The Vocation of Wives
“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.”- Ephesians 5:22–24
Having considered the vocation of husbands, we turn today to the vocation of wives. Today’s passage contains some of the clearest biblical teaching on the duties of wives, and Paul’s words are as authoritative today as they were two thousand years ago.
We stress the authority of Ephesians 5:22–24 because the past few decades have seen no small effort to overturn the meaning of this text. Some people reject it entirely, believing that Paul was a misogynist and therefore that we can ignore his teaching here. Such a view is impossible for those who take the Bible seriously, for it would mean denying what Paul says elsewhere, namely, that all Scripture—even his letters—is God-breathed, authoritative, and sufficient (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
More commonly found among those who affirm the authority of God’s Word is the idea that the Bible teaches mutual submission of husbands and wives within marriage. This teaching is based on Ephesians 5:21, which calls us to submit “to one another.” However, Paul’s explicit teaching makes the understanding of mutual submission in marriage impossible. If Paul were calling for mutual submission he would have told husbands to submit to their own wives just as he calls wives to submit to their own husbands (v. 22). But the Apostle gives no such charge to husbands. Ephesians 5:21 refers more broadly to life in the church, and is a call for all church members to serve one another and to consider others before they consider themselves.
Since Ephesians 5:22–24 does not call for mutual submission but enjoins wives to submit to their own husbands, it is clear that husbands are given a leadership role in their homes. But note that a wife is to submit to her own husband (v. 22). This means that wives are not commanded to submit to all men but only to their husbands and any other figure who holds a lawful place of authority in the church or in the world. In this second kind of submission, they are no different from their husbands, who must also submit to lawful authorities.
In considering the submission of wives, let us note that it is contingent submission. That is, a wife’s obligation to submit to her husband ends if he tries to get her to do something God forbids or attempts to keep her from doing something God commands. Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4), and Christ does not condone lawlessness (Matt. 7:23). Also, submission does not mean a wife has no say in how things operate at home. Foolish indeed is the man who does not listen to the wise counsel of his wife (Prov. 31:10–31).
Wives are not called to submit to perfect husbands, for no sinner can be a perfect husband. Instead, wives are to submit to the lawful leadership of their husbands even when their husbands lead imperfectly. This does not mean submitting to abuse, but it does mean being patient with husbands who are endeavoring to follow Christ and lead well.
Passages for Further Study
1 Peter 3:1–6