Can of Worms

It might be the most controversial passage in the New Testament:

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 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. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Ephesians 5:22-24 (NIV)

I preached Ephesians 5 on Mother’s Day. The week before, at the end of service, I announced I would be doing so. A regular church attendee name John approached me and said: “So, you’re going to open that can of worms!” He’s not wrong. In June of last year, Pastor Jared Pozarnsky of Sacramento, California made a reference to the “submission” passage that drew the attention of Newsweek:

“It says the wives to be subjected to their husbands in everything. Everything.”  The pastor later added: “If I came home and my wife had a whole meal on the table and I said, I want pancakes. And she’s like ‘oh man, but I’ve already made hamburgers.’ “And I’m just like, ‘I just have to have pancakes right now.’ Look, she should make pancakes.“ Pastor Pozarnsky continued: “That would be kind of a jerk thing for me to do, and I wouldn’t do that.” (Newsweek, June 2022)

I agree completely with Pastor Pozarnsky that making such a demand would be a “jerk” thing to do and I am relieved he wouldn’t do it. But he was telling the men in his congregation that if they choose to behave in such a manner, it’s perfectly Biblical. I strongly disagree with Pastor Porzansky’s interpretation of the passage, because he is engaging (indulging?) in the type of cherry picking of Ephesians 5 that has led to centuries of abuse against women.

Let’s begin our analysis with verse 21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” As William MacDonald puts it in the “Believer’s Bible Commentary,”: “Submission to our fellow Christians, modesty of demeanor, humility, unwillingness to dispute, forbearance, gentleness—these are the unmistakable proofs of the Spirit’s power.” Husbands, that includes our wives. MacDonald calls this a test of being Spirit-filled. How does Pastor Pozarnsky’s counsel hold up to the litmus test of verse 21? But there is much more:

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. Ephesians 5:25-30 (NIV)

It’s critical to understanding these passages that we take verses 22 and 25 together:

“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” (Verse 22)

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Verse 25)

How did Christ love the church? He left heaven, came to earth, lived a humble life, and died a brutal death. He sacrificed and suffered. He washed manure-laden feet. Husbands, that is how we are to love our wives! Unconditional, sacrificial love. Does that sound difficult? It isn’t. It’s impossible, without a life fueled by the resurrection power of Christ in us via the indwelt Holy Spirit.

And when we have that, our wives are submitting to the growing presence of Jesus Christ in our hearts, not to us as men. Godly submission isn’t submitting to your husband’s every silly whim, not being respected, not being treated as a full partner in the marriage. It’s submitting to Jesus and picturing the church’s submission to her Savior (Dr. David Feddes). The truth is men, these passages assign us an awesome responsibility: loving our wives as Christ loves the church.

So, this is the formula for Ephesians 5 success in marriage:

  1. Husband’s surrender to Christ, receiving the power of the Holy Spirit.
  2. When husbands do this, surrender more and more each day, they will be able to love their wives more unconditionally, more sacrificially each day.
  3. Wives, also surrender to Christ, receiving the power of the Holy Spirit.
  4. When that happens wives will be submitting to the growing presence of Christ in their husbands.

No can of worms, no pancakes on demand. Just God’s amazing grace in action.

Pastor Jerry Bader

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