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.