Ephesians 5:22-23

Epesians 5

I was tempted to ask for a tape of an April 25, 2004 sermon on Ephesians 5:22-23--and the next week's--to play for people, but such sermons are being given all over town, and if people don't regard common sense, they're not going to be listening to such tapes. There was one glitch in it, the preacher trying to import the previous verse 21 out of its own context which muddies the water of submission, so I am giving some examples and cautions for what they are worth.

I actually used Strong's Concordance to look up the Hebrew for this invention of marriage, and I found that the cleaving (KJV) a man will be doing to his wife (Hebrew: woman) contains an element of pursuit, so I surmise that the plan at the beginning involved a man recognizing the unique one for him, engaging in pursuit, and ending up married. We might suppose that before sin entered the world, a man would have no trouble recognizing that which was taken from him for the purpose of being his own helpmeet, although the woman being made from something outside herself would actually need to be shown how she's the match before she'd agree, whence the pursuit. I think the NIV misses the point by saying only that the man will be united as one flesh with his wife as that's redundant to becoming one flesh, after the pursuit, the cleaving. But then the NIV messes up in other places on m-f relations which is good enough reason to reject it.

Personally, I think a lot of water has passed under the bridge since the introduction of marriage into a sinless world, and that men and women in our age might have trouble separating issues of compatibility from plain old lust. I think we do ourselves a huge favor by paying attention to the book of Esther in which a king made the acquaintance of a wide spectrum of eligible maidens, he dated the ones he liked--(Esther 2:14b), 'she came in unto the king no more, except the king delighted in her, and that she were called by name,' --, and he married the one he loved most. (The NIV makes a mess of Esther too, by the way.) I question whether a Christian man praying for a wife and settling on one by some sign or such criterion might not be engaging in spiritual pride by too readily seeing God's will. Would it hurt him any to meet a bunch of women, date those he likes, and then marry his best love after such comparison shopping?

I overheard a woman advising a friend on some guy she was interested in. She told her that if he's interested in her, "he will chase." She repeated herself to her friend for emphasis, "he will chase ... he will chase." There's probably something to what she said, that if a guy is interested in a girl it is likely that he will chase her. Furthermore, I don't see anything in that of itself which would contradict the invention of marriage from Genesis.

I try to learn something from my dating experiences that could be applied to marriage. I mean, aren't we supposed to be learning from our experiences before we go any deeper? Take the part of the preacher's sermon where he said, (Ephesians 5:21) "Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God." is an "umbrella" over the following verses on husband-wife relations. That's not so obvious from the text, either in my version or his, at least to me it isn't. It's not punctuated that way, and in fact verse 21 seems to be completing an earlier thought before Paul goes on to another subject as happens so often in the epistles. For that matter verse 22 has a different Greek word translated submit than does verse 21. This would be a good place to get some experience during dates before I would ever think to use such an umbrella scheme in actual marriage.

I had a movie date on a Friday afternoon. We agreed to meet at such and such a place and go see such and such a movie. Such an agreement wasn't so much along the lines of Ephesians 5:22-23 as it was, (Amos 3:3) "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" which I've also heard quoted in the context of husband-wife relationships. God through his prophet Amos was trying to get his people to understand that his judgements were caused by their behavior, so he was using their ordinary understanding of how life works to help them figure this out. If you see two men walking together, you can figure there had to have been some prior agreement in order for that to take place: cause and effect. If you see a guy and a girl together at a movie, you can figure there had to have been a prior agreement in order for that to happen, cause and effect. We agreed to see the movie, and there we were.

I made sure the place we met was one where people could ordinarily be expected to hang out. If she were late or didn't show, I'd be there waiting by myself, and there are lots of places where a lone man hanging out with no obvious purpose looks suspicious. I wanted to avoid that. It wasn't so much directly as a result of Ephesians 5:21 and preceding verses as it was, (I Thes. 5:22) "Abstain from all appearance of evil.".

