Love her. Submit unto him.

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul uses these words to introduce his instructions to husbands and wives, to children and parents, and to workers and supervisors. Like Confucius, Paul taught that one must know who one is in relation to others to be sure of what one ought to be doing. Ever since Paul wrote these words, people have been pulling bits of them out of the larger context and using them to try to control each other.

Men and women are different. The difference can be seen microscopically (the difference between X and Y chromosomes) or by studying the entire package. Some differences may be culturally induced (nurture rather than nature), but that does not make them wrong. Whether one attributes the differences between men and women to a wise Creator (as I do) or explains them as “survival of the fittest,” the differences between men and women help to form stronger families, stronger communities, stronger nations, and a better world.

Paul tells men to love their wives with a sacrificial, Christ-like love. This theme diverts Paul into the mystery of Christ and the Church, in which every marriage of a man and a woman becomes a picture or analogy of Christ and the Church. Paul tells wives to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord.” Since he has already told all Christians to submit to one another, it seems odd that he would reiterate that instruction to the wives.

To submit is not to be inferior. Jesus Christ submits to God the Father even though they are equal in power, in wisdom, in glory, and in every other way. To submit is not to be a willing victim to sinful behavior. Christians are told to exhort one another to good works. We are told to remove the logs from our eyes so we can see clearly to remove the specks from our brothers’ eyes. When Eve was created, she was to be a teammate of Adam. (Four hundred years ago the translators working for King James I of England chose the term “helpmate.” More recent translations have shortened the word to “helper,” but “teammate” is more accurate.) They were to work together in their assigned jobs: to care for the Garden, to rule over the land animals and flying animals, and to be fruitful and multiply.

All Christians should love each other and submit to one another. I speculate that Paul told husbands to love their wives because the masculine gender is more likely to stray from their proper mates. Men are more easily tempted to be unfaithful; women are more likely to stay and nurture their families. (These are generalities—of course many exceptions can be found.) Paul stresses that husbands should love their wives because strong love will keep a husband faithful to his wife.

In the same way, I speculate that Paul told wives to submit to their husbands because, as love seems more natural to women than to men, their desire to nurture can be changed into a desire to control. Sometimes men find it easier to let the women in their lives control them than to claim leadership in their families. Men joke about being tied to apron strings and about the old ball and chain. Men notice that the love of their wives can be expressed as controlling rather than as submitting.

Husbands are to focus their effort on loving their wives. Wives are to focus their effort on submitting to their husbands. Husbands and wives both should love each other and submit to one another. Paul does not address the matter of who goes first. A husband is not permitted to say, “I’ll start loving her when she shows she has submitted to me,” and a wife is not permitted to say, “I’ll begin to submit when he shows that he loves me.” Marriages flounder over such arguments, because marriages consist of two sinful people trying to share their lives with one another. The only remedy is that greater love of which marriage is a picture. Christ’s sacrificial love removes the stain of sin, making the Church and each of its members pure and holy in the sight of God. Without that guarantee, marriage would be a burden. With the forgiveness of God generating forgiveness between wife and husband, the teamwork can be joyful. J.

 

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16 thoughts on “Love her. Submit unto him.

  1. Your post is very good, and I am in general agreement, with a few exceptions that I consider to be relatively minor, and one point that we may disagree on, so I will discuss it below. Since I generally agree, I am puzzled that my comments on the topic on other blogs have been treated so negatively by some.

    Here is an example of a possible disagreement: You state that the King James Version refers to Eve as a
    “helpmate” followed by “More recent translations have shortened the word to “helper,” but “teammate” is more accurate.” (Note: I think you accidentally used helpmate instead of helpmeet.) I question your claim that ‘”teammate” is more accurate’. Looking at several major translations, most have not shortened helpmeet, but have replaced it with phrases such as “helper comparable”, “helper who is just right”, and “helper as his complement”. If teammate is more accurate, then it is surprising that none of these translations use that word. Nonetheless, I don’t think this is a major disagreement.

    ‘“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul uses these words to introduce his instructions to husbands and wives, to children and parents, and to workers and supervisors.’

