Ephesians 5:21-33 Husbands and Wives

The Christian WALK requires us to be FILLED with the Spirit (v18), which results in ministry, praise, thankfulness (v19-20) and harmonious relationships:

“SUBMITTING to one another in the fear of God” (v21). 

The Holy-Spirit brings a flow of God’s grace into our relationships causing us to see others as precious, made in God’s image, to be treated with respect not to be manipulated, controlled or bullied. To Paul the key to good relationships is discerning and yielding to the true authority on people. The first delegated authority (Divine-Institution) God gave all mankind is FREE-WILL (“let them have dominion”- Genesis 1:26) which is our personal authority, and even God respects it so that we even have the ultimate choice of heaven or hell. Thus we honour each other and their freedom of choice. In the Shepherding error, when elders and husbands tried to control every detail of other peoples’ lives in the name of establishing true authority, they were actually violating God’s authority on people. 

Paul next develops the theme of Spirit-filled relationships by speaking into special situations that have authority within them as ordained by God (the Divine Instititions): (1) husbands-wives, (2) parents-children, (3) bosses-employees. 
From his words we can learn principles that apply to all relationships. 

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is Head of the Church, and He (he) is the Saviour of the Body (body). Therefore, just as the Church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives” (v22-25).

The parallel verses in Colossians say: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.Husbands, love your wives and be not bitter against them (when they don’t submit the way you think they should!)”(3:18,19). This doesn’t mean that a wife’s submission to her husband is equal to her submission to the Lord, but that she discerns the Lord’s authority on him. When she submits to his genuine authority she is really submitting to the Lord. But if he says to do something the Lord wouldn’t approve, then she must obey God not man (Acts 5:29). 

Christ and the Church is the pattern for the Husband-Wife relationship.        The husband has Christ’s example of loving leadership. The wife has the Church’s example of trusting submission. His headship is to love, strengthen, protect, provide and care for her physical needs (‘the saviour of the body’). A second analogy is introduced, for the Church is both the Bride & Body of Christ.

The Husband and Wife (like Christ and His Bride) are as Head and Body.

This is developed in v28-31, where the two pictures merge into one because in marriage husband and wife do indeed become one flesh (one body). As your head is always looking out for your body (listening for its needs, protecting it from hurt, seeing that it is nourished, comfortable and fed), so Christ (our Head) lovingly cares for His Body, His Bride; and so also a husband should love his wife (it also goes better for him when he does!) She in return should trust, receive and respond(submit) to his love, as the Church does to Christ; as a body receives from and responds to the supply from the head. A husband’s headship is not over her spiritual life (Jesus is her Lord) but over their ‘one-flesh’ union, their life together in this world.

These verses make people nervous, but let’s make some observations:

(1) Paul particularly speaking to Christian marriages (elsewhere special directions are given for when one is an unbeliever) giving the ideal as modelled by Christ and the Church -to inspire not condemn.

(2) Although he says clearly that the husband has a leadership role that the wife should respect and submit to, he has just said we should all submit (yield) to each other (v21), so it’s not about one person getting always his way.

(3) He does not say: ‘all women (generally) submit to all men’!

(4) Paul says much more to the husband (8 verses: v25-32) than to the wife (just 3 verses: v22-24), putting a greater demand and responsibility upon him, although most sermons are adressed to wives!

(5) It is not: ‘husbands, make your wives submit.’  Headship doesn’t override free-will.

(6) Submission is voluntary and has to be voluntary. You can’t force it because it’s in and from the heart. You can force (outward) obedience but you’ll have a bitter wife who isn’t submitted in her heart. By putting the relationship in these terms Paul put husbands and wives as EQUALS which was especially radical in those days when the wife was seen as the property of her husband. So, Paul elevated the role of women to equality before the Lord, although men and women still have different roles in marriage. Hilary and I operate on the basis that we both hear the Lord and each have part of God’s will, so we submit to each others input which means LISTENING to each other (men must learn to listen and not feel they have to come up with an immediate solution!). Mostly we can establish agreement or a compromise, but if not Hilary will generally submit the final decision to me. 

