22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: 30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. 31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.Ephesians 5:22-33, KJV
Imperatives and Indicatives
Do you like to be the recipient of commands? No? The overwhelming majority of people don’t either. Despite that obvious truth, Paul persists in providing ample authoritative imperatives to his audience. How do we feel about this? Before we answer that, consider who Paul is. Paul is a messenger personally sent by the risen Christ and invested with authority. The Westminster Bible Dictionary says, “(The Apostles) were infallibly inspired to expound the Old Testament and to give forth the revelation of the New. Our Lord promised to ‘teach them all things;’ to ‘bring all things to their remembrance’ (John 14:26); to ‘guide them into all truth;’ and to ‘show them things to come’ (John 16:13). Their word, therefore, was to be received, ‘not as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the word of God’ (1 Thess. 2:13).” So then, Paul’s commands in his letter to the Ephesians are binding upon all Christians because they are in fact the very words of God.
Let’s answer those questions we skipped earlier. How do we feel about Paul’s persistent authoritative commands? We should feel loved, thankful, humble, and driven. That would at least be a decent start. Think about the grace of God given to us. The Spirit of God carried along the apostle to instruct us in godliness. These commands are the Words of the Lord. How do we feel about the commands of God given to us through His apostle? Do we feel like we ought to obey them? Yes? Good.
Gospel Imperatives for Wives…
There are two commands for wives in our passage from Ephesians 5 that we will briefly touch upon. “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands…” (Eph 5:22) is the first. The second command is to “see that she reverence her husband. (Ephesians 5:33)” These two can and, in my opinion, should be considered as one command given twice for emphasis. Wives are commanded to submit/reverence their husbands, but why? That is a fine question.
Let’s remember Paul gives this obligation for wives to submit to their own husbands as a natural outgrowth of his emphasis upon “walking as dear children of God” who submit to their Lord. As “dear children” we are also meant to become one unified congregation that is submitting to one another. So then, this command for wives to submit is analogous to the way the church ought to submit to Christ. What if we, as American-Christians, have been so bothered by the term “submit” that we have become petulant children instead of “dear children”. Is it possible that we are so impatient and unwilling to truly hear God’s words, missing the heartbeat of the text, because we are triggered by a single word?
What does “submission” entail? Submission is like a diamond that ought to be looked at from multiple angles to appreciate its beauty. We won’t even come close to exploring all that we could learn, but let’s begin with receiving love. Have you ever tried to love someone who refused to accept your affection? Heartbreaking right? That heartbreak is because someone would not submit themselves to your offer of love. A person who is heard-hearted is a person unwilling to submit and they will, therefore, miss the beauty of the love being offered to them. Let’s apply this aspect of submission to our marriages.
Imagine yourself as an objective observer who is seeing and hearing an interaction between a husband and wife. There is clearly tension, but we are unsure what has caused it. The husband is trying to express his love through kind words as he gently tries to bring her close to him for an embrace. The wife is clearly refusing to accept this interaction. Why? We don’t know, and it’s not particularly important for my point. In this scene, the wife is not accepting love being offered. She’s not submitting at the moment. Do healthy marriages have these kinds of moments? Yes. Do these kinds of moments accurately characterize a healthy marriage? No. Healthy marriages receive love instead of repelling it. So then, submission is actually a key ingredient in every healthy marriage. We all have choices to make, and our marriages will live or die on those choices. So then, if our marriages will work, then we must submit to one another. Wives submit to your own husbands is a command given to help your marriage and glorify God through picturing Christ and His church.
Gospel Imperatives for Husbands…
The single command for husbands that I want to focus upon in Ephesians 5 is “love your wives” (Eph 5:25). What should that look like? Paul answers that question with the good news of Jesus Christ. Husbands, love your wives like Jesus loved the church through His sacrificial death and sanctifying resurrected life.
Let’s take a step back and reconsider the connection between submission and love. When Jesus gave Himself upon the cross for our redemption, was He submitting in love? Yes. Jesus was not submitting to His church, but for His church. Jesus was submitting to the Father. Jesus was leading His church by loving them through His voluntary act of submission for their sanctification and joy. That is the picture of love that husbands are commanded to model themselves after. A Husband ought to lead His wife by way of submitting himself for her. Husbands lead in the marriage, but not leadership learned from our culture. Husbands ought to lead their wives like Jesus leads His church into joy, comfort, and peace.
Should husbands also submit? Yes. Their love is submission. Marriage is a relationship that requires submission from both husband and wife. The husband has a role, and the wife has a role. These two roles are different in form or method, but not different in substance. The substance of their roles is submission. The method of the husband’s submission is sacrificially laying down his life for the benefit of his wife. The method of the wife’s submission is receiving that love and following after his love for the benefit of her husband. This is an essential part of how marriages, according to the Ephesian letter, simultaneously benefit themselves and glorify God. If we refuse to obey Ephesians 5 in method or substance, we will inevitably experience deterioration in our marriages.
Three Pastoral Tips…
I want to talk briefly about three subjects; identity, actions, and reconciliation. This section in Ephesians 5 is really all about Christ and His church. The imperatives that Paul lays down are natural consequences of the gospel. The gospel creates a congregation (church) and the gospel has natural consequences for individual believer’s lives. Paul, through the Holy Spirit, highlighted marriage as a potent example of how the gospel works out in practical life.
Only Jesus is Jesus.
Are you totally blown away with that nugget of wisdom? No, of course not. “Only Jesus is Jesus” does not strike us as a groundbreaking statement, and it shouldn’t. However, there is a temptation for us to try and make our spouse into a savior. For example, have you ever heard that famous movie line from Jerry McGuire? “You complete me”. That sentiment, even if not always quoted exactly, is the pervading idea of what marriage is meant to be. As romantic as it might sound, some people are really saying; “My spouse will make me whole” or, “My spouse will save me from my loneliness”, or “My spouse will fulfill me.” The sad reality is that your spouse could never save you, complete you, or fulfill you. Your spouse wasn’t created for that purpose. Jesus is the only Saviour in whom we find our purpose, our true identity, and wholeness.
I’m Kinda Like Jesus.
There are two roles to play in every marriage. One role is the wife and the other role is the husband. Both roles are different from one another, but they both act like Jesus in differing ways. The wife’s role in submission does look like Jesus as He submitted to His Father. The husband’s role in sacrifice does look like Jesus as He lay down His life for His church. Both roles are beautiful and necessary.
I’m Kinda Not Like Jesus.
At this point, you might be thinking that I am trying to say the most obvious things I can. That is partially true. From time to time, we all are in need of being reminded of what we already know. You and I are not like Jesus in one undeniable way. We are sinners and He is not. Jesus never needs to repent, and Jesus does not ask us to forgive Him. As a husband, I need to repent and ask for my wife’s forgiveness often. As a wife, she does the same. Why? Jayme and I are not as much like Jesus as we wish we were. We are both works in progress, like you too. When true repentance and real forgiveness are freely given and mutually received, marriage becomes a beautiful and living example of God’s grace. Marriage is a gift from God that requires submission on both ends as a natural consequence of the gospel at work in and through our lives for God’s glory and our good.
Soli Des Gloria.