Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Ephesians 5:21
The first three or four characteristics of a Spirit filled believer given in verses 19 & 20 of Ephesians 5 are fairly simple to understand. However, the characteristic of submitting to one another raises a question or two.
How does a husband, who is designated by God to be the spiritual leader in the home, submit to his wife? How does a father submit to his children? How does a boss submit to his employees? The answers are dealt with in the remainder of chapter five and into chapter six of Ephesians. We will examine these in the order that Scripture presents them.
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord (vs 22).
Submit in this context is from the Greek word hupeiko. Hupo means under and eiko means to yield. To subject or the word subjection is from hupotasso, a military term – hupo meaning under and tasso meaning to rank under, to arrange. The word picture heard most often as an illustration of this is that of a knight kneeling before the king with his weapons arranged before him signifying his allegiance and dedication to the king.
The Spirit filled believer listed first in this passage of explanation is the wife. This does not indicate that she is being singled out for ill treatment or that she is inferior to her husband. Submission being one of the characteristics of a Spirit filled believer applies to believers in whatever role they find themselves, whether child, parent, husband, employer, etc. Being mentioned first may simply mean that the wife’s submission is the most important. Leadership is meaningless without followers.
Submitting to another does not mean that the one submitting is inferior to the other. The culture takes offence because that is what the culture thinks it means, but Christians are to think biblically. I Corinthians 11:3 says; But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. The head of Christ is God. Does that mean that Christ is inferior to God? Of course not! Jesus Christ is God. The Son is simply carrying out the will of the Father. That is His role.
What does submission look like in a Spirit filled Christian wife? Submit yourselves in the middle or passive voice means to subject oneself, to obey, to be subject to. This is a willing submission. It is not forced or demanded by the Spirit filled husband. It is voluntary.
The culture with its mouth agape will pretend that the wife’s role of submission is shocking. Look around you. Every day you and I are required to submit, to subject ourselves, to obey. If you disagree, try telling your boss what you will do and not do tomorrow. Try driving to work in half the time it normally takes. Try telling the traffic cop that you make your own rules. Without submission, yielding and obedience, our society would be in complete chaos. Where there is no order and/or respect for roles and authority there is chaos. The Holy Spirit is not the author of confusion.
By the way, this role for wives is the remedy for the conflict resulting from the fall of man (man’s disobedience in the Garden). One of the results of the fall is the struggle for control between the husband and wife. God’s solution, the Spirit filled solution, is for the man to assume the leadership role and to take the responsibility that goes with it. The wife should support him in that role.
Subject yourselves unto your own husbands. This submission is limited. Somewhere, sometime, somehow, either the culture or “Christian” men not walking in the Spirit, fomented the idea that the woman’s role is that of submission to all men because women are inferior. The Bible doesn’t teach that women are inferior. They are different from men, but not inferior. The Bible says specifically in verse 22 that this Spirit filled role of submission is to her own husband.
The attitude of this submission is as unto the Lord. The unbelieving wife is incapable of this type of submission because it is made possible only by the Holy Spirit who indwells believers. A Christian wife should meditate on the characteristics of her submission unto the Lord. Thought should be given on how to make these characteristics true of her relationship with her own husband.
Definitions are taken from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.
Note: In light of this teaching on submission, Christian women who are considering marriage should note the seriousness of marrying according to God’s will. An unbeliever cannot be Spirit filled. This submission is produced by the Holy Spirit who indwells believers only.
If the husband asks the wife to violate a clear command of Scripture, she should respectfully obey God rather than man. If the “Christian” husband breaks the law she should call the police. Covering for him for sake of testimony is simply enabling him.
Spirit filled submission does not mean the wife should follow the husband into doctrinal heresy. She should stand firm in a respectful way.
If the husband is involved in activities that bring reproach upon the cause of Christ, the husband should be dealt with according to Matthew 18. He should be held accountable regardless of what position he may occupy in the church, even if he is the pastor.
I Peter 3:7 KJV instructs the husband to give honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel. The word for weaker does not mean inferior. It is used in a comparative sense to the husband who, as a general rule, is physically stronger and able to provide the protection and security that she deserves.
…let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…