As your own body

This is the fifth in a series that started here.

June Cleaver, ‘model’ wife

During a marriage weekend seminar that I attended with my husband while we were engaged, I found myself feeling quite annoyed by the assumptions they were making about the roles and responsibilities of husbands and wives.  I was irritated but not surprised that they presumed that the wife’s primary domain was the home.  The traditional responsibility of wives has most often been the housework:  cleaning, washing, feeding, clothing (even if the wife works outside the home as well).  Surprisingly, however, the Bible doesn’t depict such role relegation for wives.  In fact, the ones who are instructed with a description to wash, feed and clothe are actually the husbands in the following metaphor:

Eph 5:25-29 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, people have never hated their own bodies, but they feed and care for them, just as Christ does the church—”

Why does Paul use these domestic words to describe the husband’s responsibilities toward his wife?  I don’t know, but perhaps it was because the command to love their wives was as upside down radical as having the husband do housework in those days!

At the time which Paul wrote this epistle, husbands were not required to love their wives.  Because he was the pater familias, she was more or less his property.  Thus, the instruction for husbands to love their wives was radical, to say the least.  But what is love?  Paul defines it very clearly here by comparing the extent of it to the sacrifice of Christ giving himself up for the church.  This is an example of submission as he submits his own status, power and authority for her good, rather than lording it over her for his own gain.

What is more, to love your  wife “as your own body” and to love her as you love yourself is to love her equally as your equal.  For a husband to love his wife as himself means that Paul is bringing the wife to a state of equality to the husband. In so doing, Paul is helping them understand that being filled with the Spirit means a change from top-down authority structure to one of mutual submission.  Thus, this instruction for husbands to love their wives as their own body is key.  In so doing, Paul has elevated her value.  A wife has the same value and worth as her husband, therefore, he should treat her with the same kind of respect and deference that he would desire for himself.

In addition, the metaphor extends as far as suggesting that as one seeks to feed and care for one’s own body to grow into physical and spiritual maturity, so the husband should seek the same for his wife.  This was a charge for the husbands of this era to continue to provide physically for her as he had been doing.  And further, rather than squelch her opportunities for learning, growing and exercising her gifts, he should empower her.  For women during this time were not permitted to learn or get educated, so for a husband to do so (as he would do for himself) would be radical indeed.  Such a principle to promote growth and development goes back to our definition of “kephale” as origin and source.

What does this mean for husbands today?  In practice, it is probably not as relevant in this day of dual-income to place the burden of financial responsibility solely on the husbands, but it would still be valuable for a husband to be not only supportive of his wife’s endeavors but to empower her to be all that she was created to be.  This is for the woman who knows her gifts and attempts to use them for God’s kingdom but is blocked by opposition (he should speak up and champion her cause in a ‘man’s world’) and for the woman who doesn’t even care to attempt it because she has gotten too caught up in employments which stifle her (he should encourage her to explore her gifts and do more than she ever imagined for herself).  Such a movement of husbands who cared for their wives as their own body would cause a resounding impact on the body of Christ and beyond.  The power of the gospel would be undeniable in all the corners of the world as husbands resist inclinations to be domineering (as we are all inclined to be) and, in some cases, abdicate their positions of domination.  As husbands insist that their wives be elevated to a place of equal value — deserving the same respect, deference and opportunities — the world would get a tangible glimpse of Christ’s incredible love for the church and thus for the entire world.

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