My first finding is that I probably don't want to go directly to Ephesians 5 to apply it to every situation in marriage that comes up, just as I wouldn't apply it to every social situation. I don't mean to forget Ephesians 5, or that it doesn't have application, just that there are probably better verses to use in many situations.

Before we went to the movie we had lunch. I figured that a married man loving his wife sacrificially should at least show it with his financial support and responsibility, so it's a good idea to get lots of practice beforehand by picking up the tab for his dates. I told her I'd buy her lunch as long as it wasn't extravagant. She ordered within my means. A wife being submissive probably includes not spending more than her man makes. I figure these are good lessons as far as they go.

She ordered a subway sandwich while I ordered a couple hamburgers at the adjacent vendor. Standing in lines waiting is a good application of submission in a general sense, although here I'd be inclined to use, (I Peter 5:5) "Likewise ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." The ones at the head of the line are the elder, at least within this context, and so on, and we defer to those in front of us, although occasionally there is cause to allow cuts.

Now, for Ephesians 5:21 being the umbrella over m-f relations in Ephesians 5:22-23 etc., here is where I would find it, although it's a bit convoluted. Just as my date and I were in two different lines for lunch, so men and women before, during or after marriage will come from somewhat different church backgrounds, and their understandings from legitimate submission to their respective elders would necessarily be different in places, which might lead to a temptation for the woman to try to teach the man contrary to her role in scripture as developed in Ephesians chapter 5 and elsewhere. Therefore it would be a good idea for all churches to simply go by what the Bible actually teaches so there will be more uniformity of belief and fewer conflicts within marriages to allow them to better live out Ephesians 5.

It's all well and good to say that, but if a church is ignoring the Bible in places already, do you really think they are going to pay more attention to it in order to give members of their congregations a better chance for marital harmony when marrying someone outside of their immediate fellowship? Yeah, right! This preacher I heard uses mostly a relative newcomer in Bible translations, not universally accepted. If I were to tell him that the KJV has been around longer with a wider circulation, therefore churches should stick to it to promote harmony when believers from different congregations marry each other, is he going to start preaching from the KJV then? Probably not unless he were otherwise inclined to.

Then we went to the movie itself which was probably the best place to see Ephesians 5 applied. (Ephesians 5:21) "Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God." There is plenty of room to apply that in a movie theater. First, upon entering, the movie or trailers being shown, our eyes are not adjusted to the darkness, and to try to take a seat might mean colliding with someone. If you can't see whether someone's in a seat, it's best not to sit yourself there. Wait until your eyes are adjusted before claiming a seat. That's part of everyone being submitted to each other and easily applicable in many a sermon.

Secondly, if it's possible, don't sit directly in front of another moviegoer to block his view. That's being submitted to one another which often entails not putting a stumbling block in his way.

And thirdly, one shouldn't talk during the movie. Other people are trying to enjoy it too. You know, being submitted to each other probably means a great deal of keeping one's trap shut, wouldn't you say?

Now, let's see how that works as an umbrella over the rest of Ephesians 5:22-23 and so forth, applied to dating interaction. I am a little bit nearsighted so I asked my date if she wouldn't mind sitting towards the front. That was showing consideration on my part, and she followed me to a seat, which was submission on her part. We did our part à la Ephesians 5:22-23-33. Now, here's the thing: from roaming the woods at night, I have a pretty well developed night vision, and as soon as I got adjusted, I could see pretty well where to go. If I took off and she waited until she got well adjusted before moving, she'd have lost contact with me. Her role was to follow close, holding hands if necessary, while I had to be sure not to maneuver her into trouble. So while submission to one another in a group means being patient until you see clearly before moving in a way that could disrupt someone's peace, a couple is supposed to be connected together well enough to be aware of what is going on with the other, so the woman follows the man's lead trusting him to avoid the conflicts.

