The Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians
E- Explanation of the Epistle (contd.)
12-The Christian Home (Eph. 5:22-6:9)(1)
Here, St. Paul proceeds to instruct families with respect to various behavioral aspects within the Christian home. Those instructions were directed towards the woman, the man, their children, and even the slaves (who were considered then, to be part of society, although the Christian faith placed them on an equal footing within the Church’s fold). We also note that St. Paul emphasized the duties, rather than the rights, of each person.
a) He started with the women, the wife being the pillar of the family; he asked her to submit to her husband “as to the Lord,” or “as is fitting in the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18) He thus draws an analogy between the wife’s submission to her husband, and her submission to the Lord; the two relationships are analogous, since Christ is the Head of a wife-husband relationship, and not merely a partner. We notice that St. Paul concluded his previous talk about behavior of the believers asking them to submit to one another, in the fear of God, to express “all lowliness … with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love ...” (Ephesians 4:2) Submission is therefore mutual, and the woman’s submission represents her humility in love, following the example of her humble Lord. (Mat. 11:29, 1 Peter 2:21), obeying His voice or rather His choice by accepting the lowest place (Luke 14:10); thus acquiring a greater honor by making this choice. And by serving all whole-heartedly, as though she were serving the Lord Himself, she follows the Lord’s footsteps Who “... did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mat. 20:28) and Who told His disciples after washing their feet, the night of His Passion: “... he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger and he who governs as he who serves.” (Luke 22:26) In her meekness, the wife brings rest for her soul, as our Lord said (Matthew 11:29). Also the more she humbles herself and honors her husband, the more she is esteemed by her family, and the greater she wins the hearts of all who are around her starting with her husband “... even if some do not obey the word ...” (1 Peter 3:1). Conducting herself in this way places a wife in the category which King Solomon described: “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies.” (Proverbs 31:10)
This understanding (outlined above) will strip a woman’s submission of any hint of indignity, humiliation or disrespect [St. Peter went further, instructing husbands to “... dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, … as being heirs together of the grace of life, ...” (1 Peter 3:7)]. It should be emphasized here that the intent is definitely not to compare worth or capabilities. In this regard, St. Paul was clear in his first epistle to the Corinthians: “Nevertheless, neither is man independent of (or ‘lesser than’ in the Arabic translation) woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.” (1Cor. 11:11 & 12)(2)
A woman’s submission in this fashion complements the commandments directed at the husband, to form the united, fully-bonded, Christian home; otherwise, the home becomes an arena, with the man and his wife competing for first place, rather than building together a fortress of love, finding ways of giving oneself to the other, and cooperating to face life’s yoke and challenges. In his statements to convince women to proceed down that path, St. Paul tells the Corinthians: “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Cor. 11:3) - meaning that Christ is the Head of both man and woman. He thus shifted the focus of the discussion from personal relationships to the more sublime relationship between Christ and the Church; in this relationship, the Lord is the Head of the Church, through the blood shed on the Cross, and the provision of salvation (He is the Savior of the flesh). Consequently, “... just as the Church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” (Eph. 5:24)
The Church’s submission to the Lord, though, materialized only after Christ had given Himself up to death for her sake; a woman’s submission will therefore be a spontaneous reaction to her husband’s unconditional and unpretentious bountiful love, selflessness, care, guidance, preservation of her honor, and help in all matters pertaining to the household and to upbringing the children.(3) On the other hand, any shortcomings, mistreatment or neglect on the husband’s part will force her to confront him, and he will be accountable to God with respect to any resulting conflicts or divisions in the home.
A woman’s submission to her husband should definitely not be taken to imply unconditional yielding to his demands(4); rather, it should be in conformance with the Lord’s commandments: obeying God takes precedence over obeying man - since a woman’s submission is submission in the Lord (Acts 5:29). Submitting to her husband means that the woman willingly accepts his leadership with no preconceived reservations, and with a desire to do her best in establishing harmony in thoughts and opinions(5). The woman, in her role as her man’s helper, advises him in a manner conducive to making sound decisions in all matters of life; this should not deteriorate to disagreements and attempts to assert oneself by imposing one’s will over the other’s which, in turn, leads to strife, difficulties, and the loss of peace from the home. The latter scenario is an effective recipe for the marriage’s destruction on the rock of selfishness and obstinacy.
