The Gospel Garment of Submission

I want to continue our series on the home by addressing the most fundamental relationship within a godly home, namely that between a husband and his wife. Ephesians 5 addresses the home by first addressing wives. Here Scripture tells us that a wife’s submission to her husband adorns the gospel. When a wife does this she wears “the gospel garment of submission”. What I mean by this is that when the wife submits to her husband she wears the gospel before the world. Her actions showcase the gospel before the watching world. Ephesians 5:32 says “this mystery is profound”. What is this mystery exactly? Generally speaking, it’s the fact that a marriage between a husband and wife is a reflection of Christ’s relationship to the church. Following the analogy, the church humbles itself at the foot of the cross, bows to King Jesus, and finds salvation. He becomes her Head, King, and Lord. Within a marriage, the wife is meant to picture this submission in her relationship to her husband. She is to submit to him as her head just as the church submits to her Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. In turn, the husband is not meant to replace the Lord, but reflects the Lord through his God honoring headship.

Since God’s ways are not man’s ways, many have tried to ignore this passage. Jesus had His “hard sayings” in the gospels, and in Ephesians 5 we find Paul’s “hard sayings” about gender, marriage, and the home. What Paul says is not popular in our culture today, but such is fundamental to orthodxy. It’s not politically correct, but it is biblically accurate. What he says is not societally speaking even acceptable in most quarters, but it is necessary for those within the Christian society. But it should give Christians great comfort that the last thing Paul mentions in his letter to the Ephesian Christians before his famous passage on spiritual warfare (Eph 6) is the home. Why do you think that is? I have a suggestion: living out the principles of headship and submission is nothing less than spiritual warfare. We must fight for these God honoring principles. From the very beginning Satan has been attacking the home. He did it in the Garden in the first home of our first parents, and he continues to do it today. And the devil knows that the way to attack the home is to attack marriage.

Satan is an old dog with old tricks. He started by attacking marriage, driving a wedge between Adam’s headship and Eve’s submission by cunningly deceiving Eve (Genesis 3; cf. I Timothy 2:11-14). Throughout history he has attacked marriage by tempting sinners with the most unnatural of deviations, namely homosexuality, which is defined in Scripture as the exchanging of “natural relations for those that are contrary to nature” (Romans 1:26). His tactics have not changed today except that Satan is now attacking marriage by confusing genders on a level unprecedented in human history. 

Last night I was coaching practice for my 11-year-old son’s soccer team and was approached by another coach to see if I wanted my team to scrimmage his team at the end of practice. I agreed. The time came and I passed out red pinnies to my boys to distinguish teams, but I was one or two pinnies shy. I told one of my players who didn’t get a pinnie that it really didn’t matter since we were playing the 13-year-old girls’ team. I simply said, “It’s boys verses girls. You can tell who is who.” His sarcastic response was, “Well, that’s sexist, but okay.” My response? “Well, that’s not sexism, its biology!” He was simply regurgitating what he’s learned in the public school system. His thinking is the product of our secularized society. To him it was sexist (air quotes) to say there is a fundamental difference between boys and girls. To him it’s not right to say that you can tell a difference by mere observation. It was offensive to him. Well, aside from the fact that the truth is offensive by nature, not only is his definition of sexism technically wrong, his worldview is also warped.

Boys and girls are different! Men and women are different, and so are their roles within marriage. A godly woman reveals her femininity through her submission. She reveals that she is different from her husband physiologically. And this fact alone means she has a different role martially. Both husband and wife are called to love one another. They are equally called to do this. But they are called to love each other in different ways because they are fundamentally different. They are the same because both are made in the image of God. But they are different because the husband is male, and the wife is female. There is a double blindness for those who don’t see the distinctions between the genders. The first blindness comes from secularism, the second from Satan who has “blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of God of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The trouble with wrapping our arms around Ephesians 5 is not scholastic, but spiritual. Only if we–by God’s grace and Spirit–see the beauty of the gospel, we will also see the beauty of headship and submission within marriage.

In Ephesians 5:22-24, the apostle Paul shows wives their duty to their husbands. A godly wife can effectively obey God’s command to submit to her husband once she understands three clarifications about submission. Today’s article will consider just the first clarification–the exhortation.

