By Simon Presland
God intended marriage to be a joyous and sacred union for all couples, but even more so for Christians. For believers, marriage is a representation of Christ’s relationship to the church—he is our husband and we are his bride. We also know that maintaining a “heavenly” marriage requires work, and the work required is to understand and apply God’s Word.
The Bible has much to say about marriage. Probably the most powerful verses—and ones that are often used as ammunition in marital strife—are found in Ephesians 5:21-32. Let’s take a look at these and see how God intended them to keep a marriage focused on him.
When reading Scripture, we must remember the writers never used chapter and verse references; they simply wrote one long letter. This is important because in the Ephesians 5 passage Paul first established the principle of mutual submission before giving guidance about marriage. He states in verse 21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Therefore, mutual submission should be practiced by all—husbands and wives—and we must do so out of love for our Savior. Mutual submission involves serving one another, which is a pattern Jesus modeled at the last supper with his disciples (see John 13:1-20). It is also the model we are to follow today.
Christ never displayed a domineering attitude, nor did he lord his “headship” over those with him. He held his followers only to the highest standard of all, that of loving one another. Where there is mutual submission, the responsibilities in any relationship—but especially in marriage—will be performed in mutually edifying ways.
Words to Husbands
Eve sinned first, then Adam. God spoke to Adam first, then Eve. This shows us God’s established order in marriage: God looks to the man first because he is God’s representative in this holy union.
In Ephesians 5 Paul wrote twice as many words to husbands about loving their wives as he wrote to women about their role in marriage. He began by declaring, “For the husband is the head of the wife” (v. 23). As the head governs the natural body, God has given men the responsibility to oversee their marriages. Paul added that man is the head, “as Christ is the head of the church.” A husband represents Christ’s authority. But this authority does not mean, “I order you to . . . .” Instead, just as Christ’s authority is a protective covering for the church, so a husband’s authority is meant to protect, nurture, and comfort his wife.
While God gives the husband leadership, he also requires sacrifice. When a husband demands that his wife submit to his rule, he is trying to control and dominate her, and she will chafe or rebel against his leadership. When these ingredients mix together, a blowout argument isn’t far behind!
Paul stated in verse 25, “Husbands, love your wives.” Why would he command this? One reason is that loving and nurturing are not natural to most men. A man naturally respects, honors, leads, and guides because these emanate from his God-created nature. Yet Christ’s love for the church is the model a man must exemplify toward his wife. This love is not a wimpy, give-into-her-every-whim appeasement. It is an act of devotion. It is a love that intentionally does what doesn’t come naturally—learning to listen; learning to understand; learning to engage in his wife’s world. How should a man love his wife? Sacrificially, by making her well-being of primary importance and caring for her as his own body.
Verse 27 tells us what happens when a man loves his wife as Christ loved the church. She becomes radiant! She glows with love toward her husband. It’s said that if you want to know the true state of a marriage, then look at a wife’s countenance when she is with her husband, and the way she does—or doesn’t—talk about him when he isn’t around.
Verses 28 and 29 remind a man that loving his wife Christ’s way is the same as loving himself. When a husband provides for his wife’s needs, he is doing what the Lord does for his church—he nourishes and cherishes, and provides safety and security that together say, “I love you.”
Words to Women
In verse 22, Paul instructed wives to submit to their husbands, which includes honoring and obeying them out of love. However, he pointed out that it must be done as unto the Lord, which means out of devotion (commitment) to God. Thus, when a wife makes a conscientious effort toward submission, she pleases God. It is easy to trust God to always do the right thing, to cover a mistake, to protect a reputation, to lead in the right direction, to make the best decisions. But husbands rarely do these things perfectly. When wives submit to their husbands as to Christ, they are trusting God to work in and through their husbands.
The Meaning of Submission
The word submission means to “come under a common mission.” When a wife submits to her husband, she does so to help accomplish a goal. In the case of marriage, the goal is a mutually satisfying relationship that reflects Christ in all areas. Submission is yielding to another’s desires without resistance. This is an attitude of the heart done willingly (while surrender is yielding to force). God never forces us to submit to him, nor should a husband force his wife to submit. Wives first submit to God by loving “the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’’ (Matthew 22:37). Love and submission to Christ open the way to love and submission toward her husband.
Submit is a verb, and submitting is a voluntary action; therefore, submission is something a wife chooses to do, and is not forced into. It is her response to being loved. This may be shocking news, but most wives want to submit to their husbands. They want their husbands to be the head of the home, and have no desire to usurp the man’s God-given position of leadership. However, problems arise when a wife is afraid to submit for at least two reasons: (1) Her husband thinks submission is a weapon to be used to pull rank when he feels challenged or threatened, and (2) He is not submitting to God in his own life.
A wife struggles to trust that her husband is hearing from God when his treatment of her doesn’t line up with what Scripture advocates. Christ doesn’t neglect, ignore, demean, or abuse the church. He doesn’t treat her rudely or disrespectfully. He isn’t arrogant or insensitive toward her. Nor does he criticize or devalue her. Rather he loves her, protects her, provides for her, and cares for her.
Paul also says, “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:24, King James Version). The word everything is not inclusive of evil things. Jesus would never ask the church to do something illegal, immoral, or unethical; nor should a husband ask such things of his wife. If he does, she is within her biblical boundaries to say no. However, even when she does not go along with his wishes, a wife must still try to maintain a godly attitude toward her husband.
A husband is the head of the marriage because he carries the weight and responsibility to love his wife. Thus he puts his wife’s interests before his own. The wife is in submission as a copilot or helpmate so that she can demonstrate her love toward her husband. Thus she puts her husband’s will before her own. In this way they meet each other’s needs and complete each other, creating a marriage that can truly be Heaven on earth.
Simon Presland is a freelance writer in Clinton Township, Michigan.
Resources to Bolster Your Marriage
Put the Seat Down by Jess MacCallum
He’s Not a Mind Reader by Brenda Garrison
That Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Jud Wilhite
Happy Spouse . . . Happy House by Pat and Ruth Williams
Find more information at: www.standardpub.com