HUSBANDS AND WIVES
The subject sometimes arises about the proper relationship between husbands and wives. Fortunately, we have the Sacred Scripture as our guide in this matter. As in all things we must read the word of God and conform our lives to its standard. We can never turn away from the truth but must face it no matter how difficult.
First some bad news for husbands. It is clear from scripture that husbands have been put into the leadership position within a family. “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church...” Ephesians 5:23.
Christ told us what is demanded of those in leadership positions. When some apostles asked for special honors in the kingdom of God, Jesus instructed them: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28)
Christ gave us another example of Christian leadership. At the Last Supper our Lord washed the feet of his disciples. Then he instructed them: “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:12-15)
These examples show us that Christian leadership is not like leadership as the world knows it. Christian leadership means the ones who lead, or who have been placed at the head, must serve those in their charge in perfect humility and obedience to God the Father, just as Christ did.
Jesus never demanded the privileges that befit His status. Jesus Christ, the one in Whom the entire universe was created; the Eternal Word; the Second Person of the Trinity; God Himself, did not come down in a cloud and demand obeisance. He did not approach the assembly, create an earthquake with the snap of His fingers, fly up to the top of the Temple and say; “I am God, you may worship me now.” Although He could have, and it would have been His due to demand worship and obedience, He never did that. He gave a different example. He humbled himself to be born like any human. He humbly led the way. That is Christian leadership. That is what is expected of husbands. To lead humbly. To “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
“For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church...” Ephesians 5:23. That sentence should strike fear in any man with sense. Husbands are the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. That means husbands have Christ as the example. That means husbands have to act like Christ did. Every day of Christ’s earthly ministry was spent either preparing for, creating, or sacrificing for His Church. He suffered for His Church. He died for His Church. Christ loves the Church, His body, (us) with complete self-giving sacrificial love. He did not create the Church to serve Himself. Instead He serves the Church. Just as Christ serves the Church as its head, so a husband must serve his wife and family as its head. Just as Christ protects, guides, and sustains the Church, so a husband must protect, guide, and sustain his family. Just as Christ yielded his will to the will of the Father for the good of the Church, so a husband must yield his will to the will of the Father for the good of his family. This is the standard that every Christian husband must attempt to attain.
The standard that wives must attempt to attain is, comparatively speaking, much easier. Again we must use Sacred Scripture as the guide for our behavior. “As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.” Ephesians 5:24. To be subject to means to be under the authority of another. Christian wives are under the authority of their husbands. No one likes the idea of being under the authority of another, but this is the standard of Christian wives have been called to. To deny it is to deny the authority of the Scripture and of the Church.
After having examined what Scripture says about this topic, we must now discuss what it does not say. First a quick look at the translations and definitions. The older (1970) version of the New American Bible translated the above verse from Ephesians as well as Colossians 3:18 with the word “submissive”. Submissive means to be voluntarily yielding. The latest versions of the New American Bible translate this verse as “Wives be subordinate to your husbands”. A suspicious person would think that in an attempt to sound less “offensive” someone decided to change the word submissive to subordinate. Subordinate means secondary or inferior. That is NOT what the apostle Paul is saying. He is NOT saying that wives are somehow inferior to their husbands. In fact he states in Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In a final word on what is not said in scripture, wives are not told to be obsequious, subservient, groveling, cringing or cowering.
Returning to what is said. The Revised Standard Version uses the more neutral word “subject”. “Wives be subject to your husbands”. (Col 3:18). Perhaps submissive is a better word. A synonym for submissive is meek. We are all called to be meek. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5).
All people, including husbands and wives, should strive to serve the Lord with alacrity. Just as wives should yield voluntarily to their husbands, so husbands must yield voluntarily to their duty to their family, and all must yield to the Lord.
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Published by The Minnesota St. Thomas More Chapter of Catholics United for the Faith, January 2004.