In the 5th chapter of the book of Ephesians, Paul provides the church with instructions for Christian Households. These same verses are often used to demonstrate the rampant misogyny in the Christian church, so it is understandable why attendees at my own wedding were surprised to hear them quoted in the readings. And as a single woman, it might seem strange that I still defend those verses to this day.
Instructions for Christian Households
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.Admittedly, any discussion of scripture is best held in a space of understanding of each other's frame of reference and interpretation of Biblical teachings. I don't support fundamental, literal interpretations of texts that were translated from Greek and Hebrew to Latin, then English years ago by mere mortals, because not every word has a direct translation, and not every word has the same meaning over time (remember when intercourse with someone meant you were having a conversation?). I think my step daughter's hand decorated Bible cover summed it up best:
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[b] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Ephesians 5:21-28 is a good example of this. There are a few concepts in those verses that make most people tighten up, but if you can get past the words you deem offensive and look into the heart of what is being said, it is actually very good modern day advice.
But since I know you won't easily do that, let's just hit this straight on - "Submit". I'm not going to try to defend it, I understand the connotation that word has in modern times. If we take a step back, though, to the original text, the word that was translated to "submit" is "hupotasso". It is distinctly different from "hupakouo", the word we translate to "obey" (what children are commanded to do). "Hupakouo" refers to blind obedience or compliance. You obey traffic laws because you have to or there are consequences, not because you want to.
"Hupotasso" is a choice - to yield or defer to someone out of respect or affection. When you are thinking of taking a trip or making a big purchase, you talk it over with your spouse. Not because you need their permission, but because your choice likely will impact them and you respect your partnership enough to get their input. Reviewing Paul's instructions with that frame of reference, consider the following (I will substitute the distracting words with those that I feel are more easy to digest).
21: The very first thing Paul says is to yield to EACH OTHER. He instructs both husbands and wives to respect each other and have each other's best interests at heart.
22 - 24: Taken out of context, these can be very challenging verses to read without immediately becoming put off and defensive. I will share how I view it, but it is incredibly important to first acknowledge that it MUST be contemplated within the context of having a husband who lives up to the instructions in verses 25 - 33. When we look at the basic needs of *most* men and women (yes, I am applying gender stereotypes and recognize that they do not apply to every person), most women feel loved by their husband when he demonstrates that he will do anything in his power to ensure her needs are met. Most husbands feel loved when their wives show their respect and appreciation for him. Now, this is not to say that women don't also take care of their husbands (ask any woman who has nursed a man with a cold!), or that husbands shouldn't also respect and appreciate their wives (ask any woman who is home all day taking care of the house and kids!), but wives.... I can't stress this enough. As a single woman, I am approached by more men who are married or in committed relationships than single men (Note to self: Figure out why that is and how to change it) - and the overwhelming reason they give for why they are straying comes down to two things they want from you, but aren't getting: appreciation and fellatio (and I could argue that the latter is just a way to express the former, but for the purposes of this discussion, we are focusing on the former).
When I read, "Submit yourselves to your own husband as you do to the Lord", I don't read it as a command to serve him or make yourself inferior to him. I read it as a reminder to spend a little time practicing the one thing that we modern women, with our international business trips and executive presentations, tend to not do quite as often as we should - let our husbands know we respect and appreciate them, ask for their opinion or input, honor the things that they express are important to them. Note where it says, "as you do to the Lord" - we don't make ourselves less intelligent, less capable, less talented, or less powerful than we are when we go to church. The same applies at home. You can be the bread winner, the corporate executive, even the Nobel prize winner, and still be respectful to your husband when you come home. The odds are that you are respectful to strangers who cross your paths as you go about your day. Your husband doesn't deserve less than strangers - especially if he is living up the incredible standard set for him in the next few verses.
25 - 33: The interesting thing about this whole set of instructions is that most people are up in arms about how it instructs women, but don't notice the magnitude of the expectation set for men. "Husbands, love your wives, *just as Christ loved the church*" - spoiler alert if you haven't read the book: Christ endured unimaginable torture, died, and went to hell for three days for us. And most of us go about our day not only not acknowledging that sacrifice, but continuing to do those things that he died for. Husbands - would you suffer and die for your wife? What if you knew she would barely recognized your sacrifice?
It goes on to say, "to present her to himself ... without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish." Now I know a few will argue with me here, because I do understand it is talking about the man spiritually leading his wife. However, given my earlier admission that I am looking at this as modern day advice - Husbands, do you see past your wife's flaws? Can you look at her *without* noticing her imperfect figure? Or that she keeps her car a mess? How do you love your wife? Do you love her as much as you love yourself, as Christ loved the church?
If Christ were here with us today, do you think he would be giving Likes on Facebook to the photos of Pharisees sucking in their cheeks while fasting to make sure people knew they were holy? Would he be sending private messages to the Israelites complimenting their golden calf? Would he refuse to share the stories of the miracles he performed because he's "a private person"?
You can choose to close the book, or click to a new page when you see those verses, but it is hard to deny the applicability of the advice:
- Everyone, yield to the person you love out of respect and affection, always keeping each other's best interests at heart.
- Women, regardless of your role in the household, don't forget to let your husband know you believe he is worthy of your respect. He would do anything for you, including die.
- Men, put your wife first and make her your top priority - she is worth more than that "Like" on Facebook, she is worth your very life. Make sure you deserve that respect she gives you, whether she is with you or away.
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