I’m Never Gonna Be That Wife…

Ephesians 5:21-33

“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.”

I first became familiar with this passage as a little girl, sitting in a frilly dress in a wooden pew. Much too young to have picked up a Bible and interpreted for myself, I was riveted when the pastor proclaimed the differences between authority and submission as our responsibilities within a godly marriage. He spoke of a husband’s leadership. He spoke of a wife’s submission, obedience, and quietness. He preached with confidence and so I wholeheartedly believed him. Picturing my future marriage, I imagined sitting in a bejeweled throne next to a handsome prince as we lovingly gazed into one another’s eyes and held hands. My throne was smaller than his, but I didn’t mind.

As with any occasion of a first hearing, this perspective was solidified within me. A gray haired preacher who had absolutely no idea who I was communicated who I was supposed to be… and so began the creation of an elaborate tapestry of “biblical womanhood.” With pinks and yellows, similar perspectives poured into me. All throughout my life, words like, “submit,” and “gentle and quiet spirit” drew thin and thick lines, swooping into my perspective of myself and all that I thought God wanted from me.

I can’t say for sure when it began, but even that first day in the pew, I knew I wasn’t going to make it. I immediately noticed the scabs on my knobby knees. My hair was a rats’ nest and my middle finger was blue with ink from obsessively writing stories and adventures in spiraled notebooks. I was a girl with a voice, an opinion. I was saucy. I was strong willed. I was a spitfire. I was trouble.

I was never gonna be that wife he was talking about up there.

And not because I didn’t want to be, but because I just couldn’t be. I can’t tell you when the dismay began, but I can tell you that it has never ended and regularly overtakes me. Don’t get me wrong, I try to be quiet and gentle! Sometimes, when I’m listening well to a friend in need, my eyeballs are almost popping out of my head with words of truth and encouragement that are longing to pour out! When I sit for a sermon, I spend about half of it with my back connected to the chair and the other half leaning forward, ready to jump up there for active dialogue (I’ve never done it, I promise, but it is seriously hard sometimes!)! I must respond! Even when I read, I usually can barely stand to keep what I learn to myself before I have to pick up the phone and call someone and talk it through. I’m expressive. I’m emotional. I’m a bit… much… and I know it (I think that I might be “being a bit much” right now actually… My sincerest apologies!

Please don’t leave me just yet! So many exclamation points are ahead!!!)!

Heaven help me!!!!! 

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My point is simply this, our first exposure is the strongest influence in shaping our entire worldview and perspective. It is a heavy weight to teach children, especially if the view point it biased or founded in flawed (no matter how minutely!), self serving theology. And so I am learning to look with fresh eyes upon those Scriptures which I wholeheartedly believe are true. Perhaps hope is found within them. Will you look again at Ephesians 5 with me with your new glasses? 

First off, my Crossway ESV Study Bible states that the main theme of the book is to proclaim that “Christ has united people from all nations to Himself and to one another in His church.” As I read the entire book, I see a theme that the context would appear to continuously emphasize that we are one in Him, and that He is in authority of all people because of the sacrifice He gave when He submitted Himself to the cross (Eph. 1:22). Paul repeatedly speaks of equality and oneness, encouraging the Ephesian church to pursue humility and putting others first. See these passages for further evidence. 2:10-22; 3:1-21; 5:1-20.

It doesn’t surprise me that Paul would encourage the Ephesian church towards a bent on unity and selflessness considering that Jesus preached it constantly. While the disciples, a group of men, were clamoring to boast of who was the greatest among them (Luke 9, Luke 22, Matthew 18), Jesus instructed them that the last shall be first. He spoke against hierarchies that would create distance between the servant and served. He taught them a new way that was completely against their natural bent towards status and titles. He touched the diseased. He held the sinners. He washed their feet. He taught them what real love looks like, that it goes the extra mile (Matthew 5), and in doing so, He showed them who actually God is. 

…and then He commanded them to do the same.

And this is exactly what Paul is doing when we meet him here… communicating God’s truth to the church in Ephesus.

Shall we take a look again with our brand spankin’ new eyes??

“21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

(No problem! The concept is everything Jesus meant for us to understand and live by! Men, women, even enemies, are called upon to put aside their own desires, even physical bodies, for the sake of Christ.)

“22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.”

(Once again, no problem. With a clear understanding that we are to submit to one another, this is not a difficult concept to grasp, I hope.)

“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.”

(Ok!  Hold up, what, in tarnation, does it mean that he is the “head?”)