The Exhortation (verse 22)

First, Paul exhorts the women in the Ephesian church. He says: “wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord”. In this statement of exhortation Paul is clear about the duty of the wife to submit to her own husband. First, he speaks about the matter of submission followed by the motive of submission. 

The Matter of Submission

The first part of Paul’s statement tells women: “wives, submit”. This is a shocking command for our culture where marriage rarely and barely exists and where there are different definitions of marriage along with rampant confusion between male and female. But the language is all-inclusive. Notice that wives is in the plural, meaning that Paul is speaking to all wives everywhere. In every marriage God expects every wife to submit to her husband regardless of personality, position, or gifts and abilities. The Greek word used for submit (ὑποτάσσω) is carried down from verse 21 and has the basic idea of placing oneself underneath. A wife is to willingly and voluntarily place herself underneath the authority of her husband. 

Submission (ὑποτάσσω) is different than obedience. Later in Ephesians 6:1, Paul tells children to obey their parents. But the word for obey is a different word used than submit. Similarly, Paul tells slaves to obey their masters in Ephesians 6:5. Obedience is ὑπακούω, but submission is ὑποτάσσω. These are different Greek words. This is an important point to make regarding submission. The wife is not a child on the one hand, nor chattel (i.e. slave property) on the other hand. She’s a companion to her husband, having come from his side (rib). She came from his side, not his feet so that she shouldn’t be walked upon by the husband. She is his equal; his side by side. It should also be pointed out that the exhortation is to wives, not to husbands. Scripture does not tell husbands to make sure that their wives submit. Rather, he directly tells wives that they must submit. Submission is not a suggestion to wives, but a command. And the command is not to husbands. A husband can’t force his wife to submit. She must choose to do so. 

Now where does a wife get the power to submit to her husband? That’s quite a tall order. But right before these Holy Spirit inspired, hard sayings of Paul in Ephesians 5 regarding the home, he gave another command in verse 18– “be filled with the Spirit”. Therein lies the secret to a wife’s submission to her husband. It’s only by the powerful indwelling of the Holy Spirit that a wife can submit to her husband. She does this in the power of Christ! Through the Spirit, Christ empowers the wife to do exactly what He did Himself–submit to the will of the Father. We rightly view the husband as reflecting Christ in marriage, and the wife the church. But there is a sense in which the wife also reflects Christ. How so? Through her submission! Philippians 2:6 tells us Christ submitted to His Father by leaving heaven to come to earth and that “though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men”. That same passage says in verse 5 that Christians are to have this same attitude of submission and humility that Jesus had. Jesus Himself said that He came not to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). And I Corinthians 11:3 clearly points to Christ’s submission by affirming: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” So when a wife submits she’s not merely reflecting the church’s submission to Christ. She’s also reflecting Christ’s submission to the Father. Either way your slice it, submissive wives showcase the gospel before a watching world.

The matter of submission also involves wives specifically submitting, as Paul notes in verse 22, “to your own husbands”. A wife’s first obligation is to submit to her own husband; the one she made covenantal vows to. He is the one she has been joined together with in one flesh. Now this does not overturn her duty to submit to male elders in the church. Paul is just pointing out the intimate, one flesh union between a husband and wife. She promised to love her husband, and part of loving him biblically involves submitting to his leadership. Biblical submission does not mean the woman is inferior any more than it means Christ was inferior to the Father for His submission. Submission doesn’t have to do with inferiority at all. Differences in roles between men and women are based upon differences in their gender. But both are equal before God. Nevertheless, equality in bearing God’s image does not mean equality in roles. 


The Motive of Submission

Paul spells out the motive of submission with four English words. He says this submission is to be done “as to the Lord”. It is a staggering thought, but the way a godly woman shows her devotion to Christ is through her devotion to her husband. Her motive for submission to her husband is obedience unto her Lord. She submits to her husband “as to the Lord”. Indeed, since the Christian wife is part of the body of Christ, she submits to the Head by obeying His commands. And this includes the command in Ephesians 5:22 for her to submit to her earthly head, namely her husband.

