A man and a woman must learn to dance the divine dance. The two become one flesh and a dance is movement in unison. When we learn to dance correctly – it is a beautiful thing.
“Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church.” Ephesians 5:21-24
Last week we talked about marriage as “friends with benefits”. By that I do not mean what you normally think of whenever you hear “friends with benefits”, instead I mean that a real friend – a true friend must be a friend with benefits. Real friends change you and a good friend changes you for the good. Your spouse was designed to change you. That is why marriage is called a sacrament. It was designed by God to sanctify us and to reflect the Gospel. Paul says that marriage is a mystery because it looks like the Gospel.
So — that is a recap of last week – and now, let me ask this provocative question? If your spouse is a friend then what are we to make of this submission stuff. I mean, I don’t have any friends who would still be my friend if I told them that as part of our relationship they must submit to me. I’m trying to teach my son this, he is a natural leader I think – so when he plays he naturally wants to boss the other kids around… We are trying to teach him to tone that down… Eventually he’ll learn that no wants to submit. No one… So what are we to do with this verse?
When I do weddings I always preach the homily from this text. I love to use this text because weddings are full of people who are far from God – and since Paul says that marriage is a picture of the Gospel – then – I get to share the Gospel. But, I cringe when I read the text because it begins immediately with a huge offense. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife…” There is probably nothing more offensive than that. I mean this is the 21st century! And I just know that a huge number of people who refuse to go to church feel that way because of consistent misrepresentations of this passage. So – there I am – standing before a bride and groom and then I say something like, “We gather before God to celebrate this union between Jack and Diane. Let us begin with a reading from God’s word. “Wives submit to your husbands.” And I can just hear half the audience thinking, “And that is exactly why I want nothing to do with God.”
So, what are we going to do with this submission stuff? Before we begin, let me add that the language of this verse is repeated in the New Testament many different times. Here are just a few examples:
1 Corinthians 11:3
But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.
1 Peter 3:1
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands…
And then of course our passage today in Ephesians. So, I want to begin by saying that we can not simply ignore this. We are not allowed to have a high view of scripture and then just sort of skip over this part – especially since that would mean that we would have to skip over a dozen or more verses just like these. We have to understand it. Tonight I want to help us understand it. And I want to do that by asking three questions – what, why, and how. What is this headship business, why is it in the bible (or why is it important) and how are we supposed to apply it today.
That is where we are going. Now, before we begin that journey let me say 2 quick things. First, I need you to give me 30 minutes. Don’t judge, don’t react, wait for it – wait for all of it to unfold – and then you can make a judgement. This a very controversial issue, so I’m asking you to be patient with me until we get through it all. Secondly, right out of the gate, I just want to say this, “I believe that this headship submission business has hurt the church and the Gospel in a big way. Historically this verse has been misinterpreted, abused and used to oppress women. And that is frustrating to me. Jesus did not oppress women. In fact he did the opposite. It was radical how Jesus dealt with women. And so I hope to debunk some of the myths and abuses that have clearly hindered the Gospel. I hope that at the end of this message we will see how this is actually a very beautiful thing if understood properly. It is divine.
WHAT IS HEADSHIP?
The key to this offensiveness of this passage is the word “head”. Paul tells the wife to submit to her husband because he is head over her. Now, if he had just told her to submit that might not be such a bad thing. After all, every Christian is called to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ. So submission shouldn’t be that big of a deal. The problem rests in this headship business. That’s what makes it so repugnant. So what is headship.
When Paul uses this little word “head” he is pulling us back to Genesis and the creation story. BTW, that is what Paul is doing through out this text. The Greek word for “head” is just like our word “authority”. So let me unpack the word “authority”. The word “authority” has 2 meanings – source and power. You might think of it like this – “authority” comes from the word “author”- an author is both the source and the authority of the thing he authored.
For instance, one of my favorite musicians is Dave Matthews. I love his music. But, I don’t understand half of what he is talking about. So, sometimes, I’ll kill time surfing these forums where people are debating the meaning of certain songs. I often think, how cool would it be if Dave got on this site and just told us what he was thinking when he wrote the song. That would be really cool. He could say, “No, you’re all wrong. I wrote this song about goldfish.” – and then we would all say, “OOHHH!??” You see, the songwriter is the authority of his song because he is the author of it. He is the source of it and therefore the authority over it.
In the same way, this little Greek word “head” also means “source”. Like the head waters of a river or the source of the stream. When he says that the husband is the head, he is literally referring to the story in Genesis were Eve was created from the rib of Adam. He is the head waters, or the source, of Eve. She came out of him. “Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Adam was her source and so he had the authority to name her. BTW, that is significant. I’m not going to get into the naming aspect today, but I want you to know it is significant. It is why Jesus goes around renaming people in the New Testament. When we become a Christian we give him the authority to completely change us and to give us new name.