St. Peter addresses this situation by citing examples from the Old Testament; he says: “For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, ...” (1Pet. 3:5,6).(6) It follows that true adornment consists of arraying oneself with illustrious qualities: “... rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” (1Pet. 3:4) This encompasses women’s submission to their men.
b) Analogously, St. Paul calls on men, to love their women “... just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” (Eph. 5:24) This analogy converts love from being purely a physical relationship involving possessiveness and exchanges of acquisition, to exchanges of giving, sacrifice, gentleness and selflessness: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1Cor. 13:4-7) He concludes that, with respect to Christ’s relationship with the church, “... He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water [in other words, through baptism] by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church [crowned with glory], not having spot or wrinkle [the church does not age] or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” St. Paul goes on to confirm “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies [since the wives’ bodies are the husbands’]; he who loves his wife loves himself [not only because they are one flesh, but also because the woman is the man’s equal in status]. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we [meaning the church] are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.” (Eph. 5:26-30) The church came out of His wounded side and crucified body, as Eve came out of Adam’s side.
In explaining the relationship between a man and his wife, and in pointing out the resemblance of this relationship to that between the Lord and the Church, St. Paul recalls God’s old plan, since the creation of Adam and Eve: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24, Mat. 19:5 & Eph. 5:31)(7)
How remarkable is this relationship and how glorious is this analogy! “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Eph. 5:32) Despite their differences, the prominence of the two relationships led St. Paul to associate the husband-wife relationship to that between Christ and the church, and to confirm the obligations of the two spouses: “[to the man] let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, [and to the woman] and let the wife see that she respects her husband [meaning to keep him in high esteem].”
Summing up, there are mutual obligations: on the one hand, the man should offer love, sacrifice, selflessness, and defense of his wife’s honor and well-being, avoiding any hint of bitterness or harshness (Col. 3:19) since she is “the weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7) by virtue of her emotional and physical nature, and her tenderness and devotion in shepherding her family. On the other hand, the woman should offer humility and submission, stemming from her love to her man. The more each partner is committed to his part of the commandment, the more the convergence of their lives towards the unity of thought, joy and peace, and the more blessed are the children through their parents.
(To be contd.)
(1) The Church selected those excerpts from St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians (Eph. 5:22 - 6:9), to be read to the bride, the groom, and the congregation, at the beginning of the rites of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.
(2) The holy virgin St. Mary (the woman) is at the head of all saints, be they men or women, “For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:48) St. Mary, through her humility and her unique position as the mother of God (and second Eve), has obliterated pride, which led to Eve’s first sin and her fall.
(3) Even in those cases where man’s income or level of education is below the woman’s, and her role in managing the household becomes greater, through her humility and respect for her man’s feelings and dignity she reveals her true substance, and she preserves his stature within the family and before the children. In doing so, she bears witness to her submission to the Lord and to the word of the Gospel. She thus acquires blessings in everything she does: “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” (Proverbs 31:28)
(4) With respect to the man, the intent is not mechanical or spontaneous control or haughtiness. Rather, his being the head of the household and its priest emphasizes his responsibility as the family’s shepherd, serving all its members, and painstakingly watching over them in all honesty and firmness. He is their spiritual leader, and is an example in conduct and good works (1Tim. 4:12 & Titus 2:7). This is also evident in the instructions concerning the groom in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony: leadership is an assignment, and not a freely-bestowed honor or gratuity.
(5) The Church’s rites of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony include the statement: “Let them both be harmonious in mind, love, and effective thought; let none of them develop an opinion apart from the other, and let each submit to the other ...”
(6) During the rite of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, the Church cites this biblical passage, concerning the relationship between Sarah and Abraham, when instructing the bride: namely, how God looked upon Sarah’s obedience, blessed her, and made her seed as abundant as the stars in heaven. Of course, it is not expected that, in the twenty-first century, the wife should address her husband as “My lord!” Rather, the wife should satisfy the intent of Sarah’s behavior, dating back more than forty-five centuries: namely, her acceptance that her loved one be her leader, and her willingness to treat him in all respect and dignity. In doing so, she consolidates his role as the family’s director, and controller of its principles and unity. The converse is true: a woman who belittles her husband encourages the children to disrespect and disobey him, and ignore his leadership. Once they lose his wisdom and direction, they proceed in liberties satisfying the flesh and foolishness of the mind; in this way, she will have effectively destroyed them after having destroyed her home - with no one to blame but herself.
(7) Once again, the rite of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony includes Matthew 19:1-7; the Church also cites the corresponding part of David’s Psalms which instructs the woman saying: “Listen, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your own people, and your father’s house ...” (Psalm 45:10).