“However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33, ESV)

Paul teaches that the standards of Godly living govern all relationships. Paul calls for respect and mutual submission, cooperation and obedience for all believers. This would have been a strong contrast to the standards of the pagan world of the Roman Empire in which there was little respect for people, and a great deal of abuse. Slaves were treated as less than human, as property. Women (with rare exceptions) and children fared little better. The Kingdom of God elevated the dignity of all human beings for the Gospel teaches that all are equal in the sight of God and that Christ died for all. Therefore Paul urges all to accept their social standings in a way that imitates Christ and glorifies God: self-sacrifice. This means I surrender my agenda and rights for the benefit and edification of others.

Unfortunately this passage has been often misinterpreted as law, while really it is about love and mutual submission. Because of this many people these days reject what Paul says as the whole idea of submission to anyone is foreign to our cultural agenda which promotes the autonomy of the individual. Yet what Paul says is that wives are to submit to their husbands as they submit to the Lord, that is, with loving obedience designed to build him up. This should be her free choice made in the Lord without force or coercion, for then it is slavery, not love.

In addition the husband has a great responsibility toward his wife: to love her as Christ loves the Church. That means he gives up his rights and agenda to build her up in the Lord. As Jesus set aside the glory of heaven and died for the redemption of helpless humanity, so the husband must surrender his needs, desires and wants to promote the spiritual growth and well-being of his wife. These standards would work well for all society but they cannot be forced. They are acts of love that are really possible only for believers because only they are filled with the Spirit of the Lord who enables us to obey and submit to His will.