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Jesus & gender (4)

Most of us are well acquainted with Ephesians 5:21-33 and the instructions Paul has for husbands and wives. Like any familiar passage though, it can be a challenge to see it with “new eyes.” Our minds tend to travel the same terrain and lock in on truths we’ve previously encountered. That’s certainly not all bad, but it’s not all good either. A balance is needed of holding to major truths of a text while developing an appreciation for its nuances.

An example of this is v. 21 and v. 33. These verses bracket Paul’s discussion and function much like and introduction and conclusion. His command in v. 21 to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” not only lays down the important principle that submission is for everyone it figures into everything else Paul has to say.  How so?

While some have tried to take the verse in such a way as to put it at odds with the headship of the husband, I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying. I think his point is this:  relationships should be characterized by a mutuality of selfless serving and caring rather than selfishly pursuing personal agendas. The husband does not submit to his wife by abdicating his God given headship any more than shepherds submit to their flock by failing to lead or parents submit to their children by being buddies with them rather than parents.  Instead, they submit by leading in a way that follows the model of Christ! Leading in a lesser way is a pagan approach to power and authority (Matthew 20:25ff)!

For wives, their submission is not lip service or with bitterness of spirit, but flows from the same spirit of selfless serving and caring. When husbands and wives embrace this mutuality it results in a relationship that is healthy, whole, and holy. Moreover, Christ and the church are modeled to the world (v. 32)!

Now notice Paul’s concluding statement in v. 33. Husbands are told to “love” and wives are told to “respect” their husbands. These one word summations are just another way of stating the submission truth of v. 21 that runs through his entire discussion. If the man is submitting to his wife then he is exercising his headship in a way that is characterized by love. If a wife is submitting to her husband, then she is doing so out of respect. 

All of this is developed in more detail within the verses between v. 21 and v. 33the part we know so well.  Yet these brackets give us an important window through which to better understand v. 22-32.

In all this, the principle of submission reigns supreme.  Disciples desperately need to get past seeing submission as “who does what,” and recognize it as a key component of faitha sign of spirituality, not weakness.
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