Author: Ron Graham
A verse by verse study of Ephesians 5:22-33, about the ideal and godly relationship between husband and wife.
In the last part of chapter 5, Paul begins to write about the Christian household. Later, in chapter 6 he writes about parents and their children, and about slavemasters and their slaves. But here in chapter 5, Paul writes about the marital relationship.
¶“22Women, submit to your own men, as to the Lord. 23The husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of his called out people. He himself is the Savior of that body. 24Just as the called out people submit to Christ, so also wives should fully submit to their husbands.” (Ephesians 5:22-24).
Women do not have to submit to men in general, but only to their “own men” —their husbands in marriage. Paul likens this relationship to Christ’s headship of his “bride”. The wife’s submission should be complete. Paul uses the words, “in everything”. If she surrenders to Christ as the Shepherd, King, and Cornerstone, so she should surrender to her husband’s leadership.
Of course this doesn't mean she has no mind of her own, cannot make her own decisions, and has no say in the household. The “virtuous wife” (Proverbs 33:10-31) was no mindless creature without her own authority and responsibility.
If a woman is going to put herself in subjection to a man, that man must be trustworthy as Christ is trustworthy. But he must be more than that. He must sacrifice himself and put his wife before himself in the spirit of Christ’s sacrifice.
¶“25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the called out people. He gave himself up for them, 26to dedicate them. He cleansed them by the washing of water in the word. 27He did this to present to himself a called out people most beautiful, free of spot or wrinkle or any such blemish, holy and blameless. 28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:25-28).
The basis of a marriage is not a woman’s submission to her husband. The basis is the husband’s loving selflessness. He must make every necessary sacrifice for his wife’s wellbeing. He cannot put his own personal interests first. His duty is to his wife, to his family, and to his household.
You might say, “Well that sounds like the husband is submitting to his wife, not the other way round”. Listen! Paul said that the wife must submit to her husband. But where did he say that a husband must not submit to his wife? In fact, Paul prefaced all this by saying, "Submit to one another" (Ephesians 5:21).
So when a wife submits to her husband, that does not prevent him from submitting to her. A husband and wife can, and should, submit to one another. The wife submits to the husband by respecting his leadership and obeying him. The husband submits to his wife by giving himself up for her.
Paul now continues to compare the husband’s relationship to his wife with Christ’s relationship to his bride. The bride of Christ is his body of called out people. Paul also brings Adam and Eve into the picture.
¶“29For we have never hated own flesh. Rather, we nurture and nourish it, just as Christ does his called out people 30who are members of his body, of his flesh and bones. 31'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' 32This mystery is great. I speak of Christ and the church 33But I say also, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Ephesians 5:29-33).
Adam said of Eve, "This woman is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Genesis 2:23). From Adam’s body, by a sacrifice, Eve’s body was made, and they became one flesh. All human bodies are inherited from Adam and Eve’s. By joining in marriage, a man and his bride become one flesh in the likeness of Adam and Eve.
Paul sees a certain analogy here with Christ and the sacrifice of his flesh and blood. This made it possible for him to have a “bride” —the body of people whom he has called out and made holy. From Christ’ body, by a sacrifice, the body of his “bride” was made.
Paul is talking about mysterious things here, and he admits as much. But the point he is making is quite clear and simple. A husband should love his wife as himself, because in a sense she is himself, made so by his sacrifice of himself in dedication to her.