The Problem of Ephesians 5:22-24
These three little verses, Ephesians 5:22-24, might just be some of the most provoking words in the whole Bible. It's probably safe to say that nearly every modern woman, at some point in her life, has read these verses and come away indignant and perhaps even angry.
Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife
just as Christ is head of the church,
he himself the savior of the body.
As the church is subordinate to Christ,
so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.
To many women, these verses seem to advocate a blind obedience to their husbands, a loss of female independence and progress, and an anti-woman agenda. After bristling in annoyance for a while, most people likely shake their heads, roll their eyes, and think that these words are just so old-fashioned or offensive that they need not be taken seriously. They don't bother to read or listen further. If they did, they might be surprised.
Take a moment and carefully read the next few verses, Ephesians 5:25-30, with an open mind.
Husbands, love your wives,
even as Christ loved the church
and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,
cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,
that he might present to himself the church in splendor,
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
that she might be holy and without blemish.
So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
He who loves his wife loves himself.
For no one hates his own flesh
but rather nourishes and cherishes it,
even as Christ does the church,
because we are members of his body.
Does it seem perhaps that husbands actually have a more difficult task than their wives? Wives are called to be subordinate to their husbands, to offer them the gift of themselves with respect and obedience. But husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the Church.
Christ died for the Church. He gave Himself up for her on the cross. He shed every last drop of His blood. And He did so out of pure love. Pure, self-giving, self-emptying love.
Husbands are called to love their wives like that, to care for them tenderly, to nourish them and cherish them.
True love only wants what is best for the loved one. True love sacrifices the self that the loved one may be healthy, happy, and safe. True love puts the well-being of the loved one before all else. This is what husbands are called to do, for this is what Christ did for the Church.
If husbands truly did what they have been commanded to do, if they truly loved their wives in this way, then wives would have very little trouble being subordinate. How could they? They would be showered with love by husbands who truly want what was best for them, who truly desire to give their wives every possible good thing, who are willing to lay down their very lives that their loved ones might flourish. How could wives not respond with their own tender, self-giving love?
The main point of this passage, then, is not that wives must submit to tyrannical husbands who will take away their freedom and make them little better than slaves.
On the contrary, these verses are all about love, a mutual, intimate, self-giving love that imitates the powerful love of Christ for the Church and the open, responsive love of the Church for Christ, the love that should exist between husbands and wives.