We continue this week in the “application” portion of Paul’s letter to the churches in the region of Ephesus – Ephesians! As we continue in Chapter 5, we should first note that Paul now applies what he has written in verses 1-21 to specific relationships. What he wrote about being “imitators of God, as beloved children,” about “walk[ing] in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us” (5:1-2), he applies to husbands and wives (vv.22-33), then to parents and children (Chapter 6, verses 1-4) and then to slaves and masters, or workers and employers (6:5-9). In these relationships, this is how we are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21).
The heart of the passage can be seen in verses 24 and 25:
Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
God is the Author, the Designer of marriage, and here we have a description, a prescription from God as to how that marriage relationship should work out, as we “imitate God,” and as we “submit to one another.” In Genesis 2, before the Fall, we read that, though God had declared His creation to be “very good,” suddenly, there was something that was “not good,” and that was that the man, Adam, was “alone” (Gen 2:18). God designed the woman, fashioned her out of Adam’s rib, from his side, to be “a helper fit for him” (v.20), a perfect complement for him, to balance what he lacked with what she would excel in, to be his perfectly suited companion and help in carrying out the mandate that God had given, to “have dominion over … all the earth (Gen 1:26), to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (1:28). Jesus, in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, and Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 as well as here in verse 31 refer to that creation account as the foundation for marriage, quoting Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The marriage relationship is to be so close, and so complete, that man and woman who were formerly recognized as two separate entities, should now be considered as one entity, “one flesh” before God and man. Not two separate planets orbiting God, but as one, united in spirit as well as in flesh.
Paul (under the inspiration of Holy Spirit) says that the way that this works out is that the wife should “respect,” should honour and “submit” to her husband, and the husband should love his wife “as Christ loved the church.”
The first three verses are directed towards wives. Wives are to “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Now the word “submit” must be added to the text for proper understanding, as it doesn’t appear in the original. A literal translation would be, “The wife, to her own husband, as to the Lord.” It is even missing in the last clause of verse 24, translated in the ESV as “so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” But it is a common feature of first century Greek discourse that we are to understand what is implied when a word is omitted. And the clear implication is that what is written in the first clause of verse 24 is to apply in the marriage relationship: “Now as the church submits [word present in the Greek text] to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” “The husband,” as Paul writes in verse 23, is to be the “head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church, His body.” And when Paul summarizes at the end of the passage, in verse 33, he says that the wife is to “respect her husband.” There the Greek word, which we are intended to see as being a parallel with the instruction to submit in verses 22-24, is fobh/tai, with a range of meaning beginning with “fear” and running to “reverence” and “respect.”
Now, in our culture, to suggest that a wife is to “submit” to her husband is like waving a red cloth in front of a charging bull. Even in the church, the idea that there is no difference between men and women, not only in value and worth in the sight of God, having been equally created in His image, not only in our need of salvation, and our equal access to the saving grace of God in Christ Jesus, but also in role and function, is becoming prevalent. But that is not what the Bible teaches, here or elsewhere. The fact that we have equal value does not preclude differences in role. Where Paul writes in verse 23 that “the husband is head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, His body,” he is using the same language that he uses in 1 Corinthians 11:3, where He writes, “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Again, the parallel is that “the head of Christ is God,” and “the head of every man in Christ,” therefore, in the same way, “the head of a wife is her husband.”
If Christ Jesus, Son of God, submits to the Father, then it is not in any way disrespectful or demeaning for the Bible to say that “wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Ephesians 5:24). There are exceptions. Christian wives are not called to submit to all men, but only to “your own husbands” (v.23). Christian wives are not to submit to their husbands in any way that would be disobedient to God! The admonitions and exhortations of Ephesians 5:1-21 and elsewhere in Scripture, to “walk as children of light,” to “discern what is pleasing to the Lord,” what is “good and right and true” (vv.8-10) still apply to each of us individually.
And “respect,” the right to be “submitted to” must be earned, must it not? Some husbands, even Christian husbands, don’t seem to have earned that respect. Some husbands certainly need to step up, to accept their responsibility to be loving, self-sacrificial leaders in their homes, but wives can be, should be, encouragers. Show your husbands respect. Encourage them in their leadership. Gently offer opinions. Resist the urge to have your own way, even to put down your husbands’ well-intentioned, though sometimes misguided efforts. Encourage servant-leadership, and you will encourage a husband worthy of “respect.”
Now husbands, Paul directs six verses toward us. Husbands are to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (v.25). May I say, though a husband myself, that that is a very high calling! It should seem to be a standard unobtainable by mere mortals, by sinners, though we may be saved by the grace of God. But it is exactly the same call that Paul directed towards us all at the beginning of Chapter 5, where Paul says that we all are to “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Husbands, we are to love our wives as Christ loved us – with a self-sacrificial love – totally focused on what is best, what is good and right and beautiful and filling and fulfilling for our wives, not for ourselves – with a love that seeks that our wives enjoy the love of God to the fullest, that they become all that God wants them to be for His GLORY. In verses 26-27, Paul describes this, in what almost seems like a selfish way. Christ so loves His bride, the church, that He wishes her to be perfect, “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” as He “present[s] the church to Himself in splendor.”
If we as husbands are able to love our wives in a way approaching how Christ loves His bride, then we will be most blessed in how they flourish. After all, our wives are partners with us in that “one flesh” relationship designed by God, as Paul reminds us in verses 28-31! What benefits them ultimately benefits us. We should think on the “excellent wife” described in Proverbs 31. That husband “is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land” (v.23), he enjoys “good … all the days of his life,” because “he trusts in her” (vv.11-12).
Husbands, men, it is time to step up and lead our marriages, to love our wives “as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” We need to “leave” not just “father and mother,” but leave anything and everything that hinders us from loving, serving, guarding and guiding our wives in the “one flesh” relationship that God has blessed us with. Never to lead selfishly, or in a way that diminishes our wives, but always in ways that lift them up, that show respect and honour, that value them, that ensure that they feel valued. Though their “respect” is commanded, it is also to be earned.
Paul says in verse 32 that he is saying “that it [the mystery of the one flesh marriage relationship] refers to Christ and the church. Marriage was given to us by God that we might understand the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. Marriage is a metaphor for the gospel! Is that why Christ says that there is no marriage in the resurrection (Matt 22:30; Mark 12:25)? There will be no more need for the metaphor, because we will be in the presence of Christ, as His bride, enjoying the fullness of what the metaphor points to!
Is that what your marriage is pointing towards? Does your wife feel it with you? Do your children see it? Do other Christians and non-believers see the Gospel in your marriage? What can we do in our marriages, as we “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” to more faithfully point hearts to Him?
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