So, I want us to think of this term “head” as “source”. Now – watch what Paul does in the Corinthians passage I read earlier:
“For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” 1 Cor 11:8-9
See what Paul does? He literally says that the man is the source (head) of the woman. But it is important for us to note that this has nothing to do with worth or inequality. The Bible, very intentionally, teaches that all people are equal. Just because the man is the head (or source) that in no way means he is better. So – Paul adds a however, or a but:
Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman.” 1 Cor 11:11
There is equality. The woman was made from the man and for the man, but the man needed the woman. It was a bad thing (not good) for the man to be alone. He needed help. So God created for him a help-mate. Again, I’ll remind us what the word “help-mate” means. It is not an inferior term at all.
“On the one hand, the word always means someone who brings resources that the ‘helpee’ does not have. That is why God can be called our helper. So a helper is not an inherently inferior being—in fact, she or he may be superior in many ways. But careful study of the Hebrew word indicates that a ‘helper’ in each context comes to the aid of someone else who bears prime responsibility for the activity in question. That is why the man is never said to be the ‘helper’ of the wife.” Tim Keller
There are two extremes, like everything else in theology, that one can’t swing to. Some have used these passages to promote chauvinism. Chauvinism is not allowed. Not even a soft chauvinism. God’s Word is clear, everyone is equal in Christ.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Gal 3:28
Both men and women are heirs to the Kingdom. Whatever headship means, it can not mean that there is a hierarchical structure where men are at the top. I am certain that you may have heard something like that before. The problem with that sort of thinking is – well… The Bible. And that leads us perfectly to the next question, “Why is this in the Bible or why is this important?”
WHY IS IT IN THE BIBLE
All this headship stuff hinges on the creation story. In the story of creation we learn that God actually created the male and the female to reflect his image. We were both created in the image of God. In latin this is called the imago Dei. Look at Genesis 1:27.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Gen 1:23 KJV
Clearly, this is poetry – and poetry follows rules. The rule we see here is repetition. Repetition enforces the point. So what is the point? The point is that he created “man” to reflect his image and man is a them – both male and female reflect the image of God. It takes two. One is not good. Why is it not good? Because one can not adequately reflect the image of God, so he created male and female [them] to reflect his image.
This is were it starts to become beautiful. Why does it take two to reflect God’s image. Why did God decided it was not good for the man to be alone? Because God is not alone. God himself is three. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is 3 in 1. He is Trinity. The Westminster Larger Catechism clarifies the Trinity like this:
“There be three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one true, eternal God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory; although distinguished by their personal properties.”
God is one – yet there are 3 distinct persons living in that oneness. The doctrine of the Trinity is often symbolized by three intersecting circles. Just like the MISSIODEI logo! The symbol shows that there is overlap, deep interconnectedness, equality, unity and love happening inside the Trinity. It is a very organic kind of thing. Theologians call that thing perichoresis, from the Greek word peri [meaning around – like perimeter or perieautte] and choresis [meaning to contain or to dance.] Scholars frequently speak of the doctrine of the Trinity as the “divine dance’ – the original “dancing with the stars!” (okay, that was bad- lol).
All three are dancing together and as you know – a dance is movement in unison. It requires a leader and follower. Have you ever seen two people dancing when both were trying to lead? Or even worse – both following. IT DON’T WORK! So, even within the Trinity, there is order. There is equality, but there is also voluntary submission. Look at this:
But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:3, ESV)
They are completely equal. The Son is not inferior to the Father. Yet, the Bible clearly teaches that the head of Christ is the Father. Even Jesus tells us that he does and says nothing on his own authority – but submits to and obeys the will of his Father.
So why is this headship and submission stuff in the Bible? Why is it important?Because we are created in the image of a God who is three distinct persons living in a beautiful dance of unity and oneness. For that reason it is not good for the man to be alone, there must be male and female. And the two will become one flesh. The marriage of a man and a women is like the Trinity in that we are 2 distinct persons who are become one.
The Trinity shows us that there can be equality while at the same time order. There is equality in identity yet distinction in role. It’s a divine dance. Do you see how this is becoming a beautiful thing?
HOW DO WE APPLY THIS TODAY.
Now we can conclude with the last question. How do we apply this seemingly difficult passage so that it looks like a beautiful dance?
First let me say how we may not apply it. Unfortunately, many conservatives over the years have grossly abused this verse. They have said something that sounds like, “This dance must be waltz, and can not be a tango.” In other words, they have defined headship by making a list of things the man and the woman are supposed to do and not supposed to do. Maybe you have heard the list. The man is supposed to be the provider and the woman the helper – meaning he should work and the wife should stay home. Or the woman should cook, clean, and raise the kids, and the man should run the check book. Again, let me say this, the biggest problem with that line of thinking is — well – the Bible.
The Bible never says any of that. Where does it say that the man must go to work and the woman must stay home? In fact we can actually find the opposite. See also Proverbs 31 where the model wife is a business woman who is in to investing, real-estate, the selling of goods. She brings home the bacon and fries in the pan. That is one example, there are others too. The Bible doesn’t make a list. It just says “submit” – and it doesn’t define that with a list, instead it gives us the example of Christ.
