Monday, August 25, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 15 of 16)

Love and Respect

The last verse in our section, verse 33, reads like this, However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Many popular marriage lecturers capitalize on this verse. They even say that a woman’s greatest need is “love” and a man’s greatest need is “respect.” And they quote this verse and call these gender “needs” a Biblical idea.

But look at the verse. Does it say this is a man’s need or a woman’s need? No, Paul is admonishing them to love and to respect. We ask, “Why does Paul say this?” It is an important question, but we must be careful our answer is consistent with Scripture. Some believe Paul says it because this is how men and women are wired. But the implications of that explanation are not justified in the context. [1]

I believe the context is telling us that this final verse on marriage is a summary verse. It includes both the wives and the husbands together. And the verses that follow go into instructions for children and parenting.

When a woman submits, it is respectful (but that doesn’t mean it lacks love). And when a man submits, it is loving (but that doesn’t mean it lacks respect). I think this verse, like those before it, shows us descriptions of submission, though not an exhaustive list.

Paul might even be highlighting the very struggle of Ephesian husbands and wives. When this letter was read, I can imagine the inner struggle and the gasps in the assembly as they saw how deeply sacrificial the life of God goes:

“Respect my husband?” the wives say. “I’m the spiritually astute one and the goddess Artemis says so! I can’t give that up! I’m good at going behind backs and manipulating to get my way! I might look submissive on the outside, but I’m stubborn on the inside.”

“Love my wife? Are you kidding?” the husbands say. “I own her! I can’t lay down my life. That degrades my status and undermines my authoritative position in the home. If I lay my life down, who will take care of her? Only a commander can; not a dying savior.”

Yet we cannot dance around Paul’s words. He’s clear and consistent with the gospel of Jesus our Messiah. We stand on equal footing in marriage, under one authority, in the Kingdom of God. And out of that we submit to one another with love and respect out of reference for Jesus, our Savior and King.

I will offer some concluding remarks in the final post, coming next.

[1] Love is a human need, not just a womanly need. One simple example will suffice: When Jesus said, “God so loved the world…” it wasn’t just women’s needs for love that he died for. All humans need connection to him and to each other. All humans need love. All humans are bankrupt without it and it is one of the grandest themes in Scripture (cf. 1 Cor 13 which is written for men and women) and is even included in Ephesians 5 prior to our section (see vs. 13-15.) To say “love” is only a womanly need grossly misses the point.


Lin said...

I think some confusion with this verse is the Greek word that is translated as respect. The word is phobeo which means:

to frighten, i.e. (passively) to be alarmed; by analogy, to be in awe of, i.e.
revere:--be (+ sore) afraid, fear (exceedingly), reverence.

When I studied this verse, I also looked it up in an interlinear and came away with a much different view which I am reluctant to share but it is positive for women and fits the context.

Respect does not seem like a very good translation of this word Phobeo even if we use it to communicate 'reverence'.

Just some thoughts. Good post!

Dale Fincher said...

Great point... Do tell what you uncovered. I'm interested and I know my readers are too (for posterity!).

It is rather alarming that this word means a legitimate 'fear' in almost every instance in the NT.


Philip said...

Yes, I want to hear myself lin! I agree with Dale that it is kind of alarming. I am very interested in what you have to say.

I think it is greatly important that you, Dale, mentioned how love is a human need. I'm married to a pretty determined woman and she wants me to respect her as much as love her. And, while I want respect from her, the most humbling and close time I have ever had with her was when she offered a fierce, unconditional love to me.

Also it has always been in the back of my mind that if I truly love my wife it would have to include respect, and if she truly respected me it would involve love. Obviously we can think of scenarios where you can respect without loving and maybe even love without respecting (that seems much harder), but that seems rare and very hard to do.

These are not needs or roles that Paul are commanding. Hopefully in the last installment you will give a good summary so that I can fully understand your interpretation if this passage. It still seems to be vague at points (not necessarily your fault, it just may take time to soak in). I look forward to the close of this extensive study. I may have many more questions by the end.

madame said...

I've read the whole series, thank you so much for taking the time and offering insight in bite sized portions (which I read in one sitting....)

Re. love being a human need, I couldn't agree more.
My husband doesn't ask me "do you respect me", but "do you love me".

I don't think love works without respect. How do you apply 1 Corinthians 13 without respect? And I don't mean respect that comes naturally because a person has earned it, but respect for a person's life, being, needs, etc... Even if they happen to be the greatest jerk.

Gem said...

You have unpacked this passage and painted a very beautiful picture of Christian marriage. I hope that you are the head/source/front line of a new move within Christendom toward marriages which reflect this passage. I have 8 children in the couple generations just behind you. I wish this for them with intensity! But Dale, I confess that the cynic in me thinks maybe its "pie in the sky bye and bye". Maybe Paul is speaking only about Christ and the church? "This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church." I want to hope that the picture you paint is where the church is headed: where marriages in the church are so characterized by Christian love that they are a beacon of hope drawing broken people into the church that they too may partake of the tree of life which feeds such a wonderful marriage.