The rules of seating are different too. Since partners sit side by side, they can't block one another's view, but they may pose a bigger block to someone behind them. I think a lot of cause of stumbling a weaker brother has to do with the kind of activities one allows oneself which someone else cannot do in good conscience. People tend to marry those with whom they hold things in common, so they would tend to be at the same level, like sitting side by side, not able to stumble each other, but could pose a bigger stumbling block as a duo to someone else.

And thirdly, there is the no-talking rule. No, I don't want to disturb the other moviegoers with my chatter, but at times I may need to coordinate something with my date or make a needed remark, at which time I would lean over and whisper in her ear. I do want her to hear me.

You know, there are a lot of things it's best we wouldn't say to someone, but we wish their spouse would tell them. It might be the place of a spouse to say something that someone else shouldn't. The trick is to do it like whispering in a movie theater, gently and not very often. And from the standpoint of Ephesians 5:22-23-33 the man should say such things from the standpoint of love and a woman from respect. Dr. James Dobson makes a very good case that men need respect and women love. A man might find it easier to respect his wife than to love her, but that's not what she needs. I think importing Ephesians 5:21 into the next thought of Ephesians 5:22-23 blurs this reality and does disservice to women in the end.

The preacher's delivered good sermons in the past about going by what the Bible actually plainly says, and he's applied it well enough for it to sink in. Jesus wants His believers to be baptized. He also specifically wants husbands to love their wives and wives to respect their husbands, and for the whole congregation to submissive to each other. The man-wife dynamic means she has to concern herself with following his lead where unmarried she would have just fitted herself in with the group, and on his part he has to take her into consideration in his decisions where when single, he just had himself. If there is some kind of way Ephesians 5:21 is an "umbrella" over the Ephesians 5:22-23, it's like the umbrella the wind takes out of my grasp.

I thought it might help illustrate the interplay of Ephesians 5:21--submission to one another--with Ephesians 5:22-23--wives submitted to husbands (who in turn love their wives)--by recounting this story of a young Indian medicine man who goes on a quest to discover the meaning of the peculiar markings on a colt. Pay attention to the places the People is submitted to each other for the good of the band and the places where the wife submits to her husband and her husband loves his wife.