    Although I don’t have a specific opinion, I will point out that many scholars believe Eph. 5:21 is the end of a section of thought. I think that is why many translations begin the verse with the word and. In other words, it may not be an introduction to instructions on relationships involving authority. I wonder if this verse could be considered a transition from one section to another, both an ending and a beginning.

    “Since he has already told all Christians to submit to one another, it seems odd that he would reiterate that instruction to the wives.” (emphasis mine)

    It does seem odd, but maybe it is due to a misunderstanding of Eph. 5:21. If we look at submission in marriage, we find four instances where wives are told to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:24, Titus 2:5, Col. 3:18, and 1 Pet. 3:1), and no instances where husbands are specifically told to submit to their wives. There are no instances where parents are told to submit to their children, supervisors to workers, or church leaders to church members. It is very consistently stated that those under authority are to submit to those in authority. (Note: It is important to also realize that those in authority are also regularly told to treat those under their authority with an attitude of love and kindness.)

    In light of this information, it seems entirely reasonable to wonder if Eph. 5:21 is misunderstood. Let’s suppose that the Christians in New Testament times were prone to disobey the authorities, and this included fellow Christians. If so, then it would reasonable to begin, or transition to, a section on such relationships with a general admonition of the general principle of submitting to authority. In other words, perhaps Eph. 5:21 should read like this: “Submit to your fellow Christians who have authority over you out of reverence for Christ.”

    To those who immediately cry “Foul!”, please consider that we non-scholars are heavily influenced by the wording in the Bible translations we have heard and read, as well as by others who teach on the subject. There are well-known commentators who consider this verse to be a statement involving authority and submission. For example, Barnes says “Maintaining due subordination in the various relations of life.”, and Matthew Poole says “viz. to those to whom ye ought to be subject in natural, civil, or church relations.”

    The benefit of this understanding of the verse is that it removes the seeming incongruence between it and the statements in the following verses regarding authority relationships, for example, wives submit to your husbands. It is worth noting that there is no other Bible verse that specifically states that Christians are to submit to each other. If the verse has the significance many believe, then I would think it would be repeated elsewhere.

    I think this concept of mutual Christian submission is due to the common perception that submission is equivalent to abuse or dominance or control. I understand that many have used verses on submission to justify their sinful, unloving abuse. However, evil misuse of the Bible does not justify ignoring it or understanding it according to our own wisdom. In fact, a correct understanding the biblical principles found on authority relationships would provide the basis for Christian discipline for restoration.

    Christianity would be recognized as truly special if we Christians lived according to the Word of God. I believe many more would be drawn to God, and the world would be changed for the better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your insightful comments. I double-checked my KJV, and we have both tweaked the quote slightly. Eve is described as “an help meet for him.” Using Strong’s Concordance, I noted that the Hebrew word translated “help” is frequently used in the Old Testament–in the Psalms, even God is called a “help”–same Hebrew word! So “teammate” does not seem out of line. I suspect the other English translations and paraphrases are influenced by the KJV.
      A very literal translation of the Greek text of Ephesians 5:21-22 reads as follows: “Submitting to one another in fear of Christ, the wives to their own husbands as to the Lord.” I do not know of a single English translation that does not repeat the word “submit” in 22 after using it in 21, but the Greek rather clearly links those two verses together rather than leaving verse 21 as a part of the previous thought or a transition between thoughts.
      I agree that the repugnance of some readers to the word “submit” is caused by the thought that those who submit are subject to abuse or domination or control. This is why I point to the fact that Christ submits to his Father. Abuse of authority is no reason to reject all relationships involving authority and submission.
      It’s an interesting point that Ephesians 5:21 is the only verse that tells Christians to submit to one another, especially given its closeness to wives being told to submit to their husbands. Barnes and Poole may be right in suggesting that the intended meaning is to submit to authority. That said, I am not willing to withdraw the thought that all Christians should submit to one another–Romans 12:10 says, Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” I suggest that this verse is consistent with “submit to one another…”
      You are entirely right that if Christians successfully imitated Christ in his holiness and purity, he and his message would be held in much higher regard–and the world would be changed for the better. Thank you again for visiting and commenting. J.

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      • Thank you for the respectful reply. Surprisingly, I do not find that to be the norm on many Christian blogs.

