As promised, here is more insight on that "dirty" word; "submit". There is no place better to understand this word than in Ephesians 5:21-33. God placed this section in His Word to help us understand not only marriage, but in a far bigger since; the mystery of the one body of Christ.
Right off the bat in verse 21 the foundation is laid for understanding the following verses.
"Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God."
Before any discussion of wives submitting to their husbands, the blanket statement is made that as believers, we are to submit ourselves to one another. The rest of the verse contains one of those gross mistakes the King James Version is notoriously known for. The word "God" in basically every Greek manuscript is "Christ". This is important due to the context of these verses. Time and again, Paul will bring the discussion back to Christ and because of what He did for us, we should be and do certain things for each other.
Our willingness to submit to each other is because of our respect for what our Savior did for us. Also, it must be remembered that Ephesians was addressed to "the faithful in Christ Jesus" according to chapter 1 verse1. We are dealing with strong meat when we dive into a book such as Ephesians. Although Ephesians is profound, it cannot be comprehended by simple casual reading. In fact, Paul prays in the first chapter that God would open their eyes so they could comprehend what he was writing them.
The Church's relation to Christ is the foundation for the three greatest earthly relationships we are allowed to enjoy. Those are; husband and wife, parent and child, and master and servant. "Submit" is the term used of wives whereas "obey" is used of children and servants. Because of the equality between husbands and wives the word "submit" is used instead of "obey". According to Ephesians 6:1, children are to "obey" their parents in the Lord. According to Ephesians 6:5, servants are to "obey" their masters with fear and reverence as unto Christ.
According to Ephesians 5:22, wives are not to "obey", but are to "submit" to their own husbands, AS UNTO THE LORD. People tend to overlook a key little word in verse 22. That word is "own". Wives are to submit to their OWN husband, just as if they were married to the Lord. Now think about this. If you women were so honored as to be physically married to Christ, would there be any issues regarding submission? If there are, then they need to be brought to the Master Himself and resolved. I would pray that any Christian woman would consider it a privilege to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ if He were their husband.
Of course no one is physically married to the Lord. This is an analogy to help us understand a very difficult concept. Jesus used parables in His ministry for the same reason. When something is hard to understand, figures of speech help simplify the concept that is being laid out. Paul states we should all submit to each other because of our reverence and love of Christ. Specifically, he then says that wives should submit to their OWN husbands as unto the Lord. This is really quite simple if we will quit fighting the concept and look at the beauty of what Paul is presenting in these verses.
Paul, assuming that the people reading this epistle would by now either be rebelling against the idea or totally lost; uses another analogy in verses 23 and 24 to help them understand what this idea of "submission" in a marriage relationship is all about.
"For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church; and He is the savior of the body.
Therefore, as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything."
In my Webster's Dictionary, there are over 50 different definitions for the word "head". To keep things simple, we shall use a combination of the 4th and 5th definitions. "the position or place of leadership, greatest authority or honor-a person to whom others are subordinate, as the director of an institution; leader or chief". The word "head" implies leadership. In the human body, the "head" is where the brain is located which provides leadership to the body. To "head" up an organization is to be its leader. The president has been called "the head of the free world" in that he is the leader of the free world's biggest country. "Head", "chief", "leader", "director"; any of these words could be injected into this verse and the meaning would stay the same.
Jesus Christ is the leader, chief, director or head of the church. The church is to be subject unto Christ. If the church doesn't like that idea, then the church will be acting at cross purposes to what Jesus Christ gave his life for. Please listen; it is just as difficult for the church to submit to Christ as it is for wives to submit to their husbands. In any relationship, someone ultimately has to be the head. Democracy may work when there are many people, but when there are only two, it is an impossibility. Who is going to break all those 1 to 1 ties?
As difficult as submission is for the wife, the husband has a much bigger problem. Whereas it only took three verses (22-24) to cover the wives responsibility to submit; it takes the rest of the chapter to cover the husband's main responsibility. The wife is to submit even as the church submits to Christ as the head. The husband, according to verse 25, is to LOVE his wife, even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it (as its savior). Unless a husband is willing to give of himself to his wife, even as Christ gave himself for the church, he will never fulfill his destiny in marriage.
Selfish, arrogant and demanding husbands do not deserve wives who submit out of fear to them. Christ earned our respect and our willingness to submit to Him. He did this by being willing to give his life for his church. Husbands must earn the respect of their wives through selfless giving and by crucifying their pride and ego to Christ's cross. Then they are able, with great humbleness and tenderness, to LOVE their wives. It is every bit as difficult for a man to give himself totally to his wife as it is for a wife to submit to her husband. But, when the husband is willing to love and the wife to submit; then a marriage can succeed, prosper and be blessed.
The husband, according to verse 28, is to love his wife even as he loves his own body. The second great commandment that Jesus gave was "to love thy neighbor as thyself". The husband not only is to love his wife even as Christ loved the church and GAVE HIMSELF for it; he is to also love his wife even as he loves his own body. Two awesome standards are laid out for men to rise up to when it comes to their love for their wives: Love as Christ loved the church and love as he loves his own body.
Verse 29 says that a husband is to nourish (feed) and cherish (carefully protect and care for) his wife even as Christ does His Church. The Lord Jesus Christ feeds, protects, cares for and cherishes His church. He not only gave himself for it, he continually takes care of it on a daily basis. This is the great commission for a Christian husband; to continually love, nourish and cherish his wife EVEN AS Christ does His church. It is not enough for a husband to just be the "breadwinner" and then spend all his time pursuing selfish interests while neglecting his wife. He is to cherish his wife by caring for her needs in every category. Men have to be willing to "take care of" their wives, and wives have to "submit" and be willing to "be taken care of".
How much did Christ love the church? He so loved that He gave his life for her. Husbands, how much do you love your wife? Enough to give yourself to her, enough to protect, care for and nourish her? A husband is to be to the wife what Christ is to the husband. The great challenge for a man is to rise up to the standard of love found in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Verse 32 states the obvious when it says that everything Paul just communicated is a "great mystery". It is not easy to grasp and very hard to understand. But, Paul was speaking concerning Christ and the Church through this whole section. It was one big analogy to help believers understand the relationship between Christ and His church by bringing down to a realm we can handle-marriage.
Chapter five closes with this beautiful summation in verse 33:
"Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband."
After all this talk of submission, what word does Paul use to close this section of his epistle? He uses the same basic word he used back in verse 21. There it was translated "fear", and here it is translated "reverence". True reverence produces willing subjection. As we all reverence the Lord, we become willing to submit ourselves to each other. As a husband gives himself fully to his wife and loves her as he would his own self; she in turn responds to this love by respecting and reverencing and even submitting to him. This is the beauty of how Christ intended marriage to work, and this is the beauty of how Christ intended His church to work.