It was all I could do to keep from applauding as I sat in church last week listening to the pastor speak about submission: a characteristic of Christian life. My many amens were mostly “heard” by those who lip-read, though a few were audible enough to reach those sitting nearby. I was visiting this church for the first time, and did not want to disrupt what I perceived to be their decorum during the sermon. When I mentioned this to the pastor afterwards, he smiled and said, “We could have handled the clapping and amens!”
I’ll admit I was wary when I heard the sermon topic announced, especially when the pastor asked us to turn to Ephesians 5. I relaxed a bit when be began reading at verse 15 and stopped at verse 21! He gave an excellent background of all the ways we were to mutually treat each other and behave as Christians. After focusing on verse 21, he went on to the next section, the portion that gives examples, as he put it, for carrying out the submission required of us. Cautiously, the pastor stated that wives are to submit to their husbands out of reverence for Christ. And then he moved on to the subject of husbands. Here’s where I waited with baited breath; how would he handle these verses?
Husbands are to love their wives, said the pastor, as Christ loved the church: whole-heartedly, sacrificially and out of reverence for Christ. After further expounding on the passage, he leaned over the pulpit and (speaking deliberately, emphasizing his words so well!) said, “It seems to me that if a husband were to love his wife to this extent, there would be a good bit of submission involved in his behavior!” I exhaled – and nearly clapped – so great was my joy!
But why was my reaction so strong? Perhaps because I was thinking of a time some years ago when, again while visiting a church, I heard the worst explanation I can imagine of this very passage in a Sunday School class for couples. I had been told that the class would be discussing marriage and that a husband and wife team would be doing the teaching. How wonderful, I thought, that this church allows both men and women to teach mixed classes!
As is often the case, the discussion started at Ephesians 5:22 and went on from there. At one point the teaching husband said, “Wives must do what their husbands tell them to do, but husbands do not ever have to do what their wives tell them to do.” I was dumbfounded! Was he joking? No! His wife stood by his side with a big smile on her face, obviously agreeing with him. What a set-up for future marital problems, I thought! Would there be a reaction from the class? Would someone be outraged? No! There was not a word from anyone, not even me. I was too concerned with keeping my place as a visitor and with not embarrassing our hosts.
Whenever I hear submission expounded from Ephesians 5 as a duty meant only for wives, there are two things I say, if possible. The first is that verse 21 is there and does not read this way: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, except husbands do not ever need to submit to their wives.” And second, using the same logic that supposedly exempts husbands from submitting, I point out that likewise wives do not need to love their husbands; loving is a job given to men. This is readily seen as absurd, of course, for in many other places we are told to love one another, which includes wives to their husbands! Mutual submission is God’s plan for us. Let’s practice it!