Take, for example, wives and husbands. In Paul's day, a wife had no legal rights. Her husband could do whatever he wanted in legal affairs without her consent. But a wife had to get her husband's permission before she could buy or sell property or even make a will. Husbands also had the financial advantages and virtually all the education. They had the support of pagan philosophy, which taught that women are damaged, inferior forms of males.
Whenever there's this kind of imbalance of power, what's the person holding greater power or authority likely to do? Lord it over the other person, control her, use her to make his life easier.
And what's the person holding less power or authority likely to do? Resist, rebel, make the husband's life miserable in some way.
But Paul offers a better solution, a way to move beyond power struggles. It's called submission. He says, in effect, "In life, when you're in a place of less authority and power"—which in his day included wives, children, and slaves—"don't resist and resent and rebel. Out of reverence for Christ, respect and honor and work hard at pleasing the other person. And when you're in a place of more power"—which in Paul's day included husbands, parents, and slave masters—"don't lord it over the other person. Don't use them to make your life easier. Instead, use your power to benefit them."1