The Gospel Garment of Submission (Part 2)

We began our look at a godly home from Ephesians 5 with Scripture’s instructions to wives. A godly wife can effectively obey God’s command to submit to her husband once she understands three clarifications about submission: the exhortation, the explanation, and the expectation. We looked at the first clarification (the exhortation) found in verse 22 last time where the apostle Paul addresses married Christian women with these straightforward words: “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord.”


The Exhortation (verse 22)

The first clarification the apostle Paul makes as he writes under inspiration of the Holy Spirit applies to all women today. Scripture exhorts women to submit to their husbands. As we saw last time, the matter of submission is spelled in those two words: “wives, submit.”. We should not complicate this exhortation. It’s a rather clear, straightforward call for all women (notice the plural) to submit always to their husbands. But we also saw the motive of submission found in the rest of the verse where it says that such submission is to be done by women to their“own husbands as to the Lord.” First of all, this means that submission to one’s husband is a matter of covenantal love that she promised the man she married. She loves him by submitting to him. This is her “own” husband. Second, this means that her submission to her husband is a matter of obedience to Christ Himself. She is to submit to her husband “as to the Lord”. A woman’s submission to her earthly husband should be motivated by a desire to please her heavenly Lord. When she submits to her husband, she is doing it to Christ and for Christ’s sake.

Practically speaking, this frees women to submit even when they don’t feel like it. It encourages a type of submission that is not focused on the husband, but on Christ. It frees the Christian woman to submit even when she doesn’t agree with her husband because she is motivated out of a desire not to grieve her Lord and Savior. The grief a wife causes a husband when she doesn’t submit is incidental compared to the grief she causes her Lord and Savior. You can read more on this HERE.

In today’s article, I’d like to look at the second clarification Scripture gives in Ephesians 5 concerning submission. Maybe you are skeptical of submission. Perhaps you have never been taught a Scriptural definition of it. My prayer is that you would understand by the Spirit’s enabling that submission is a beautiful thing. Indeed, as a wife submits to her husband you are wearing the garment of the gospel before the world. You are reflecting the church’s submission to Christ. For one human being to voluntarily place herself under the authority of another gives testimony to the transforming power of the gospel simply because: 1) God commands it, 2) God empowers its possibility, and 3) it demonstrates the meekness, gentleness, service, and kindness required of all Christians. Such character qualities marked Christ Himself.

The Explanation (23)

Scripture is replete with exhortations and commands. But rarely does Scripture not follow these commands with some sort of explanation. This reflects the grace of God. Paul follows this pattern by providing an explanation for wives submitting to their husbands in verse 23, which reads: For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Savior.”

God is not obligated to give reasons for why He commands anything. He is sovereign! Nevertheless, we have here an explanation for submission regardless of how people receive it. The word “For” is key. It shows that an explanation is coming. First, Paul explains that “the husband is the head of the wife.” Note carefully that this is a statement of fact. It’s not just true in some situations, but it is true in all situations. 

Eve was created to be a helper (Genesis 2:18 says, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’.”). The wife is to be a helper, not a hinderer. She is not to hinder her husband’s God-appointed headship by refusing to submit to him. She is not to be an encroachment to his headship, but an encouragement to it. Proverbs 21:9 says, “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.” 

We learn elsewhere that the reason Scripture gives for women submitting to the leadership of men within the home and the church has to do with the created order. She was created second while Adam was created first. Paul never argues from a cultural standpoint regarding submission, but rather a creational one. It’s put this way in I Timothy 2:11-14: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”

The simple explanation given for women not teaching other men in the church, but rather remaining in a submissive and quiet state is found in the fact that “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (see above). The fact that she was deceived instead of Adam is a second reason provided. But the first reason she is not to teach men in the church is simply due to the order in which she was created. I Corinthians 14:35 combines a woman learning in quietness and submission in church under male leadership with her duty to also learn submissively from her husband at home. It says, “If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

Now one might want to argue with God on this point. One might say, “Why does it matter who was created first?” But the simple fact is, it does matter. It matters because God was the one who did the creating, and God is the one who decided that since the woman was created second, she is to submit. Therefore, that’s all the explanation God needs to give. And if we are honest and reverent, we’ll admit He’s not even obligated to provide that short explanation. He is Creator. We are not. Will the thing molded talk back to her Creator and ask, why did you make me this way (cf. Romans 9:20)? God forbid!

