Few verses of Scripture make as many people squirm in their seats as Ephesians 5:22: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord.”
We live in an age where many women have more independence than at almost any other time in history. In some ways this is good, such as women earning the right to vote. In other ways it has caused a lot of harm, as we see with radical feminism and the Sexual Revolution.
We’re also more sensitive to domestic violence — an offense often perpetrated by men.
So, yeah, the issue of wives submitting to their husbands is a tough one. But the Bible commands this, so what are we to make of it?
First of all, here’s what it DOESN’T mean.
When discussing a difficult topic, it’s helpful to start with what we don’t mean. A husband’s headship doesn’t give him the right to abuse his wife or rule like a tyrant. Wives shouldn’t be expected to obey a despot.
Some men forget these later verses in that same chapter of Ephesians: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church.”
See that, guys? You’re to love your wives as Christ loved the Church. And what did Christ do for the Church? He died for her.
Sounds about as far away from a tyrant as you can get.
Okay, so what does it mean for wives to submit to their husbands?
It means the husband is the head of the household and the woman shouldn’t seek this role. She should avoid contradicting her husband unless there’s a good reason to do so. She should also avoid undermining her husband’s authority in front of her children.
As much as modern secular culture hates this, the fact is that many women want their husbands to lead their families. Few things are as frustrating as a man who — out of laziness or another sin — gives up on leadership and leaves everything in the hands of his wife. So often in Catholic families, we see the man refuse to lead family prayer or take the family to Mass. Many times, these tasks fall on the wife.
A truly Catholic husband will practice his headship as a form of servant leadership. This means exercising his authority not for his own good, but for that of his wife and children. He should seek the wisdom of his wife and make it clear to her that he values her input.
Husbands, remember that God gave you a wife to help you become a better man. Let her love challenge you to become a better leader.
Ultimately, living out our Catholic faith means going against the cultural Zeitgeist. Christ assured us that we would never fully fit into the world because the world has largely rejected Him.
So stop worrying about what the world thinks and start practicing what Jesus taught us. For you married couples, it means the man needs to step up to the plate and lead his family to heaven. It means laying down his life so that his wife and children have what they need. And it means that the woman follows her husband’s lead and supports him with everything she has.