Marriage: Concentrated Christian Submission | Ephesians 5:15-33

Last week we talked about the church as Jesus’ body. This week we’ll talk about the church as his bride from Ephesians 5:15-33.

15Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so 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. 28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30because we are members of his body. 31“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Look with me at our choices in verses 15 through 17.

15Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

We can either walk as wise or unwise. The way to walk as wise is to “understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Christians want to know what God’s will is for their lives, but often they hope to find it in a fortune cookie or a cloud formation rather than in his word. Here God gives us two specific examples of his will for us:

  1. Don’t get drunk with wine (v. 18)
  2. Be filled with the Spirit (v.18) (like a shaken Coke bottle fills with fizz)
Related:  Isaiah 9:6 | Wonderful Counselor

He then gives four examples of what being filled with the Spirit looks like in verses 19-21:

19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Spirit-filled Christians

  1. Address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs
  2. Sing and make melody to the Lord in their heart
  3. Give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ
  4. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ

MarriageI make that last point bold because it is especially important for what comes next, which is the longest explanation of marriage in the Bible.

Before we get to that, let’s sum up what we’ve seen already: Christians, instead of being foolish, understand that it is the Lord’s will for you to be filled with the Spirit, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. To submit means to purposefully rank lower than someone else. It’s what Jesus did in Philippians 2.

It’s important to hit verse 22 with the full momentum of the preceding verses, otherwise both men and women might misunderstand what God means by, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. Verses 15-20 are ladder rungs and 21 is the diving board propelling us into an extended meditation on marriage. The idea of mutual submission makes Paul think of marriage because marriage is the most concentrated form of it. In marriage, the ideal of verse 21 is distilled into its clearest form. Christian marriage is concentrated mutual submission. Verse 21 is the hinge opening verses 22 through 33. In fact, the word “submit” isn’t even in the original language in verse 22. It’s just carried over from verse 21. It looks more like, “…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives to your own husbands…”

With all this in mind, let’s look at the unique submissive roles of husbands and wives.

22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

To understand these verses we need to understand headship. God always relates to his people in covenants and every covenant has a head. The covenant head is responsible for the covenant. So, in the Adamic covenant, Adam was the head. That’s why his sin implicated the rest of us, because all of humanity is submitted to his covenant headship. Jesus is the head of the new covenant. That’s why those who enter into the new covenant are implicated in his righteousness, because all Christians are submitted to his covenant headship.

Related:  Church Obligation | Romans 15:1-7

Marriage is a covenant and like all other covenants, there is a covenant head—the husband. So, husbands, when you read, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church,” think responsibility before God. What happens in your marriage is your responsibility, even if it isn’t solely your fault. When Eve ate the fruit and gave some to Adam, who did God confront? He confronted Adam because Adam was the head (Genesis 3).

With this in mind, what exactly are wives to submit to when they are told to submit to their own husbands? Let’s look at verses 25-31 to find out:

25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so 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. 28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30because we are members of his body. 31“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

WeddingHusbands are to love their wives as Christ lived the church. It is to this sacrificial love that wives submit. The picture here is two radical forms of submission clicking together like puzzle pieces. Husbands submit to their wives in a giving way. Wives submit to their husbands in a receiving way. Husbands submit to their wives in a sacrificial way. Wives submit to their husbands in a trusting way. When one or both puzzle pieces get bent out of shape, the picture is broken.

Such submission disorders have caused virtually all the marital problems I’ve encountered at Dulin’s Grove. I’ve seen husbands fail to take responsibility and initiative, leaving the wife in a lurch. I’ve seen husbands consumed with selfishness. I’ve seen husbands dominate their wives. I’ve seen wives wrestling control from their husbands, dominating them. I’ve seen wives consumed with fear and anxiety because they don’t trust their husbands.

I’ve also seen couples straighten out their submission disorders, gaining healthy marriages. I’ve seen passive men take more initiative in decision-making and responsibility. I’ve seen women grow to trust God more deeply which translated into deeper trust for their husbands. I’ve seen domineering men grow warm and nurturing toward their wives. And in every case, I’ve seen the paradigm of Ephesians 5 to be true and beautiful. Ephesians 5 is what marriage was meant to look like.

Related:  Doctrine and Devotion

Why does it matter who gives and who receives in marriage? Because of verse 32.

32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

The Bible doesn’t use the word mystery the way we usually do, as in the old show, Unsolved Mysteries. The Bible uses the word mystery to refer to something glorious and hidden that God reveals later. For example, it was a mystery that the Gentiles would one day be invited into God’s covenant people. And here Paul states that marriage is a mystery. As a mystery, marriage’s true and deepest significance was hidden. It was thought that marriage was about husbands and wives. It turns out, marriage is about Jesus and the church.

Marriage is a miniature, a diorama of the gospel. Husbands and wives are living out daily plays depicting the relationship between Jesus and his bride, the church. Christian marriage is a living gospel presentation.

This roots marriage in something sturdier than feelings or promises. Marriage is in reverence to Christ and in reference to Christ (verses 21 and 32). Wives aren’t asked to submit to their husbands because they are so reliable but because Christ is so reliable. Husbands aren’t meant to submit to their wives because their wives are so lovely but because Christ is so lovely. Marriage isn’t primarily meant to make husbands and wives happy, but holy as they grow selfless and the gospel is more clearly displayed in the relationship.

So, Christians, be filled with the Spirit, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Spouses, embrace your unique submissive roles in marriage:

33 …let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Discussion Starters

  1. Married folks, share how your story with the group. How did you meet, etc.?
  2. Read verse 21. How does reverence for Christ motivate mutual submission among Christians?
  3. Using verses 22-33, work together to describe the husband and wife roles in marriage.
  4. How can husbands give their lives for their wives as this passage commands?
  5. How can wives honor their husbands as this passage commands?
  6. How does understanding verse 32 effect your understanding of marriage?
  7. Spend some time praying together.

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