In Ephesians 5:18, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote that every believer should be “filled with the Spirit.” He then explained what that Spirit-filled life looks like. Spirit-filled believers worship God, express gratitude to God, and live in humility. Continuing the explanation of the Spirit-filled life, Paul transitions to a theological illustration.
Christ is the head of the church. At no point did Christ ever say that any man would be the head of the church, rather, here in Ephesians 5:23, Christ is emphatically declared to be the one and only head of the church. This distinction must be made, because others have come throughout history and claimed to be the head of the church in His place, but He is the only rightful head of the church. It was with His blood that He personally reconciled the church to God. It was through His death that he brought forgiveness of sin and a right standing with God. He is the rightful head of the church.
And very few would argue this point. Upon hearing this declaration, most in evangelicalism would rally to say, “Yes, and Amen!” No serious student of Scripture or lover of God’s truth would ever question the headship of Christ over His church. Perhaps this is why Paul chose this clear illustration to teach what the Spirit-filled life looks like in Christian wives.
In verse 22, Paul addresses wives. This is not a blanket statement for all women, rather, it is addressed to those women who have joined themselves to a husband. At this point the illustration has already been drawn, it is merely the application that is left. Those wives who are filled with the Spirit will seek to submit themselves to their own husbands as the church has been called to submit to Christ. There is no room for dereliction of duty. But then again, if each member of the relationship is seeking to fulfill their role in the illustration, the submission is not grievous.
It was Christ who said, “Come unto me…and I will give you rest.” A husband who treats his wife like Christ treats the church will find that he has a wife who joyfully submits. Christ has never berated or nagged or manipulated or abused. In the marriage relationship, the husband should strive to make decisions that are not self-serving, but loving and compassionate and for the betterment of his wife. And a well-loved wife will find that submitting to the direction that has her best interests at heart is not a laborious submission.
This is the mark of a Spirit-filled wife – her submission to her own husband. And just as none would dare call into question the headship of Christ over the church, may we learn to guard against those who seek to undermine Christ’s delegated authority and responsibility that He has given to husbands to lead their own wives in love and compassion. No wife should usurp the headship of her husband, and no husband should seek to lazily abdicate it. Rather, in Spirit-filled obedience, both should strive to dwell together in humility seeking the betterment of the other while fully accepting their God-ordained roles.
Reflect: Why do you think that husband-headship is unpopular in today’s culture?