Well, there are a few varying opinions, but the word for “head” is actually “kephale” in the Greek language. “Keyphale” is a more literal meaning in which the concept of “superior rank” is not found. It is actually a term that means “source” in the same way that a large water source would be providing for a smaller water source…. a lake to a stream is one example. And this would support the example that Christ has given to husbands in the way that He loved her, and laid down His own life for her. He is her source. He gives her strength. He pours Himself out to provide for her all that she needs to be the best that she can possibly be.

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It reminds me of John 15 when Jesus tells the disciples that He is the Vine (like a “source”) and they are the branches. They could bear fruit if they remained in Him. So it would make sense that the Ephesians 5 passage is not proclaiming a hierarchy of leadership- a word which never comes up in ANY passage regarding marriage-amazingly!- but rather a responsibility that the husband has towards faithfulness and selflessness. His posture should not be one that walks out in front, perpetually preparing to gently “hipcheck” her into place (out of love, of course!) if she step out of line. I’d venture to say that He’s supposed to lay across the mud and let her walk over him so that she can get where she needs to go!

So I believe that we need to brush new strokes onto our tapestry which challenge husbands to be like Jesus, and not like princes on thrones.

Considering that we do not have very many examples of Christ and His “active headship” of the church (I can’t wait to experience those someday, by the way!), we must resist taking the passage too far. I believe that Paul is instructing husbands to live out a truly sacrificial love for their wives… and for wives to actually let ’em…

“24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

(Please forgive me if this sounds rash, but I don’t believe that this passage means that men should be allowed to abuse or disrespect their wives. I believe that it means that we all must approach one another with humility, putting the needs of our spouses before ourselves. Having said that, staying in a relationship of abuse- whether it be male against female or vise versa, is never Ok. Please know that I am advocating for the abused to ESCAPE! But a posture of humility is a good thing when both parties mean to honor God.)

“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.”

(As Carolyn Custis James explains, in the first generation Greco-Roman culture that valued wives as one half-step above livestock, this was massively counter cultural concept. Husbands did not typically consider love and self sacrifice as part of the marriage equation. They were much more interested in utilizing her to meet sexual needs, bring legitimate sons to support the business, and for slave labor. They were not viewed as intellectual counterparts. They were typically used, devalued, and abused.

Now, the comparison between husbands and Christ stops here where it explains how Christ sanctifies, washes, and presents the church as His own Bride (which men are a part of, I might add). I would hope that most scholars would agree that Christ has done this for all people, men and women, who accept salvation and that husbands do not have this ability over their wives. The interpretation can be confusing but we know that each person makes their own decision for Christ, and participates in the sanctification process individually.)

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.

(You’ll notice that there is absolutely NO REFERENCE anywhere in this passage that instructs husbands to lead their wives, or to have authority over them. It continues to use wording that would support Paul advocating for husbands to love, nourish, and cherish their wives… and also reiterates the unity between husbands, wives, and Christ.)

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.

(Do you see it?? YEP! It’s still talking specifically and entirely emphasizing UNITY… not proclaiming who is in charge and who is not!! It’s togetherness! The theme here is not a picture of hierarchy or patriarchy but of letting go of everything else and clinging together!! And it demonstrates Christ’s love, not decision making status and deadlocked event trump cards of power. It speaks only of His desire to be in complete and total ONENESS with His bride, as though they were the same physical body. He is saying,

“Your marriage.. should be… like THIS!!”)

And lastly,

33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

(This final step is simply practical advice as they pursue oneness and harmony. Paul, a single man, seems to be acutely aware of what divides marriages and what unites them. Having said that, do you think that the wife does not need to love her husband? Paul doesn’t seem to see the need to instruct wives to love so it must not be very important, right? OF COURSE NOT! Every husband needs love! I know that when I am unloving to Chad, it tears him apart like nothing else! So then, we must also  be open to consider that wives are in need of as much respect as husbands. If he disrespects her, oftentimes she will become a shell, closed off to him and the relationship falls apart. Paul is using precious few words and details to help couples to pursue unity at all costs. It’s marital advice, meant to be helpful, not a mandate to diminish value and personhood in Christ.)

 

And so we’ve landed here, in a spot where we can view a new tapestry with fresh colors that create selfless love, unity, respect mutually… Is this a picture where he is perpetually overrun and she is usurping all over the place? I should hope not! But this is the fear that may keep you from considering this as a valid point. And so my question is this:

Are our marriages better or worse if we mutually submit, one to another, in reverence to Christ (Eph. 5:21)??

