Ephesians 5:21-32 (NIV)You ever come across one of those Bible passages that makes you take a metal step back to try to make sure you just read what you thought you read? Not just a few sentences you might pass off as archaic like an obscure rule from Leviticus or a barely decipherable Old Testament prophecy, but a passage like this one from Ephesians, which follows some universally acceptable wisdom* kind of jumps out at you.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church.
(*In this case, the preceding verses were: “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”)
My perception is this part of Ephesians — specifically the “wives should submit to their husbands in everything” phrase — is something of a hot button when people discuss to what degree they should take scripture literally. And if we’re being totally honest here, I don’t quite know how to respond when I read these words.
I’m totally on board with the instructions for husbands. We ought to love our wives as we love our own bodies, to strive to present ourselves to them as holy and blameless. I’m lucky enough to have found a life partner and a relationship that lets me understand how “the two will become one” actually works. And it’s because of that unity I don’t quite understand all the submission stuff in the earlier verses.
If this is all a metaphor for Christ and the church, it makes more sense. Christ is the head of the church, and while we strive to know and relate to Jesus, we certainly are not His equal. We as Christians ought to submit to Jesus, and in organized churches, we ought to ask constantly if we are moving in a way that would merit God’s approval. Once we institute our own will, chaos ensues.
But getting back to marriage, and I’m sure I’ve written this before, I think one of the best things we can do as parents is to remain committed our own relationship. Not just because all relationships require effort, and because kids (young ones especially) can make it hard for parents to have time together as adults, but because there probably is no better way to model good, Christian behavior for children than to have them exposed to it in a loving home.
Yeah, you should always be nice to waiters and not litter or cut in line at the grocery store or swear at opposing drivers (yes, opposing; highway driving is a competition) so your kids learn how a good person operates in the modern world. But you also need to treat your spouse with as much respect as you would afford anyone. Control your anger, offer and accept apologies, seek and grant forgiveness. If you can be nice to strangers and a jerk to your wife — even some of the time — what kind of message does that send?
If your kids hear you say, “I love you,” to your wife, and then you plainly act in a way that betrays those words, why should the kid trust you when they hear, “I love you” from you? Further, why should they believe it when they hear, “I love you” from anyone — even when someone is trying to explain God loves them?
Likewise, doing things the right way, putting actions behind your words, teaches the concepts of love and respect in a way words alone could never do. You say “I love you” and then you live it out. Similarly, it would be good for you to live so your kids know your value your faith as well. That way they can explain what it means to them to have God in their life.
As always, all of the “you should” and “we should” and “husbands should” terms in my writing are not me preaching to anyone, they’re actually instructions for myself. When I put this stuff in writing, it crystallizes the concepts in my mind and forces me to adjust the way I approach life — in a good way.
Next time I have some quiet time with Jack, I think I’m going to ask him if he can tell me how he knows I love Kristie, or how he knows I love him and his brothers. And if he can’t offer much more than “because you tell us,” then I think I have some work to do.
A prayer for May 25:
Lord, I thank you so much for the important people in my life, the ones I love more than myself. I am beyond blessed to be a son, a husband and a father, and I pray I am living up to the expectations of the responsibilities of those relationships. There are so many ways you reveal your love for us, please help me find ways to make sure my family knows of my love for them. Amen.