(7) The words Paul used reflect our differing needs.
 We all have different love-needs. Some mostly need verbal affirmation, others gifts or hugs or practical help or quality time (the language of love). Likewise, Paul says: ‘Husbands - your wife’s primary need is love, she needs you to tell her and to show her. She needs to know your love is dependable, that you will be there for her, that she 
is special and valuable to you.’  Womens’ needs are more emotional. Men often don’t give wives the tender love they really need, assuming that being a provider is enough. 

Paul says: ‘Wives - your husband needs your respect above all. You may shower him with affection but if your criticism of his failures reaches the point that he doesn’t have your respect it will mean nothing.’ It is important for a man to feel he is doing a good job, so affirm him when he does something right 
and build him up for that. Don’t pick on his every fault. You will get better results that way! It is not that you should never correct him, but continual nagging will close his heart to you.

.  In the world everyone claims and focuses on their rights over the other, for example:‘you should submit more’, ‘you should love me more’, but Paul faces each one with their responsibilities:

‘HUSBANDS, focus on loving your wives whether or not you think they deserve it.’ ‘WIVES, see that you show respect for your husband’s leadership.’

If a man complained saying:‘she does not submit’,

Paul would say: ‘are you loving her as Christ loved the church?’ .. ‘

But if she submitted I could and would love her’.

Paul: ‘No, Christ loved the Church before she submitted, with an unconditional, everlasting love.’

If a wife complained: ‘He doesn’t love me enough, I would submit if he loved me like Christ’, Paul would say to her: ‘Are you doing your part? Do you respect him as one carrying Christ’s authority?’

The Husband’s Model (v25-27): Christ’s unconditional, constant, sacrificial love. 

Paul shows, by using 5 verbs, the 5 stages of the progressive outworking in time of the everlasting love of Christ for us from eternity past to eternity future: “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ also

(1) loved the Church. He set His love on us from eternity before we could respond (Jer 31:3). Relationships are built by decisions to be an initiator of love rather than waiting for the other to move 

(2) and gave Himself for her.  He sacrificed Himself on the Cross before we did anything to earn it. Strong relationships are built by being prepared to put yourself out (sacrifice) to bless the other.

(3) that - having cleansed her with the washing of water by the word.  He washed us clean in the waters (spiritual bath) of regeneration (new-birth, Titus 3:5), when we heard and believed His Word to us: “I love you, be my bride.”

(4) He might sanctify her. Through His Word and Spirit, He continues to cleanse us (washing our feet) and sanctify us, preparing His Bride for the Wedding Day. In our relationships we should be making each other better people with upbuilding, assuring words like: “I love you”, “I respect you”, and with sanctifying words calling the other to higher things, and with cleansing words of forgiveness. This washes their feet from the sludge of the world.

(5) “that He might present her to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot (no blemish - free from all sin) or wrinkle (no ageing - free from all curse) or any such thing (all marks from the fall removed) but that she should be holy (set apart to Christ) and without blemish.” This is the future Presentation of the perfected, glorious Bride to Christ on her Wedding Day. A husband’s desire should not be to hold her back or control (possess) her, but to bring her to fulfillment - to be all she was meant to be. He should want her glorious and not be jealous when good things open up for her. This is Christ’s love for us and this is to be our motive in all relationships.

So, Christ’s love is everlasting, sacrificial, dependable, loyal, sanctifying and liberating - this is what a wife needs from her husband.

 Ephesians 5:22-33

This is Paul’s supreme description of Christian Marriage.

Verses 22-24 give the duty of wives: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is Head of the Church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.”

Wives are to submit to the headship of the husband. This is a Creation ordinance as Paul establishes in 1Cor 11:3-12 and 1Timothy 2:11-13, where from Genesis 2 he shows that woman was made after man, out of man and for man. He adds that man is born from woman making them dependant upon each other and equal in status since they both bear God’s image (Genesis 1:26,27).

