I was just reading through Ephesians 5:22-33, and I came away with a better understanding of what godly submission is about. Because this verse is typically misunderstood (“Wives, submit to your husbands…), I want to take a moment in goodwill to share some impressions.
The first couples of lines of this passage read: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself it’s Savior.” (5:22-23). Instead of looking into what Paul is saying in terms of hierarchy, why does he use the image of the church and it’s relationship to Christ?
Part of the reason Paul is doing this is to address the different needs, roles, and images of God in men and women. By creating contrast between the Church (Zion, a bride/woman) and Christ (a man), he doesn’t set the two up to hate one another, but creates a more meaningful understanding of submission as something that is akin to worshiping God. Instead of resenting submission and doing whatever it is we want, we are called to love one another in the manner that God loved us. It is my personal belief that by the design of creation, women thirst for secure love, while men desire to be respected and appreciated. While these are both love, the way that Leah and Rachel desired having fulfillment and stability in marriage is different than how men desire respect and encouragement.
Instead of making it about coercion, Paul continues in Ephesians 5:25-26 to encourage men to love their wives in utter service, as Christ loved the church. By cherishing his bride (the Church), and providing for her in every possible way, men are told that by gently loving their wives, they are loving themselves (5:28), and that is ultimately for their own benefit (5:27). Paul reiterates in 5:32 that he is speaking non-necessarily about cultural constructs, but about the nature of the gospel: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refer to Christ and the church”.
I am not a man, so I cannot attest to how this message might resound from a male perspective. However, I know that Christ loved in such a way as to give freely, to encourage love out of a spirit of freedom instead of slavery, and to empower people to break away from the sin of the world. If women desire a love than is permanent, and men desire respect in a way that has a lot in common with the way we are called to worship and revere God, perhaps understanding godliness in these gender roles is an entirely theological question, instead of a cultural dispute. Ultimately, there are good things to be gleaned from even the most controversial passages, as all scripture is good for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) (NIV).
The funny thing about this passage is that if you don’t have a genuine respect for who God is and what God does, then you wont be able to see past your own cultural understanding of what Paul is saying. You’ll be fighting against ideas that God never put there (but potentially lies that Satan did). If you understand this passage as an expression of godly love that is meant to demonstrate the depths of God’s understanding and desire to provide for all of us, then you do so out of respect for who God is, and obedience unto his character. While it isn’t necessary to understand all that God has planned, there is something to be said for sticking with who he is even when a passage makes you uncomfortable. If you try to pick and chose, you miss out on the richness of a fully-fledged respect for God.