This verse has been used out of context many times. But to look at it correctly, we must read the verse before it. In Ephesians 5:21 we are told to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ. When we are subject to one another, we take on the heart of a servant…putting the needs of others first. In that context then, wives are submitting or placing in an orderly fashion the family unit…with all parties acting in the interest of another.
Christianity is not a competition sport, but we sure can make it that way. The Lord tells us to serve one another with love and humility…but we’d rather make it a contest to see who can be the most spiritual…and the one whose the most highly respected and honored by others. So what we’ve done is taken the Lord’s words of submitting to one another… and done the opposite. Instead of being accountable to God with respect and honor towards fellow Believers…we approach these interactions with envy, competition, and how we can make ourselves look more saintly. Sadly, this “holier-than-thou” attitude is contrary to all of Christ’s teachings, and is actually willful disobedience to His Word.
Paul wasn’t legally, socially, or personally obligated to anyone…but he willingly relinquished his freedom for the sake of winning others to Christ Jesus. And as Believers, we too are free…but that freedom was bought with a heavy price. And in realization of that mind-boggling freedom…it compels us to submission…first, to yielding our will to His… and then, to thinking of others before ourselves. Yes, we are free indeed…but in love, we need to submit one to another.
Even at twelve years old, Jesus had the plan and purpose for His life laid out in front of Him. But He was also the young son of His parents, Mary and Joseph, and He honored them by His submission and obedience. Many times in our own life we’ll encounter situations that we just don’t understand, but we know they’re of the Lord. That’s when we submit anyway…we obey anyway…we honor anyway.
Jesus Christ has all authority both on earth and in heaven. (Matthew 28:18)…so why is it so hard to yield our will to His? In our head we know He has supreme rule…but our rebellious nature would rather do things our way than submit…our pride and arrogance would rather rule than surrender. We need to remember that submission to God’s authority is the beginning of freedom not slavery.
To place in proper order… Paul wasn’t teaching that women were inferior to men, quite the opposite. In an age when women were downgraded and looked upon as mere property – Paul declared that in Christ there was no distinction in status between men and women (Gal. 3:28). He had even called the married couple, Priscilla and Aquila, by the same word…synergous – which meant “fellow workers.” God is a God of order, and by freely placing ourselves in submission in an orderly fashion under our husbands, we allow the blessings of the Lord to flow.
The Lord never wanted wives to be spineless, broken-spirited, or even scared of their husbands. Submission has everything to do with a voluntary yielding of ourselves…in the same way as we yield ourselves daily to the Lord. Submission is not taken by force, but rather given freely in love.