Commentary on Ephesians, 5:22-33

Ephesians 5:22-33

“21 submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.
22 Wives, be in submission to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church, He Himself the Savior of the body.
24 But as the church submits to Christ, so too the wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.
25 husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved he church, and gave Himself up for it.”

We now come to the husband and wife relationship. Paul is still dealing with the subject of submission that he began in verse 21. There is a certain way we’re to submit to one another as Christians, and there is an even further way that wives are to submit to their husbands. This matter of the wife’s submission to the husband has created no small stir among Christians, especially among new Christians, who have been indoctrinated into society’s viewpoint about total equality among men and women and husband and wives. Therefore, this can be a very touchy subject if it’s not dealt with properly.
Wives are to submit to their husbands as they would to Jesus. Not that husbands have the same place of authority as our Lord and Master. That’s a point that needs to be made very clear. Though the husband is the head of the wife, he is not the wife’s master. It’s not a master/servant type of relationship. Because of improper teaching on this subject, there are Christian husbands who do look at his relationship with his wife in such a manner, but such overreaching of this idea of submission will lead to real problems in the marital relationship. If men start ordering their wives around as they would servants or employees, they may have a very short marriage.

The husband and wife relationship is like no other. They are one in the eyes of God. They have a union with each other that they don’t have with anyone else. So in the matter of submission, it’s not going to be the same as it is between the master and servant/employee, or the parent and child. Marriage is a unique relationship and must be treated as such when dealing with this subject.

That said, there is nevertheless a proper order. Christ is the head of the Church, and the husband is head of the wife. First and primarily, the husband is the spiritual leader of the wife. As Christ is the spiritual leader of the Church, so is the husband the spiritual leader of the home. He is the one who is responsible for leading the family in the ways of the Lord. The husband has the ultimate responsibility of hearing from God and leading his wife and family according to the will of God. Thus the wife is to follow the husband’s lead as he believes the Lord is leading him.

However, husbands are to “love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.” That’s a tall order, but the husband is to follow the example of Christ and strive to love his wife in the same selfless and sacrificial way that Christ did the Church when He left His throne in glory and died on the cross for the sins of the world as Ruler of the universe. 

If husbands are loving their wives in the way they should be, then they’ll have no trouble with their wives following their lead. Husbands are to love their wives according to how their wives need to be loved. Women are responders. They respond to the kind of love that is sincere and tender and kind and thoughtful. In loving our wives as Christian husbands, we’re to put the needs and interests and welfare of our wives ahead of our own. We’re to make them feel like the most valued person on earth. When the wife experiences that kind of love, they will follow us anywhere!

Though husbands are to be the spiritual leaders of the home and following the lead of the Lord, loving husbands will discuss all things with their wives. We’re to value their opinion, and to give worth to the wisdom and intellect and understanding that the Lord has blessed them with. If we shut ourselves off from our wives point of view, something will shut off within them. They need to see that they matter, that what they think and feel about things matter. Our wives need to know that we regard them as true partners in our marriage, and that we’re not just sitting on a throne and ruling as their king. There’s only one King that is to rule our homes, and that’s the Lord Jesus Christ.

“26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
27 that He might present the church to Himself as glorious, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she may be holy and without blemish.
28 In like manner ought husbands to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself, 
29 for no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and affectionately cares for it, even as Christ also does the church, 
30 for we are members of His body.”

Jesus gave Himself for the Church in order to sanctify (to set apart as holy) and cleanse her. He did this through His death and resurrection. But notice that the Word is involved. Apart from the message of Christ, the Word of God, there is no sanctifying or cleansing. We know the truth through the preaching of God’s Word. Apart from the Word of God, there is no forgiveness of sins. 

Therefore, in like manner, the husband is to teach the Word of God in order to provide cleansing and spiritual “nourishment.” It’s our duty as Christian husbands to be diligent students of the Word of God, and to lead in teaching our wives and children. The Word of God has a cleansing effect. It purifies our lives. Thus the husband is to take seriously his role as spiritual leader and provide instruction to his wife in order to present to himself a wife that is “glorious, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she may be holy and without blemish.”

We’re to love our wives as we love ourselves. That means we’re to care for our wives and provide as though we’re taking care of ourselves, as though we were living on our own and our single focus is our own well-being. It’s a process that takes time, but we husbands are to learn to understand our wives; we’re to learn all the ways in which they need to be loved. It’s not enough to love our wives according to the ways we want to love them, because those may not be the ways that make them feel loved. We must learn their love language, and love them according to how they want and need to be loved. We must be very sensitive to that.

While some wives may love getting flowers, and they feel loved when they do, for other wives it may not do a thing for them. So it’s important that we learn how our wives are wired, to learn what sort of things touch their hearts and make their faces light up. They’ll respond to us when they can see that we have given such value to them and to our marriages.

“31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.
32 This is a great mystery, but I am referring to Christ and the church.
33 Nonetheless, each one is to thus love his own wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.”

As the Church is one with Christ, so are husbands and wives one with each other. We have a special relationship, a special unity that is unlike any other, and it’s to remain unbroken, just as the union between the Christ and the Church will never be broken. The Christian marriage is a picture of our marriage to Christ, and is to be a testimony to the world. Where marriages of non-Christians are crumbling all around us, our marriages are to be healthy and remain intact, serving as examples of the power of Christ in our lives and in our home. The world needs to see that Christ makes a difference. It’s sad when Christian marriages are no better than the marriages of those without Christ. It’s a disgrace, and a dishonor to His holy name.

Most of this instruction is to the husband, and for good reason. They’re to take the lead, and as they do, the wives will respond and follow. They have the primary responsibility for the success of the marital relationship. However, wives are not exempt from responsibility. She too is to love her husband (Tit 2:4) and to give him the proper “respect. This respect is to be given regardless of whether her husband is fulfilling his role. However, it’s a whole lot easier if the husband is loving and leading as he should. 

In respecting her husband, the wife is to yield to his rightful place of honor as the spiritual leader of the home. She’s to follow as he follows the will of the Lord. What if a wife doesn’t have a Christian husband? Or what if her Christian husband isn’t loving and leading as he should? She’s still to give him the same honor that God has given to him. However, she’s not obligated to follow if her husband is leading her or encouraging her or instructing her to do things that are against the will of God. That’s where the line has been drawn.

It’s important to mention, that while this passage provides some clear instruction for marriage, we must realize that the whole Bible serves as a marriage manual. Wherever the Bible gives instruction about dealing with others, loving others, yielding to others as being more important, each one of us are to apply those things to our marriages. We’re all on equal ground in that regard. As followers of Christ, our lives are to be characterized by His character. We’re to be characterized by His love and His humility and His kindness and His gracious manner. Let’s keep that in mind as we seek to be the husbands and wives that God has ordained us to be.