

Now, women balk at submitting to their husbands as men resist the sacrificial love they are called to live.  Most husbands want wives to make them happy and satisfy their needs.  This thinking began in our fall into sin, when Adam forsook his role to protect Eve.  Though Eve first ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, whom did God first approach about this?  Not Eve, but Adam—because he failed to fulfill His God-given role.

Now, whether you are a husband or a wife, you must admit you don’t come anywhere near God’s standards.  Yes, we are all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.

Let’s go back to an earlier union, which pre-dated the first man and woman—the one among the three Persons of God.  Today, we’ll focus on the Father and Son.  The Scripture and the Creeds teach us the Son is begotten of the Father, not made.  What does this mean?  The Father gives of Himself, from of His Being, to generate God the Son.  For this reason, they are of the same essence and substance.

Though this took place before our creation, this isn’t only a one-time event.  No, this oneness between Son and Father is also an eternal and continuous state of being, which means this is still going on, into eternity.  Of this, Jesus gives us a clue, “I live because of the Father” (John 6:57).  So, the Father is evermore bestowing Himself to His Son, who always is.  The Father as the Source of All still gives to the Son, which is how He shows His love, giving of Himself for the life of the Son.

How does the Son show His love for the Father?  Well, He can’t reciprocate as the Father does, generating Him in eternity.  No, so Jesus submits to His Father’s will.  The Scriptures also record this, “I came to do the will of my Father” (John 6:38).

In Gethsemane, before His execution on a Roman cross, Jesus prayed.  “Not my will, but yours” (Luke 22:42).  The perfect bond of love existing from eternity is the Father giving Himself for His Son, and the Son surrendering His will to the Father.  Though they are two Persons, they are one God.  Sounds a bit like marriage, with God shaping human marriage based on the unity between Himself and His Son!

Contemplate what happens when the Lord makes man in His image.  First, He shaped Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils His life-bestowing breath.  The man now becomes a living being, receiving the life from God.  Still, something is missing, for the man is alone.  No one of His kind exists, no one whom he can love in all its richness and fullness.

So, he needs another.  How does God create the second human?  What He doesn’t do is form another being from this earth’s soil.  No, He puts the man into a deep sleep, opens him up, and takes some of what He made from his side.  From this, God creates a woman.

The man, Adam, sacrifices himself for Eve.  Only after does the Lord bring them together.  The two become one flesh in perfect harmony and love.  The husband offers himself to his wife, and the wife places her will beneath his.  In this way, they bear the image of God in their love for each other.

All is well until the fall into sin.  What happens?  A role reversal.  The man submitted to the woman, who became the head of her husband.  In Genesis, we learn, Eve “took some of its fruit and ate, she also gave some to her husband next to her, and he ate” (3:6).  The fall first struck when Adam and Eve began to rebel against God’s ordering of life.  The first man, Adam, became unwilling to give of Himself to guard and protect everything in the garden, including Eve (Genesis 2:15).

Understood this way, this explains why only men may serve as pastors.  By only seeing a man in the chancel every Sunday, we are brought back again to our plummet into sin.  The first man slacked off.  Now, God requires men to take on this headship role, through which God paints us a picture of our need for salvation.  After this, God points us to the man Jesus, who came to make right what Adam made wrong.

In Eden’s primordial garden, our first parents became self-centered instead of loving.  The man no longer wanted to devote himself to Eve.  The woman didn’t want to submit.  No more did their once-beautiful union reflect God’s image and, as a result, their lives together became hard and bitter.  Such is the reality for marriage and every human relationship since.

So, we need our Lord’s Church.  Only in Christ, do we receive rescue from the sins, which leave us in the misery of our fallen relationships.  First, God needs to reconcile us to Himself.  After, our relationship with others can also find restoration.  In a sense, God goes back to the beginning, recreating us in His image, to restore us once more.  For our rebellion into sin corrupted and ruined His image inside us.

So, don’t be surprised by God remaking us as He did at the dawn of time.  The Father starts with a sinless Man, someone who shares His divine essence, who is willing to give of Himself.  On this Man, Jesus, God places the penalty for everything wrong in His creation because of our sinfulness.  The Father sends Him to suffer the agony of all the broken bonds between God and humanity, later bringing Him into the deep sleep of death.

Like Adam, God opens Jesus’ side, from which came the substance of our new life.  For Eve, a “rib,” which is more precise than the Hebrew word.  For us, water and blood, testifying to baptism and the Supper, through which God grants us eternal life.

With this living water and holy blood, God fashions a sacred Bride, the Church of God, for the Man.  In the water, the Spirit sent from the Father through the Son gives us spiritual birth and cleanses us from our sin.  With the blood and crucified body, God feeds and sustains our life, becoming the rhythm of our lives.  For Jesus continues to deliver Himself in love and we, in turn, live in His love and submit to His holy will.

In those despised instructions about what Christian marriage should be, the Lord isn’t oppressing us.  No, He’s calling us to live out what He created us to be in the beginning: a reflection of God Himself.  The Savior, who gave Himself for us, is beckoning us to be what He recreated us to be, walking in His ways.

Examine yourself.  Recognize where you fail at being what God designed you to be—and where you refuse to repent.  After, receiving His forgiveness and relying on the power of the sanctifying Spirit, focus yourself on fulfilling the roles God gave you—in all your vocations, whether married or not.

Today, let us not honor God with our lips while our hearts are far from him, shaped by the thinking of this world.  May God give us fresh eyes to gaze beyond the gloom and darkness and find new joy in the Lord for all eternity.  Amen.