Sharon asks, I answer

Sharon Cobb asked about Ephesians 5:22-23 over at Kat’s blog. This is much better understood when you expand the passage to include 25-32.

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.

ESV Version

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of sermons on these verses. I’ve bristled at what the preachers said. I have fought the teaching. Now I embrace these truths.

Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus. He isn’t writing with the same purpose as he did to the Romans (to give them the basics of the Christian faith). Paul isn’t doing a major course correction like with the Corinthians, who were seemingly OK with one member’s sleeping with his father’s wife, with false doctrine, and so on. The letter to the Ephesians doesn’t have the same tone as Philippians, in which Paul is encouraging the believers in their great faith and love (they sent money and supplies to Paul while he was in prison, giving out of their limited resources). The main theme of Ephesians is unity among all types of believers in Christ – no matter their backgrounds, genders, socio-economic standings. Paul is encouraging and exhorting them to live and serve together; to fight the good fight together; to run the race together; and through their actions, to be witnesses to the world of God’s great love for all people.

Most contemporary issues with this passage arise from misunderstandings of the term submission. The Greek word, translated submission, is ‘hupotasso‘ – to submit, to subordinate, to obey, etc… The same word is used for both our general submission to Christ (v. 21) and wives’ submission to their husbands as to the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 22).

Ephesians 5:22-32 is fine for an academic discussion, but without the Holy Spirit living in you — and it is the Spirit who reveals the truths within God’s Truth to you — you won’t truly understand it. (As an aside, eventually, at the ending of this world, all people will bend their knees to Him whether they want to or not.) And without salvation through Christ by faith, the Holy Spirit does not dwell within a human. Only believers in Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord receive the Holy Spirit (upon acceptance of the gospel).

Without believing some truths that are crucial foundations to belief in Christ, a person really won’t be able to understand the principles that are based upon those foundations.

  1. God exists.
  2. God is good.
  3. God is holy and just.
  4. God sent Jesus as Savior and Lord.
  5. God created human beings, and thus humankind has worth.
  6. God alone has the ultimate authority, and He deserves our worship.
  7. Humans sinned.
  8. Sin is rebellion against God.
  9. Human nature is inherently sinful.
  10. All humans worship someone or something.

Since the fall of Adam and Eve, humans by nature are rebellious, especially against God. In our flesh nature (that is, our unredeemed, unregenerated natures — without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit), we don’t want to submit. We don’t like our bosses. We speed. We fudge on reporting our taxes. It’s everywhere. Life is about submission to authority in one way or another. For the woman, the punishment for original sin was the desire to rule over the husband – to dominate him, to devour him as though he were a gazelle and she were a lion.

For the Christian, the process begins with submission to God. By submitting to Him, we learn how to submit to anyone. We submit – to the one, true authority who always has our best interest at heart. When we set aside our desires and plans to hear from God and what He has for us, we can be sure that He knows what we need. His plans and the tasks He has for us may seem crazy, foolish, or wrong in our eyes; but we do not have His perspective. He sees and knows everything and how all the details interconnect and intersect. He is Lord of history. And He knows us and loves us more than we could ever know. We CHOOSE to obey God.

Submission then becomes our model for our behavior in day-to-day life: to employers, husbands, parents, and others. Sometimes, this means setting aside your own plans. At other times it may mean walking away from ungodly behavior.

Unfortunately, this passage has been so abused as to be almost unrecognizable in contemporary thinking, due to the kind of world most people live in. This passage does NOT give license to a man to abuse his wife. Submission does NOT include helping your husband cheat on his taxes or participating in any other activity that would be a sin against a holy and just God.

Your husband is to LOVE you as Christ loved the church. Because we tend to have a Hallmark understanding of love that involves roses, candy, and puppies, the magnitude of this is lost. Christ DIED for those that would call Him Lord and Savior. He said in John 15:13-14 (ESV): “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

In John 15, we are commanded to love God and love people. Our last series at Cross Point (look for “Crazy Love”) was on this very subject. If you aren’t loving God first, you will never be able to love people, including your spouse,fully.

Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, talks about this quite a bit. A message that I listened to recently from an older series, “Christians Gone Wild,” touches on what it means to be a man and to love. The section is about 20 to 30 minutes in — the part in which Driscoll talks about the role of women in the church and how hard it is to love as God loves.

Mark, Digital Cowboy, can give you personal stories of how hard it is to live out Eph 5:25.

Do I find Eph. 5 sexist? No. Because I know godly men who are living this out, and I have real jealousy issues of the kind of love their wives experience (sometimes without deserving it) — love that is much like God’s love for us. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, died for us while we were still sinners. Coming to Him as a perfect being is not necessary (nor is it possible). It is my heart’s desire to submit to my husband in the way described by Ephesians 5… but right now, I’m working on submission to God, because there still are times I am willfully disobedient.

—- Many thanks to Elena who kindly edited this for me.  She is able to take my raw thoughts and make them coherant.  She makes me appear smarter than I am. —-



  1. Mike Harmon · September 9, 2008

    I discovered your homepage by coincidence.
    Very interesting posts and well written.
    I will put your site on my blogroll.

  2. MissSharonCobb · September 9, 2008

    This is wonderful! I think it ties in with the other side…or seemingly the other side of that coin, which was G-d giving us free will. In reality, no one is forced to submit, it is a choice for both men and women.

    I think you know I have screwy hours and I just got up for a moment to check mail and a few sites, and need to go back to bed.(I didn’t go to sleep until 10 this morning!)

    But I want to give this some more thought and respond later tonight when I’m awake.

    Thanks for your response. I’ve always been fascinated my these verses, and I look forward to tying them in with Hssidism.

  3. MissSharonCobb · September 9, 2008

    Excuse typos, above. I’m asleep!

  4. Jonnelle · September 9, 2008

    I look forward to your response – even if it is in typonese! 🙂

  5. Katherine Coble · September 9, 2008

    Thanks for responding. I’d been offline for several days and missed the invitation to discussion.

    Your answer was much better and more thorough than mine.

  6. Pingback: Submitting To Husbands « Just Another Pretty Farce
  7. MissSharonCobb · September 10, 2008

    Okay. A momentary break from politics–er, to religion?
    I think a lot of what you wrote is wonderful, but I disagree that one must have the Holy Spirit in him/her to fully understand this verse.

    One doesn’t need to be a Christian to understand there is a difference between enslavement submission, and submission by choice.

    In both Christianity and Hassidism, it’s the latter, thankfully.
    But because there was so much involuntary enslavement during the time the Holy Book was written, I think this verse gets misunderstood more than any other because of the times.

    I see no contradiction in being a feminist and believing in verses 22 and 23 if that is one’s choice.

    Again, most Hassids submit to their husbands, and cover their hair and don’t have sex during menstruation plus 5-7 days. During that 1/2 a month they don’t have sex, they talk and talk and have a chance to develop their emotional bond and friendship.

    Hassids, particularly of the Lubavitch sect, are extremely family oriented, and the men pray while the women run the show. According to Zohar, we are on a higher spiritual plane, so it would be unwise for husbands not to listen to their wives.

    I personally have a problem with a few of their rules, (613 of them)
    By the way, let me clear something up about Hassidism while I’m talking about rules. People tend to think the ultra Orthodox are very uptight about sex. Not so. Sex, between married people, is considered a mitzvah, and it’s one of the good commandments. Married people are supposed to have sex on the Sabbath as part of the celebration of the Sabbath.

    On the other side of that coin, people of the opposite sex don’t touch each other, not even to shake hands. I kinda like that–my husband (some future husband) not touching any other woman but me.

    Because I am very familiar with the old testament and Hassidism and much less familiar with the new testament, I thought I’d compare the two because both can be strict, however, it’s all a choice, and I think that would be the lesson I’d want people to carry away about Ephesians 5 and Hassidism.

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