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Husbands and Wives

Ephesians 5:15-33

No passage in the Bible causes more dissension and confusion than this one, for it deals with the roles of husbands and wives. Our society has convinced itself that men and women are interchangeable parts. You may think that this is so; if so, it is an argument against the truth of Christianity. But the Scripture holds quite clearly to the contrary view. Men and women have differing roles in the church.

It is also quite true that the statements about those roles have suffered in past years from "scissors theology" - the cut and paste method of interpreting the Bible. For that reason, we begin with a review of Ephesians to this point, and then an introduction.


In the past lessons we have seen:

·         How Christ created the church, a mystery revealed in his time, as a new and unexpected creation.

·         How all authority in heaven and earth - and most especially in the church - is his. No one but Christ has true authority; all other authority is derived.

·         How we are all one - united - in Christ.

·         How we are each given different gifts, and different functions for those gifts.

·         Combining these, we see that (since he has all authority) we have therefore responsibilities which are commensurate with our gifts and functions.

·         How Christian conduct itself cuts across all roles (including, therefore, marriage), and in particular,

·         How the essence of Christian conduct is the imitation of God.

With these few minor points in mind, we may now take up Paul's preliminary to his remarks on marriage.


(Eph 5:15-21 NIV) Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, {16} making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. {17} Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. {18} Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. {19} Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, {20} always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. {21} Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Paul begins this section - which is, you will see, about marriage - with some preliminary remarks about the time in which they live.

·         We are to be careful how we live. In short, we are to pay attention to the times around us, and note that others may be watching.

·         We are to "redeem the time" - make the most of every opportunity. For those who are being observed, this means that we are not to miss the chance to spread the Gospel. In particular, we shall see that a goodly part of a wife's submission has to do with this.

·         He establishes (again) the idea that the joy of the Lord is to drive out carnal pleasures (the principle of replacement).

·         Finally - and this is key to our understanding his writing about husbands and wives - we are to submit to one another.

That last deserves some thought. What he is about to say to wives, and then to husbands, is nothing more than an amplification of this idea. So then, wives will submit to husbands and husbands - in a different manner, corresponding to their different role - will submit to wives.


(Eph 5:22-33 NIV) Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. {23} For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. {24} Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. {25} Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her {26} to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, {27} and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. {28} In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. {29} After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church-- {30} for we are members of his body. {31} "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." {32} This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church. {33} However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Let us begin with the wives. First, note how little of this passage is devoted to them. The reason is relatively simple. In that culture wives were expected to be submissive; Paul was just confirming what they already knew. But he does so in the sense that this is the specific case for wives of the more general "submit yourselves to one another."

Submit...as to the Lord

The phrase seems harsh to women today. Perhaps it is easier to see the meaning by seeing where else the word is used:

·         We are told to submit to our leaders

·         We are told to submit to God

·         We are told to submit to "every authority"

·         We are told that the young should submit to the old

In all these cases there is a common thread. Submission does not mean "behave like a robot." It means, rather, to render the proper respect and obedience due to the person who is in possession of derived authority. In all cases, obedience and respect is due to the person in the position. Military personnel will remember the old adage, "You salute the uniform, not the wearer." The authority is not personal; it is positional. So, for example, the idea that "women" in general must be submissive to "men" in general finds no support in this passage. (It does elsewhere, and that is another question). This passage is talking about husbands and wives. The wife is given two verbs: submit, and respect.

Why Submit?

Why would a woman submit to her husband? The Scripture gives a number of reasons:

·         God planned it that way[1] in response to sin. If you will, this is a consequence of sin. This can be seen in Christ's remark that marriage does not exist in heaven - all are one in Christ Jesus there.

·         It is so that no one will malign the word of God.[2] The principle here is that women should limit themselves in their freedom in Christ so that others will see the Gospel as a lovely thing, and be attracted to it.

·         Specifically, it is taught that by submission women might win their husbands to Christ.[3] Submission is a weapon of the Christian woman.


