Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Wives should be submissive to their husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the Church. He is the Savior of his body. Therefore, just as the Church is subject to Christ, so also should wives be subject to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and handed himself over for her, so that he might sanctify her, washing her clean by water and the Word of life, so that he might offer her to himself as a glorious Church, not having any spot or wrinkle or any such thing, so that she would be holy and immaculate. So too, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
Many people point to this passage as an example of how the Church treats women unjustly and before anyone accuses me of being a sexist, please finish reading my explanation.
If we look at the passage carefully, we see this verse has nothing to do with inequality of man and woman. Verse 21 opens with Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. This command is for both the husband and the wife. Both of them are to be obedient to one another. Which means both of them are equal in dignity.
Paul then compares this relationship to Christ and his Church. The Church is the Body of Christ and Christ is her head. Similarly, the family is one body and there can only be one head. Someone needs to take the lead and for Paul (and Scripture), the man has this responsibility. The sad thing is our culture equates submission with inferiority. To get an idea of the God’s perspective of submission, we look at the Trinity to understand what it means.
There are Three divine Persons in One God, all of them co-equal. No one is greater than the other. Yet, the Son submits to the Father, not because he is inferior to the Father, but because he trusts and loves his Father. Submission is not possible if there is no love that results in trust.
Paul then describes how obedience looks like. The woman is to submit to her husband because the husband is the head of his wife.
Years ago, when I explained this in one of the lessons I gave about marriage, at the end of the class, I overheard someone asked another participant, “What about abuse? Is the woman to just submit to the husband?” The fact that this person did not ask that question in front of me shows he was really not interested in knowing the answer.
To be clear: Paul’s statement has nothing to do with spousal abuse and (I am in NO WAY, encouraging spousal abuse. If anyone is in an abusive relationship, they need to seek help for their safety).
Paul is talking of a relationship where the Man was willing to die for his Spouse, and give his life for Her so She can be holy and She can live. Paul gives the husband a template on how to love his wife. In fact, Paul concludes that the man should love his wife as his own body. This passage therefore does not say women are inferior to men. It does not demand blind obedience from women. In fact, it shows women are to be treated with respect and love and tells men to be responsible for their families. This is a call to men, to look at how they treat their wives and to conform themselves to Christ.
Lord, bless our families. May the husband give of himself to his wife and may the wife give herself to her husband. Give wisdom to fathers so they can lead their families to holiness.