But Paul provides an even further explanation as to why a wife should submit to her husband. He goes on to say, “the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, His body.” The word “head” (κεφαλή) refers to authority and does not mean “source”. Some have suggested that if it’s translated as “source”, then all Scripture is affirming is that the husband is the origin of the wife. This is soundly defeated as a legitimate interpretation, however, when one studies the rest of the context. Paul addresses the authority of husbands in the home (5:22-33), the authority of parents in the home (6:1-4), and the authority of masters in the home (6:5-9). So,when he calls the husband the “head” of the wife, it’s very clear that he’s referring to the husband’s authority. 

Besides, Wayne Grudem has studied over 2,336 instances of the word κεφαλή in classical Greek and discovered that no usages refer to “source” or “origin”. Furthermore, you don’t have to be a Greek scholar to see that Paul’s entire analogy depends upon viewing the husband as the authoritative head of the wife. He compares the husband’s headship to Christ’s headship over the church. Nobody would argue that Christ is simply the origin or source of the Christian. Christ is Lord, Master, and Head of the church! In the opening chapter of Ephesians, Paul referred to Christ directly as the Head (cf. 1:22, “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church”). He’s simply continuing that theme here in Ephesians 5. Again, in chapter 4, Christ is described as the Head of the church, which is His body (cf.4:15-16). 

Paul’s explanation of the husband’s headship to his wife runs parallel with Christ’s headship of His Bride, the church. Just as Christ controls the movements of His body, so too should the husband direct the wife through his leadership of her. Just as a head functionally controls a body, so too does a husband possess functional oversight and control within the home. Call it patriarchy if you want, but another name for it could be biblicism. Even today we know what it means to say that so and so “heads up” a business, team, or organization. It means they are the leader. They are calling the shots. They are providing direction, and everyone is depending on them to do just that. 

But Paul cushions such husband headship with an important qualifier in His explanation/analogy. The end of verse 23 reminds us that Christ is not only the head of His body the church, but also “is Himself its Savior.” The headship of the husband is not rogue. It has guardrails. It has a pattern. And that pattern is Christ Himself. Husband headship is to parallel Christ’s headship of the church. Christ earned that headship by sacrificing His life for the church. So too, a husband earns the loving submission of his wife when he sacrificially loves her. In fact, verse 25 commands this of husbands: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” 

Christ saved the church! He saved her by dying for her to obtain her redemption. He did so at the cost of His own precious blood (cf. Acts 20:28). The wife has a Savior. And she has a Supreme Head. His name is Jesus Christ. She doesn’t need her husband more or even equal to Christ. But what she does need from her husband–and God created her to need a man–is his leadership, love, provision, protection, vision, foresight, wisdom, teaching, and sometimes even rebuking. 

The husband is to be his wife’s “savior” by rescuing her from ungodly ideas, bad theology, false teachers, bad influences, and corrupt company. He is to renew her mind by washing her with the water of the Word (cf. 5:27). This sort of rescue operation takes sacrifice on the husband’s part, which is why most godly women are thankful they are women and not given that responsibility. 

The woman is co-equal with her husband, but she is not a co-leader with him. He is the head and she is called to submit. She is a leader to the children. Indeed, she may give them more directives than he in the day to day operations of the home. But she is ever and always to submit to her husband. Why? Because God created her this way, and because she is to support her husband’s role as head of the home. She can’t do that if she refuses to submit.