So. The big question- do wives have to submit to their husbands?
In some senses that’s the wrong question. Paul says in Ephesians, just before writing out similar commands to husbands and wives and children and slaves- he says- submit to one another. Husbands submit to wives? Yeah. Wives to husbands? Yeah.
Here’s what the Gospel says to husbands and wives- you are equal. You are in relationship with God. You both have a duty to submit to each other and to love each other. Your lives, including your marriage should reflect well on Jesus and part of that means it should be attractive and compelling- you represent Jesus.
If you live in a patriarchal society where women are considered property, submit to your husband and show him to whom you really belong.
So, ironically, in our society… those who read these passages and because of them demand that wives take on some kind of subservient role (and they still exist, believe me), that women cannot be leaders in the church, that they are somehow equal in value and yet cannot have the same voice as men in the life of the community- those Christians in an effort to remain faithful to the Scriptures, often end up doing exactly what Paul is arguing against here- their marriages and their communities run the risk of failing to represent Jesus well and so becoming a stumbling block for others.
Now-hear what I’m saying and don’t hear what I’m not saying. The Gospel has serious claims on our lives on the ways we treat others, on our relationship to sex, to money, to power- and sometimes those claims are going to be offensive.
But the point is, if anything about us is going to be offensive, it darn well better be the Gospel, and not our marriages, and so the church better give some serious thought as to how we treat our wives and even women in general.
It’s offensive enough to proclaim that Jesus is the Savior, because that means proclaiming that people are in need of a Savior, that there is a problem that needs to be fixed called sin, and no one wants to hear that. Let’s not add to the offense of the Gospel by missing what’s really going on here and saying that women are somehow second class citizens in the ecclesia.
The prevailing Roman society of Paul’s day, drawing mostly from the
Greek thought of the Stoics and others had very rigid family
definitions. There was the pater familias, the Man, the Father at the
top. And the woman was not equal, not in rights and not in value. In
Greek thought she was second class. And the children under her and
slaves last of all. Aristotle put it this way: “For the male is by
nature better fitted to command than the female… The free rule the
slave, the male the female, the man the child…”
So- into the mess of that society, into a whole world patterned on that Paul says, “Wives, submit to your husbands, but do it so they know who you really belong to. Husbands, love your wives and even if the law gives you the right to treat them harshly, Jesus doesn’t. Children, obey your parents- not because you are inferior, but because it makes God happy when you do. Fathers, don’t aggravate your children- you may have a legal right to treat them however you want, but it makes them discouraged.
Slaves- live so that your master knows you have a higher authority in your life than him. And remember- though the law of the land considers you property that can be inherited, the Lord, Jesus Himself says He will give you an inheritance- a reward for serving Him.
Paul, in reiterating to these women who might think that freedom in Christ meant throwing off the "shackles" and no more submission to their husbands that no, they still have a duty as Christ followers to submit, is not defining the woman's role as submissive and the man's as dominant.
Do I submit to my wife? You better bet I do. I couldn't follow
Paul's command to love her sacrificially, like Jesus, without
submitting myself to her wishes, her desires. To claim that I can love
someone sacrificially and yet try to keep "submission" out of it is
Does she submit herself to me? You bet. As a Christ follower, is she to love me sacrificially like Jesus? Yes. And that includes, even in this day and age though probably looking very different than it did in the first century, the idea of submission.
For both of us.
Some concluding thoughts tomorrow...
(This series is adapted from a sermon I preached during our time in Colossians. I'm heavily indebted to Walsh and Keesmaat and their book Colossians Remixed)