When I first got engaged my husband and I both got confirmed so we could marry in the church we had grown to love. We had both been raised around religion and wanted to go into this new phase of our life with God in our hearts. Part of the confirmation process was premarital counseling. We learned a lot in those twelve weeks and not all of it was easy to swallow. Jesus is a source of bottomless love and forgiveness, but not all of being a Christian made sense to me in the beginning.
When we first read Ephesians 5:22 together I couldn’t help but feel slighted. I was an adult and in a long term relationship. Sharing a bank account felt like a huge step to me, so being told that I was also supposed to defer to my husband in all situations made me feel smothered. I expressed as much to our pastor and he smiled at me, as if he heard this response quite a bit from young women. His answer to my question about authority in a marriage never left me and made me view my role as a Christian wife in a whole new light.
Marriage is a sacrament, a promise between you, your spouse, and God. In order to receive the gift the way that Christ intends it, you have to change your idea of what a marriage entails. Part of what makes this passage hard to understand is the wording. Submission does not sound like an act of love. Submission feels like a command.
I had this horrible image in my head of God wanting me to agree with my husband on all things and that having my own opinion or dreams was out of the question. Submission sounds like defeat. Unfortunately there is some cases where misguided husbands use this passage as an excuse to mistreat their wives. However, God never meant for his word to be used to instill fear in women. The passage is meant to empower a marriage, not create a union of hostility. But in a biblical sense, submission takes on a whole new meaning. In the bible submission means giving yourself over to something bigger than you.
A marriage is a lot like a church. There is three parts to it, the Lord, the head of the church, and the congregation. The Lord is always at the top, but in order to make a marriage work, you have to communicate like a church communicates with the congregation. Ephesians 5:22 says, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as you do unto the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” This doesn’t mean treat him as an authority figure because the husband is never meant to take the place of God in your relationship.
It means respect him as you respect Christ as the head of the church. As you trust Christ to lead the church in a way that will lead you into a faithful life, trust your husband to lead your family in a way that you respect. Trust him to take care of you and have your best interest in mind. God meant for husbands to be the head of the household, both in the marriage and in matters of religion.
By accepting this you make it easier for him to make decisions that enrich your life. Take care of him so that he can fulfill his duties and love him with your whole heart so that you can faithfully love Christ together. This means loving your husband in the way that is best for him and seeing the relationship from his perspective. I feel that a wife’s most important job is loving your husband. Loving your husband is building him up, listening to him, and letting him know he is needed.
There is a second half to this arrangement that is talked about less often. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her by washing with the water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body just as Christ does for the church- for we are members of his body.” Husbands have quite a lot of responsibility biblically. They are called onto to lead your family in Christ. It’s his responsibility to make you feel loved and taken care of. It’s the husband’s responsibility to initiate prayer and attendance of church. It’s his responsibility to be a role model to his children and raise children who want to live a Christ like life.
Like a church, both halves of the relationship have to put in 100% to create something beautiful. If your husband loves you endlessly and does everything in his power to make your life better, the respect you should be showing him is easy to give. Your husband shouldn’t be asking you to do things that make you uncomfortable or go against your values. His actions will only better what you both have been working for.
Upon hearing this from my pastor I felt like I had reached an epiphany. One of the scariest parts of being a Christian is giving yourself up to the Lord even when the future is unclear. You have to follow the commandments and sacrifice so that you can live your life the way that Jesus wants you to. You have to fight against temptation to serve something you can’t always see. Marriage was exactly like that.
I had to trust in something even when I didn’t know what the future would hold for us. With marriage statistics telling us that half of all marriages fail, it’s easy to let fear sneak into your heart. Putting your absolute trust in someone else is the hard part, yet the payoff is incredible.
1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” I remind myself of this passage every time I feel myself drifting from my vows. When you are let down in some aspect of your relationship it’s easy to feel like you want to do it all on your own. If you don’t let anyone in, you can’t be disappointed. But understanding and accepting your spouse as an imperfect person allows you to let go of this and love each other with a pure heart.
In order to give someone your full devotion you can’t hold back. Love is a lot like religion and faith. It requires give and take, devotion, and putting your relationship above yourself. Like being a Christian, a happy marriage means giving yourself to something bigger than you. It means trusting in something that you truly believe in.