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19. Characteristics of a Spirit-filled Marriage

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Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33)

What are characteristics of a Spirit-filled marriage?

In Ephesians 5:18, Paul commands the Ephesians to be filled with the Spirit. This means to be controlled and empowered by the Spirit of God. This is a command for all believers of all ages. What God has called us to, he equips us for by his Spirit. This happens as we yield in obedience to God, as we abide in his Word (Col 3:16), and as we worship.

Then in Ephesians 5:19-21, he gives both results and means of being filled. We are filled as we worship singing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to the Lord. We are filled as we give thanks to God in everything. And finally, we are filled as we submit to one another. Submission “(hupotassō) ‘means to relinquish one’s rights’… submission is to be a voluntary response to God’s will in giving up one’s independent rights to other believers in general and to ordained authority in particular—in this case the wife’s own husband.”1 We will see this Spirit-filled submission in several ways throughout the rest of the book. Wives are called to submit to their husbands, children to their parents, and slaves to their masters. Worship, gratitude, and submission lead to being filled with the Spirit and are at the same time results of this filling.

Therefore, in this text, we are introduced to characteristics of a Spirit-filled marriage. When couples are walking in the Spirit and being controlled by him, they will see wonderful fruits in marriage. With that said, we should understand how radical this message was to the Ephesians. Pagan marriages and families in general were in shambles. Kent Hughes shares this about marriage in the pagan world:

Demosthenes [a prominent Greek statesman and orator] said, “We have courtesans [prostitutes] for the sake of pleasure; we have concubines for the sake of daily cohabitation; we have wives for the purpose of having children legitimately, and of having a faithful guardian for all our household affairs.” Xenophon [a Greek historian] said it was the husband’s aim that a wife “might see as little as possible, hear as little as possible and ask as little as possible.” Similarly Socrates said, “Is there anyone to whom you entrust more serious matters than to your wife — and is there anyone to whom you talk less?” The ancient pagan man breathed adultery. The marriage bond was virtually meaningless. It was better with the Jews, of course, except that the ultra-liberal and very popular school of Hillel allowed a man to divorce his wife for virtually anything — like putting too much salt in his food or becoming less attractive in his eyes.2

Marriage was broken in the pagan world, and Paul calls for the Ephesians to restore it by returning to God’s original design for marriage.

It is not much better in our society, where around fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. In fact, this institution is so pitiful in our society that many couples refuse to marry, choosing to simply live together. Others prefer open relationships without any promise of commitment.

How can we have the kind of marriages God originally planned for mankind? In order to fix what is broken, God gave us his Spirit, and when we are being filled with the Spirit, we will see much fruit in marriage. In this study, we will consider three characteristics of a Spirit-filled marriage.

Big Questions: What does a Spirit-filled marriage look like? How does the Spirit’s filling affect the wife and the husband, according to Ephesians 5:22-33?

In a Spirit-filled Marriage, the Wife Submits to Her Husband

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22-24)

Paul says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” Unfortunately, “submission” carries a nasty connotation in our society, but it must be noted that this word does not mean “inferiority.” “Submit” is actually a military word that means “to arrange under rank”3 and to “come up under.” A sergeant is not inferior to a captain. They are equal. However, authority is necessary to maintain order in the military. Otherwise, there will be chaos. In the same way, God made the husband and wife relationship with order and authority so that it would function properly.

What’s interesting in this passage is that Paul gives the wife reasons to submit. Since God is our sovereign he does not have to give reasons, but here in this text, he does.

Observation Questions: What reasons does Paul give for the wife submitting to her husband? How is this reflected in the rest of Scripture?

1. The wife must submit to her husband because it is her duty to Christ.

The command, “Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord,” means that this is part of the Christian wife’s duty to Christ. When she submits to her husband, she is submitting to Christ.

Submission is really an obedience issue to God. It has nothing to do with the husband’s ability to lead, or with his IQ. Many wives are more fit to lead than their husbands in terms of worldly qualifications. The submission of the wife has everything to do with God.

This should make a single woman more cautious when considering whom to marry. She must ask herself, “Is this somebody I am willing to submit to spiritually, financially, socially, and in every other area of life?” Whom a woman marries is the second most important decision of her life, after choosing to follow Christ. This decision should not just be made emotionally; it must also be very practical.

The command also speaks to single men considering marriage. They must ask themselves, “Is the woman I’m considering faithfully submitting to Christ?” If she does not submit to the greater, neither will she submit to the lesser.

The wife must submit to her husband because it is her duty in following Christ.

2. The wife must submit to her husband because he is her head.

What does Paul mean by the term “head”? If we say that someone is the head of a company or an organization, it means he is the authority. Similarly, the husband is the head of the wife.

