As a women who grew up with parents who separated which brought on some pretty heart-wrenching experiences, it’s tough to write about this. However, I have found this study helpful as my husband and I write a new chapter of marriage into the heritage of my family. And I hope its helpful for you also.
Although my example of marriage growing up was not God’s design, by God’s grace I have been able to learn about marriage in His word. And so it is here that we must sit and learn. And I want to begin with the way His graciousness is revealed in the beauty of His design for marriage.
But first things first. To start I have to not that the church and the family are two institutions that have been established by God to relate to each other like no other. And marriage is a model of Christ and the church. And this is important to note because Christ’s relationship to the church was established through grace. And this should be how a marriage also operates. In order to reflect Christ and His bride (the church) our marriages must be sustained by grace.
We see this beautiful gracious language in the verses that are directly before the verses we will be looking at. So let’s begin there, because they’re the light that illuminate what we will be spending most of our time in here.
In Ephesians 5 before it gets to the marriage part in vs 22, Paul is just encouraging the Christian in common godliness. Men and women. And at the end of vs 18 it says…
Be filled with the Spirit,
And that’s the banner in which we read the rest, that says…
Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Do you see the light of those words? What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? Psalms, hymns, singing, giving thanks always to Christ and by submitting to one another out of reverence to Christ.
In other words there is a mutual submission necessary for human flourishing. And the verses that are reserved for marriage should be read in light of that verse. So now let’s continue to Ephesians 5:22-33.
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. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way 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, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Christ and His bride (us, the church) and husbands and wives are written in relationship with each other in an extremely important way.
Now in the church, Christ is seeking the transformation of his bride into something morally and spiritually beautiful. He wants us, His bride to be transformed. And he sought it at the cost of his own life. So let’s think for a moment about the implications of this passage on how a husband thinks and acts towards his wife.
Christ died to make His bride holy. So how ought a man love his wife?
John Piper said it like this, “The husband is like Christ, which means he is not Christ. Verse 23 says… “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.” The word as does not mean that the husband is like Christ in every way. The husband is finite in strength, not omnipotent like Christ. The husband is finite and fallible in wisdom, not all-wise like Christ. The husband is sinful, not perfect like Christ. Therefore, husbands dare not assume they are infallible.”
“Similarly, the wife’s submission to the husband in verse 22 is not identical to her submission to Christ. It is like it. When it says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord,” the word as does not mean that Christ and the husband are the same. Christ is supreme, the husband is not. Her allegiance is to Christ first, not first to her husband. The analogy only works if the woman submits to Christ absolutely, not to the husband absolutely. Then she will be in a position to submit to the husband without committing treason or idolatry against Christ.”
Which means men are not being given permission in this text to Lord power over his wife. In fact he is being told to come under his wife as a servant who cares about her and her soul. His love for her should be one of self-sacrifice.
Because this is how Christ loves. This is also how a husband should love.
There are men who use Gods Words on wives submission as a rod for abuse. They pervert the Word of God by doing so and intentionally neglect verse 25, Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, and verse 28, In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
A man who loves his wife as his own body, does not harm or hurt her. He protects and leads her with love. And a women who loves Christ above all things, will respect her husband and follow his lead.
And as wives we should desire to be lead in love by our husbands. We should actually desire that. And we should encourage Christ-like leadership from our husbands in the home. Just as Adam was supposed to lead Eve morally and spiritually in the garden and how Christ is the moral and spiritual leader of the church, so ought the husband be the moral and spiritual leaders in the home.
But you may be wondering though…”that all seems well and good, but what about those of us who have husbands who are not natural leaders?” Which certainly exists. There are some of us women who are just more naturally inclined towards leadership and usually that attracts more mild-mannered men.
And that’s ok. There is actually nothing wrong with this. So let’s get really practical.
I know a couple where this is the case. These are dear friends of mine, and they want to honor God in their relationship and family life. And when they were just husband and wife, husband would initiate prayer times with his wife, and he would pray but she would end up praying longer. He would initiate Bible studies together and they would study and she would have far more to say about it as he processed internally. And now they have kids, so when it comes to family devotions, dad calls the kids to attention tells them it’s time to sit together and do devotions and then he passes it off to mom as she leads the family in a bible study.
They’re together, and there using their gifts and exercising their roles.
You see there is a lot of nuance to the practical out-working of this. And there’s a lot of grace for us to work it out in our own way. It’s not as rigid as it may initially seem.
The point is that we should desire to live out God’s design and honor His Word.
The big idea here is that God designed marriage to glorify Him. He is glorified as the husband and wife mirror Christ’s relationship with the church. And that’s what matter most.
The world is watching how Christians do marriage. And I don’t say this to scare us. But to remind us that the way we operate in our marriage either represents Christ’s love or it doesn’t.
You may have heard of the story of Robertson Mcquilkin. I love this story and I love this man, because he is an excellent example of loving his wife like Christ loves the church.
