Joe and I have been talking a lot lately about the importance of reading sections of Scripture (paragraphs or more) instead of single verses – or even multiple verses that are still ripped from their larger context. This post will aim to demonstrate a real-world example of why not to read just a verse (or in this case, even 3 verses.)
Ephesians 5:22-24 says:
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
It was perhaps this very passage that sparked a conversation at work a couple weeks ago about how archaic the Biblical model for marriage and family is. The individual referencing this Biblical concept was uneasy with wives being told to be submissive to their husbands in a seemingly subordinate role. With todays emphasis on equality, it is no wonder that their feathers were a bit ruffled at the thought of it. Would God really ask that women submit themselves to their husbands as some sort of “lesser” being?
And thus we are introduced to one example of the importance of reading larger sections of Scripture. [Enter, stage right: CONTEXT] If divorced from the rest of the passage, these verses seem to be saying that women are subordinate and on an unequal playing field. However, if we keep reading, we find this not to be the message at all and that the Scriptural mandate for husbands is even stronger.
Ephesians 5:25-29 says:
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church…
Husbands are commanded to love their wives…and not just with some Hallmark holiday sort of love, but with the type of love that drove Christ to willingly lay down His life for His Church. One of the truths that is often neglected and can only be inferred here – that Christ was not only willing to give His life up in death for His Church, but gave Himself in life for His Church. My father drove this principle home to me several years ago when I was attempting to understand the kind of love that would cause someone to be willing to die for another. I was floored that Christ would die for such an unworthy world of people. My father told me what was even more amazing is that He came here to live for us. Before He could be a perfect sacrifice, He had to live the perfect life…for us! His entire existence in human form was dedicated to redeeming sinners and presenting His Church as holy and blameless. So, husbands – we are not only to be willing to die for our wives as Christ did for the church, but also to live for our wives, cherishing them as Christ did the Church. All of a sudden, submitting to one’s husband doesn’t seem all that bad! Not if the husband you’re submitting to is committed to the responsibility laid out in this passage anyway!
Just as you would never dream of opening a letter from a dear friend and reading only one line of it, we ought not treat God’s Word with that sort of disrespect. Obviously we cannot hope to read the whole thing in one sitting, but we need to understand the sections we do have time to read in light of their greater context. This will keep us from gross misunderstandings of the bits and pieces we come across in our daily readings and will give us a greater appreciation for the continuity and uniformity of the larger message of the Bible.
Jeff Whittum is the Founder and Director of Full-Proof Ministries. Challenged by a close friend, Jeff set out to discover the intellectual basis for his faith. This led him to a deeper and more substantiated faith in Christ, ultimately founding Full-Proof to reach others who are searching.