There are some things I can’t say without first referring you to this passage (Ephesians 5:17-33). Please read it in its entirety:
Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. …be filled with the Spirit, …giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
You noticed, I’m sure, the bolded parts. Go back and look at them. It’s the crux of the matter.
Those who despise words like “submission” and “complementarianism” would have you believe otherwise, but the whole point of marriage is found there in Ephesians 5:32:
“This mystery is profound… it refers to Christ and the church.“
Do you remember how the Jewish tabernacle was an earthly representation of a heavenly reality?
Similarly, Paul is telling us that marriage between a Christian man and woman is an earthly representation of something bigger. He calls it a “profound” mystery. Each couple, whether they know it or not, are representing a picture of Christ and the church.
Consider the way Christ gave Himself up for the church… sacrificing for us, giving His life for us, profoundly providing for our needs, nurturing our growth, always seeking our good.
Jesus was the ultimate archetype for what men are to be like:
- Actively sacrificial
- In tune with the Father
- Fiercely committed, even to the point of death, to providing for the physical, and (even more importantly) the spiritual needs of His Bride
- Committed to the purity and nurturing of His Bride
- In tune with her needs (perhaps even more than she is)
- Caring for her as His own Body (I love the language: “cherish” and “nourish”)
Take note: this isn’t about who mows the lawn, who writes the checks/pays the bills, or what sort of skills or hobbies we possess. These character-driven roles are clearly gender-defined for the Christian marriage. But it doesn’t stop there. If it did, we’d all be complementarians.
Notice Ephesians 5, verse 24:
“…as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”
And THAT’s the sticking point, right there. I can hear already the objections:
- “Me? Submit to HIM? In EVERYTHING?”
- “But what about abuse?”
- “But look- just above that, it says ‘submit to one another’!”
- “So women are to be mindless doormats, then, is that it?”
- “This isn’t the 50’s anymore, and I’m no June Cleaver!.”
- “So, what, you think men are better than women?”
- “What did Jesus ever say about gender roles?”
And (quickly) the answers to those are:
- [“Me? Submit to HIM? In EVERYTHING?”] Yes, if you are married, you are to submit to him in everything, as long as he’s not leading you into sin.
- [“But what about abuse?”] Re-read this from the passage above. (“…husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,”) A man who is physically abusive toward his wife is NOT – remotely – living out this verse. Additionally, the law of the land protects women in this situation. If you are being abused, get to a place of safety, submit yourself to the laws that exist to protect you, and seek biblical counseling.
- [“But look- just above that, it says ‘submit to one another’!”] Yes, it does say that, about the church at large– telling us how we are to love one another. And then it goes on to give more specific instructions for a more specific relationship: the one between husbands and wives (‘wives, submit to your own husbands”).
- [“So women are to be mindless doormats, then, is that it?”] Absolutely not. Exhibit A: I’m a blogger with skads of opinions. We have to take the whole counsel of the Word of God, and Proverbs 31 (along with other places) say things like, “wisdom is on her tongue.” We aren’t mindless, voiceless morons. We wouldn’t be “helping” or “complementing” our husbands if we withheld our wisdom and strength rather than contributing and combining it with theirs. Submission is actually a sign of controlled strength rather than of mindless weakness.
- [“This isn’t the 50’s anymore, and I’m no June Cleaver!.”] Great! Me either.
- [“So, what, you think men are better than women?”] I definitely don’t think men are better than women. I think men are uniquely designed by God to be intrinsically different from women. And vice-versa. And I think we’re all a bunch of rotten sinners and need Jesus so desperately.
- [What did Jesus ever say about gender roles?”] What Jesus said about gender roles in marriage is explicit. Everything Jesus said and did instructs husbands in their roles about how to better love and sacrifice for their brides. The whole point of marriage, from the beginning, is to point to Christ. And thus, His whole life instructs. The way we live out our roles gives mysterious vibrancy and color here on earth to something that is perfectly seen in Heaven.
