Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5: 22-24)
Just as Christ is not inferior to the Father, but is the second Person in the Trinity, so wives are equal to their own husbands. Yet in a marriage relationship, a husband and wife have different roles to the Lord: A wife’s voluntary submission arises out of her own submission to Christ.
Submitting to another person is an often misunderstood concept. It does not mean becoming a doormat. Christ – at whose name “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10) – submitted His will to the Father, and we honor Christ by following His example.
When we submit to God, we become more willing to obey His command to submit to others, that is, to subordinate our rights to theirs. In a marriage relationship, both husband and wife are called to submit. For the wife, this means willingly following her husband’s leadership in Christ. For the husband, it means putting aside his own interests in order to care for his wife. Submission is rarely a problem in homes where both partners have a strong relationship with Christ and where each is concerned for the happiness of the other.
In Paul’s days, women, children, and slaves were to submit to the head of the family – slaves would submit until they were freed, male children until they grew up, and women and girls their whole lives. Paul emphasized the equality of all believers in Christ (Galatians 3:28), but he did not suggest overthrowing Roman society to achieve it. Instead, Paul counseled all believers to submit to one another by choice – wives to husbands and also husbands to wives; slaves to masters and also masters to slaves; children to parents and also parents to children. This kind of mutual submission preserves order and harmony in the family while it increases love and respect among family members.
In Depth Study —The Concept of Submission:
What kind of submission is Paul advocating in Ephesians? Some hold that Paul is speaking of mutual submission in this passage (Ephesians 5:21–6:4). They point to the phrase “submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21), as the overall theme of the verses following it (Ephesians 5:21–6:4). According to this view, husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves all submit to each other in different ways.
This passage certainly teaches a proper Christian response to each other at different levels, as the mutual submission view holds. It is clear that Paul develops two ideas side by side—submission and the appropriate response of the one to whom submission is given. But the mutual submission view does not adequately reflect the meaning of submission in Greek. The Greek term for submission has military origins, emphasizing being under the authority of another. The word does not connote a forced submission; instead it is a voluntary submission to a proper authority. Thus Paul seems to be saying that wives should voluntarily place themselves under the authority of their husbands. The same word is used to describe Christians voluntarily submitting to governmental authorities (1 Pet. 2:13) and younger people submitting to the wisdom of their elders (1 Pet. 5:5). In this passage, Paul gives the illustration of the church’s submission to Christ. After encouraging wives to submit to their husbands, Paul goes on to describe how children should obey their parents, and slaves their masters. Their subordination is described in terms of obedience, instead of in terms of voluntary submission.
But Paul’s major emphasis in this passage is not on the submission of wives, but on the duty of those who are in authority. Husbands should imitate the love of Christ. Parents should not provoke children. Masters are not to threaten their slaves. The apostle Paul argues that serving is more important than being in authority over others; Christ should be our model. Although He, as God’s Son, could demand obedience from all, He did not shrink from performing duties that were customarily the task of a servant. Jesus washed the feet of His disciples (John 13:12–16). A husband is to be a godly leader; he is to be a servant-leader. His role is to lead his wife, but to do so by taking everything about her into consideration and by using his position to give her the greatest opportunity to succeed.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own 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 the Lord does the church - for we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. (Ephesians 5: 25-30)
Some Christians have thought that Paul was negative about marriage because of the counsel he gave in 1 Corinthians 7:32-38. These verses in Ephesians, however, show a high view of marriage. Here marriage is not a practical necessity or a cure for lust, but a picture of the relationship between Christ and His church! Why the apparent difference? Paul’s counsel in 1 Corinthians was designed for a state of emergency during a time of persecution and crisis. Paul’s counsel to the Ephesians is more the Biblical ideal for marriage. Marriage, for Paul, is a holy union, a living symbol, a precious relationship that needs tender and self-sacrificing care.
Paul does not emphasize the husband’s authority; instead, he calls on husbands to love self-sacrificially. Husbands are to emulate Christ’s love, the kind of love that is willing to lay down one’s life for another person and serve that person even if it means suffering.
In Ephesians 5:26-27, Paul briefly outlines what Jesus has done for the church. First of all, Jesus loved the church so much that He was willing to suffer and die for it. His actions not only saved the church, they also sanctified it. In other words, Jesus wanted to develop the church into what it should be, the holy temple of God. Christ’s death sanctifies and cleanses the church. Jesus cleanses us from the old ways of sin and sets us apart for His special sacred service (Hebrews 10:29; 13:12). Christ cleansed the church by the “washing” of baptism. Through baptism we are prepared for entrance into the church just as ancient Near Eastern brides were prepared for marriage by a ceremonial bath. It is God’s Word that cleanses us (John17:17; Titus 3:5).
Why did Paul tell wives to submit and husbands to love? Perhaps Christian women, newly freed in Christ, found submission difficult; perhaps Christian men, used to the Roman custom of giving unlimited power to the head of the family, were not used to treating their wives with respect and love. Of course both husbands and wives should submit to each other (Ephesians 5:21), just as both should love each other. A husband who realizes that his wife is truly his own flesh will treat her with love and care.
By now you have probably noticed that Paul devoted twice as many words to telling husbands to love their wives as to telling wives to submit to their husbands. How should a man love his wife? (1) He should be willing to sacrifice everything for her. (2) He should make her well-being of primary importance. And, (3) He should care for her as he cares for his own body. No wife needs to fear submitting to a man who treats her in this way.
Husband and Wife:
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5: 31-32)
The union of husband and wife merges two persons in such a way that little can affect one without also affecting the other. Oneness in marriage does not mean losing your personality in the personality of the other. Instead, it means caring for your spouse as you care for yourself, learning to anticipate your spouses’ needs, helping the other person become all that God wants them to be.
The creation story tells of God’s plan that husband and wife shall become one flesh: Paul quotes Genesis 2:24, which teaches that the special union between husband and wife supersedes the original family ties. Jesus also referred to this plan in Matthew 19:4-6. The mystery, a sacred secret revealed, is that Christian marriage parallels the union that exists spiritually between Christ and His bride, the church (Ephesians 5:32).
Father God, it is my prayer today that if anyone is having problems with their marriage relationship, that they look into Your Holy Words for counsel. God be the Glory to all who serve and abide in the Son of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
References: NKJV Holy Bible, Life Application Bible (NIV), the Nelson Study Bible.