Ephesians Sentence by Sentence: 5:21-24

Ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις ἐν φόβῳ Χριστοῦ, αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδρᾴσιν ὠς τῷ κυρίῳ, ὅτι ἀνήρ ἐστιν κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικὸς ὡς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς κεφαλὴ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, αὐτὸς σωτὴρ τοῦ σώματος· ἀλλὰ ὡς ἡ ἐκκλησία ὑποτάσσεται τῷ Χριστῷ, οὕτως καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐν παντί. Submitting to one another in fear of Christ, wives to their own husbands as to the Lord, for a husband is head of the wife as also Christ is head of the church, he is the savior of the body; but as the church submits to Christ, thus also wives to their husbands in all things.

The participle at the beginning of this sentence is connected with the verb from v. 18, πληροῦσθε, “be filled.” Now we also see that one of the results of being filled by the Spirit is an attitude of submission. Paul is exhorting his readers to submit to each other out of fear of Christ. This fear is a reverent respect for Christ. Fear goes hand in hand with wisdom. Wise living involves submitting to each other, and this practice stems out of a respectful fear of Christ. But this practice is a conscious choice of the will to submit oneself to someone else. Each person is responsible for submitting themselves to the other. Paul clarifies this act of submission by referencing wives in relationship to their own husbands.

In the same way that all of his readers and listeners are called to submit themselves to each other, wives are also called to submit to their own husbands. They place themselves under the headship of their husbands. But they submit in this fashion as unto the Lord. They are not submitting to their husbands in service to their husbands. Instead, they submit to to their husbands in service to Christ. For wives, part of serving Christ involves submitting to their husbands.

Paul explains himself, saying, “. . . for a husband is head of the wife as also Christ is head of the church, . . . as the church submits to Christ, thus also wives to their husbands in all things.” Christ’s relationship to the church provides the basis for Paul’s view of marriage and the relationship between a husband and wife. Just as Christ is the head of the church, so also is the husband the head of the wife. And just as the church submits to Christ, so also does the wife submit to her husband.

Christ is said to be the “savior of the body” (αὐτὸς σωτὴρ τοῦ σώματος). He himself is the savior or deliverer of the church. This comment does not apply to the husband, for the husband is not the savior of his wife. As the adversative conjunction, ἀλλὰ, “but,” implies, what is true of Christ as savior is not true of the husband. This conjunction is transitioning from the one argument, that the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the church, to a new argument, that the wife is to submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ. The comment that Christ is the savior of the body is simply an aside.

Submitting yourselves to one another in fear of Christ, wives submit yourselves to your own husbands as unto the Lord, for a husband is head of the wife as also Christ is head of the church (Christ himself being the savior of the body); but, as the church submits itself to Christ, thus also wives submit themselves to their husbands in all things.

When we become filled by the Spirit, our relationships are affected. We are able to choose to submit to each other, rather than always insisting on our own way. But such behavior is done as though it were being done to Christ. The way we relate each other is one way that we live with respect to Christ. No aspect of our lives is separate from our devotion to Christ. Everything we do is connected to our relationship with our Savior. This connection is true in the home as well. Wives submit themselves to their husbands in service to Christ. By submitting to their husbands, they are serving Christ. However, wives are seen as moral agents; they are responsible for submitting themselves to the leadership of their husbands. Although this understanding from Ephesians is hard to swallow in our contemporary setting, it is important to see that both wives and husbands are seen on equal grounds as moral agents. Both have responsibilities to fulfill. And yet, the wife is given the command to submit as an example of what all believers are called to do, which implies that the husband will also submit to her, so that the willful submission still goes both ways. It could be that a husband might want to relocate a marriage due to a job offer; it is at least feasible that a wife should consider the husband’s reasons for uprooting and to provide her own feedback about the situation, so that the husband can include the wife and make an informed and loving decision. Note still that the husband’s role has yet to be stated in Ephesians, but the wife has been instructed to submit herself, to consciously choose to submit, to her husband as the leader on the basis of the church’s willful submission to Christ. The church submits itself to Christ, allowing Christ to nurture it, to provide for it, to care for it, and to love it. So also with the wife. In our own context, wives are not being required to obey their husbands’ demands. Instead, they consciously re-order themselves under their husband’s leadership, allowing their husbands to care for them and to love them. How this submission works out will be different for every couple, for no two marriage relationships are the same.

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  1. Pingback: Ephesians 5:22, Wifely Submission « The Letter to the Ephesians

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