The Greek word used here is the root word of our term, phobia. It means a fear - however, the correct meaning of the word can be seen in this. It is used very rarely in the New Testament. The only time it appears in the Gospels is in the story of the vineyard owner. He sent his servants and then finally his son, saying that "they will respect my son." It is the same word. It therefore carries with it two implications:

·         It is respect which is due to the person, not fear of physical punishment.

·         It is sinful to deny that respect; indeed, it is a parallel to rejecting Jesus.

And that's it. Paul seems to feel that women will simply understand what he has said, and that no amplification is needed. To men, however, matters are different.


Again, please note that this is a special case of "submit yourselves to one another." Paul tells us that men are to do this by loving their wives - which is difficult. It is so easy - as we know in our age - for men to treat their wives in a second class way, as a plaything. But we are to love our wives. How?

·         As Christ loved the church. He loved the church before we were his; without conditions. We must love our wives the same way. Loving must not be an afterthought, it must be our first thought. It must not be an agreement or bargain, but unconditional love.

·         "gave himself up". He gave himself up in physical death; we must likewise be willing to die for our wives. This also implies that we must renounce our right to ourselves. He humbled himself for the sake of the church and became a servant, dying on the cross. We must imitate as best we can, no longer maintaining our rights, but rather asking our best service.

·         "to make her holy". Which implies she wasn't. There is a tremendous implication here. It is not "I will love my wife as soon as she is submissive to me" but rather "I will love my wife until she is submissive to me - and then for the rest of my life." We must be exceedingly forgiving of our wives, and tender with them. Indeed, this also implies the patience that God has shown with the church must be exemplified by the patience we show with our wives.

·         "without stain, wrinkle or blemish". Which implies she had all three. So therefore we must forgive - and work to eliminate the consequences of - her stains (sins). We must smooth out the wrinkles of care and age, lifting her up. And we must care nothing for her blemishes - which should, I think, be taken as not caring about her physical appearance. After all, the church, the bride, did not attract the groom by her spiritual loveliness.

·         "love her as your own body." Her desires should become your desires. Do you see how unthinkable adultery should be to a Christian husband? This is not your body; it is hers; you are one flesh. To consort with a prostitute is exactly equivalent to allowing your wife to become one - for your body is her body, and vice versa.

The Profound Mystery

Paul points out next that a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife. (Again, note that the woman does too - but Paul only mentions it for the man. Guess who has the greater problem here!)

·         How much do you owe your mother and father? Your father gave you life; he fed and clothed you, taught you how to be a man, protected you and housed you. Your debt to him is very great. Your mother went through the greatest of pain to give you birth, nursed you, nurtured you and taught you what to expect in a woman. Your debt to her is very great. Yet the Lord commands that you leave both for your wife. Therefore, your wife must be more precious to you than both your father and your mother - and your debt to them is great indeed. How much more, then, are you obligated to your wife, by the command of Almighty God?

·         If this were not enough, consider this: were not your mother and father happy to see you married? Despite all that they love you, despite all that you owe them, they were happy to part with you to see you married. Even those to whom you owe so great a debt consider it essential that you leave and cling to your wife, alone. Therefore, even they tell you that she is more precious to you than they are.


I leave you with the following thought.

·         Eve was taken from Adam's side. However else you might interpret the story in Genesis, it clearly means that she is flesh of his flesh. There is a picture there.

·         Consider this picture: on the cross Jesus was pierced with a spear in that same side. From that side flowed blood and water, and from that blood of sacrifice and water of baptism came the church, the bride of Christ.

·         Taken together, these two pictures tell me that God has painted, on the living canvas of our bodies, a picture of his love for the church. He is saying, "My love for you is like that of the purest husband for the purest bride." But in so saying he has defined husband and wife, as the Creator ought.

We are fond of proclaiming our rights. We do not realize that we surrendered all to Christ, and our rights are ours no more, but are in the hands of one who knows best what to do with them. We have been given our responsibilities instead, under the authority of Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands. Husbands, love your wives. Christians, submit yourselves to one another.

[1] Genesis 3:16

[2] Titus 2:5

[3] 1 Peter 3:1-6

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