submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
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 its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Years ago, a wise old mentor gave me some advice on the eve of my wedding. I will always remember one thing he said. “Love is blind, but marriage is an eye-opener.” We will unpack this text on Christian marriage in three parts. Here we go!
What is your view of power? Nothing will more determine the way you read the Bible than the way you answer that question. How do you understand and appropriate power?
I find it fascinating the way different translation teams approach Ephesians 5:20–33. For instance, the text above happens to appear in the English Standard Version. The ESV team opted to put a comma after verse 20 instead of a period. Also worth noting is where they chose to put the section heading (which incidentally is not part of the inspired text). Again, the ESV team inserted the heading “Wives and Husbands” after verse 21:
Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
Contrast this with the New International Version, the New Living Translation, the New Revised Standard Version, and others, who opted to place a period after verse 20 and insert the heading prior to verse 21. It looks like this in NIV: Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.
Don’t let this be lost on you. It may seem like tedious, insignificant detail, but the placement of those headings makes a world of difference in the way we understand Christian marriage. It comes back to our view of power, which determines the lens through which we read the Bible. Our world sees and interfaces with power primarily from a perspective of hierarchy. Who is at the top and who is at the bottom?
What is the alternative to hierarchy? Do a Google search on the opposite of hierarchy, and you get a host of terms ranging from “anarchy” to “disjointedness,” all of which hold in common some notion of disorder. This would seem to imply that a synonym for hierarchy might be “control.” Now consider verse 21: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Might verse 21 call us to an alternative power structure around mutual submission? Whereas a hierarchical model of marriage might be termed complementarian, this mutual submission model of marriage might be termed egalitarian. I think the mutual submission (a.k.a. egalitarian) model for marriage is more in keeping with the tenor of Scripture as it represents a shared power approach.
I wish I could leave it there and let us go on and live happily ever after. I can’t. I’m in the middle of a late-breaking epiphany. It is happening as I write.
I am coming to the conclusion that the Bible supports neither a hierarchical model nor a mutual submission model. Both of these models are worldly models of power centered around control.
The Word of God reveals a model of power that centers around the surrender of control and the reversal of hierarchy. Think about it. In the kingdom of heaven, the least is the most, the last is the first, and the servant is the greatest of all. I call it lower-archy.
Whereas hierarchy is the control of power and mutual submission is a sharing of power, lower-archy means the surrender of power. Is this not the shape of the love of God in Jesus Christ? Christian marriage means two people joined in union on the condition of an unconditional and complete surrender of their lives to Jesus Christ and living out that unconditional surrender in the practical details of their life together.
This may strike us as lofty idealism. It’s another reason why God became a person. He knew ideals would never get it done. One thing is for sure: it doesn’t seem very practical. Then again, neither did the cross. So what is powerful about this model? Thanks for asking. Does the word “resurrection” ring a bell?
Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing. Far from an ideal, the Son of God became a slave. It blows my mind. Would you show me how it might disrupt my life and, yes, my marriage? In Jesus’ name, amen.
Where do you disagree or push back on this reflection about marriage?
It’s hard to imagine the idea of lower-archy working in a company or organization. Could it? How about a marriage? How would it work there?
How might lower-archy become more than an ideal in your own marriage? Where would you begin? Why does it challenge you so much?
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