I believe that we can find our answer if we can analyze the fruit that is produced. Fruit cultivated in patriarchy quite possibly yields proud men, prone to disregard her voice and perspective. Bananas of dominance. Grapes of wrath (yes, I said it!). Oranges of condescension. And, God forbid, apples of abuse (I’d almost say it is dangerous for them!). And we’re not giving our daughters what they need to cultivate strength! She is ripe with avocados of co-dependence and guavas (sorry, gettin’ desperate for metaphors) of inactivity and unacknowledged resentments. I think you get it… She’s absolutely stifled. Peter gives the best example of leadership when he clearly states,

 

“Don’t lord authority over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.” 1 Peter 5:3

And so I’m never going to be able to be that perpetually submissive one, the one that fades away and waits for you to make all the decisions. I just can’t. It isn’t who you are and and it isn’t who I am. You know me best! I wasn’t made to go with the flow… I was made to make waves. But this I can promise, my dear, patient, husband who loves me selflessly with the kind of love that I just know makes Christ bust with pride (I am completely convinced of it!), I will respect you in everything. I will love you ferociously. I will listen. I will never stop trying. I will strive to learn how to wait. I will do my best to understand. God Himself, is painting in me a new tapestry filled with wild colors, creativity, and truth. Please don’t be afraid of it!! He is letting me know that it is Ok to be the woman of God, the wife to YOU, that He has made me to be! And please believe that it is my prayer that we’re so much better for it! It gives you a partner, not a consultant. A co-laborer rather than a servant. An absolute equal and working hard towards the same goals.

I give you me,

to my fullest..

the best me I can possibly be (knobby knees, exclamation points and all!).

Please trust me to do my best and not to manipulate, undermine, or usurp. 

Believe in me as I believe in you.

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and I will love you, selflessly, with a willingness to lay my life down, every time, as I know that you would…

(even though Paul didn’t say I had to.)

Love always and forever,

-me

3 thoughts on “I’m Never Gonna Be That Wife…”

  1. You were born strong willed, Noelle.
    When you don’t want to submit, find out why. It’s tough getting around that “as unto the Lord” part of that Scripture. Husbands aren’t perfect and can be sharp in their selfishness while they command “obedience” and “submission” because God has commanded this and that’s a “wife’s place.” It seems to me that the “as unto the Lord” part gives most men an serious sense of entitlement to “lord” it over the women they love. They use God’s Word to defend their right to “rule” their families without taking seriously considering what it means to live with their “wives according to understanding” “as the more delicate vessel,” and being careful to not “exasperate their children.”
    This isn’t an indictment against men. I adore the men in my life. I like men much more than women. They are very fun and funny. They are much more fun than I am (but that could be because I’m so busy taking care of them).
    I so appreciate my husband. He has faithfully worked his butt off without complaint for our entire marriage to provide for his family. He’d work without having a family you might say. And you’d be correct. But, I have no doubt at all that he puts his heart in it because he is working FOR HIS FAMILY. I respect and love him to pieces for that attitude.
    The men in this world have taught me that “might is right.” Jesus teaches something very different. I wish that men would honestly and daily ponder what the Bible has to say about the most important human relationship God ever made. And if they don’t stack up to what God commands, I wish they would repent daily and REALLY work on it. If men did their part as God’s describes it. . . Well . . . I can’t even imagine the freedom! I can’t imagine how much fun it would be! I can’t imagine how wonderful it would be to have that kind of peace. The type of love that Jesus talks about is one of submission to one another, yes. And perfect love casts out all fear. YES! Now THAT would be something! A marriage with no fear. . . .
    Keep at it, Noelle. . . . Submitting to one another is about loving your husband more than your own desires. But, always remember: what’s good for you or good for your husband, might not be good for your MARRIAGE. Love you! xoxox0

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  2. This is another fantastic example of your talent, intelligence, and desire to be who God made you to be. I was never that girl either. It’s gotten me in trouble in the past but I realize that being strong willed is so much of a gift. We will not blindly be led to the slaughterhouse. We will use our brains and encourage others to do the same. I love your writing. You are so very gifted. I love that you are encouraging couples to submit to each other. when we have humility and treat the other person with respect and love we are making it easier for them to do the same for us. ❤️❤️❤️

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    1. Thank you so much for this encouragement and for understanding. I’m not sure why, but some have accused me of saying the wives should not submit to their husbands but I have not remotely gone there. It shows me that people are very sensitive and quite focused on keeping women “controlled” like the world might explode if she were allowed to take initiative. But I believe that the enemy hates women because we’re passionate about how much we love people and we move on it rather than talking logistics until it disappears.

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