For the first time since our marriage, he was distant, and he wanted to walk alone to think and pray. I was hurt a little bit, because I wanted to be a part of everything that happened to him. But in this I was feeling shut out, maybe. I knew that there are places in the life of a holy man that even his wife may not go with him. Yet this was my first experience with it, and I was hurt. We had been so close, always.
    I went to talk to Rain, who was the wife of Singing Wolf. They were the grandparents of my husband, you know. We lived with them after our marriage, while Wolf Pup learned the ways of the holy man. And while I, of course, learned the ways of the holy man's wife. Ah, Rain was a help to me! She knew and understood the problems, not only of a holy man's wife, but of any young wife. I still miss her counsel, though both are gone many seasons now. ... But I will continue the story.
    I went to Rain and told her of my hurt. Always before we had shared our joys and sorrows, Pup and I. I felt that I was losing him, and to what I did not know.
    "Yes, Otter," this wonderful old lady said, "I know. It is the way of men, sometimes. Especially men such as ours, who have been given gifts of the spirit."
    "But he is troubled, and I cannot help him," I told her.
    "Yes, you can, child," Rain told me.
    "But how, Grandmother?"
    "Well, one thing is to let him be alone to think. He needs that right now. He is working with a problem and needs to listen to whatever guidance he may be trying to receive. So just be patient, but do not ask him to explain."
    "You said that is one way, Grandmother. There are others?"
    "Of course. One other, anyway." Rain's old eyes twinkled as she told me this. "Even with his problems, he is still a man. And you are a woman. Quite a woman, I am made to think," she teased me. "You can distract him sometimes. I know this." We had lived in their lodge. ... Yes, I said that before. But she went on: "You will know when, in the privacy of your lodge. You can do much to help him, but do not push him too hard. Let it happen. ..."
    When Pup finally had the experience that led to his decision, it was very hard for me. He must go, he said, on a quest to the north. He did not know where or why. Now, even though I already knew that the wife of a holy man must make many sacrifices, I was not prepared for this. Yes, I was angry, and I felt abandoned. we had been married only a few moons ... less than a full season.
    I sought the advice of Rain again.
    "I have failed," I told her. "He is leaving me!"
    "Nonsense, child," the old woman said. "It has nothing to do with you."
    "Then why ...?"
    "It is a call. Something he must do. That is all."
    "But how can I ... Rain, I cannot move our lodge alone when the band goes to the Sun Dance, and to the summer camp. I need him."
    "Yes, child, and for other things, too. I know. I could tell you ... Now, Look! Others could help with your lodge. Your brothers, the family of your husband. But maybe there is a better way."
    "What is that, Grandmother?"
    I realized that Rain was studying my body. Especially my belly.
    "You are not with child yet?" she asked.
    "No ... we have been married only ..."
    The old woman waved a hand to stop me.
    "It is not that," she said bluntly, "but if you were, it might make a difference."
    "What difference? I do not understand."
    "All the difference, child. If you were pregnant, it would be a bigger responsibility for him. Since you are not, it is no matter."
    "Then what ...?"
    "Go with him, child! Go on the quest with him!"
    Now, I had not even thought of that. You know that among the People it is not unusual for a young wife, before they have children, to hunt with her husband. Girls learn the use of weapons in the Rabbit Society with the boys. There are even young women who go on war parties sometimes. But I had not even thought of this.
    "Do you think that he would let me go with him?" I asked.
    "I am made to think," Rain chuckled, with the twinkle in her eye, "that you can convince him."
    And it was so. We planned it carefully. At first no talk of that possibility. Only mention, at carefully chosen intimate moments, of how I would miss him. Then playful teasing, a mock refusal of activity in the robes. I told him how much he would miss me, and that he must learn to do without me. Of course I did not carry through with that threat, but it made him think.
    "Your lodge and your bed," Rain told me, "must look to him like the most desirable place in the world."
    That, I must admit, was not difficult, because he already thought so. But what if I had pouted and been angry about his leaving? Ah, you see? Rain and I continued to plan.
    Our object, mine and Rain's, was to make Pipe Bearer believe that it was his idea for me to go along. That is one of the ways of women of the People, to make our men feel so. A way of all women, maybe, but I cannot speak for all. ...
    We had only a few days to plan, while the two holy men, my husband and his grandfather, planned the quest. It was necessary for him to decide what to take, how many horses, such things as that.

