Authority and Submission in the Family (Eph. 5:22-24)

Marriage is God’s idea. The Bible story puts marriage as the first institution established by God during the creation week. Genesis 2:24 is the classic text that sets the God-given parameters for this relationship by stating: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” And, to make sure no one thinks of marriage as simply an Old Testament notion, this text is repeated three more times in the New Testament (Matt. 19:5; Mark 10:7-8; and Eph. 5:31), to make clear God’s intention about marriage as the closest, most intimate connection among humans.

Unquestionably, God created marriage to be a blessing and joy. The oneness mentioned in Genesis 2:24 was meant to offset the loneliness felt by man in Genesis 2:18, where it pronounces: “And the Lord God said, ‘it is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’” Again, this oneness was meant to be a good thing. Nevertheless, everything God created for our good, Satan tries to destroy. And Satan seems to be succeeding with the help of many husbands and wives who have completely forgotten God’s intent in marriage.

One of the most misunderstood and misused passages of Scripture is Ephesians 5:22-24, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.”

Often the accent of this passage is placed on the submission of the wife to her husband. Yet the message that follows in verses 25-30 define the terms of submission. Paul calls for mutual accountability and support, “Submitting to one another in the fear of God” (v. 21). The platform is set for submission, according to this verse, when both husband and wife are submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in their lives. Anything short of this will reduce future submission to a matter of domination rather than of the oneness inbuilt in the submission-love continuum God established from the beginning: “and they shall become one flesh.”

The secular concept of submission is not what is operative in Ephesians 5. Neither partner holds supremacy over the other when true spiritual leadership is being employed in the homes of the people of God. The reality in place is mutual regard and respect based on agape love, which is unconditional and eternal, and comes from a daily, intimate, treasured, and vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ.

Ellen White makes clear what submission is not: “God requires that the wife shall keep the fear and glory of God ever before her. Entire submission is to be made only to the Lord Jesus Christ, who has purchased her as His own child by the infinite price of His life…. Her individuality cannot be merged into that of her husband, for she is the purchase of Christ…. There is One who stands higher than the husband to the wife; it is her Redeemer, and her submission to her husband is to be rendered as God has directed—‘as it is fit in the Lord’” (The Adventist Home, p. 116).

When husbands and wives treat each other based on the mutuality outlined in Ephesians 5, they will live in a submission-love framework that honors God.