The message of Paul in Ephesians 4-6 is urging us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling (Ephesians 4:1). Paul taught us the new identity we have in Christ in the first three chapters of Ephesians. This new identity is to change how we live. In our last lesson we learned from Paul the necessity of looking carefully how we walk and making the best use of the time because the days are evil (5:15). Instead of wasting our time in foolish behavior and wastes of time like drunkenness, we are to be filled with the Spirit (5:18). Being filled with the Spirit is seen in people are speaking to each other in spiritual songs, giving thanks always to the Father for everything, and submitting to each other. We noted that the whole of the Christian life is submission. Jesus exemplified the submissive life. As we approach Ephesians 5:22-6:9 we are noticing what our submission to the Lord and our submission to one another looks like. Ephesians 5:21 tells us that we are to yield our will and our desires to one another. Paul is going to show us what this submission looks like in the various roles and relationships we have. As we consider these relationships that are described in this text we learn something very important before we even begin: God cares about our relationships and calls us to walk worthy in them. God cares about how we act in our homes. Walking worthy affects the home and home life is not excluded in living a Christian life.
What Paul presents in Ephesians 5:22-33 is what the marriage relationship is to look like. What Paul reveals is a beautiful picture of marriage. These directions are commands to the husband and to the wife to give themselves to each other. When we make love and marriage about the fulfillment of ourselves and the satisfaction of ourselves, we lose the vision of marriage that God has in place and begin destroying the relationship. We are wrecking the beautiful picture of a godly marriage when we seek our own desire instead of our spouse’s desire. Yielding to one another is the only way a marriage can be full of joy and be pleasing to the Lord.
To The Wives (5:22-24)
Paul begins with the wives. Walking worthy of the calling in marriage means that wives will submit to their husbands. Submission has become such an ugly word in our society today. Submission seems to conjure in our minds today the picture of being dominated and oppressed. This is not at all the meaning of the word nor the idea behind what Paul is teaching. For this reason I like to use the word “yield” to help us understand what submission looks like. Wives, I want you to consider a few things about what is being told to you to do.
Jesus is not asking you to do something that he did not do himself. Jesus submitted his will to the Father. He yielded to the interests of the Father. Wives are choosing to voluntarily comply to the leadership of the husband. Now it is important to note something right here. Husbands, this text is not talking to you. This text does not say that you make your wife submit. The scriptures do not teach that you make her yield or else there is will be consequences or punishments. This is her voluntary submission, not a husband’s forceful subjugating. I believe this has been misunderstood far too often. My father had a men’s study one time and ask the husband’s if their wives do not do as you ask, what you do you? Many of them said that you inflict some kind of punishment. Where does the text say this? If the wife is not yielding, there is nothing that you do. Those wives are accountable to God. She is volunteering in marriage to yield to the leadership of her husband. There is no husband enforcement.
Ladies, it should be your desire to submit to his will. If you do not desire to follow his leadership, then you should not marry this man. This is why the marriage decision is so important and must not be entered into lightly. The woman is willingly put herself in a vulnerable position of yielding to the husband’s leadership. Please consider that submission and yielding does not mean she is inferior. Was Christ inferior for yielding to the will of the Father? Not at all! Yielding shows strength and godly meekness. Submission should be praised not denigrated.
Notice the motivation is given by Paul in verse 22. This is your worship to the Lord. This is your service to the Lord. You are serving Christ when you yield your will to your husband. Notice verse 23 gives the reason why wives are to yield. “The husband is the head of the wife.” God created the relationship where there is one head. By God’s design the husband and wife are one flesh so as to function together under one head. They are not to be two autonomous individuals living together. The husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church. God is setting up a beautiful parallel that Paul expands upon later in this section. The marriage relationship is to be as beautiful as Christ and the church. Wives are to lovingly desire to listen and follow the leadership of her husband.
Verse 24 makes the picture even clearer. “So also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” Nothing is excluded in this picture of yielding. In all areas of your lives together, wives are to submit to their husbands. It does not matter if you do not like how he leads. It does not matter if you are unhappy with his decisions. Please read these words again: “Wives should submit in everything.” There are no exceptions. We cannot be full of excuses by we do not want to yield to his leadership. “But he doesn’t love me right.” “But he does not do this or that.” He is in sin for that but his actions do not nullify your responsibility to submit to him. You picked him by the way. So as I always say to those who I counsel for marriage, if you think he is so terrible, then it reflects on you because no one made you marry him or her. You picked him. You picked her. In marriage you are making a covenant to yield to his leadership. So choose wisely and live up to your marriage vow because you are serving the Lord in your serving and submission. By the way, this is the essence of submission. Submission means that you do not always do what you want to do. You are choosing to yield your will and desires to the will of your husband. That is a glorious display of godliness and love. I hold in high regard such women who continue to love the Lord and love their husbands even though their husband is a total clod. What a display of devotion to the Lord! Wives, your yielding to him is not conditional on him doing the right thing or making decisions that you like. Your submission is to honor and affirm your husband’s leadership and help him carry it through. The picture of Christ is not begrudging submission. Encourage his leadership. Do not undermine his leadership. Some may ask, “What if he will not lead?” Then consider what Peter taught in 1 Peter 3:1-2.