Well, it was as Otter has said. I was preparing to portray a trader as I traveled north. I would take a horse to ride, and a pack horse, with what pretended to be trade goods....
    But there was a problem. I had been tormented from the first about whether to take the foal who wore the medicine hat. To try to inquire about such a horse, to ask people who speak different tongues, would be difficult. Especially in hand signs. Can you imagine trying to ask about a horse wearing a fur hat ...? Well, you see!
    It would then be much more effective to have the colt along. Imagine again ... I could lead the animal into a camp or village and watch the people for a reaction or recognition. Let them ask the questions. Or if there were none, I could then inquire. Hand signs would be simple. ...
    But now rose other problems. To take a nursing foal meant to take his mother. I could ride the mare but did not want to do so for a number of reasons. My size and weight, of course. The roan could handle that, but it would be hard on her, and I wanted her in the best condition to feed the foal.
I talked of this with Singing Wolf, who sat, silently lost in thought as he usually did while he pondered a problem. He half closed his eyes. Finally he nodded slightly and spoke.
    "I am made to think you should take him with you."
    I had already realized that, of course, and said so. My grandfather nodded again.
    "I know," he said. "Let me think on this, Pup."
    This time he was quiet for so long that I thought he was asleep, with his eyes squinted, half-closed, you know. But finally he moved, cleared his throat, and spoke.
    "Let us sleep on it."
    Naturally, I was disappointed. I had sought my answer right then, while we talked. He saw my disappointment.
    "You are still too impatient, Pup," he said.
    Then he rose and walked away, stooping to enter his lodge. I was irritated and did not sleep well that night.
    But next morning, before I had even left the robes, Singing Wolf was at our door, shaking the door rattle and calling my name. And, yes, he actually said, "Pipe Bearer."
    "A moment, Grandfather," I called, scrambling up. One does not keep an elder waiting.
    I ducked through the doorway and stood in the chill morning air, still trying to come awake.
    "I am made to think," Singing Wolf said, "that I know how to solve your question."
    His eyes were shining, and I could tell that he was excited. Almost like a child at the Sun Dance.
    "How? What?" I stammered.
    "You should take Otter Woman with you!"
    "Of course. Think about it. You ride any horse you like, and lead a pack horse. Let Otter ride the mare, and the foal will follow.
    "But ... Grandfather, I had not thought to take Otter with me. There may be danger."
    "Of course. There may be danger here, too. But you will be together. And think, Pup: How many traders have you ever seen who travel without a wife? Sometimes more than one wife. It will help to give the idea that you are a trader, no?"
    Now, I was having a hard time grasping all of this. I was still half-asleep. I did not know at the time, of course, that this was part of a plan. Otter and my Grandmother had waited for the right moment, when the question would arise. They knew that Singing Wolf always talked over his problems with Rain. So they had planned and waited.
    When Singing Wolf had been wrestling with this problem of mine, my grandmother had watched, waited, and finally inquired. He explained the dilemma that I faced. Rain then seemed to ponder a long time and finally suggested that he take someone to help with the horses. This seemed like a good idea, but who?
    You realize that I knew nothing of this until much later. I learned the whole story from Otter.
    "Who could go with him?" my grandmother pondered. "A person of smaller weight could ride the mare. One of the young men, maybe? Aiee, mostly the traders who stop with us have a helper, no?"
    "Yes. Usually it is his wife," Singing Wolf answered.
    Then, according to Rain's story, the eyes of Singing Wolf grew big and round. This big ... He let out an exclamation.
    "Aiee! Of course! I should have seen it sooner. Otter can go with him, Rain! She will make a believable trader's wife."
--Don Coldsmith, Medicine Hat275

In this vignette I see as an example of submission one to another: "Others could help with your lodge. Your brothers, the family of your husband." I see as an example of a husband loving his wife, his concern for her safety." And I see an example of a wife submitting to her husband when she gracefully accepts his decision to take her with him on the quest.

But if one tries to mix the Ephesians 5:21 principle of submissive behavior one to another with the Ephesians 5:22-23 principle of a wife submitting to her man and he sometimes to her, then you'll end up with situations where she feels it's his turn to submit and he doesn't. Then she'll "pout and be angry" which turns into nagging and eventual loss of bedroom privileges. That doesn't really help men "especially men who have been given gifts of the Spirit."

Unfortunately, rather than having (Titus 2:1,2-5) "But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged ... women ... be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed." we've got a bit too much Gentile feminism infiltrating the church. "The tough female who wants her freedom only wants the upper hand, which her gentler sisters have had all through the centuries."276 The umbrella I use on Ephesians 5:22-23 is (Eph. 4:17) "This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind."

The "ways of women of the People" are "A way of all women, maybe," if they were given the right instruction. But if the top is on the bottom, then who's on first?


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Earl Gosnell
1950 Franklin Bv., Box 15
Eugene, OR 97403


Copyright © 2004, Earl S. Gosnell III

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Permission is hereby granted to use the portions original to this paper--with credit given, of course--in intellectually honest non-profit educational material. The material I myself have quoted has its own copyright in most cases, which I cannot speak for but have used here under the fair use doctrine.

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Scripture quotations marked NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION or NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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