Read Ephesians 5:21-33.
Verse 21 simply must be read along with verses 22-33. Read without verse 21 firmly in mind, this passage is all to easily, and will almost certainly be, distorted in interpretation. Everything Paul will go on to say in verses 22-33 is simply expanded commentary on what he meant when he said:
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (vs.21)
Now we tend to think of things as having a natural order – respect, love, submit. That is to say, we can love someone when we respect them and we can submit to them when we love them. And while that is to some respect true, Paul deliberately blurs the lines between those three words here in this text. Here, God’s Spirit speaking through Paul uses those three words – submission, love and respect – not as an order of thought at all (as if he were speaking of three distinct matters), but as synonyms. These three speak of one thing – God’s way for the way we must care for each other.
Now that really does some things to our head when we think about husband and wife relationships, or even the relationship between Christ and his church, doesn’t it? In case you somehow missed that, re-read the heart of this passage’s words to husbands, this time deliberately substituting the phrase “submit to” for each occurrence of the words “love” and “respect.” To make that a little easier for you, here’s what that would look like (vs.25-30,33):
Husbands, submit to your wives, just as Christ submitted to the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to submit to their wives as their own bodies. He who submits to his wife loves himself. After all, people have never hated their own bodies, but they feed and care for them, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body. … each one of you also must submit to his wife as he submits to himself, and the wife must submit to her husband.”
Wow! What does it mean to respect your husband? What does it mean to truly love your wife? It means to:
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Go think about these things.
In the name of Jesus, your Son who submits to you, I come to you, Heavenly Father. Teach me to love as you do, to respect and submit. Steer me away from any lesser loves along the way and guide me in the path of your own one true way of loving – submission. In love and respect and submission to you, I pray. Amen.