Interpretation Question: Is Paul’s teaching of the headship of the husband over the wife cultural, or timeless (relevant for all times)?

Trinitarian Argument

Some say that Paul’s reference to the man’s headship was just cultural with no applications for today, but this is not true. Many Scriptures teach the man’s position of authority as a universal concept—most notably 1 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Timothy 2:11-13, and the creation narrative in Genesis 2.

In 1 Corinthians 11:3, Paul describes the headship of man over the wife by comparing them to Christ and God. He says, “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” When God made Adam and Eve, he made them in his image and also one flesh—one body (Gen 2:24). But there is order in the body. The head leads the rest of the members. Paul says the headship of man over the wife is analogous to the headship of God over Christ. In the analogy, the woman pictures Christ, who is co-equal to God the Father, but submits to him. When God made man and woman in his image, he made the relationship to operate in perfect love and perfect submission as seen in the Trinity.

Order of Creation Argument

Similarly, in 1 Timothy 2:11-13, Paul states that women should not have the role of teacher over men (probably referring to the elder/pastor role, cf. 1 Tim 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9). Here he does not make a cultural argument, but a creation one. Consider the text: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.”

Paul tells us that the roles established in the New Testament do not stem from the fall or culture; they reflect the way God created man and woman in the Garden of Eden. The creation of Adam before Eve was significant. It meant that he was her head. She was made from his side to be his helper in ruling and subduing the world for God.

Adam Naming Eve

Further evidence of the husband’s leadership role is seen in Adam naming his wife. Before creating Eve, God paraded all the animals before Adam and told him to name them (Genesis 2). This naming represented Adam’s authority over the animals. Right after God created Eve from Adam’s rib, Adam then named her “woman.” After the fall, he named her “Eve” (Genesis 3). Again, this demonstrates Adam’s headship over Eve. Naming has the same significance in our society.

The woman must submit to her husband not just because God commands, but because God made the husband to be the head of the wife. A home where the wife does not submit to her husband is like an arm that will not submit to its head. God made order in the body, and he made it in the home.

3. Wives must submit to their husbands because marriage symbolizes Christ’s relationship to the church.

Paul says, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” (Eph 5:23) In the same way the church submits to Christ, the wife is called to submit to her husband. From creation, God made marriage to model the present reality of Christ and the church. Paul deals further with this analog later in the text, calling it a “profound mystery” in Ephesians 5:32.

It is easy to understand the analogy of the husband being the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. But, how is the man the wife’s savior? David Guzik’s comments about Lloyd-Jones’ views on this text are helpful:

Lloyd-Jones thinks Paul used the wider understanding of the word Savior, which can simply mean preserver. 1 Timothy 4:10 speaks of Jesus being the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. How can Jesus be the Savior of all men? In the sense that He preserves all men and blesses all men with good things from heaven above. It is in this way that husbands are to be their wife’s savior… “What, then, is the doctrine? It is clearly this. The wife is the one who is kept, preserved, guarded, shielded, provided for by the husband.4 

This is the third reason that the wife should submit to her husband—he is her savior in the sense that he guards, protects, and provides for her, even as Christ does his church. A Christian marriage is called to be a gospel message that evangelizes everyone around. The husband sacrificially loves his wife like Christ, and she submits to him like the church. The union itself is meant to model and glorify God.

But believers are not just called to model God in a good marriage, but even in a bad marriage. God commanded Hosea to marry a woman that would eventually cheat on him. After she did so, God commanded Hosea to take her back, just as Israel cheated on God and God took her back.

This teaches us that a Christian marriage is more about God and his glory than our own happiness, and when we understand this, it should radically change how we act in marriage. We should continually ask ourselves, “Are my actions reflecting God’s forgiveness, patience, and love?” “Am I honoring God through my actions?” There is a sense in which we cannot control the actions of our spouse, but we can control how we respond to those actions. We must bring every thought and response before the litmus test of God’s Word and his character. Lord, we are here to glorify you. Our life is not about our happiness, but about your happiness. Lord, help us be faithful reflections of you.

Interpretation Question: What is the extent of the wife’s submission?

In Ephesians 5:24, Paul says, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Essentially, the extent of the woman’s submission is “in everything.”

However, “in everything” must be qualified by his original command, “Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (v. 23). The wife must not do anything that would dishonor God. If the husband commands her to lie on taxes, she must refuse. If he commands her not to go to church, read her Bible, or worship, she must refuse. Her first priority is to follow God. And following God should ultimately make her a better wife to her husband.

