Since summer is the time of weddings, that means spring (for the pastor) is the season for premarital counseling. Once a week (or so) my wife and I find ourselves sitting with a stary-eyed couple, listening as they gush about how easy it is for them to work through their arguments together (Oh, they have no idea, most of them! My wife and I often share a smile together as they talk. A knowing smile). But we do not let them stay in their bliss for long! Oh no: We try to prepare them for sin, and fights, and troubles, and trials, and unfulfilled dreams, and unexpected surprises. All of these will come into marriage like uninvited guests.
The Wife’s Submission
But if all that doesn’t cause them to stop staring into each other’s eyes for a few minutes and contemplate the seriousness of marriage, then the “S” word usually does. Submission. The reaction has been widely different among brides-to-be when we come to this topic. Some pre-empt us and say something like, “I’m really interested to hear what you have to say about submission.” (I wonder often if they’re hoping I can give them some sort of an “escape clause”?). Some have confessed, “I don’t like the idea.” Others have squirmed silently until suddenly it all comes out, “It’s so old-fashioned!” And then others don’t even bat an eye, “This is how I was raised!”
The fact is, the Bible clearly calls for the wife to submit to her husband, “just as the Church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything,” (Ephesians 5:22-24). And most of the couples know this even before they sit down on our couch, but we work through it together with each couple as needed (my wife likes to tell young women about how wonderfully freeing it really is for the wife to be able to cast all the responsibility of the home and marriage, in a way, at the husbands feet).
The Husband’s Turn
But then, we turn to the husbands. And then we have to tell the husbands-to-be the bad news that many of them were not expecting. The “S” word belongs to them too. Yes, husbands have to submit to their wives. How so?
We normally start reading in Ephesians 5:22, (“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord”), but Verse 22 is not the beginning of that passage or that thought. Verse 21 tells us that we are to, “submit to one another in the fear of God” (emphasis, mine). And then Verse 22 begins, and the word “submit” is not even there in the original text. So if we put Verses 21 and 22 together, it really reads like this: “…submitting to one another in the fear of God: Wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord…” And it continues. In other words: Wives submitting to their husbands as the head is only one type of “submitting to one another” taught in this passage.
Ephesians 6:1 will tell children how they are to submit to parents. And Ephesians 6:5, how servants are to submit to their masters. But in between all that—between how the wives are to submit to their husbands, and children and servants to their parents and masters—come the husbands. In fact, this is actually the longest part of this passage, Ephesians 5:25-33. In these verses, husbands are called to submit in this way: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her.”
What did the Lord Jesus do? He came and served the Church (Mark 10:45). He loved the Church in such a way that He gave her everything she needed to be healthy and happy. In His case, that required Him to give His own life on the cross. That is submission. He submitted to her needs, for her care.
So the thought-line of this passage goes: Submit to one another: 1. Wives, to your husbands as head. 2. Husbands, to your wives in love. 3. Children to your parents in obedience. 4. Servants to your masters in obedience. What these are, are four different ways to submit (or three, because the last two are both submission in obedience). But in marriage wives are to submit to their husbands in one way, and husbands are to submit to their wives in another way.
To vow to love someone is a vow of submission. It’s a vow to care for that person, to put that person first in everything. It’s a vow that requires men to work first and then play after (if there’s time). It’s a vow to do everything you can do to make her healthy and happy. Obviously husbands do not have the power of Christ, who can (and will) one day make his Bride perfectly happy (Ephesians 5:27), but here He is put before husbands as an example: We are to work our hardest to love our wives as He loved the Church. We are to go as far as giving our own life for her. And that’s submission. Husbands are to submit our desires, submit our needs, submit our wants, submit our likes and put someone else’s first. And get this: For the rest of your life. Or at least, “for as long as you both shall live.”
Young men, are you ready to submit like that?
How Can I Do That?
To do that young men, you need to know the Lord Jesus. And not just as an example—but as Savior. Because submitting like this (loving like this) requires a heart like Christ’s. It requires a heart that’s been changed by the Holy Spirit, and filled with the fruits of the Spirit. If you know your heart and it’s sinful selfishness, then you will know that you need a new Christ-like heart before marriage if you’re going to be a husband as God calls you to be.
So before you get down on one knee to propose before a girl, fall down on both knees and plead before the Lord.