He stepped down from his role as president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary early. He retired early when his wife Muriel was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He wrote about his decision to resign in Christianity Today saying this…
When the time came, the decision was firm. It took no great calculation. It was a matter of integrity. Had I not promised, 42 years before, “in sickness and in health . . . till death do us part”? This was no grim duty to which I stoically resigned, however. It was only fair. She had, after all, cared for me for almost four decades with marvelous devotion; now it was my turn. And such a partner she was! If I took care of her for 40 years, I would never be out of her debt.
This is the action of a man who had taken the large order that God gave him to love his wife as Christ loves the church and said, yes Lord! And obviously his wife Muriel gave of herself selflessly in her role as wife and said yes Lord also!
Going back to the text, a godly husband’s goal in relation to his wife should be one of leading her into purity. As verse 26 says,
that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
And a man does this by serving her…and ladies he should also do it by lovingly confronting his wife when he needs to.
Honestly as I was studying this Scripture and really mulling over what it meant for me and my relationship with my husband, I was resistant to this part. Because I have a husband who does this. And I have been known to not appreciate it like I should. My husband will call me out when I need to be called out. He does it in love. But I hate to admit that I often don’t handle it well. And studying this gave me a greater appreciation for the man God gave me. Because he cares about my purity. As he should.
But its important to not that this it says the washing of water with the word, because our need for correction comes from God’s Word. This isn’t giving men the permission to correct his wife over why she isn’t keeping the house clean enough or having dinner made by a certain time. This gives men the order to seek purity in their wife – purity that comes from Scripture. Not a man’s random selfish needs.
My husband does this. He asks me things like, “How’s your relationship with Christ going?” And he usually asks me right when it’s not going great, and I don’t want to talk about it. But because he inquires we talk about it. He encourages me, and I’m better for it.
He cares about my spiritual walk.
12 years ago I made vows in front of God and my loved ones to live harmoniously with my husband. And one of the best ways we do this is by actively reminding ourselves of the seriousness of our marriage covenant.
Because that’s what it is; a covenant that represents the covenant love of God to His people. God has a covenant with His bride. Which means that it should never be broken. The culture would like for you to believe that the only thing a marriage is, is a piece of paper. And they want you to believe that because a piece of paper can easily be destroyed. And marital turmoil if it hasn’t yet happened for you, will surely come your way at some point. The question is, where will you run? To the culture or to Gods word?
In verse 31 Paul quotes Genesis 2:24, giving weight to his words on the importance of this covenant. Jesus also quoted Genesis 2:24 in Matthew 19 when the Pharisee’s tried to trick him by asking if divorce is permittable and Jesus answered by saying this…
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
In other words, breaking a marriage is like trying to rip a body in half, because two have become one. And trying to rip one in half, shouldn’t be done. Marriage was created in the garden, pre-fall. It was designed by God for our good.
And the marriage covenant is a serious thing. We can’t follow the trend of the culture by thinking otherwise.
If you are in a place within your marriage where this seems like an order too tall for you to manage. Let me encourage you and tell say that…it is. It is too tall an order. For me and for you. Particularly if you find yourself in a marriage with a man who does not exhibit this kind of self-sacrificing, godly leadership in the home that Ephesians speaks about. And if that is your story I ask you to hang on. Not to some romantic movie idea of what this should look like. Hold on to Christ.
If you’re in danger, remove yourself and let your church or somebody you trust know, because we are not condoning that, nor does Scripture.
But if you’re not in danger but experiencing challenge in regards to living out this call of marriage, let me remind you that we all need Christ to be at the center. We can’t do it without him. If you could do this all in your own strength it wouldn’t be a command of the Lord.
And all of God’s commands are hard. Taking up our cross and follow Him isn’t an easy command. Neither is loving our irritating neighbor. If its easy, it’s not a command.
But this is why Philippians 4:13 means so much to the Christian man and woman.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Because this is the promise to go along with all of Gods hard commands. We often think it goes along with all of our selfish desires, but that’s not what it’s for. It’s a promise that helps us while we’re in the fire.
And so, we need to rely on God in this big task. We need Christ to strengthen us as we attempt to submit to our husbands in all godliness. This is a not a just “suck it up and try harder” command, this is an, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me command.
Paul fully admits that everything he says about marriage is a mystery. And he is right. It sure is a mystery that God would do it this way. And yet remember the beauty of the first verses we read? We ought to do this by the power of the Holy Spirit, out of thankfulness to Christ, in mutual submission and common godliness with one another.
Gods way is the best way. And we must trust that He knows what he’s doing.
So ask yourself these questions, am I operating as Scripture tells me I should in my marriage? Am I doing so in obedience to Christ? And is my marriage being sustained by the grace of Christ that was bought at the price of His death?
Are we the mirror of this kind of gospel-love?
Pray that you be gospel-mirrors to a watching world.