22Wives, 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 her26 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.
(Ephesians 5: 22-33)
Ah yes. The famous Bible verses that Christian couples like to use as weapons against one another.
“Wives, submit to your husbands!”
“Husbands, love your wives!”
Of course, if we choose to only pick those two lines out of the entire passage, it would seem that Paul was plotting for every marriage to become a battle zone when he wrote those words. When we look at the whole passage, however, we can see that God has always had a very fixed and structured way of dealing with gender roles and how they parallel with His relationship with the Church, His bride. It’s just a matter of whether we want to accept it or not.
For centuries, this debate of gender roles and equality within the family, church, and society has been going on and on. Even though we are way past the era in which women’s rights were a controversy, we still find that this topic tends to cause some people to get… oh, a little touchy, maybe?
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord?” What’s that supposed to mean? That I’m supposed to look at my husband as if he is God? And what is this about the husband cleansing his wife and making her holy and blameless…? Am I so helpless that I cannot take care of my own spirituality?
Well, no. Of course not. If wives look to their husbands as if they were God, that would be idolatry and God kinda has a problem with that. Men are every bit as human as women. Which means that again, no. Women are not dependent on their husbands for their spiritual growth. Just as it is for men, women are responsible for their own actions before God.
However. Yes, there’s the dreaded ‘however.’ “The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” This simply means that, just as Christ leads the Church with authority, guiding her to a closer and deeper relationship with Him, so also should a husband lead his family with the authority granted to him by his Heavenly Father to a closer and deeper relationship with God.
Why is the man the head of the home? The simple, honest answer: Because God said so. For the same reason that we do not question God about why He made Adam from dust, but Eve from Adam’s rib, we do not ask God why He made men and women with different roles. God made the entire universe and all the laws that keep it in motion. He has proven time and again, all throughout history, that He knows best. You would think that we would have learned by now to trust His reasons and to recognize that there really is nothing wrong with just going with it.
In fact, it is a beautiful thing that we ought to appreciate. If men and women were made with the same roles, one of us would not be necessary. In every level of life and society, be it in the corporate world, in the church, or at home, different people have been assigned with different roles so that things can run smoothly. Delegation is a basic foundation for an institution to function well and the family is the most basic of all institutions, therefore making the male and female roles the most basic of all human productivity.
It is the role of a husband to be the spiritual leader of the home—to initiate spiritual growth and intimacy with Christ in obedience to God, and in so doing, be able to “present his wife holy and blameless before God,” as he also works towards his own personal holiness. Similarly, when a wife fulfills her role of submission to her husband’s leadership, she encourages him in his walk with the Lord and in so doing, spurs herself and her family into deeper intimacy with Christ.
Note that submission here does not mean blindly following him no matter what he says. Part of that submission includes offering counsel and admonishment when he may be wrong, but ultimately surrendering him to God and supporting his decisions. At the same time, a husband who loves and honors his wife would not be too proud to listen to her and to consider her reservations.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” It is a partnership, not a rivalry. A husband cannot lead a wife who is unwilling to submit, and a wife cannot submit to a husband who is unwilling to lead.
When both husband and wife are content with their roles and carry them out with the intention of honoring Christ, the family will thrive. But when either one of these parties fail to play their parts, it results in the breakdown of the family, which we see all too often today.
The issue has never been about equality, because equality has never been a question to God. All of mankind has been created equal. Males and females are simply wired to play the roles we have been given according to how we function physically, mentally, and emotionally. God has deliberately designed men and women to complement each other in their respective roles. When women attempt to play a man’s role, or when men attempt to play a woman’s role or are apathetic in playing their own role, we end up making a mess of things.
The most classic example of this goes way back to the Garden of Eden, when Adam failed to play his part as the spiritual leader. Instead of reminding his wife of God’s command not to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam kept silent. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he proceeded to take the fruit from her, and eat it as well. As a result, the entire race of humanity fell into sin, and God held Adam—not Eve—responsible for this tragedy.
This does not mean that the woman gets let off the hook with no consequence, because Eve also had to pay the price. Nevertheless, the weight of their sin fell on Adam’s shoulders, even though he tried to blame the serpent, his wife, and even God himself.
It is important for us to recognize gender roles in God’s sight and not confuse it with gender equality because it influences and shapes our entire philosophy of life. It is not only applicable for married couples, but for every male and female, regardless of age. Children are never too young to learn about gender roles, and ought to be able to learn from their parents’ example.
A proper understanding of equality in value but a difference in roles would affect how we interact with people of the opposite sex and how we perceive ourselves. When we are able to make that distinction between roles and value, we also learn to treat people with the respect they deserve.
Men ought to treat women with respect, as should women treat men with respect. There is no need for men to see themselves as better than women, neither is there a need for women to go through the endless struggle of trying to prove themselves as good as or better than men.
This unhealthy perception of women that has become so prevalent because of the way men treat them and because of the way they see themselves, often leads to insecurities that cause women to become manipulative, controlling, and rather unattractive. But when men esteem women with the respect they are due, or when women recognize their own worth as equal members of society, their strength and beauty shows in their work without any added efforts.
A healthy understanding of gender roles also becomes vital when the time comes to choose a suitable mate. Young women who are able to accept their roles as the submissive wife would look for a man who will respect her for all she has to offer and on whom she can depend for leadership. Likewise, young men who accept their roles as the head of the home would make it a point to grow in their maturity with God so that he would be fit to lead his wife while holding her in high regard.
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