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. (1 Peter 3:1–2 ESV)
Wives, you are obeying Christ when you yield to your husband regardless of how difficult he makes it to do so. God knows your loving service to him and you will be rewarded by the Lord for serving the Lord by your yielding to your husband.
To The Husbands (5:25-31)
Husbands, walking worthy of your calling means that you will love your wives. Notice what this love looks like. Love does not simply mean having a warm feeling toward her. Husbands are to love as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Husbands are not told to rule over their wives. I think this is interesting to note. The directions are not, “Wives, submit” and “Husbands, rule.” Rather, husbands love like Christ loved. How did Christ love? Christ gave himself completely. He gave his everything. He gave up his interests, desires, and will for the church. Husbands, you are to give up your interests and your desires for the interests and desires of your wives. Everything husbands do is to be for the benefit for their wives. This is exactly how Christ loved us. He did not do what was best for him, but what was best for us. Christ desired to do this. Husbands desire to give to their wives. Husbands listen to their wives and lead so their her interests are always above his.
In the same way, there are not any loopholes. You are not allowed to stop loving her because she is not yielding to your leadership. You are not to stop loving her because she does not consider you or help you. There are no exceptions. You do not love as long as she is kind and not nagging. Remember that you picked her and you made a vow to God to love her. Christ loved when we were rebellious to his authority. Husbands must continue love their wives in all circumstances.
I want to speak about headship for a moment. Headship is not about telling others what to do. That is never directed to the husband. He is never told that he has that right at all. Rather, headship is about taking responsibility for the family. Headship is understanding that husbands are the ones accountable to God for this family. Consider Genesis 3 and the sin that occurs in the Garden of Eden. Who does God call for first? Who does God look to for the answers for what happened? Adam. You are responsible for the welfare of the family in all of its areas, most importantly spiritually. Only when you are loving Christ and pursuing Christ can husbands lead their families properly. You are not the CEO of a corporation. The more you pursue Christ, the more you will love your wife rightly and lead your family in a godly way.
Paul presses the imagery of the kind of love husbands are to have even further in verses 28-29. Husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. This means you do not hate your body but love it and cherish it. Thus, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 in verse 31. She is your body. The two of you are now one flesh. You do not lead her in a hateful way or harsh way. You cherish her like your own body because the two of you are one now. Husbands must see the marriage relationship in this way. She is your very body and must be treated with care and love.
The Beautiful Picture (5:32-33)
Verse 32 is an amazing declaration. A truly Christian marriage will mirror the relationship between Christ and the church. Paul sets before us an example for us to look to in our marriages. Look to the relationship of Christ and the church. Everything in this section of text used this image for both wives and husbands so we would know how to act properly and walk worthy of our calling in our marriages. I hope will consider what this will look like in godly marriages. Wives will yield their will and desires to the will of their husbands. She will support him and yield to him. But then think about what husbands will do. Husbands will yield their will and desires to the will of their wives. He will put her interests ahead of his own, cherishing her and caring for her ahead of himself. Both are giving themselves to each other. In doing this, the marriage is godly and beautiful.
Verse 33 offers a great summary. Men, love your wives. It does not matter if she deserves it or not. We do not deserve the love of Christ yet Christ loved us anyway. Husbands will not hurt their wives with their words or decisions. Husbands will show this love in how they lead the families and is reflected in his interests always being placed last of all. Husbands will give everything to her and for her, just as Jesus did for us. Husbands will continue to love their wives because your desire is for her well-being and your desire is to be pleasing to Christ.
Wives, respect your husbands. It does not matter if he deserves it or not. We do not deserve the love of Christ and yet Christ submitted his will to the Father for us. Wives will honor the headship that is given to the husband and help him in that role for the family. The wife will be his helper and companion. Wives will choose to respect their husbands in their words and actions. Wives will show that respect in public and in private, yielding to his best interests above your own just as Christ showed us.
When husbands love their wives like Christ and when wives submit to their husbands like Christ, the marriage will be a joyful blessing given to us by God. Each other’s needs and desires will be met by the other person when we live these words. But when we make marriage about ourselves and what we get out of it, this beautiful picture is destroyed and sinfulness rules the marriage. Consider that this is the very reason why divorce is sin. We are not thinking about our spouse but ourselves when we divorce (cf. Matthew 19:9). Walk worthy of the calling God has called you to. Live for Christ by joyously desiring to love and yielding to each other.