“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
In the last few weeks we have been studying St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and how St. Paul has been laying out for us God’s intentions for the Church.
What is the Church?
The Church is the Body of Christ.
What are the four marks or characteristics of the Church?
It is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.
In the fifth chapter we have read a section that some see as controversial, or at least troubling. This usually happens when certain sentences are taken out of context. But when you take all of the parts in context you will see the wisdom of Pauls’ teaching. In order to to do that, I’d like to take the two main sections of this letter in reverse order.
To begin with there is general statement that is very meaningful for us.
“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
To be a subject, means a part of a whole. For instance, when you take your courses at school, you take several subjects, like English, Math, Science, and together these make up a degree of study.
Remember that this letter, as with all of the letters of the New Testament, were originally written in Greek, and I like to find the deeper meaning of words by studying the Greek words of these letters.
The Greek word for subject is ‘hypo-tasso-menoi’ You might be familiar with the word hypodermic, meaning under the skin.
To subject yourself to another person, means to be under their authority. For you Air Force types, an Airman is subject to a sergeant, who is subject to a lieutenant, who is subject to a captain, and so on. An Airman is no less important than the others ranks, because without the Airmen, there would be no Air Force.
And it’s not just about the giving and taking of orders. I heard a Wing Commander once say that his biggest concern was taking care of all of those who are subject to him, to see that they were growing in maturity and responsibility.
St. Paul is saying that a husband and a wife are under the authority of each other, neither one being greater or lessor. When one of the couple needs something that only the other can provide, then it must be provided. Here is another good example.
In my recovery from surgery, I have been subject to my wife’s instructions about medications, about my physical activities, and about my rest. In order for this to work, I have to let her care for me. That’s an important point. If I didn’t let her care for me, would I be better off, or worse off? I think that you all know the answer to that! I’d be as good as dead!
So then, taking these two statements about husband and wife in reverse order, let’s see what St. Paul says to the husbands.“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her,” it says in verse 25. He goes on to say just how Christ loved the Church.
Christ gave himself up for the Church. He gave his life, and shed his blood to make her holy. He cleansed her with the washing of the water by the word. Christ cleansed the Church to make her an acceptable bride, pure and without blemish. Christ loves the Church sacrificially, meaning he was willing to give up his life for her benefit.
And so are husbands to love their wives. We are to love our wives so much that we would be willing to give our very lives if that’s what it takes. We have a responsibility to enable them however we can to grow closer to our Lord. We should be supporting them in prayer to free them to love our Lord.
Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. I think most guys care for their trucks, or maybe their motorcycles, more than their own bodies. We have to make sure the oil is changed, the transmission is serviced, the brakes are working, and all that, right? So, husbands, we must care for our wives more than we care for our vehicles! I know, what a concept! (sarcasm)
St. Paul then quotes Genesis, just as Jesus did, and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is God’s plan for marriage, that a man and a woman are to be joined together, for only a man and a woman can become one flesh in the way ordained by the Lord.
Jesus blessed marriage when he performed his first miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. Marriage is a sacrament in the Church, because it conveys God’s grace to the married couple, and it signifies the relationship between Christ and his Church: Holy and sacrificial.
The Order for Marriage in our Book of Common Prayer includes a prayer of blessing that contains this phrase: “O God, you have so consecrated the covenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church:”
In many of the parables that Jesus told, he portrays the Christ as a bridegroom who has come to earth in search of a bride. We, as the Church, are his bride, made pure and perfect by him, and joined to him as his Body. Jesus is the head of the Body, as St. Paul wrote in verse 23, as the husband is the head of his family.
This is not something to be taken lightly, but is a great responsibility. Sadly, many men do not take responsibility for their families, and so make it harder for all men. As I said a few times before, all of the world’s problems are caused by irresponsible men.
St. Paul is urging us men to take responsibility for their families, and to love them more than we love ourselves. Their needs are to come before our needs, and if we get it wrong, our wives have every right to take us to task for it. We have a sacred trust to uphold, and it is only by God’s grace that we can do it.
This teaching from St. Paul is an important lesson for all families. Husbands and wives are to love and honor each other until parted by death, and are to be a witness to all people about the love between Christ and his Church.
May almighty God strengthen the covenant bond of all married couples to his honor and glory. Amen.