Submission is simply part of basic godliness for a Christian woman. This is why egalitarians should be immediately questioned with regard to their Christian maturity and godliness. A lack of submission to an earthly husband reveals a lack of submission to one’s heavenly Master. A lack of commitment to one’s husband reveals a lack of commitment to Christ. Feministic ideologies have crept into even conservative circles within the church. A woman who constantly feels victimized by men is a woman who is very likely not submitting to her husband. A woman who consistently charges men who uphold the biblical teaching of submission as misogynists is out of line. Such women are following the analytical tools of the world. They have become a sounding board for human philosophy, not biblical theology. Not only do such women not submit to their own husbands, they also reveal a distaste to submit to any male authority. This reveals an underlying rebellion against God Himself who designed men and women to be different and function differently within the church and the home. The underlying motivation behind submission is to please the Lord. Submission is exercised “as to the Lord”. So, when a woman doesn’t submit, she may hurt her husband. But that is incidental to the grief she causes her Lord and Savior. A wife who doesn’t submit to her own husband is also not submitting to the Lord. It’s that simple. Lack of submission is sin.

Throughout history, men have been leaders. This is because no matter how hard people try they cannot remove the image of God in which they were created. No matter how hard hell tries to attack men, gender, marriage, and the family there is an inescapable reality–God designed men to be leaders. Women want this. Men want this. Little girls look to their fathers for protection and guidance. Boys defend their sisters and mothers. This is natural. This is right. This is inescapable. This is the way God created the world!

In his book entitled The Inevitability of Patriarchy, author Steven Goldberg writes that in every society that has ever existed one finds patriarchy (males filling the overwhelming percentage of upper hierarchical positions in political and all other hierarchies), male attainment (whatever the role), and male dominance. He grounds patriarchy in biology arguing that what is true sociologically with regard to male dominance is rooted in physiology. The male gains dominance because he is physically stronger and more aggressive. His argument is not based on discrimination, but observation. The apostle Peter argues something similar when he refers to the woman as “the weaker vessel” (I Peter 3:7). This is why the man is to be the head of the wife. He was designed to be her protector and provider.

And if we are tempted to think that Paul was writing as a chauvinist within a chauvinistic culture, we need to study a little harder. Paul was writing under inspiration of the Holy Spirit so the charge that he was a chauvinist is a charge against God Almighty! But beyond that, Paul was writing to Christians residing in the secular city of Ephesus. Why is this relevant? Ephesus was the site of the cult of the great mother and the Artemis Temple, which was symbolic of women’s rights. Paul was alluding to the types of activities taking place within this temple when he told the Ephesian Christians not to be drunk with wine, but filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:17-19). He said this because many of the Christian converts had been pagans who engaged in drunken orgies within the Artemis Temple. Pagan prostitutes filled this temple. These powerful religious women flaunted themselves in front of other men who believed that intercourse with these women was considered communion with the false gods. Essentially, this was worship being led by women who were basically being worshipped sexually as a means to worship the great mother god.

Women are worshipped in our culture today. Their “rights” receive precedence over the lives of the unborn. Their accusations toward men result in a “guilty until proven innocent” assumption.  And the church is not immune to women leaders and the corruption that comes with them. Evangelicalism is filled with temple prostitutes who are “woke”–women who may even fill pulpits and teaching lecturns but don’t submit to their own husbands. We need more (not less) Elijah’s of our day who will clean out these Jezebel-like prophetesses from the temple of God and tell them to “go home”. The church needs men. Would that the culture take its cue from a biblical church than the church take its cue from an immoral culture! We don’t need men to abuse or demean women. We need men to lead women. We need men to serve women by leading them. We need men to serve women by leading their own wives. We need men to serve women by leading their own wives in their own homes. We need men serving women by leading their own wives in their own homes lovingly so that those wives want to submit. We need more, not less, Elijah’s of our day who will clean out these Jezebel-like prophetesses from the temple of God and tell them to “go home”? God has designed His world as a place where roles between the sexes are carried out according to His pattern and plan. Women are exhorted by Scripture to submit to their husbands. They are not called to lead their husbands any more than they are called to lead the church. But why are we shocked? When the church stopped preaching that a wife should submit to her husband, it paved the way for the church to stop preaching that it’s wrong to have women preachers. Perhaps if these women preachers so adored by thousands upon thousands of women began submitting to their own husbands, their followers would begin submitting to their husbands. So yes, any so-called woman preacher should “go home”. John MacArthur may have said it, but he was standing on Scripture. Titus 2:5 exhorts all women: “to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”