What a radical word--“for.” Before Jesus and Paul, the rule was simply “wives obey your husbands, no reason necessary.” But Paul, radical as always, gave a reason. FOR the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church. For every wife, her husband was her head, her source.
Consider: in Paul's day, marriage was NOT like it is today. Girls married quite young. Their husbands were selected by their parents. These parents did not choose young boys for their daughters; they chose men who were financially able to care for them, men who had established businesses, who had enough money to provide a home and the necessities of life. So most likely, girls of 14-16 were marrying men of 21-30, or even older. These men truly were their source. The basic avenue for the young brides to continue learning was through their own husbands. Although they may still socialize with their peers and older women at the well and at other public places, and they may interact with their parents, they now had responsibilities in the home provided by their husbands. For some brides, the responsibility was to begin taking over the management of the household staff, (big job for a young newbie.) and for other brides the responsibility was to fit into her husband's family's home and pull her share and meet expectations there, while others may have shared living quarters with the bride's parents or lived in a basic, humble dwelling if their husband could afford it.
Consider: these brides were newly wed at the very same stage in life that current teens are rebelling against their parents, wanting to try new things, thinking their parents are foolish, and old fashioned. These young women may have barely known their husbands, much less liked or loved them. But their husband was now their source of shelter, clothing, food, and knowledge. Indeed, Paul in one passage tells wives to “ask their husbands at home.” Husbands were not to maintain their wives as child-brides, but were to provide them with knowledge along with everything else--possibly even business skills.
This makes the command to husbands all the more profound: “Husbands love your wives even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it: that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.”
Sometimes the best way to understand a passage is to notice what is missing. Paul did not say, husbands rule your wives, nor did he say husbands train your wives, nor did he say husbands take authority over your wives, nor husbands use your wives, nor husbands discipline your wives. He SAID husbands LOVE your wives, sacrificially. Care deeply for your wives and their welfare. Paul goes on to say “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.”
In other words, a husband is to cherish his wife, like he cherishes himself. It is in that context, that a wife was to submit to her husband, her source. Like a flower turns to the sun for what it needs to survive and grow, so also a wife turned to her husband for what she needed to survive and grow. Paul said as the church looks to Christ to survive and grow, so also a wife is to turn to her husband to survive and grow. Ephesians 4:15-16 “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, Christ: FROM whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
Even as the church turns to Christ, who is the source of energy, growth, and nourishment, so also the young bride turned to her husband for nourishment and growth. Paul's word picture does not show a master whipping, scolding, or starving a slave, but instead shows our Master, Christ, growing us via love, supply, and blessing. It is this route husbands are to follow.
But why stress a husband's requirement to love and supply when the post is about wives submitting? We cannot have one without the other. If a wife is to be a symbol of the church, then the whole of her job must be included. Just as the church is to flee from a fake christ, and refuse to follow him, so also a wife is to refuse to follow a fake husband. A husband who acts as a lord and master instead of laying down his life and preferences in his wife's behalf is a fake husband. He is a fraud.
In John 10:5 in speaking about sheep and using them as a parable/metaphor of himself and the church, Jesus said “A stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him, for they know not the voice of strangers.” This stranger, Jesus goes on to say is a “hireling,” who does not care for the sheep. In other words, the hireling brings harm to the sheep. Paul uses Jesus's tender care for the church to show what husbands are to do. In putting these together we can extrapolate that a husband who rules and takes authority, rather than loves and provides food and growth, is also a hireling and stranger. He is NOT a real husband, and his wife should flee from him, because he destructive. He is not her life-giving source.
Wives submit to your own husbands, FOR the husband is the source for the wife. When the “husband” acts as dictator, he is NOT her head or source. He is a fraud and a thief. The reason for her submission no longer applies.
Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel" See www.wanetadawn.com A Mennonite woman fights to save her family yet keep her faith.
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