I told a colleague of mine one time that I greatly admired Paul of Tarsus as a writer. This sent her on an anti-Pauline rant. “He is against women,” she finally concluded.
“How is he against women?” I asked.
“He commands wives to be in subjection to their husbands.” I wanted to rationally converse about this, but the atmosphere was turgid and would be unproductive. Of course, I found out later that her ex-husband was a macho Middle Easterner who undoubtedly lorded it over her in their failed marriage.
I wanted to tell my fellow English teacher that women’s major problems stem from insensitive, self-centered, egotistical, and selfish men. But that would have angered her even more, seeing as how men were not an integral part of her life. I wanted to inform her that she really needed in all fairness to take Paul’s words in context. I never got the chance, so I will present the context now.
Paul spent his entire converted lifetime teaching men to be sensitive, selfless, caring, ego-less husbands. No higher standard has ever been placed upon men’s actions both in public and behind closed doors. He cut to the heart of the matter when it came to the better treatment of wives. He commanded men to repent of their sins, thus blotting out old selfish ways.
First, he admonished men to stop committing adultery and being unfaithful to their wives. He said for men to stop the reveling and drunkenness. He admonished men rather to repent of their sins and be filled with the Spirit of Love. He would have men walk in godliness, treating their wives with the utmost respect and love.
In Ephesians 5: 25 he admonishes all men to love their own wives as Christ loves the church, giving themselves for them. They are to love their wives as their own body, cherishing and nourishing them (v. 28-29). “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh.” Men today have stooped so low as to not love their wives as their own flesh. Men have historically been tyrants. Nevertheless, Paul admonishes men to be servants and examples for their wives, giving honor unto them.
In all of Paul’s writings, he tells men to be humble and kind. When he says, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands,” he is saying to submit to the Christian man, the Christ-like humble man. Proof of this is found in this passage: “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in ever thing” (Eph. 5: 24). It does not say to submit yourself to a selfish tyrant, but rather to someone who is in submission unto Christ.
In fact, a provision is made for the wife if the husband does not live up to the standard of character for men mentioned above. The Spirit through Paul writes: “If the unbelieving husband depart, let him depart. A sister is under no bondage.” This can be taken literally, but also spiritually. If the husband departs from being loving and kind and falls into abusive, anti-Godlike actions in dealing with the wife, then the wife is justified in parting ways. According to the apostle, she is not to be a door mat or a chattel good for a man to abuse (I Cor. 7: 14-15). He goes on to say that if the unbelieving spouse wants to stay, then they are to stay in the marriage, for the Christian spouse will help win them through their witness of Christ.
A true husband is the one who cherishes and nurtures his wife as his own flesh. That is a husband. The wife abuser is not a husband in God’s eyes. He is a despicable creature who does not deserve a wife.
I wanted to tell my colleague of Paul’s high standard for men’s actions toward their wives. I never did share with her how Paul of Tarsus is the greatest advocate for women. For he first deals with the husbands, getting them straight with God. And we all know that when that happens, things go a lot smoother in a marriage.