But where are those marriages? Why is the divorce rate so high? and why is there a closet epidemic of porn use among pew sitting husbands? All of which I see as related to "FEAR" as the accurate translation of phobeo-the God breathed, Holy Spirit inspired word in Eph 5:33.

You have preached mutuality, Dale. But one half of the marriage cannot force mutuality. Where there is no mutual submission, I think the marriage is robbed of the potential to fulfill the vision you have presented.

I noticed that the Ephesians 5-6 periscope uses the word “fear”/phobeo/phobos in two other instances:

Eph 5:21Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear (phobos) of God.

Eph 6:5Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear (phobos) and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;

Does the latter sound like what one thinks of as “respect”? I don’t think so! This phobos/phobeo TREMBLES. That sounds like FEAR not “respect” to me!

The question is WHY do Ephesians 5 and a parallel instruction in 1 Peter 3 tell wives to have an attitude of phobeo/phobos (fear, be afraid) toward their husbands?
What does this mean?

Think about Sarah, the role model given in the 1 Peter 3 passage. How did Sarah feel when her husband packed her off to the harem of a pagan king twice? Perhaps she struggled with fear? Nevertheless, GOD was with her. HE protected her. She was quite right to fear the men: her husband, that king. She was quite justified not to trust them, not to trust their motivations nor their spiritual maturity. What about fearing GOD? She did struggle with that too at times: “Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, ‘I did not laugh.’ But he said, ‘Yes, you did laugh.‘”Genesis 18:15

But God taught Sarah the same way HE teaches us!
GOD taught her
- by experience-
that HE is trustworthy, HE is faithful, HE is loving.

Think about Esther. There’s another woman who lived the 1 Peter 3 paradox of “FEAR your husband” but “DO NOT BE AFRAID”! She feared her husband who could have had her put to death. But she trusted GOD and put her life in HIS hands.

Think about Sapphira and Ananias of Acts 5 infamy. Sapphira did not FEAR her husband nor God enough. If she had a healthy dose of phobeo/phobos, she would know that her selfish husband- like a hot stove or a loaded firearm- had the potential to be dangerous. Had she FEARED appropriately, she might have at least tried to reason with him and she certainly wouldn’t have enabled his foolishness by going along with it!

As for this "FEAR":
Eph 5:21Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear (phobos) of God.
I'm not sure you will understand why FEAR is in there? I know experimentally from living outside the boundaries of Eph 5:21: A couple does not just get away with doing marriage the Gen 3:16 way. The consequences are painful, the cost is high. Be afraid, be very afraid!

Dale Fincher said...

Gem, I think you are right to be cynical of a 'pie in the sky' approach. But then again, Paul is always spreading a bakery in the heavenlies.

Very little of the mutual burden-bearing, esteeming others as more important, loving neighbor as self is lived out in the church at large (nor by pagans), though we know the verses and can quote them as good Sunday School graduates.

I do find mutual submission very often by those who follow Jesus and take him seriously. But I cannot suggest that the industrial, pop-culture church is filled with those. The church in general cannot be a good litmus test.

What encourages me is that more are paying attention to what Paul is saying rather than to what tradition (mixed with culture) has told us. That marriages have a better chance in the future to see mutual love/submission is something I find realistic.

But people still have to choose to live it, walk in humility, cultivate the fruit of the spirit. Those qualities have always been plain (and difficult) so now we're just taking the obvious next step and applying them to marriage.

I find it heartening that even those who preach the authority of a man, when their marriages are healthy, it looks less like a authority and a lot more like love. The more health the greater the mutual submission. And the less health, regardless of how egalitarian someone is, the less mutual submission. It's about character more than about theology.

There can be many explanations on the divorce rate and people's fascination with porn (which is growing among women too). We are all looking for intimacy and connection. Mutual submission is the fountain that waters our souls in relationship. Mutual submission is the soil of intimacy.

I think sometimes women encourage one another to 'take their place' and so fan the cultural flames against a Biblical understanding. Since being married and paying attention to these dynamics in the last seven years, I do think it is more than 'theology' that is promoting these pagan notions of authority and gender. And the women are promoting false views just as much as the men (imagine the inner monologue: "are you going to tell me that all these years I've been obeying my husband when the Bible hasn't commanded it? Am I willing to surrendered that reward of good-wifery to a few upstart 'feminazis' who just want to have there own way?" Notice even the name calling supports the self-justifying.)

Sociologically we want to be safe in our communities and that usually means remaining a shorter poppy.

I appreciate your reflection on "fear" (here and on your blog).

I'm still wrapping my head around phobeo. And I think you are onto something with the analogy of a 'loaded gun.' That certainly is a kind of healthy fear. That women in the ancient world had a healthy fear of someone who could crush them, disown them, force them is something to take into account. If a woman in the ancient world, without legal privileges, had a healthy respect for their husbands it would certainly better guarantee their own safety and reflect the nature of the gospel, which is willing to lay down its own life so that others may find life.