"Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything." (Ephesians 5:22-24)This is a difficult scripture to understand, especially given our present culture and our modern world view. Typically, this scripture is either simply ignored by the modern church or is declared to be written for a bygone age where women were systematically repressed by the prevailing views of a primitive culture. Some have fought against this scripture and some men have fought against their wives using this scripture as proof of their lordship in the home. However, given all this we still must deal with what Paul wrote and seek to understand how to apply it to our lives today.
Several thing stand out to me in this scripture. First, is that the word "subject" in verse twenty two does not exist in the original Greek but is implied by its use in verse twenty four. Verse twenty two literally reads, "Wives, unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord." Certainly, subjection is implied, but more than that is the idea of being subject to "your own" husband as opposed to other male figures, such as someone's else's husband, your father, or even a pastor or priest. The goal of a marriage is that two individuals become one. When one listens to voices from outside their marriage, voices that seek to lead them into a separate life from the one they have been joined to in marriage, their incitements destroys the oneness that marriage seeks to bring. This does not mean that a couple, or even an individual, should not seek counsel from time to time, nor that they should avoid relationships outside of their marriage, but their devotion and submission should first be to their marriage partner, not some third party. One example may help in understanding this point. I once knew a couple who ended up in divorce. Once of the key areas of contention was Sunday afternoon lunch. The wife's family held the tradition of always getting together as a family for Sunday afternoon lunch. Even after getting married the wife insisted that her new husband attend the family lunch every Sunday against her husband's wishes. Her submission to her family was greater than her submission to her husband and it was a contributing factor to the demise of their marriage.
Secondly, wives as asked to submit to their own husbands as unto the Lord, but how does one submit to the Lord? Our submission to the Lord is voluntary. Christ came and set us free, then He asks us to submit to Him that we might walk in His ways and according to His will. Our submission to the Lord is of our own free will. We are not bound to submit nor are we forced to submit. Jesus calls to us, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30) We submit to His yoke and burden, not because we are forced to, but because we choose to. This scripture should never be used by husbands to force their wives into submission. Paul never told husbands to make sure their wives submit, but rather he asks wives to choose submission to their own husbands as a voluntary act of their free will. It is something for them to choose rather than something to be demanded and exacted from them. Furthermore, a wife's submission is not blind submission, submitting to every whim of her husband. A wife is under no obligation to submit to participating in sin or in anything that would degrade them or dishonor them for our submission to Christ would never bring us hurt or dishonor. We should never offer submission to anyone or anything that would lessen, destroy, or tarnish our submission to Christ.
Finally, Paul reminds us that Jesus is the savior of the Body. In describing Jesus as our savior, Paul is speaking of more than just the fact that Jesus saves us from hell and damnation. This is more clear when we understand that, even to a Body that has already passed from death unto life, Jesus is still their savior. To be a savior is to protect, keep safe, help make whole, and to benefit the ones we are watching over. Paul writes, "we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." (Ephesians 4:15-16) It is under the headship of Christ that the body grows and flourishes. It is under the protection and care of Christ that the Body is free to grow in the graces and blessings of God. It is under the lordship of Christ that each individual member of Christ finds their place in the Body. So should the husband be as the head of his family. Jesus reminded us that, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.' But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant." (Luke 22:25-26) To be the head is to be the servant of all. Those whom we lord over should be the benefactors of our authority, not ourselves. Wives are not called to submit to a husband whose will is destructive, harmful, or in anyway injurious to her or their children. A husband who acts in such a way is not the savior of the family but a destroyer instead. However, when a husband exercises his headship for the benefit of the family rather than himself, then submission is easy and its fruit sweet.