My last three Catches were about Joseph, earthly father of Jesus. In the first one I challenged some conventional thinking about Joseph in suggesting that he didn’t stand up for his wife’s story about why she was pregnant when he contemplated divorcing her privately. Though he chose not to disgrace her, he still did not believe her story about the angel or he wouldn’t have needed his own visitation by the angel to confirm it. This kind of distrust breaks down a relationship and belittles the one who is not being trusted.
Then the next day I took another aspect of Joseph’s character — his obedience — and made some observations in that regard. In applying his obedience to my life, I brought up a passage in Ephesians 5, an often-quoted section where Paul gives instructions to husbands and wives. In doing so I unfortunately picked one of the most misunderstood passages in the Bible in relation to the kind of mistreatment of women I was warning against the previous day. And without any explanation about that or attempt to correct what is commonly misinterpreted, it could have easily looked like I was contradicting myself. Here is the passage again.
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
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 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.” 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.
The misinterpretation comes in the call for wives to submit to their husbands in everything. The misuse and abuse of this scripture is when husbands take this to mean that have a biblical mandate to rule over their wives — to keep them down, or as Marti puts it, to keep them in the sewer with their foot on the manhole cover. That is a complete violation of biblical interpretation.
The key to understanding this whole passage is verse 21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The Greek word for “submit” is made up of two words “to rank” and “under.” The reason it’s out of reverence for Christ to do this is because this is what He did: He humbled Himself — took the lowest position, and became a servant to everyone. Nowhere in this passage is it saying anyone is ever to be over anyone else; it says that everyone is to put themselves under everyone else. Are you low? I can go lower.
Mutual submission is for everyone — including both the husband and the wife. So wives are to submit to their husbands by being submissive to them and respecting them (verses 22-24; 33). Husbands are to submit to their wives by giving themselves up for them so they can love, nourish, and cherish them, and share the word of God with them (verses 25-33).
This mutual submission is the rule for all believers in all types of relationships. Pretty much rules out husbands lording over their wives, especially to the point of abuse, and using this set of scriptures to keep them down.
Marti is counseling a number of women in harmful relationships where the husband has a foot on the manhole cover. She would never reveal this, but I can reveal that I tend to be one of those men, too. I want to make it clear that we are not receiving any sanction whatsoever from the word of God for this kind of behavior.
That is the course correction I’m after today. But secondly: What are we going to do about this?
Any of you want to join me? Imagine what mark we could make on the world if all of us truly gave ourselves up for those we love, as Christ did for the church? Imagine the mark those we love could make on the world as we set them free?
The realizing is one thing; the doing is the hardest part. Change is difficult. Old patterns don’t just fly away. It takes power to change, and the only power that can really do it is the power of the Holy Spirit. Because ultimately, it’s not you or me doing it; it’s the Holy Spirit doing it through us as we step out in faith. That is the Word made flesh in our lives. Think of that … the Word made flesh. We can live out the same truth that brought the Christ child to earth so long ago. Christ in you, the hope of glory. He came to Bethlehem, but He stayed in us.