However his theological argument from creation for the husband’s headship means it universally applies and can’t be dismissed as culturally relative. Headship is a foundational principle of creation that cannot be destroyed, even if it is applied differently in different cultures. Man’s Fall distorted relations between the sexes (Gen 3:16) and Christ’s redemption frees us from this damage and restores marriage to the original ideal in Genesis. It was to this model for marriage that Jesus went back to (Matt 19:4-6) confirming the teaching of Genesis 1 and 2.

Men and women are made differently in body and mind and were meant to complement each other, with different combinations of weaknesses and strengths. They should maintain their distinctiveness rather than trying to trying to be the same as the other sex. But we should remember that submission (humility) is a Christian duty for all (v21, 1Peter 5:5).

The distinction in marriage is expressed in the words ‘headship’ and ‘submission’. But this doesn’t mean ‘subjection’ or ‘subjugation’ although these words described the 1st century situation. When we see what Paul means by this from the way he explains it in Ephesians 5 we see how radically he was coming against the current mindset in favour of women’s status. For Paul used the example of the loving headship of Jesus Christ over His Bride, the Church, as the model for all christian husbands (v23). The term headship brings into play the analogy of the relationship between head and body. Paul already described this for Christ and the Church as a headship of care (not dominance) producing health and growth into maturity putting the emphasis on its life-giving, saving nature (Ephesians 4:15,16). See 5:23 also. Likewise the wife’s submission is like the Church’s submission to Christ (v24) - a voluntary, free, trusting acceptance of and response to his care, provision and protection. As she submits to his loving leadership her womanhood is enriched. No-one should submit to domination. 

Verses 25-33 give the duty of husbands. If the wife’s duty seems hard, the husband’s seems harder. His duty is to love (‘agape’) his wife as Christ does the Church (v25-33). Three times he is told to model his behaviour on Christ’s (v23,25,29). See Mark 2:18-20, John 3:29, 2Cor 11:1-3, Rev 19:6-9, 21:2,9 for more of this analogy.

In v25-27 we see the heights of romantic love as Christ’s sacrificial, steadfast covenant-love for His Bride is elaborated for husbands to imitate: 

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also

(1) loved the Church (foreknowledge: His eternal choice to set His love upon her)

and (2) gave Himself for her (dying on the Cross to redeem her to Himself) 

that (3) having cleansed her (by regeneration) with the washing of water by the word (having called her, wooing and winning her, by His gospel-promise of eternal redeeming love for her), 

(4) He might (continue to) sanctify her (His present ongoing work bringing His Bride to perfection) 

so that (5) He might present her to Himself (at the rapture) a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish (with all signs and effects of the fall reversed forever).”  His love from beginning to end has purpose. It is not to crush or break her, but to serve her so she develops her full potential under God, to free her from the spots and wrinkles that mar her beauty, and to display her in her true glory. 

Thus the husband’s headship is a responsibility to love (commanded three times: v23,25,29). If he wants her to submit he should know that it is only by loving her that he will succeed. He is, like Christ, to take the initiative but not to be domineering. He is: (1) to faithfully set his unconditional love upon her, (2) to give himself for her, sacrificially if necessary, especially if she is in trouble, turmoil or weakness, (3) speaking reassuring words of love to her, cleansing her from the strife of the world, (4) encouraging her to become a stronger, better person, in her love for God and others and (5) rather than being possessive (suppressing her), he should be helping her to grow into all she is meant to be, encouraging her gifts, liberating her from all that spoils her from becoming whole and fulfilled. 

Having compared marriage to the grand vision of Christ’s love for His Bride, Paul now compares it with something more down to earth (because love has to be also down to earth and practical, working in the realities of family life. So, in v28-30, he continues to expound the husband’s care in terms of the Head-Body analogy:

“So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it”

A husband’s headship over his wife should be like his headship over his own body, which is fitting becausehusband and wife are one flesh. Both should care for each other as their own bodies. It is natural for a head to love its body for it is really loving itself. It shows its love in small, caring ways. He uses this analogy to point out that love gets practical in the details of life. The body submits to the initiative of the head but the head also serves the body.

