Be Subject

“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” – Ephesians 5:21 NRSV

My son is getting married next spring, at the church where he was baptized and I was ordained. My wife will be the officiant, and on a trip this summer, we visited the sanctuary with the young couple, noting the logistics of the space, talking through the components of the service, and considering possible readings.

When I was a young bride, the first time around, we read what the never-married apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians about husbands and wives, and how they were to love each other. He compared the wife to the Church and the husband to Christ. I had no idea how those words had been used to create and perpetuate family dynamics and cultural systems that permitted abuse of women. Is that really how we think Christ would show love to the people committed to follow in his way?

Yet this seemingly outdated passage from a letter written almost two thousand years ago contains an instruction I embrace. “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” While to be subject can sound like giving into the control of another person, it takes on another meaning when two people offer each other mutual accountability.

My wife and I took our vows almost six years ago, in this new era of marriage equality. We have had to adapt and revise what we learned about marriage when we were younger. The binary roles of husband and wife are something we joke about at those times when our division of labor seems to fall along stereotypical lines. What we have is something new for both of us; our partnership relies on being answerable to each other.

The deep truth in Paul’s advice can take a new shape.


Holy Love, give us all the gift of reverent mutuality in our closest relationships, in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Stillspeaking Small Group Discussion

About the Author
Martha Spong is a UCC pastor, a clergy coach, and the co-author of Denial is My Spiritual Practice (and Other Failures of Faith).