I said last week, while most discussion about biblical submission focuses on whether a woman should submit to her husband, the real question is whether a man should submit to his wife.
The apostle Paul taught all Christians to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 ESV). He never made an exception to this general rule, and, in fact, it would have been odd to say the one exception was that a husband should not submit to his wife.
In the ancient world, it was not a radical teaching to say a woman should submit to her husband (Ephesians 5:22). This was absolutely expected, though there have been women in every age who have flaunted their independence.
The departure—what set Christianity apart from ancient culture—was the expectation that husbands would love their wives, even “as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25 ESV). And how did Christ love the church? He humbled himself and gave up His life for her.
Paul, it seems, took seriously some of what Jesus said about leadership and submission. Read slowly and carefully His words:
The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on my thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:25–30 ESV).
And then there’s this parallel (with another in Mark 10):
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25–28).
How did Jesus love the church? By submitting to her, serving her, so that she could have a seat at the table, a position of privilege. He took His place waiting tables. He laid down His life so she could have the privilege of sitting on the throne.
Leadership in Christ’s kingdom looks a lot like submission and service. And the Christian family is to be a microcosm of the kingdom. It’s not one person leading all the rest or one person being subservient to another; it’s mutual service and submission for the benefit of all.
That’s not to say that there’s not a head. After all, Jesus is still the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23–24); but it redefines what it means to be the head. For Jesus, it meant serving rather than being served. It meant inviting others to lead and serve by His side.