I know I normally write poetry, but something has been on my heart lately and for good reason. An exceptionally close family member has spent virtually all of her adult life trying to be “a good wife.” She absolutely abhors the idea of divorce, but she also has a deeply rooted and, I dare say, almost fundamentalist idea of what it means to be “submissive to your husband.” Consequently, she has consistently blamed herself, and only herself, for some really serious problems in her current marriage. (Her first ended after 25 years solely by the decision of her then-husband. She was opposed, but that’s another story.)
So, okay then, I say let’s take the more evangelical-fundamentalist approach to the idea of marriage, and let’s use what is doubtless the most popular passage of Scripture about marriage.
Let’s take a look at the fifth chapter of Ephesians, since so many Christians, both men and women (interestingly enough), love to point to the verses where St. Paul says, “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior.”
The Apostle has far more to say to the husband in this passage of Scripture that, interestingly enough, begins with the injunction, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Yes, he goes on to explain just how the husband is to subject himself to his wife in sacred marriage. And make no mistake: Paul is explaining how the husband is uniquely to subject himself to his wife.
And how is this?
- He is to love his wife just as Christ Jesus loves the Church, His bride. And how does Christ love the Church? He loves the Church with perfect, godly love. (Here read the “love chapter” in First Corinthians, that is, chapter 13)
- He is to give himself up for his wife as Christ gave himself up for the Church. And how did Christ give himself up for the Church? He died for her! So this means that the husband is to die to self to, first and foremost, live for Christ and his wife! And, of course, this entails essentially placing his very life at the disposal of the wife; no, not to be hounded and ground into the dirt, because the godly wife would not attempt to do this. However, his life is no longer his own! It belongs first to Christ, then to his wife.
- He is to care for her and nourish her. Think about how the mother cares for and nourishes her children and you have a pretty good grid into which to fit this command. This command certainly goes along with dying to self to live for Christ and his wife.
- He is to cleanse her “with the washing of water by the Word,” which at first glance can seem kind of esoteric. Is he to literally wash her? No. This is really a reference to baptism, which was and is the symbol of rebirth. So St. Paul is essentially instructing the husband to “baptize” his wife (continually) by, first, Christ Jesus, who was and is the Word of God incarnate and, secondly, by the written Word of God, holy Scripture. Now think for a moment about this awesome responsibility!
- He is to “make her holy . . . without spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind . . . so that she may be holy and without blemish.” Think about this for a moment. On the great and terrible Day of Judgement, it will be the husband who actually presents his wife before almighty God, and the Apostle is essentially saying to the husband, “You’d better be able to present your wife before God as an icon of holiness, godliness, and heavenly beauty.” This is what the Lord God expects!
So . . . Paul tells the wife to be subject to her husband, but as we can see he had an awful lot more to say to the husband, and he did so in really grueling detail! This is not something to be taken lightly, by any means. This is the written Word of God, holy Scripture, laying down very clearly and firmly the standard for a godly, Christian husband. The (alleged) Christian husband ignores this to his own peril!
And this, really, should be enough said on the subject, but it does raise an interesting question: If the husband, as in so many cases, is not even beginning to “measure up” to this standard, and not even really trying, then is it really possible for the wife to be submissive to her husband . . . at least in a godly manner? One might think the first question should be, “Is she even obligated to be mutually submissive to her husband, who is not mutually ‘submissive’ to her as outlined above?” But I’m skipping over that question to ask if it’s even possible. If so, how so?
Far too many conservative, evangelical Christian women, I’m afraid, are like my dear loved one: They are caught — or trapped — in a sterile, one-way doctrine of submissiveness without bothering to really consider to whom and to what they are attempting to be submissive! To this I make two observations: 1) St. Paul was speaking specifically about a truly Christian marriage, and 2) he begins with the instruction to be mutually submissive (so that it’s not just a one-way street!), though the submissiveness for each is unique (and far weightier for the husband than for the wife.) And those are biblical statements, too!
Thank you for your time and consideration. God bless!