At our wedding, we had a friend read the apostle Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives:
22 Wives, subject yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands also ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are parts of His body. 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, as for you individually, each husband is to love his own wife the same as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. ~~Ephesians 5:22-33 (NASB)
The instructions to husbands always seemed straightforward and easy to understand, but I struggled with verse 24. Sure, I got that the Lord commands me to submit to John. But why did He give the Church as a model? From what I could see, the visible church has been bedraggled and rebellious throughout church history, beginning with the congregations in Corinth and Galatia. Certainly, the visible church in the 21st Century exhibits precious little obedience to Christ, preferring to acquiesce to worldliness!
So how can I pattern submission to my husband after the visible church?
Perhaps we ought to start this discussion by distinguishing between the visible church and the true church. The true church can stumble, just as true Christians can stumble, but she will always repent. The true church desires to obey Christ, and therefore carefully returns to His revealed Word of Scripture.
One of my pastors recently preached a few sermons from Ezra; his sermon on Ezra 3 triggered thoughts about Ephesians 5:24 that really helped me get a handle on how the Church submits to her Lord.
Old Testament Israel, while being completely distinct from the New Testament Church, was God’s chosen people. Consequently, their history can validly teach us principles concerning His dealings with us as a corporate body of believers. In that respect, the attitude of Israel as it returned from the Babylon and Assyrian captivities presents a wonderful model of how the true church submits to Christ.
Time doesn’t allow me to go through the entire chapter (but you can access Pastor Alan’s sermon here), so let me offer just one little sample of how the Israelites submitted to God. Let’s look at the first few verses of Ezra 3.
Now when the seventh month came, and the sons of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one person to Jerusalem. 2 Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brothers the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brothers, rose up and built the altar of the God of Israel to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses, the man of God. 3 So they set up the altar on its foundation, because they were terrified of the peoples of the lands; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening. 4 They also celebrated the Feast of Booths, as it is written, and offered the prescribed number of burnt offerings daily, according to the ordinance, as each day required; 5 and afterward there was a continual burnt offering, also for the new moons and for all the appointed festivals of the Lord that were consecrated, and from everyone who offered a voluntary offering to the Lord. 6 From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord, but the foundation of the temple of the Lord had not been laid. 7 Then they gave money to the masons and carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar wood from Lebanon to the sea at Joppa, according to the permission they had from Cyrus king of Persia. ~~Ezra 3:1-7 (NASB)
Notice that they kept going back to God’s Word as He revealed it through Moses. 70 years of captivity in punishment for their idolatry had produced genuine repentance in Israel, resulting in zeal to know how He wanted them to worship Him. These people were through with religion on their own terms! They were ready to submit to Yahweh, and to submit exactly as His Word told them to submit. Furthermore, they submitted willingly — and evidently joyfully.
Going back to Ephesians 5:24, then, I catch a glimpse of how the church submits to Christ. I push aside the poor example of the visible church in favor of how true believers (even in the Old Testament) submitted to the Lord. I follow their example, however imperfectly, knowing that Paul’s words depend on that sort of submission.Follow my blog with Bloglovin