Ephesians 5:21-33

“…submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.”

We are coming to a section of Ephesians that is hard for many in today’s world to accept. It contains the word ‘submit’. We are to submit to one another. No one likes to give up their own will and submit to someone else! So often, we skip over this passage. Or worse, it has been used to abuse. Let’s get to it!

The first thing I noticed is that in the Christian Standard Bible that I have been using, the phrase “submitting to one another in the fear of Christ” is a continuation of the previous verse where we are always giving thanks for everything to God. It is part of being filled with the Spirit and being thankful. In the NIV, it is a new sentence. It starts, “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” I like the implication of the CSB, that it is a continuation of our thankfulness, that we submit to each other out of reverence to Christ.

Paul goes on to give practical instructions for what Christian life is to look like. He has spent considerable time in the letter telling the believers how they should walk. Now he is going to show what that looks like in real life. He is going to give instructions for husbands and wives, parents and children, and slaves and masters. These were the three types of relationships that would have been found in the early church and these types of relationships, family and work, are still applicable for today.

The first thing Paul writes is “submitting to one another.” David Guzik writes in his commentary, “The motive for submission is not the law of God. The motive for submission is respect for Jesus Christ.” Paul is reminding us that in every relationship, as Christians, there is another present, our Lord Jesus Christ. So instead of thinking what I want or what you want, we must be thinking what does Christ want me to do? That is what submitting to one another in the fear of Christ looks like. And that is what all the other relationships that follow are based on.

Paul first addresses wives. He tells them that they are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. These verses have been taken to one of two extremes. One extreme says women are liberated and do not have to submit to their husbands. The other extreme says that women cannot do anything without their husband’s (or father’s) permission, including working outside the home or furthering their education.  But let’s look at this verse in the overall big picture of the Bible. We know Jesus treated women with dignity and respect. He revealed himself first as Messiah to the Samaritan woman at the well. Paul was writing a letter to the church at Galatia where he reassures them that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; once they have been baptized and clothed with Christ. So Paul does not believe that women are inferior to men as some might suggest. But just as the church is under Christ’s headship, woman is under man.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:3, “But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ.”  When Jesus came to earth as a man for his plan of redemption, he voluntarily humbled himself. Philippians 2 is a great chapter to read about this. Jesus said in John 10: 30, “I and the Father are one.” The husband is head over the wife, but they are also one according to Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:5-6. In John 5:17 Jesus says, “…My Father is still working, and I am working also.” The Father and Son work together. The husband and wife work together. I love how David Guzik puts it. “Submission means sub-mission. There is a mission for the Christian marriage, and that mission is obeying and glorifying God. The wife says ‘I’m going to put myself under that mission. That mission is more important than my individual desires’.”

Paul goes on to say “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also are wives to submit to their husbands in everything.” There are two things here I want to cover. The first one is ‘their husbands’. Notice that it says that. There are some pastors who teach that women must submit to all men. That is not what this verse says. It is not what we see in scripture. The second is wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. That’s a tough one! Yes, it does mean everything. Unless of course, it goes against God’s moral law. God is our ultimate authority and if there is ever anything that goes against God’s moral standards, that is where we would draw the line.

Now we move on to Paul’s instructions for husbands. I smile, because we make such a big deal about the three verses where the wives are told to submit to their husbands. Here, Paul has six verses of instructions for them which include loving them the same way Christ loved the church- he gave his life for us! I’d say that the wives have it pretty easy! I think that we take these verses for granted today. But when Paul wrote for husbands to love their wives, this was a big deal. In the research I could find, love did not seem to be a big part of marriage during this time. Marriages were mostly arranged and were not a matter of two people ‘being in love’. So when Paul tells the husbands to love their wives, this is something new. He tells them to love them the way Christ loved the church.

How did Christ love the church? Paul list three ways. He gave himself for her (vs. 25), he cleansed her (vs. 26), and he presented the church to himself (vs 27). Let’s look at each of these. The first is that Christ humbled himself and died on the cross for his church. We see a humble and sacrificial love. The second way he loved the church was by cleansing her with the washing of the water and the word. According to Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the New Testament, “Paul is alluding here to the image of a marital covenant that Yahweh entered with Jerusalem. The Lord told his people, ‘I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you’, declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘and you became mine. I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you … you became very beautiful and rose to be a queen’ (Ezekiel 16-8-13).” He has made us holy, set apart. It is an ongoing process of sanctification. In the same way, the husband is to love his wife so that she can fully be the person God intends for her to be. Verse 27 reads, “He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless.” Jesus is pictured here as the bridegroom and the church is the bride. Jesus did all the work. David Guzik writes in his commentary, “This means that Jesus Himself shares His prospects, His future with his bride. A Christian husband should also share his prospects and future with his wife. Even as a wife will share in the husband’s future, so we will share in the glorious future of our Lord.”

Paul wraps it up by saying that husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He also reminds his readers again of the comparison of the marriage relationship to the church. Just as the church is one unified body with Christ as the head, a husband and wife are a unified body with the husband as the head. Paul refers to the verse in Genesis where the two will become one flesh. He then goes on to say that this mystery is profound, but he is referring back to the mystery that he was writing about earlier in his letter- the unifying of the Jews and the Gentiles in one body of believers.

He ends this section on husbands and wives with this: “To sum up, each of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.” I think he ends this way because these are not easy. I think it’s easy for a for a wife to love her husband, but pride and selfishness often get in the way of submitting to him and respecting him. And while a husband can love his wife, to love her as Christ loved the church, with a humble and sacrificial love, is difficult, because again, pride and selfishness get in the way. It is important to give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. Then we can put aside our pride and selfishness and put on the new self that Paul describes earlier in the letter.

Grace be with you!


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