complementary marriage

Ephesians 5:21 – The Muck-up

“Why do so many people concentrate on Ephesians 5:22-23 and skip over Ephesians 5:21?” – asks Christian marriage blogger Sheila Wray Gregoire, in response to this Pinterest post.

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Interesting question.  First, it’s not really a question, it’s a statement of assumption veiled as a question.

Second, I don’t think it’s a matter of, “so many people […] skipping over ….”   I think it’s a matter of Bible exegesis.  Some people (like Darrell and I) interpret the marriage paradigm as a complementarian, believing that verse 21 is a concluding sentence for Ephesians 5:1-20.  They’re not ‘skipping over it’ from ignorance or even fear, they simply believe it’s not part of the instruction to wives and husbands.  Others, that interpret marriage from the egalitarian paradigm, believe that verse 21 is a topic sentence for Ephesians 5:21-33.

Complementarian or Egalitarian?

It’s an important question that’ll make a big difference in your marriage:  Are you a complementarian or an egalitarian?

In simple terms, complementarians favour specific gender roles for husbands and wives, each with their own power and purpose.  Sometimes it’s referred to as Biblical hierarchy, bridal paradigm, or Christ’s bride/body.  While, egalitarians favour interchangeability of power and gender roles because they don’t define a leader; but also favouring a designated role split. It’s referred to as equality, mutual submission, or 50/50.

To be fair, the Bible doesn’t refer to either classification – we call them these names to differentiate between the two schools of thought.  Complementarians interpret verse 21 to be the conclusion of corporate instruction.  Egalitarians interpret verse 21 to be the preface for the marriage instructions.

The quick response to Sheila’s statement is:  Verse 21 has nothing to do with marriage and everything to do with the corporate body.  By hinging these two sections of Scripture on one verse, you not only blurr marriage into other relationships – lowering its significance, but, you also complicate submission into a dysfunctional mess.

A slower, researched response, is more involved …

GRAMMATICALLY

It’s repetitive and confusing to say:  “everyone submit to everyone wives submit to your own husbands,” see, it makes no sense.  In all of the thought for thought translations (modern versions), you’ll see verse 21 driven into to the next paragraph so it joins the marriage part.  To make it happen they’ve replaced the colon, semicolon, or comma with a period so that the section will complete with verse 20.  Yet in the word for word translations, (KJV, NASB) you’ll find the punctuation left intact making verse 21 the concluding sentence for the previous section.

VOCABULARY

In verse 21, Paul is concluding his general address that targets everyone in the assembly.  We know it’s a corporate address to a body (a group) of believers because he doesn’t name a subject by a noun, instead he uses pronouns in the plural form:

  • (v2) us – “… has loved us and given Himself for us …”
  • (v3) you – “…let it not even be named among you …”
  • (v5) you – “…For this you know…”
  • (v6) no one, you – “let no one deceive you with empty…”
  • (v8) you – “… For you were …”
  • (v14) you – “… Awake you who … will give you light…”
  • (v15) you – “… that you walk circumspectly …”
  • (v19) one another, your – “… to one another… in your heart…”
  • (v20) our – “…in the name of our Lord …”
  • (v21) one another – “…submitting to one another …”

Paul includes verse 21 with all the preceding plural pronouns

But in verse 22, he changes up his target audience. Notice how he signifies his change?  He’s not speaking corporately any more.  He’s not using plural pronouns anymore.  He could’ve said something like, “Now, all you who are married … “  Or, “Those of you who are married…”  Or even, “Any of you who are spouses …”  But he didn’t.