“They may argue that women should not work outside the home, that they can teach male children but not males over 12, etc. But nowhere does the Bible give such details. The Bible leaves us a lot of freedom here, but many writers assume very traditional understandings of masculinity and femininity that (I believe) can’t be supported in the Bible.” Tim Keller
The Bible is so amazing because it is transcendent. That means it is true for all people, all places, and and all times. The Bible never pins itself to one culture or one time period. That is why it doesn’t make a list of roles that are appropriate for women – because those change as the culture and the times change. Therefore, we can not force a 1950’s Americana on this text. Which is what a lot of traditionalist have done. Why not go further back? Why not go back to the 1800’s where both husband and wife worked the land, milked the cows, killed the chickens and taught the kids math.
So, that is how not to apply it. We can not generate a list that the Bible doesn’t give. Instead we must seek to understand the beauty of headship and submission within the Trinity and, recognizing that marriage is a mystery that reflects the Gospel, we must imitate that dance in our marriage. A dance where each member is one hundred percent equal and yet lead and follow together in unison.
“The Pattern in Marriage says the Father’s ‘headship’ over Christ is analogous to man’s ‘headship’ over woman. This shows ‘headship’ involves the voluntary submission of an equal to an equal. The Trinity, then, disproves the idea that ‘equality and submission are contradictions.” Tim Keller
This verse so often sounds like, “The wife must be the submitter because the husband is the authority, therefore he gets his way and he makes the decisions.” Now let me ask you, “Is that what it says?” Incidentally, Keller calls that a ridiculous traditionalist distortion. That is ugly. That’s not beautiful.
Let me show you what makes it beautiful. Once we see that equality and submission are not contradictions – we will begin to see the beautiful dance. Let’s look at the verse again:
“Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” Ephesians 5:21-24
First, I want us to see that in context Paul begins by commanding all of us to submit to one another. I am supposed to submit to you, and you are supposed to submit to me, and he is supposed to submit to her, and she to him and we do this out of reverence for Christ – who…
…did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant… he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death. Phil 2:6-8
You see, submission does not contradict equality. Christ was equal to God, but also submitted to death.
Secondly, this is a command. Paul says that the wife should submit to her husband as to Christ. It is the way it should be. Now you don’t have to submit to Christ. But you should. All of us should submit to Christ. We don’t have to. What I mean by we don’t have to is that Jesus doesn’t force us to. Indeed we often do not. And when we don’t submit it is an ugly dance. He is gently leading and we are resisting. He is pressing and we are pulling. That is not a beautiful dance. How many of us live like that? In the same way, the wife doesn’t have to. How many don’t? But — when she does — when she and he both learn the dance – he gently leads and she gladly follows and it is a beautiful thing that reflects the dance of the Trinity and the Mystery of the Gospel.
So here is what all of that means. The wive’s role to submit is her ministry to her husband. It is not his right to demand from her. When it is correctly understood by both the husband and wife, it should be like any other ministry. It should feel like a blessing and a privilege. As a wife submits to her husband and as the husband excepts his responsibility as leader and head – it should feel right, and natural, and like a good dance. “This means that men and women are being called into ‘the dance’ of the Trinity, of loving authority and sacrificial submission.” (Keller) Here is a sufficient definition from well known evangelical scholar.
Definition: “In the partnership of two spiritually equal human beings, man and woman, the man bears the primary responsibility to lead the partnership in a God-glorifying direction. The model of headship is our Lord, the Head of the church, who gave Himself for us. The antithesis to male headship is male domination. By male domination I mean the assertion of the man’s will over the woman’s will, heedless of her spiritual equality, her rights, and her value.” Ray Ortland
So in conclusion this stuff about submission and headship can be said to characterize our entire relationship to Jesus. Christians are Christians because they live in dependent submission to Jesus. Marriage is a picture of the love of God. For God so loved the world that he gave his son. Jesus submitted to the Father’s will, humbled himself to become a man and suffered death on a wicked and cruel cross. And what about marriage reflects the Gospel – or more specifically – what are the roles of each person reflect the Gospel?
How does the man reflect the Gospel? We talked about that last week. The man gives himself to his wife. He models Christ. He washes her, he servers her. He gives his life for her. The man will do anything for his wife. The husband says:
I would fight for you, I’d lie for you
Walk the wire for you, yeah I’d die for you
You know it true, everything I do
I do it for you.
The male will sacrifice his life and give it all for the sake of his wife. He is the one who carries her across the threshold and says I love you just as Christ loves the church.
How does the woman reflect the Gospel? How does the female illustrate the Gospel? Is it by carrying her husband across the threshold? Is it by promising to give her life in sacrifice for him? Does she sing:
I would fight for you, I’d lie for you
Walk the wire for you, yeah I’d die for you
You know it true, everything I do
I do it for you.
No she doesn’t. That is not the role of the woman. But she does still exemplify and illustrate the Gospel. How did she do this? She does this by imitating Christ through submission. Just as Christ submitted himself to death – just as Christ did not consider his equality with God a thing to be grasped but instead humbled himself and submitted himself to death – the wife submits. And when she does this – she is playing her role in illustrating the Gospel. Each have a ministry. Each have a gift designed to bring glory to Jesus.