I haven’t been married that long, but in the short time I have been I think I have learned a thing or two. That doesn’t mean my marriage is in any way perfect, but as I strive to be the husband that I believe God would want me to be, I have spent some time thinking about just how to accomplish that goal. Ephesians 5:22 just might be the most famous text on marriage and family – “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” It seems like men have been using this verse to subjugate women since it was written. In response, those who believe in the equality of the sexes have been ignoring/rebelling against this text in response to its use (or really misuse) by those who support conservative constructions of the relationship between a husband and a wife. Now I am not here to argue that wives are not to submit to their husbands. I believe in following biblical counsel. However, I am here to point out to all us husbands that the submission of a wife does not occur in a vacuum. As men we like to quote verse 22, but we rarely quote verse 25 – “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it…” I believe that a husband has no right to expect submission from his wife if he is not loving her as Christ loved the church. So I think the analysis has been misplaced, at least as far as men are concerned. It is not my job to figure out what it means for my wife to submit. My job is to figure out what it means for me to love my wife. Luckily for us husbands, the same man who gave us this counsel has also given us a definition of love.
When we look at 1 Corinthians 13, we can use its definition of love to help fill in the logistical space created in Ephesians 5:25. Here is the long list of responsibilities that men have in loving their wives, taken from 1 Cor 13:4-6:
· Love is patient
· Love is kind
· Love is not jealous
· Love does not brag
· Love is not arrogant
· Loves does not act unbecomingly
· Love does not seek its own
· Love is not provoked
· Loves does take into account a wrong suffered
Whew! That’s a long list. And if we as men are not willing to do these things for our wives than we have no right to expect our wives to submit to us. But amongst this there is one requirement that I find particularly interesting. Paul counsels us that love includes not seek[ing] your own. But what does it mean to not seek your own? In the context of a person to person love relationship, I believe that not seeking your own means that you are willing to submit to the wishes of your partner.
Wait a second. Look at the system we have now created. Our wives are supposed to submit to us. But we are supposed to be loving our wives, which will include submitting to them (because in love we are not seeking our own). So it isn’t that my wife submits to me, or that I submit to her. We are in this marriage doing the same thing, and mutually submitting to each other. Someone may be wondering who makes the decisions, who gets the final word when we’re busying submitting to each other. God does! When we’re seeking to fulfill the wishes of our partner, and that submission is returned, we give the Spirit the room it needs to operate in our marriage and in our homes.
Now I know this works because I have experienced it in my own marriage. I cannot say that my marriage has ever been unhappy, but I can say that my marriage got better when I stopped being concerned about whether my wife was being fair to me and started focusing on loving my wife. At one point I decided I was not going to seek my own and that I would submit to my wife and only object when I had a good reason. Once I did that the most amazing thing happened. As I changed my marriage got better. Now my wife has told me that she saw my example and followed it without me having to ask, but the truth is I hadn’t noticed. I was so busy focusing on my responsibility in my marriage (to love her) that I wasn’t paying attention to whether she was returning the favor. Now the majority of our arguments come not because we fight for our own way, but because we fight to defer to each other. I don’t get it right every day, but my life got better when I decided to love my wife and give up my life for her as Christ did for the church.
I have mentioned before that God always gives us evidence for our faith. Where is the evidence that our wives are supposed to have in order to submit to us? It comes from us loving our wives and showing our willingness to submit to them. If we are truly to be the heads of our homes then we should be the first to subjugate ourselves as an example to our wives and our families. Jesus did the same thing and became our ultimate example. He was willing to subjugate Himself and come to Earth for us. While here he was the first to kneel down before His disciples and wash their feet. For too long we as Christian men have gotten the equation backwards. We expect submission from everyone in our families and are unwilling to give of ourselves in the same way. If faith is going to be present in our homes, and if we are going to live the life of faith, then that faith must be preceded by love, which Paul said was the greatest of these.
Jason Hines is an attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at http://thehinesight.blogspot.com.