November 13, 2019 • Life for Leaders
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to 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. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Ephesians 5:23 supplies a reason why wives should submit to their husbands: “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.” This verse has stirred up all sorts of debate about the intended sense of headship. Some believe that headship refers to the husband’s authority. Others claim that headship has to do with the husband’s being a source of his wife’s flourishing.
In fact, the Greek word translated here as “head” (kephale) can have either sense—authority or source of flourishing—both in secular Greek and in the writings of the New Testament. Those who see headship as source point to the fact that this is how the headship of Christ in relationship to the church is described in Ephesians. He is not said to be the head over the church in the sense of being the church’s authority, though Christ is certainly the Lord of the church. In Ephesians 1:22, Christ is head “over everything for the church.” In 4:15-16, Christ, as the head of the church, is the source of the church’s growth and life, supplying all that the church needs to flourish (4:15-16). The church grows as it is nourished from Christ, its head.
Though the evidence from other passages in Ephesians is persuasive, I still want to look very closely at the text of Ephesians 5 to see what it actually says about what the husband should do as the head of his wife. We get a hint of this in verse 23, where Christ as the head of the church is its Savior. Verse 25 makes clear the implications of verse 23. There, husbands are to love their wives, “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (5:25). When Ephesians talks about Christ as the head of the church, the emphasis is upon his sacrificial love and care for the church (see also Ephesians 5:29). Nothing is said about his Lordship over the church in this context, though this is a core truth of our faith (see Ephesians 4:5). Therefore, husbands, living out their Christ-like headship, are told to love their wives. They are not instructed in this passage to exercise authority. Rather, they are told to love in the sacrificial, self-giving way of Christ.
I realize that many Christians see in this passage an implicit instruction for husbands to exercise authority in marriage. I have friends whom I deeply respect who read it this way. I can understand why people interpret the text as talking about authority, especially given the way we use the word “head” in English. But, as I have wrestled with this passage for many years, I have become convinced that we need to focus on what it actually tells husbands (like me) to do in marriage. In our role as the metaphorical head of our wives, we are to love them just as Christ loved (and still loves) the church. That’s how we exercise our headship, through self-giving love and care. That’s what Ephesians 5 explicitly teaches (see also Ephesians 5:28-29).
If you’re wondering how we should think about the exercise of authority in marriage, I’ll touch upon that in tomorrow’s Life for Leaders devotion. We’ll look at the only passage in the whole New Testament that uses the language of authority in reference to marriage. It’s really quite an astounding text!
Today, let me close with one final comment that is relevant, not just to husbands, but to all of us, women and men, single or married. Ephesians 5 teaches that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. But this does not mean, of course, that wives are off the hook when it comes to loving their husbands. Of course they’re to love their husbands!
Nor are we off the hook if we’re unmarried or dealing with people other than our spouse. Remember what we read earlier in Ephesians 5: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” All followers of Jesus are to imitate his example of love in all relationships. Yes, husbands are to do this with their wives, and wives with their husbands. Yet no matter your gender or marital state, no matter the context in which you find yourself, you are called to love in the self-giving way of Jesus.
So even if today’s passage from Ephesians doesn’t address you in your particular life setting, the call to love is just as much for you as for husbands. Once again, here’s what we read at the start of Ephesians 5: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” That’s enough for all of us to go on with, don’t you think?
Something to Think About:
When you read this passage, what stands out to you about the relationship of husband and wife?
What stands out about the relationship of Christ and the church?
If you are not a wife or a husband, how does this passage speak to you?
Something to Do:
Today would be a great day to reaffirm your commitment to loving others in the mode of Jesus Christ.
Lord Jesus Christ, head of the church, thank you for being our Savior. Thank you for loving us even to the point of giving up yourself for us. Thank you for wanting your church to be holy and blameless, and for doing that which makes this possible. Thank you for feeding and caring for your church, for giving us all we need to thrive. Thank you being united to us in a way we’ll never fully understand in this age.
May we live our whole lives in response to your self-giving love, receiving all you have to give us and following you in all ways. May we imitate your love in our relationships, in family and friendship, in work and in church, in our neighborhoods and businesses. To you be all the glory! Amen.
Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Kiss the Son!?
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.