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(Part 160)


October 25, 2016

Today’s readings:
Ephesians 5:21-33
Psalm 128:1-5

A tripod of our three-pronged mission is family renewal (the other two being evangelization and work with the poor). Unlike the other two, not as much is directly said in the Bible about marriage and family life (unless it is about the virtues needed for godly family living). Today we go to the basic relationship between husband and wife as directed by God.

And that is about headship and subordination (submission). This is a very contentious topic, which many men today do not know how to live out and many women have rejected. But it is the key to unity, peace and order in the home. Husbands in different cultures have resorted to lording it over their wives, including abusing them. Wives in turn, especially in the West, led by radical feminists but which has become mainstream, have rejected this as culturally-unacceptable paternalism (they have also used this in the Church, opposing what they consider patriarchalism).

But between the extremes of patriarchalism and radical feminism, there is headship and subordination. Let us understand it (please read my book “Families in the Holy Spirit”).

First, and very important, there is mutual subordination between husband and wife. “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21). One does not lord it over the other but rather serves the other. They give each other the respect and reverence due a child of God. The leader is in fact the servant. Both look to Christ who is the one head.

But second, there are proper God-given roles. This is for good order in the body. The role of the husband is to be the head of the family, which includes his wife. The role of the wife is to be a helpmate, a strong support for him. To be subordinate does not demean a person. It merely indicates one’s proper place in a hierarchy (just as a leader in community is not necessarily better, wiser or holier than those under his care). The problem in marriages today is that some wives do not accept the husband’s being the head, and some husbands have ceded this responsibility, whether out of ignorance, convenience, fear, irresponsibility or whatever. In other marriages, both strive to be the head, but two heads in one body is a monster.

So “wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.” (Eph 5:22). Sisters, your husbands might not act as such (help him to grow in this), but God has assigned him this task to be the head. This is not just a cultural mindset from bygone years, but is an everlasting truth, such that God related it to the headship of Christ over the Church. “For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church” (Eph 5:23a). And just as Jesus is “himself the savior of the body” (Eph 5:23b), God intends the husband to help bring his whole family, starting with his wife, to salvation (yes, sisters, I know, oftentimes it is the other way around; but we are talking of God’s order, not of today’s misplaced and distorted cultural practices).

Would any of us reject Christ’s headship? That would be crazy. But both husbands and wives routinely reject this teaching that is related to Christ’s headship. So here is it again: “As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.” (Eph 5:24). In everything! Wow. But just as today Christians submit to Christ selectively, such is also the case in most marriages, if wives even submit at all.

Now is headship a license for abuse by husbands of their wives? Yes it becomes so, if it is not understood correctly (and most husbands do not understand it; or prefer not to practice it due to non-acceptance by their wives). But God also has instructions for the husband. And it is this: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her” (Eph 5:25). This is a pretty strong instruction. Love does no wrong. Love is not overbearing. Love is patient and kind. But not only all of that. Love is self-sacrificial service. The husband, who is the head, is actually the servant of his wife! Some Christian husbands make fun by carrying their wives as a manifestation of carrying the cross. But it is true! (yes, sisters, you too carry your husbands as your crosses). The point is: there can be no tyranny or abuse by one who truly loves.

Did Paul say the husband is savior of his wife as Christ is the savior of the Church? Indeed. What Jesus did for us all (his body the Church) was “to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word” (Eph 5:26). Jesus does this “that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5:27). Husbands are responsible for the spiritual well-being of their wives (and of course vice versa), and help ensure their making it to heaven. So sisters, stop focusing on cosmetics or beauticians to remove spots, wrinkles or blemishes. Look to your husband! As you look to Christ.

Husbands, do nothing to your wives that you would not do to yourself. The second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. Your wife is your closest neighbor. “So husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church” (Eph 5:28-29). Outdo each other in love and service. You are after all one body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Eph 5:31). And both, as well as everyone else, “are members of his body.” (Eph 5:30).

Marriage is a mystery (yes, husbands, you still cannot figure out your wives). “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.” (Eph 5:32). What a wonderful relationship! Marriage reflects the very relationship of Jesus and his Church. So it is indeed a very high ideal, so don’t be discouraged if this very important principle is not yet being fully lived out in your marriage. But strive hard to understand and to implement it, for it is God’s way. It is God’s prescription for a happy and Spirit-filled marriage.

Finally, is what Paul taught about the husband-wife relationship good only for his time, but no longer applicable to our present culture? Well, if the relationship between Christ and his Church can change, then yes. But obviously, it cannot. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. The prescription for headship and subordination will always remain relevant. In fact, it is quite surprising, but Paul understood quite well the psychology of men and women, which transcends time and culture. He knew that what the wife in particular needed was to be loved, and what the husband needed was to be respected. “In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.” (Eph 5:33). Of course each should both love and respect the other, but given the respective roles assigned by God, God built into man the psychological need to be respected, which has to do with authority, and built into woman the psychological need to be loved, to be appreciated deeply for her support to her head.

Now if both husband and wife obey God and follow His prescriptions, then their marriage and family life will work out well. “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, and who walk in his ways.” (Ps 128:1). They will prosper in their livelihood. “What your hands provide you will enjoy; you will be blessed and prosper” (Ps 128:2). They will be blessed with children, the wonderful fruit of their love. “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your home, your children like young olive plants around your table.” (Ps 128:3).

God’s ways are mysterious and His directions difficult, but He is always right. His ways are revealed through His anointed mouthpieces through the Bible. Such is the case with the prescription of headship and subordination, as taught by Paul. Do not go against God or against His ways. “Just so will the man be blessed who fears the Lord.” (Ps 128:4).

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