The first time I taught on Ephesians 5:22-33 was in a high school class, exactly eight days after my wife Jess and I got married. It was our first Sunday back with the church after our honeymoon, and as a class we had been studying through Ephesians together. In God’s humorous, sovereign wisdom, it just so happened that this passage on marriage was next up in the book. As I was looking back on my old notes recently, I was comforted to find that if I taught the same thing today, I wouldn’t change a word. Scripture is God’s Word, no matter how much or how little experience you have with what it’s talking about.
This passage in Ephesians contains one of the more controversial biblical teachings in modern times. The controversy stems from the way husbands and wives are instructed to relate to each other in marriage, filling different roles as a representation of the gospel. The apostle Paul begins by addressing wives…
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:22-24)
Some would argue that these words, which Paul wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, are demeaning to women. I disagree. They can be challenging to live out in many situations, but they aren’t demeaning. In fact, by equating a wife’s role to that of the Church, Christ’s bride, Paul is actually exalting women. What better way to demonstrate the high value of a wife than by equating her with the dearly beloved bride of our Savior? The bride who is wholly treasured, cherished, committed to, and eternally loved. This is who wives are called to represent.
The exaltation of wives is also made enormously evident in the commands given to husbands. Paul commands husbands in verse 25, “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” Husbands are called to give themselves up for their wives, to love them unconditionally and sacrificially. God clearly has a very high view of wives.
Wives, submission doesn’t in any way mean that your husband is lord of your life. Christ is Lord. But it does mean supporting your husband even when you disagree with him. It means being on his side, being his partner. No matter what you may face in life, you’re called to face it together, as a team.
Submission can seem impossible when your husband isn’t loving you biblically. That’s why it’s so important for your primary source of love and affection to be Christ. He will love you always, perfectly, no matter what. And you can draw strength from that love.
Now husbands, what does Paul say to you (and me)?
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…husbands should love their 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, just as Christ does the church (Ephesians 5:25,28-29)
Husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church. This command holds true unconditionally, in all situations, and is not at all dependent on whether a wife submits to her husband.
We all know from experience that short bursts of radical love are not that difficult to pull off, but to consistently put someone else before yourself is hard. This is especially true in a situation where a wife may not submit to, respect, or support you. This is still no excuse to stop loving lavishly, because a husband’s model, Christ, faced all of this trouble and more, yet His love never wavered.
John MacArthur writes, “When Christ came to earth in human form, He knew that He came to be mocked, ridiculed, maligned, rejected, beaten, and crucified. He knew from eternity past what would be demanded of His eternal love.”
Does any husband have it this bad? Absolutely not, so we have no excuse to stop loving. There’s no “out” if our marriage is hard.
Christ has never acted selfishly toward the church, He has only loved, nourished, cherished, treasured, and sacrificed for her. He has never stopped loving us perfectly.
Christ not only set husbands the perfect example of love, but He also gave us His Spirit so that, through His work within us, we have the power to love in this way also. Through the supreme, limitless power of Jesus we can glorify God in this charge He’s given us.
None of us is perfect in these areas, but by the grace and power of God our marriages can display the beauty of the gospel as we each love and submit to Him.