17 May 2009

So also to your wife -- Wisdom Sunday

"Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the Church: being Himself the Savior of the body. But as the Church is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their husbands in everything." ~ Ephesians 5.22-24.

It is a well known fact that the Scriptures teach submission of wives to husbands, an overwhelming number of husbands seem to know it; and it seems to be their favorite teaching. Women, especially after the rise of feminism, don't like it very well. That's understandable, especially since "submission" is also used to describe the master-servant relationship.

But context is everything when it comes to the meaning of words. As James Barr taught, the basic unit of meaning is not the word, but the sentence. But I digress.

St. John Chrysostom, preaching on this passage, says to husbands:

Wouldest thou have thy wife obedient unto thee, as the Church is to Christ? Take then thyself the same provident care for her, as Christ takes for the Church. Yea, even if it shall be needful for thee to give thy life for her, yea, and to be cut into pieces ten thousand times, yea, and to endure and undergo any suffering whatever,—refuse it not. Though thou shouldest undergo all this, yet wilt thou not, no, not even then, have done anything like Christ. For thou indeed art doing it for one to whom thou art already knit; but He for one who turned her back on Him and hated Him. In the same way then as He laid at His feet her who turned her back on Him, who hated, and spurned, and disdained Him, not by menaces, nor by violence, nor by terror, nor by anything else of the kind, but by his unwearied affection; so also do thou behave thyself toward thy wife. Yea, though thou see her looking down upon thee, and disdaining, and scorning thee, yet by thy great thoughtfulness for her, by affection, by kindness, thou wilt be able to lay her at thy feet. For there is nothing more powerful to sway than these bonds, and especially for husband and wife. A servant, indeed, one will be able, perhaps, to bind down by fear; nay not even him, for he will soon start away and be gone. But the partner of one’s life, the mother of one’s children, the foundation of one’s every joy, one ought never to chain down by fear and menaces, but with love and good temper. For what sort of union is that, where the wife trembles at her husband? And what sort of pleasure will the husband himself enjoy, if he dwells with his wife as with a slave, and not as with a free-woman? Yea, though thou shouldest suffer anything on her account, do not upbraid her; for neither did Christ do this.

[...]

So then she was unclean! So then she had blemishes, so then she was unsightly, so then she was worthless! Whatsoever kind of wife thou shalt take, yet shalt thou never take such a bride as the Church, when Christ took her, nor one so far removed from thee as the Church was from Christ. And yet for all that, He did not abhor her, nor loathe her for her surpassing deformity. Wouldest thou hear her deformity described? Hear what Paul saith, “For ye were once darkness.” [Eph. v. 8.] Didst thou see the blackness of her hue? What blacker than darkness? But look again at her boldness, “living,” saith he, “in malice and envy.” [Tit. iii. 3.] Look again at her impurity; “disobedient, foolish.” But what am I saying? She was both foolish, and of an evil tongue; and yet notwithstanding, though so many were her blemishes, yet did He give Himself up for her in her deformity, as for one in the bloom of youth, as for one dearly be loved, as for one of wonderful beauty. And it was in admiration of this that Paul said, “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die [Rom. v. 7.]; and again, “in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” [Rom. v. 8.] And though such as this, He took her, He arrayed her in beauty, and washed her, and refused not even this, to give Himself for her. (Emphasis mine.)~ On The Epistle to the Ephesians, Homily 20.
A man may swagger around, treating his wife as if it is her role in life to serve his needs, sexual and otherwise. And he may behave as if he has done her a favor by marrying her. (As if!) But he's going to be judged by how well his love for her compares with Christ's love for His church.

As Mr T. used to say, I pity the fool.

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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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