HEADSHIP, LEADERSHIP, AUTHORITY
As a husband gives himself up for his bride, working to know her, love her, lead her, and serve her better as the years go on, he is pointing to Christ and the church. His self-sacrificing leadership, strength under control, and desire to nurture the one who is physically weaker and more dependent demonstrates a selflessness that is not of the flesh but of the Spirit.
As a wife yields to her husband, working as his unique helpmeet, using her strength to complement his, submitting to him willingly out of love, she points to the same picture: Christ and the church.
This is not about men being better or smarter than women. In fact, that’s clarified by another passage:
But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:3)
So headship in the BIble is not only compared to Christ and the church, but to God the Father and Christ.
Do you see that? Headship, authority… these things are not wicked, evil things. These are things that come into play in the relationship between the Father and the Son.
In fact, when we look further into Scripture, into the way that God describes authority and expects it to be carried out, we find this:
Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
This is the same principle laid out in the Ephesians 5 passage. The one who leads must be the one who serves. The one who has authority is the one who gives his life. The one who is the head is the one who nourishes and cares for the one following him. This is the Christ model.
Our culture has a knee-jerk reaction to these issues of submission and headship, but these texts make it clear: God doesn’t see authority and headship like we do.
Submission is such a tricky thing to discuss in our rights-focused, me-centered culture. The air we breathe is self-centered and inherently resistant to this idea of submission. In one sense (like Ephesians 5:21 commands), we are all to do this for (submit to) one another. Following Christ means giving up our lives for others.
But in an even deeper sense– Paul calls it a “mystery”– marriage is an even RICHER picture of this. Marriage provides an even more CLEAR picture of Christ and the church.
And in this relationship, women are the ones specifically instructed to submit.
It’s important to note that the verse is very clear: “women, submit to your own husbands.” This isn’t a men-at-large v. women-at-large thing. This is talking about one-on-one, not all women v. all men.
So, here’s a quick word to the unmarried: “Women, don’t get married to a man you can’t/won’t submit to, when the rubber meets the road.” Because submission isn’t really submission until there’s a disagreement/difference of opinion. When you are looking at a man, consider: is this a man I can, with the Lord’s help, submit myself to in those moments when we disagree?
SO THEN, WHAT DO WE DO?
To use the action words directly from the text, MEN, like Christ, are to:
- give himself for his wife
- sanctify her with the Word
- present her to himself pure
- love his wife as his own body
- leave his father and mother
- hold fast to his wife
- become one flesh with her
- love his wife as himself
To use action words directly from the text, WOMEN, like the church, are to:
- submit to her own husband
- submit in everything to her husband
- see that she respects her husband
Culture warriors hate this text, and essentially call for gender neutrality (waving texts like “in Christ, there is neither male nor female” as evidence). But it is so very clear, when you simply read the text and see it for what it is. This is Paul’s very clear, very practical instruction to believers on the whole point of marriage. Our culture hates passages like these because our culture has an authority problem. We are obsessed with ideas like rights and boundaries. Our own feelings trump anyone else’s, always.
Please note: this is even true in our *Christian* culture. Rachel Held Evans, for example, trumpets all sorts of confusion into her proverbial microphone, and those who are listening are growing more and more confused, and less and less biblically grounded. Increasingly, even our Christian culture has an authority problem. Even our Christian culture is obsessed with “rights.” Even our Christian culture is obsessed with feelings.
But then, in comes Christ, upsetting the apple cart.
The head becomes the servant.
The utterly-imperfect church becomes the prized, cherished, nourished Bride.
Authority is still there. It can’t *NOT* be there. But it is an authority that seeks to bless those under its care. The One Who leads SACRIFICES for the one He leads. And those who submit do so willingly, not as slaves, but as strong and free individuals, who COULD revolt and demand their own way, but DON’T.
Folks, this is the Gospel.
This is why complementarianism goes hand-in-hand WITH the Gospel.
This is the God-honoring beauty of a Christian marriage.