Lesson 17

Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

World English Bible translation

 Today's Scripture

5:22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ also is the head of the assembly, being himself the savior of the body. 5:24 But as the assembly is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their husbands in everything.

5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the assembly, and gave himself up for it;


Today's Lesson

Today's scripture begins what is commonly called "The Household code" of the letter to the Ephesians. There were many household codes written in Paul's day. Greek philosophers and moralist wrote most of them. Paul adapts the form to his own letters here and elsewhere. This passage has been in the news of late because of a stand that the Southern Baptist denomination made based primarily on this section of scripture. Much of the debate that has taken place has been on the secular merits of the stand taken by the Baptist. What we will deal with here is what Paul had in mind when he wrote it.


Before we get into what Paul had in mind, let me say one more thing. This lesson will not be complete without the one that follows. Because it would be impossible to cover all that Paul says here about men and women in one lesson, they have to be broken up. That's a concession I'm making to space, but one I deeply regret. Paul meant the next three passages be read together. Indeed, I have stressed before; he meant this whole epistle to be read in one sitting. Especially in this section I have to remind the reader, place these three lessons in context with the whole.


Paul has said that God was not just creating the world, He was revealing a portion of His divine character that was previously unknown, specifically His grace. In this section Paul writes that there is another revelation. In the relationship of a man to his wife, the relationship between Christ and His church is revealed. A proper relationship of husband and wife will be like that of the church to the Lord. Paul is trying to reveal something about the Lord here. He is writing practical ideas, but as always in Paul's writing, the theological implications are never far from the surface.


A wife should be subject (or submit as other translations have it) to her husband as she does to the Lord. As Christ is the head of the church, a husband is the head of the wife. That's the straightforward teaching of the apostle.


But, what does it mean? Are we to take this passage literally or place it within a cultural context and say that while this was true in Paul's day, it is less true or not true at all today? The problem with a cultural interpretation is that by the same means we would have to say that the church is not subject to or need submit to Christ. But, we know that the church must always be subject to Christ. There will never be a time when it will not be so. So, must a woman be subject to her husband even today? The answer from scripture is, yes, even today.


BUT, the meaning of subject and submit must be properly understood. This is something that is sorely lacking. It's the same concept as when we spoke of leadership at the end of 1 Thessalonians. People today think of Christian leaders as "in charge." God's thinks of them as being more willing to sacrifice themselves. In this passage, if the Apostle Paul is placing a burden on one sex or the other, he places the heaviest burden of all on husbands.


Women are called to be subject to their husband. Men are called to be as Christ to their wives. In my experience, men fail at this measure much more often than women do (and well they should; it's an impossible measure). Throughout this epistle, think of all the things that Paul has said the church is responsible for and all the things that Paul has said that Christ is responsible for. Here's the secret the church does nothing. Christ does everything.


The church is the church because Christ has called it; Christ has saved it; Christ will hold it inviolate until the end. The burden and responsibility for making everything work is on Christ. The one duty (?) of the church is to believe. One last thing to think about what Paul really means here. How did Jesus treat the women He encountered? How did He treat His disciples? The response of Christ to His people is the key to understanding this passage.


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