So far in this series, I have considered what biblical evidence there is for the position of complementarianism. This position posits that the Bible supports a view of marriage in which male and female have differing roles. The husband is the loving leader, while the wife is willingly submissive. You can view my first post here, and the second here.
While we briefly looked at Ephesians 5 in the first post, I want to go back to the passage. Because this passage is so central to the concept of complementarity among male and females. And I want to consider that Paul here is telling men and women to operate in marriage the way that Christ and the church relate to one another. Christ is the head of the church, and the church is his body (Eph 5:23).
What many egalitarians say is that in Ephesians 5, Paul was giving commands within a certain hierarchical historical context. He wasn’t necessarily advocating male headship, but simply trying his best to exhort the church while in that historical setting. Beside the obvious (to me at least) exegetical troubles with that stance, I want to consider here that Paul was actually challenging the common norm of his day.
During this time period, women were seen as belonging to their husbands. And while the wife had responsibility to do her husband’s bidding, the husband had no real responsibility other than to order his wife around. This is of course abusive. And if this is what Paul were advocating, that would be a legitimate concern. But this is in no way what Paul is saying.
In fact, most of the verses in chapter 5 (vv. 25-31) concern the responsibility of the husband! The wife is considered in only 3 verses! What I want us to consider here is that while the male is the leader in the relationship, Paul is giving both of them responsibilities before Christ. In fact, arguably, the husband has more responsibility and weight on his shoulders, and is therefore more accountable for his actions.
I think we have all heard that the wife is to submit as she would to Christ. Perhaps we’ve bee reminded of this all too often! Nevertheless, this is the wife’s calling. And it certainly is a tall order. The woman is called to willingly (not by way of coercion) submit to and respect her husband as if Christ himself were her husband. That is intimidating.
But what about the husband? Yes, the wife is to submit to her head as she would Christ; but the husband is called to lovingly lead and provide as Christ has provided for the church. The responsibility goes two ways, you see. While the church submits and finds saving nourishment in Christ, Christ as the head, provides for, leads, and causes his body to flourish. The husband’s role is much more than simply “giving orders”. He is to nourish his wife as Christ has savingly nourished us. This means that as the leader of the marriage, the initiative he takes in their relationship can never be taken without his consideration of her needs. Everything that the husband does in the marriage necessarily must be for her betterment (Eph 5:26).
And this means that he is to care for her more than he cares for himself. In fact, Paul says that every husband must care for his wife as he cares for his own body (Eph 5:28). No reasonable person mistreats or abuses their own body — rather, they nourish it and care for it! Likewise, because husband and wife become “one flesh” in marriage, the husband is responsible for his wife’s welfare. Just as Christ died to take responsibility for his body, the church, and is now in the process of sanctifying her (Eph 5:25-26), so the husband does everything in the interest of caring for and maturing his wife.
This is not a dictatorship. This is a reflection of Christ’s loving and renewing care for his own bride. And I would argue that as hard as it may be for a wife to support, submit, and respect her husband’s leadership, it is equally hard for the husband to take responsibility for the betterment of his wife. And if any husband is harsh in his leadership toward his wife, or if he doesn’t recognize her needs, then he simply isn’t fulfilling his responsibility before Christ.
Indeed, Christ took our sins on himself, washed us clean, and even still nourishes us by his Spirit, enabling us to be what he so desires us to be. In every step, he is enabling, loving, and having grace toward us. He knows our every need, our every fear, and he leads us with care and tenderness, desiring only our betterment. This is what a husband is called to!