I was going to post this tomorrow, but I’m getting some great feedback, so here I go. Please read the series beginning Monday if you haven’t already.
Yesterday I got a great email asking me to clarify my take on Ephesians five. In a nutshell, he said, “I think Paul’s commandment for husbands to love our wives as Christ loved the church is equally applicable to wives. When I read it, I read: ‘People, love your spouses as Christ loved the church.’…I would have trouble accepting Paul’s command as rigidly gender specific. If we take him too literally, and look at this Christ-Church marriage relationship as a strictly one-way street, it sort of lets women off the hook, doesn’t it?” There were other great questions and points well made, but let me respond to these in particular.
First, I wholeheartedly agree that both husbands and wives are called to love and submit to each other as unto Christ. A marriage can’t thrive without both partners equally engaged, treasuring, and submitting. That said, the passage says what it says, and I think we need to let it speak the message that was intended. There are other passages that “round out” our understanding of love and marriage, but this one is pretty clear. I think what Paul is doing in this passage is gender specific, and here’s how and why.
At the fall, humankind in general became sinful. That said, sin “broke” men and women in fundamentally different ways. Genesis 3 describes the obvious differences, but we all know there are more too speak of. Men (generally speaking) tend to be driven enough to neglect their call to treasure their wives. Women (again, generally), feeling this lack of treasuring, have a fear of submitting to those that don’t treasure them (“Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”)
We also know that a man feels treasured when he’s respected, and a woman feels respected when she’s treasured, which is reflected in Paul’s eloquent words. Men, don’t forget to love your wives, and wives, express your trust in God by submitting to (respecting) your husbands.
I do believe that God has given authority to husbands as the head of the home, but wait—let’s define authority before sharp objects start flying.
1. Most people think of authority as being a blank cheque, but it’s not. A traffic cop has authority to direct traffic at that particular intersection at that particular time. His authority is related specifically to his job, and within that job, for his present task. He can’t commandeer your car, access your bank account, or make you hop on one foot for an hour. In the same way, husbands have authority to accomplish their mission to love their wives as Christ loves the church and raise godly children. Wives, you’d be nuts not to give them the space to do that. Right?
2. In the New Testament, authority is not about who’s in charge, its about giving people freedom, through our submission, to accomplish their God-given mission (“He who is greatest among you must be the servant of all”).
3. Equal in value is not the same as identical in role. There are roles only husbands and fathers can fill, and roles only wives and mothers can fill. If a dad doesn’t step up, mom can compensate, but never fill his shoes. If a mother isn’t owning her role, no dad in the world can fill that void either.
4. If a husband has been given authority as the head of the home, then I’d like to suggest the wife has been given the authority as the heart of the home. Shauna’s God-given mission is to nurture our children, giving them a safe place to prepare for life. She has been given this authority by God himself. I submit to her (bless her, respect her, give her freedom to serve our family in this way) so she can accomplish that mission. Please hear this, though: I don’t think the “husband as head, wife as heart” has anything to do with breadwinning, chores, bandaids, or any of the outward things we generally fixate on when we speak of traditional roles. A working mom can still fulfill her God-given role.
5. Since Shauna’s mission and my mission complement each other, we become a team. This is God’s brilliant design for marriage and family.
That said, I do think (both from personal experience and over two decades of pastoral ministry) that when a husband “owns his role,” it does have a disproportionately powerful effect on the marriage and home. Evangelists or missionaries tell us that many women come to Christ and subsequently love their husbands in heroic ways, praying faithfully for years to reach their families. When the husband finally finds salvation, the whole family often changes. I don’t think this is because husbands are any better, or better equipped. It’s about owning our roles.
Those are my thoughts. Thanks for listening.