This principle is very important, especially when it comes to arguments and fighting. The woman is not to be a doormat. She is made in the image of God and her input is important and valuable; a godly husband will recognize and cherish this reality. However, when the husband asks her to do something that is not sinful, she should submit. Yes, it may seem foolish. In such cases she should respectfully make her opinion known and pray for her husband, but ultimately she must submit to him, trusting God to work in his life. This also includes situations where a believing wife is married to an unbeliever. First Peter 3:1-2 says:

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

Now, both the husband and wife are called to submit to Christ as Lord. When this happens in a marriage, typically the husband and wife will at some point be on the same page about decisions. Agreement may come in stages, and couples must be patient and prayerful as they wait. In fact, this is part of God’s sanctification process in couples as they seek him together to discern his will.

Application Questions: Why is the submission of the wife to her husband so important? What are some common reactions to this teaching in society and often in the church? How should a single woman apply this principle in seeking a future mate?

In a Spirit-filled Marriage, the Husband Loves His Wife

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:25-32)

What about the role of the husband? First, let us notice God does not call the husband to make the wife submit to him. Submission must be voluntary. The abuse of wives by husbands seen throughout the ages is not God’s will. It is a result of the curse. In Genesis 3:16, one of the results of the curse was that the woman would desire her husband (meaning desire to control him), and the husband would rule over his wife (an oppressive, forceful rule). However, Christ came to restore God’s original design for marriage, and he gives us his Spirit to equip us for this.

Paul calls for the husband to love his wife. He uses the word agape, which is often used of God’s love. This is not an emotional love; it is an act of the will. Believers are called to agape their enemies (Matt 5:44). And if this is possible, husbands can certainly agape their wives no matter the situation. I really struggle when Christian husbands or wives tell me they just don’t “feel” like they “love” their spouse any more. In response, I say, “What does feelings have to do with it? God commanded you to love your spouse. He commands it and empowers it (cf. Rom 5:5, Gal 5:22). This is an obedience issue, not a feeling issue.”

With that said, it should be remembered that in the ancient world Paul’s command was pretty radical. Husbands had very little regard for their wives, and the idea of loving them would have sounded ridiculous.

In the Jewish and Greek cultures, the woman had few to no rights. She was a piece of property meant to serve her husband. Paul’s teaching that the husband was to love his wife as Christ loves the church was profoundly counter-cultural.

It must be remembered that the husband is given an impossible standard here. No one can love just like Christ. This means that no husband will ever be able to say, “I made it!” nor should he feel satisfied with the love he shows his wife. Every husband falls woefully short of this impossible standard, but he must continually seek to reach it.

Interpretation Question: What characteristics of the husband’s love can be discerned from Ephesians 5:25–28?

1. The husband’s love must be realistic.

The man should have no unrealistic fantasies about the woman he married. Christ loved the church and died for her while she was still a sinner and an enemy of God (Rom. 5:8). Christ knew she was sinful and disobedient. Yet, he still gave his life for her while knowing her faults. His love was realistic.

In marriage, both partners should understand this reality. In fact, much of pre–marital counseling consists of destroying the false expectations set up by romantic comedies and other Hollywood productions. The husband must love realistically; his wife has been infected by sin just as he has. She must be reformed daily by God’s grace, and she must be loved despite her faults. Scripture says, “Love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). However, a realistic love is important for both partners to prevent disillusionment. I have no doubt that the reason the highest number of divorces happen in the first year of marriage is because most romantic love is unrealistic.

2. The husband’s love must be sacrificial.

The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church, and thus be willing to die for her. If anyone feels that the wife’s role is unfair, they should give more thought to that of the husband. Surely it is much easier to submit to someone than to give one’s life for that person. Indeed, such love is impossible without the grace of God.

To love sacrificially means the husband must at times forgo his free time, entertainment, friendships, and sometimes even career in order to love his wife. It is sad to see how many husbands, because of their careers, are not even home to love their wives or their children.

3. The husband’s love must be sanctifying.

Christ’s love makes the church holy by cleansing her with the Word; his purpose is to make her the perfect bride. Similarly, the husband must help and encourage his wife to learn Scripture, and to get involved in a Bible-believing church and with small groups and ministries where she can grow and serve. He must help her cultivate not only her character but also her calling so she can fulfill God’s plans for her life. 

He must discern her gifts and talents, and encourage her to use them for the glory of God. This love may also mean admonishing his wife through the Word at times so that she might know and serve Christ better. It is a sanctifying love. Before getting married, every man should consider whether he is ready and willing to love a woman this way. Is he ready to be a spiritual leader?

