Does Ephesians 5:21 teach mutual submission?

“This view of mutual submission means that a husband is not in fact called to be the leader of his family nor is a wife called to follow her husband’s leadership. So which interpretation is right?” - Denny Burk


I think GregH has demonstrated that he has no understanding of church discipline either. Enough said.

It seems to me that the list of sins that qualify for church discipline are few and quite arbitrary.

Where is this list?

One of the quandaries of these proposed situations is which party gets the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ designation. If you believe that we should always come down on the side of authority, then you are going to be predisposed to think the husband is acting appropriately. If you believe that the victim should always receive the benefit of the doubt, then you are going to expect the husband to prove his behavior falls within Biblical parameters.

When I say ‘everything rises and falls on leadership’ (ht: John Maxwell) it’s not meant to make leadership roles a dumping ground for abuse any more than being a follower would. But the responsibility to lead Biblically falls on the leader, not the follower. So I think we have to establish what the husband’s leadership in the home is supposed to look like before we can intelligently discuss what submission is supposed to look like.

I hope that is a more succinct explanation of the point I want to address. I’ve heard about how a wife should submit ad nauseum, but other than a brief reading and reiteration of the verses addressing husbands, I’ve never heard clear cut guidelines for what is and isn’t an appropriate use of authority in the home. I’ve heard plenty of jokes about what it looks like, but nothing that actually challenges men to be spiritual leaders.

What I’ve mostly seen is authority used to control a woman’s appearance, spending, social life, and household tasks. What I seldom see is the use of that authority to model the fruits of the Spirit or encourage the wife to develop her spiritual gifts to their full potential.

That’s not to say that I haven’t seen young men hornswoggled into marrying a ‘good Christian girl’ with virtuosity oozing from every pore, only to find that once she’s out from under the authority of mom and dad, she’s a witch on wheels. I can think of two young men right now who I grieve for constantly, one of whom took his life a couple of years ago—IMO as a direct result of the young woman whose actions brutalized him so thoroughly he never recovered.

Which is one of the reasons I think authoritarian approaches to parenting can be very dangerous, because if young people are never given enough rope to make some decisions on their own (especially girls), you will never, ever see where their heart is at. The person who finds out will be their future spouse.

End of rabbit trail.

I want to come back to “What I seldom see is the use of that authority to model the fruits of the Spirit or encourage the wife to develop her spiritual gifts to their full potential.” If the example given in Eph. 5 is that the husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church, then isn’t that what his authority is going to be focused on? Not what time dinner is on the table, or if she wants to go bowling with some friends instead of staying home to watch football, or she wants to get a new hairstyle and buy a new dress (and for the purposes of this question, these are to be seen as generic, benign examples).

And if the husband loves his wife as he loves himself, he isn’t going to expect from her what he doesn’t expect from himself, right? He should not hold her to a higher standard of organization, care for home and children, financial responsibility, physical fitness, etc. I think a double standard often comes into play here; a wife who would be fine with submitting if the husband actually modeled the behaviors he wanted to see in her.

And again—bad leadership doesn’t excuse bad followership and vice/versa. However and IMO, we must acknowledge that the very nature of leading and following makes it very difficult to be submissive if the leader has gone off the rails, because now the follower has to figure out when/when not to obey. And no matter what the followership acts like, the leader is tasked with aspiring to the Eph. 5 model of leadership, period.

There’s a podcast available today by Julie Roys titled “How Should Churches Minister to Abused Women”; it may be helpful to some of the readers here.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

The way I’d put your position is that given how too many churches have practiced church discipline—something Susan adds pretty well in her comment—it’s no surprise that those subject to it are prone to inviting the deacons to take a long walk off a short pier, preferably one on the Niagara River within a mile or so of the Falls. Sound about right?

I think Susan’s comment also points the way out of this, as does the very root for discipline in the Scriptures, meaning primarily instruction, not punishment, and being wary of places where (in my not humble enough opinion of course) instruction has gone off the rails. If you’re not disciplining (not just punishing, training)( believers as they do, or do not, show the fruit of the Spirit and the like, all Hell will break loose when you suddenly develop an interest in their lives when they (or their spouse) files for divorce. (exactly as you say, I believe) Put differently, the man with no patience and an explosive temper is not going to become easier to manage when it’s learned that he’s also a wife beater. The woman who’s endured years of impatient leadership with an explosive temper is not going to be more amenable to church discipline when she’s got a couple of shiners, either.

In other words, I’d argue that church discipline is not extensive enough, not that it’s too extensive. The way I read Matthew 18, Christ does not give a list of sins which are, or are not, subject to those provisions, and hence—with due respect to the Romans 13 king’s role—the list of interactions with church leadership perhaps ought to be quite extensive.

Put differently, church leadership ain’t just preachin’, and if I’m understanding things correctly, the change would be great—and as I noted above, quite scary to people used to church leadership getting involved only when things got really bad. If you did it right (fruit of the Spirit again), though, you could achieve some really neat things.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

I knew MacArthur taught mutual submission within the marriage but didn’t have the links to document it. Thanks for pointing this out, Thomas!

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells


Thanks for pointing this out, Thomas!

¡De nada! I was actually looking for something else, but then noticed this and recalled this past discussion.

Thomas Overmiller
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