Instead, he distinguishes those who are married by calling them out separately from everyone as well as individually … he speaks directly to wives then directly to husbands:

  • (vs 22-24) Wives, submit to your own husbands …
  • (vs 25-32) Husbands, love your wives, …

Then in verse 33 he wraps up his instruction to all those who are married using a concluding sentence.  He signifies switching back to plural, but not everyone only corporately to those married.  He’s capturing the attention of, every husband and every wife, Each one of you in particular:

  • Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Paul makes special delineation for marriage, above the instructions for everyone else.  I think he wants us to know that the relationship rules that apply to everybody, similarly apply to marriage; however, there’s extra weight when you get married.  The aspects of love and submission he’s been talking about up to verse 21, that apply to everyone …  are now going to change.  Love and submission look different in marriage.

SOUL-ution

Prove it to yourself.  Let your own marriage be the litmus test, not what I say or what others say.  Yes, take in information – but see if it brings unity.  Find what brings the peace of Christ, the peace that you cannot comprehend or understand … even though you’re experiencing it.  Ultimately, that’s the light you want the world to see.

Desire to please

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A guaranteed way to get into my heart is to treat my kids well … or even my dogs.  People are especially drawn to you when you value what they love.

Special treatment of who I love endears you to me.

When I value people who God’s chosen, I show that I love Him.  Treating any of His kids, a brother or a husband, poorly doesn’t endear me to God. Instead, it draws His corrective eye.

Parents in the natural, siblings in the supernatural

As a parent when one of my kids mistreats their sibling in retaliation, especially when the offending sibling is not mature or is not emotionally strong, it shows me that child is lacking in something.  I don’t think any parent – including God – wants to see their kids exacting revenge on each other.

And, being made in God’s image, it makes sense that our parenting outcomes would be similar to His – we want our kids to grow up and do well.  We want them to do right, to others and to do right, for themselves.  In our marriage, God is the Father of us both, a son and a daughter, and He wants both His kids to grow up and do well – for ourselves and to each other.  But if my brother sins against me and I choose to not reflect Christ in my response (Rom 8:29) I will draw God’s parenting corrective eye rather than endearing myself to Him and making Him proud of me.

Choose – think – act

As soon as my marriage became truly about God, a spark was ignited which fueled my desire to be a better wife. It seemed to be a very natural progression, a win/win.  I’m not saying it was an effortless progression, we’re still required to flesh out things in our lives, but at least now, I could see the plan.  It’s similar to getting healthy. Just reading about working out and proper nutrition won’t make you healthy.  You need to first have the desire, then get the knowledge, and finally, fulfill the activity of the knowledge – it’s still going to be work even though you can see the direction you’re going.

In this example, I’m after the corollary of good health and activity:  A lean(er) fit body.

I’m betting since you read Upwithmarriage, you already have God at the center of your life and He was probably a part of your wedding day. But has He been moved to the hub that your role as a wife rides on in the marriage?

Once God occupies that position, you will naturally choose better thoughts.  With better thoughts, you automatically speak better words.  My desire to please God – better thoughts – better words – better treatment of my husband – God’s pleased.  It starts and ends with God but our proof is in the middle.

Flesh or Spirit

It always comes down to that fight inside of us, doesn’t it?  Am I going to position myself in that hub or am I going to willingly let God have it?  I found out, He won’t fight you for it – He doesn’t work that way.  Just like your choice to accept Jesus Christ for your life, you have to willingly hand over the position, over and over again.

The question we have to continually ask is:  Which desire is stronger?  The desire to get our own way by doing it our own way – to please the flesh.  Or the desire to do it God’s way by following Christ’s way – to please the Spirit.

My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day.  –Paul to the Galatians

I recently attended a webinar from Jeff Goins.  He had lots of great information, but it was a question he asked at the beginning that resonated with me for marriage:  “Are you looking for an excuse, or are you looking for success?  Because you’ll find whichever one you are looking for.”

As long as I was determined to have Darrell’s problems always be the excuse, our marriage was moving in the direction of failure.  But when I set my sights on God for my success as a wife, the direction of our marriage changed to success.

The truth is, whether you think positive or negative about your husband, either way you are right.  Don’t underestimate the effect you have on him – it’s profound in ways you can’t imagine.

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