Sunday: Counsel to Christian Wives

Paul begins with a hinge passage, Ephesians 5:21, connecting Ephesians 5:1-20 and Ephesians 5:22-33, in which he advocates for church members to submit to each other (compare Mark 10:42-45Romans 12:10Philippians 2:3-4). Believers are to do so “out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21, ESV), the first of several times Paul will identify the relationship with Christ as the most important and defining one for believers.

What does Paul mean by exhorting church members to submit to each other? How are we to understand this idea? Ephesians 5:21.

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Paul also invites Christian wives to submit to “your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22, ESV), clarifying that he is discussing the submission of wives to their respective husbands (see also 1 Peter 3:11 Peter 3:5). When Paul says wives are to do so “as to the Lord,” does he mean a wife is to submit to her husband as though he were Christ; or, instead, does He mean that Christ is the truest and highest focus of her submission?

In view of Ephesians 6:7, where slaves are asked to serve “as to the Lord, and not to men” (NKJV), and Colossians 3:18, where wives are asked to submit to their husbands “as is fitting in the Lord” (NKJV), the latter view is to be preferred. Wives are themselves believers who must ultimately honor Christ over their husbands.

In both Colossians and Ephesians, Christ — and only Christ — is identified as the Head of the church, which is His body (Ephesians 1:22Ephesians 5:23Colossians 1:18): “Christ is the head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body” (Ephesians 5:23, NKJV). By analogy, the husband is “the head of the wife” (Ephesians 5:23), with the church’s faithfulness to Christ serving as a model for the wife’s loyalty to her husband. The passage presumes a loving, caring marriage, and not a dysfunctional one. This verse should not be interpreted to allow any form of domestic abuse.

In light of what we have just read, why is this following counsel so important to remember? If the husband “is a coarse, rough, boisterous, egotistical, harsh, and overbearing man, let him never utter the word that the husband is the head of the wife, and that she must submit to him in everything; for he is not the Lord, he is not the husband in the true significance of the term.” — Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home, p. 117.

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