Recently, on the Facebook page of Now This News, there was a feature video of a sermon preached by the Rev. Mark Harris, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. In this sermon Rev. Harris, who is a candidate for Congress in the North Carolina 9th District, quoted from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians chapter five and verse 22:
Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.
Rev. Harris goes on to posit that the husband is the head of the wife, which Paul does say in verse 23 and also calls into question women having careers outside of the home. The problem with all of this is that Rev. Harris forgets the verse that comes just before the one he has cherry-picked to make his point.
“… submitting to one another in fear of God.” (Ephesians 5:21)
It is not surprising to me that Rev. Harris, who opposes Roe v. Wade, Marriage Equality, and Transgender Rights would also stress that the women should sit in the corner and keep their mouths shut. This is the problem with a strict reading of Scripture and a lack of biblical hermeneutics on a passage of Scripture. Paul is often looked upon as a misogynist by some, but a deeper understanding of his theology reveals much more.
The problem is, the emphasis on this passage is entirely misplaced if the focus is only on the subordination of the wife to the husband. Verse 23, “the husband is the head of the wife” is often quoted out of context and context in this instance, as it is with all biblical understanding, in extremely important. If we study the entire passage we see that the basis of this passage is not control, as Rev. Harris seems to be insinuating, but love.
For Paul, the love a husband must have for his wife should be sacrificial. The husband must love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for the church (v 25). This love must not be selfish love for Christ did not love the church so that the church could do things for him, but quite the opposite. Christ loved the church so that he could do things for her. This love must never exercise tyranny over the wife by the husband but should be a love that is ready to make any sacrifice for her good.
The type of love Paul is suggesting must be a purifying love. Paul is thinking of the waters of baptism for by the waters of baptism and the confession of faith; the church has been purified from all soil and spot. Any love that would drag a person down is a false love. Any love which does not refine the character of the object of that love and requires deceit and weakens the moral character is not love. Real love is the great purifier of life (v 26).
The love that Paul is referring too must be a caring love. A man must love his wife as he loves his own body (v 28). Real love does not look for its physical comfort but cherishes the one that it loves. There is something wrong when a man regards his wife as the one who cooks his food and washes his clothes and cleans his house. The love Paul is speaking of does not care about its physical comfort but is directed toward the other.
This love is unbreakable. The husband is united with his wife as the members of the body are joined with one another. One cannot think of separating their arm or their leg from their body for it would tear their own body apart. This love must endure and be an unbreakable bond between the two (v 30-31).
So, Rev. Harris, you are mistaken. We are to be subject to one another as Christ was subject to the Church. We are to love each other, as equal partners in the relationship, and we must be willing to sacrifice everything for that love, even our ideas of who gets to be in charge.