        ‘That said, I am not willing to withdraw the thought that all Christians should submit to one another–Romans 12:10 says, Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” I suggest that this verse is consistent with “submit to one another…”’

        I believe I understand why submission to one another has a philosophical attraction to Christians. I remember an acrostic (from Sunday School?) that used JOY (Jesus first, others second, yourself last). Theologically, I don’t think that’s correct. After all, we are “to love others as we love ourselves”. Which means you love yourself first, then you strive to love others to the same degree. There is also the command to husbands to love their wives as their own body. Self is first, then the other person. I wonder if we have been incorrectly taught, albeit with good intentions, to think of others before ourselves.

        But I see a problem. Words have meanings that allow us to express concepts and communicate with each other. Love and honor and submit all have different meanings. It is always possible for two people to love and to honor each other simultaneously. However, submit is different. Two people cannot simultaneously submit to each other. I believe that is a logical impossibility. This may seem an outlandish example, but if two people arrive at a door simultaneously and one says “You first” and the other replies “No, you first”, then neither would ever go through the door because they are submitting to each other simultaneously. Eventually, one of them will break the deadlock and go first. This does not mean that he was unwilling to submit, but he did in fact submit to the other’s will and went first.

        The practical application of submission by the wife to the husband can be summarized in this: When the two of them cannot agree on a decision, the wife will submit to the husband’s decision. Now, I expect him to have listened to his wife and discussed this with her, and for both of them to have prayed for guidance and wisdom. In other words, the husband has loved her, honored her, and respected her desires, but, in the end, he led her by making the decision. However, he did not submit to her. He did, however, submit to God by the loving way he treated his wife.

        In the Christian family, there is a hierarchy of authority and submission. Children submit to parents, wives to husbands, and husbands to God. This is the pattern God desires for these relationships. The parents do not submit to the children, husbands to wives, or God to husbands (or anyone else). However, because of their own submission to the authority above them, each authority acts in a loving manner to those who are to submit to them. This may be described as submission, but it is not.

        In effect, I think Christians have mistakenly believed that “love one another” and “treat others as you would have them treat you” are tantamount to submission, that is, “submit to one another”. However, the teaching on authority and submission does contain the concept that each one is doing what is best for the relationship because of their love for God.

        Liked by 1 person

      • OKRickety, thank you also your courtesy and communication. (I apologize that my Theme does not allow replies to keep building as a chain; I hope this will not become too confusing.)
        I also was taught the JOY manner of living. I see a risk in telling people to love themselves before others, but that’s not the point. My question is this: what is love if it is not putting someone else ahead of one’s self? The classic description of love in I Corinthians 13 would seem to support that definition. I teach others that the opposite of love is selfishness. More for me means less for you, but more for you means less for me–which attitude is most loving? Your example of two people at a doorway rings true–where I work we solve that problem by taking turns holding doors for each other as we move around the building. (Yes, we have a lot of doors.) Courtesy is one form of love, but courtesy means serving another person instead of making demands.
        That said, we are not far from each other at all. I fully agree about the authority, or headship, of the husband/father in the family, especially because that head of the family has been told to love sacrificially as does the Head of the Church. Perhaps you and I should unite forces and challenge those who oppose submission in any relationship–and also oppose those who are rude while bearing the name of Christ. J.

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  2. Hey J

    Very nice, well balanced, and much perfect. People sure to like to over complicate that particular passage in Scripture and clutter it up with their own preferences and agendas. God make that pretty simply for a reason; He wants us to get it.

    Thanks for it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That was awesome, Salvageable. Flawless, beautiful, well said.

    I suspect your idea that in general men find it harder to love, while women find it harder to submit is a sound one, rooted in some truth. Women don’t need to be reminded to love so much, we love easily, but our love can become controlling, which tends to make many of us miserable. Likewise I think the very concept of love can be challenging for men, they tend to be more action oriented. Early on my husband used to say, “of course I love you, I go to work, don’t I?” It sounds funny today but he was a bit of a workaholic and he really saw that as the beginning and end of love.

    God is good however, if we turn to Him, He’ll drag us through the fire and make it all work out.

    Liked by 1 person

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