4. The husband’s love must be humble.

The phrase “washing with water” (Eph 5:26) seems to picture the job of a servant. It may specifically reflect Christ washing the feet of his disciples—the job of a slave, or the lowest ranking person in a house (John 13). Christ humbles himself and cleans his disciples. This is also the job of the husband. Though he is the head, he does not use his position to dominate or command his wife, but to humbly serve her. He must continually be concerned about her emotional, physical, social, and spiritual needs, and work to meet them. The husband’s love must be humble and serving.

5. The husband’s love must be personal.

He must love her as his own body. Ephesians 5:28 says, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” David Guzik says this about Paul’s command:

The single word as is important. Paul did not say, “So ought men to love their wives in the same way as they love their bodies.” That would be an improvement in many cases, but that is not the meaning. The meaning is, “So ought men to love their wives because they are their own bodies.” … A man must love his wife as he would his body, as a part of himself. As Eve was a part of Adam, taken out of his side, so the wife is to the man because she is a part of him.5

Martyn Lloyd-Jones adds:

The husband must realize that his wife is a part of himself. He will not feel this instinctively; he has to be taught it; and the Bible in all its parts teaches it. In other words, the husband must understand that he and his wife are not two: they are one.6

In fact, it seems as though Paul is appealing to man’s selfish nature when he says, “He who loves his wife loves himself” (v. 28). In reality, this is a motivation that many of us men need. When we love our wives, we actually bless ourselves. And when we don’t, it hurts us. Like a person who neglects a fractured leg and ends up being crippled by it, a husband who does not minister to his wife hurts himself both at the time and over the long term.

The husband’s love must be realistic, sacrificial, sanctifying, humble, and personal. Husbands must love their wives and take time daily to cultivate a Christ-centered home.

Application Questions: Which aspects of the husband’s love do you find most challenging, and why? For singles, how will you apply these principles in your preparation for marriage?

In a Spirit-filled Marriage, the Husband and Wife Meet Each Other’s Deepest Need

However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:33)

Interpretation Questions: Why does Paul focus on the husband’s need for respect and the wife’s need for love? Don’t they both need love and respect?

Finally, Paul gives a summary statement of the husband’s and wife’s duties: The husband must love his wife and the wife must respect her husband. To respect her husband means to esteem and honor him, even when he doesn’t deserve it.

It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t call the woman to love her husband. It’s certainly assumed, but respect is the chief thing a man needs. If a wife talks down to her husband, she cuts him down at his place of greatest need. In the same way, when a husband doesn’t love his wife, when he doesn’t speak words of encouragement and make sacrifices for her, he cuts her down at her place of greatest need. The woman needs love and the man needs respect. When the house is out of order, they deprive one another of these blessings.

Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, in his book Love and Respect, cites research showing that when husbands and wives are in conflict, 83% of the men feel disrespected and 70% of the women feel unloved. This seems to support the necessity of a husband demonstrating love for his wife, and the need for a wife to always respect her husband.7

In a Spirit-filled marriage, the wife certainly loves her husband and the husband respects his wife, but they also meet each other’s core needs in a special way. Wives especially need love and husbands especially need respect. Scripture seems to emphasize this and so does research.

Application Questions: Do you think there is a major difference in the psychology of men and women with respect to their needs for love and respect? If not, why not? If so, in what way have you seen or experienced this difference?

Conclusion

As we consider the characteristics of a Spirit-filled marriage, we must remember that they come only through a work of God. A marriage needs God to function correctly—it needs the Spirit of God to empower both partners.

Marriage has often been compared to a triangle with God at the peak and the husband and the wife on the sides. As the husband and the wife get closer to God, they get closer to one another. As we abide in the Spirit through prayer, time in the Word, and fellowship, the fruits of the Spirit are born in our marriages.

What are characteristics of a Spirit-filled marriage?

  1. In a Spirit-filled marriage, the wife submits to her husband.
  2. In a Spirit-filled marriage, the husband loves his wife.
  3. In a Spirit-filled marriage, the husband and wife meet each other’s deepest needs.

Copyright © 2016 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV or AKJV are from the King James Version or Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentators’ quotations have been added.


1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 280). Chicago: Moody Press.

2 Hughes, R. K. (1990). Ephesians: the mystery of the body of Christ (p. 190). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

3 W. W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary. (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996).

4 Guzik, David (2012-11-26). Galatians and Ephesians (Kindle Locations 5895-5896). Enduring Word Media. Kindle Edition.

5 Guzik, David (2012-11-26). Galatians and Ephesians (Kindle Locations 6140-6146). Enduring Word Media. Kindle Edition.

6 Guzik, David (2012-11-26). Galatians and Ephesians (Kindle Locations 6150-6152). Enduring Word Media. Kindle Edition.

7 Accessed 8/15/16 from http://loveandrespect.com/

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