How does a head love his body? He watches out for it, feeds, tends it, protects it, listens to its signals. Your body sends signals all the time: “I’m hurting - comfort me’, ‘I’m hungry - feed me’, ‘I need your attention’. The head hears and responds at once, as a good husband learns to listen for his wife’s signals, as Christ our Head does when we pray. She should not have to trumpet her needs. Men can be thick, so Peter says you have to train yourself to understand her (1Peter 3:7). If you ignore the little signals you’ll soon get some sharp pains coming through! When man loves his wife, he is loving himself because they are one flesh. The best thing a man can do for himself is love his wife because she is made to respond to that.

To nourish means to feed (provide for) her physically, emotionally (with loving words), and spiritually (with words of faith). To cherish means to give affectionate, tender care, clothing and protection (as for something precious and fragile). This includes providing for her needs, lifting heavy things, good manners, opening doors, helping keep a clean place etc. 

The two analogies to marriage (Christ-Bride and Head-Body) are now fused into one, with Christ’s love set forth as our supreme example also in the Head-Body analogy, for His Bride is also His Body, and we are now united forever to Him, as a Body to its Head: “just as the Lord does the Church - for we are members of His Body (‘of His flesh and of His bones’- Genesis 2:23).” This means He nourishes and cherishes us, caring about all our needs, pains, hurts, hopes and desires. 

Paul now quotes from Genesis 2:24, the foundational verse for marriage, to establish the ‘one-flesh’ nature of the marriage-union and how it is established: "For this reason a man shall (1) leave his father and mother and (2) be joined (glued) to his wife, and (3) the two shall become one flesh” (v31). In other words: (1) LEAVE, (2) CLEAVE and (3) WEAVE!  Marriage is summarised here.

To work, it must become top priority, requiring a higher loyalty, even above ‘parent-offspring’ relationships because it is, by its ‘one-flesh’ nature, a much closer union. They must (1) physically LEAVE their parents’ home, spiritually leave their umbrella of authority and emotionally leave as far as any dependance is concerned, in order to (2) CLEAVE to each other (increasing the closeness of 
the union, of their personalities as well as physically).This means putting their union first, working on making it strong on every level (spirit, soul and body), especially early on (the Law made special provision for the first year of marriage). If they do not ‘leave’ their parents, they hurt the marriage, for they are not ‘forsaking all others.’ Your first loyalty is now to your mate. You respect but you don’t obey your parents now. The process of coming together will involve pain anyway but if the (1) Commitment and (2) Communication is not there, it will be terrible. (3) The result is a ‘one-flesh’ union of body and soul.  Both keep their individuality but also a new entity (one-flesh) is produced - thus sex outside marriage is destructive for the ‘one-flesh’ produced undermines your marriage union.

As Paul describes the marriage-union, he knows it is a picture of Christ and the Church and he is amazed that we are brought into such intimate union with Christ: “This is a great Mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church”(v32). The existance and nature of the Church as Christ’s Body and Bride is one of the New Testament Mysteries (Eph 3:1-6). The greatest thing is Christ and the Church but they are also a model for marriage. A Christian marriage should proclaim the love of Christ (going beyond even a good secular one).

Finally Paul brings the focus back on husbands and wives summarising his challenge for them (v33): “Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects (lit: ‘fears’) her husband.” Notice effort is required, it’s not automatic. He must show Christ-like love and she responds by respecting his loving leadership and not undermining it or usurping it as the Church responds to Christ’s love. She is to see the authority 
of Christ on him and submit to that and thus in this way she is ultimately submitting to Christ.

Although ‘love’ and ‘submit’ sound like different duties, they are both aspects of love. Both mean to ‘give oneself up for somebody’ in recognition of their worth, by selfless self-giving, that they might be made whole, as Christ gave Himself up for the Church. This is love of the gospel and the kind of love needed for the foundation of a marriage.



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