Our heads are in the sand if we deny the ways that Scripture speaks specifically on gender. In Ephesians 5, Paul gives distinct instructions to husbands and wives.
Paul starts Ephesians 5 with the inspiring exhortation, “Therefore, be imitators of God.” He is referring back to his great multi-chapter discourse on all Christ has accomplished for us through His life, death, and resurrection. In Christ, every spiritual blessing has been lavished on us, and we are now once again equipped to live in the fullness of all God created us to be in perfection. In Ephesians 5, Paul zooms in on the particular issue of marriage. How has Christ equipped us to reclaim God's image in us as both husbands and wives?
There is a sense in which God's image in us transcends gender. All are called to love (Matthew 22:37), and all are called to serve (Mark 10:42-45). Yet, our heads are in the sand if we deny the ways that Scripture speaks specifically on gender. In Ephesians 5, Paul gives distinct instructions to husbands and wives. There is overlap – as I said, all are called to love and serve. Yet Paul uses a distinct word in Ephesians 5 for the particular relationships of child/parent, bondservant/master, and husband/wife. The word is ‘submit (gr. Hagiazo)’, and it is slightly different than the more generic word translated serve. Submit refers to ordering oneself behind a leader. It is a military term, soldiers aligning themselves under their commander. In my own home, I think of it as ordering myself behind my husband's mission. In the early days of working this out in our own marriage, it was helpful that we were mostly on the same page about mission. I bought into his ideas of where we needed to go and how we needed to get there. He too was open to my burdens and concerns and advised me on the best ways for us to get there as a family. In a very practical sense, I strongly encourage couples to have these conversations well before you get engaged. If I had it to do over again, I would not marry a man who had very different burdens than me for ministry or direction in life. In the times after marriage that our family has struggled over mission, my convictions from Paul's teaching in Ephesians 5 caused me to bring myself in line with my husband's burdens, something I have never regretted.
Thankfully, Scripture gives us its own commentary on itself. Our understanding of Ephesians 5 is mitigated by other examples and instructions from Scripture. From the New Testament, we know that the Old Testament law is fulfilled. And from various places in Scripture, we can see that any call to submit to our husbands is subservient to our call to submit to Christ. I, of course, wouldn't bring myself in line with a husband who is a child abuser or drug dealer.
Problems arise in our marriages and churches when, first, we force this conviction on women rather than allowing them to wrestle through the texts themselves. A woman who comes to this conviction and acts in line with it in her home is practicing submission, but when a woman is coerced against her will by a spouse or church, that's oppression, not Scriptural submission. Submission is given. Oppression is taken. The other problem is when we project onto others the nuances of how we apply it personally. The Bible talks about submission in a broad, general way, but the particulars from family to family are private things based on the Holy Spirit's personal conviction of both husbands and wives. What does this mean for jobs? For children? For particular issues of where you live or what church you attend? I can wrestle through those things with the Spirit and the Word for myself, but I cannot do it for you. And I overstep my bounds when I try to convict others in the particular, nuanced ways the Spirit has convicted me.
The beautiful part of Paul's discourse in Ephesians 5 is the thought that we are, in Christ, equipped to imitate God with our spouse. It's beautiful and inspiring to consider what this looks like in daily service to and mission with one another.
Wendy Alsup is a wife, mom, and college math instructor in the United States. She blogs at www.theologyforwomen.org and has written three books, including The Gospel-Centered Woman: Understanding Biblical Womanhood through the Lens of the Gospel. Wendy identifies more with a complementarian interpretation of Scripture.
This is our second reflection in our exploration of 'Wives & husbands: the issue of submission', our topic for Week II of our Gender in the New Testament series. You can read an intro to this week here. What do you think? Share your thoughts by commenting on this blog, discussing on Facebook or tweeting @sophianetwork using #genderinNT. Let's join in the discussion together.
(Image courtesy of Paige Larson Photography).