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6. Relating Together In Harmony, Pt. 1: The Harmony Of Wives And Husbands (5:22-33)

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Unity in the church depends on harmony in all our relationships – marriage, family, employment etc. Your relationships outside the church affect the unity in the church. You can’t be one person through the week and someone else on Sundays. You can’t be one person in your marriage and another person at church. You can’t be one person with your family and another person at church. You can’t be one person at your work and another person at the church. Many people try to live two different lives. They let on that they are one person (that what you see is what you get) but it’s obvious that they’re living two lives. Christianity isn’t something that we just display on Sundays. Doctrine and duty go together; belief and behaviour; principles and practices.

You can’t be a Spirit-filled person on Sundays only. You don’t have that option. The Holy Spirit doesn’t work that way. He isn’t someone we invite to control our lives only one day a week. You can’t rent him on a daily rental basis. When you are truly filled with the Spirit it shows every day of your life.

If you’re filled with the Spirit, you’ll live in harmonious relationships both in the church and outside the church. Unity in the church is dependent upon unity at home, work, school etc. Harmony at home is vital to harmony in the church.

The first harmonious relationship we’re talking about in this article is marriage. Marriage relationships have a tremendous impact on the church. As marriages in the church go, so goes the church. Remember: “Unity in the church depends on harmony in all our relationships.”

First, let’s look at the relationship of wives to their husbands…

I. Spirit-Filled Wives Submit To Their Husbands (22a)

The demand that Spirit-filled people be mutually submissive (21) leads to the exhortation for wives to submit themselves to their husbands. Wives submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord (22a).

Submission is a general admonition to all Christians: Obey those who have the rule over you and be submissive (Heb. 13:17). Likewise you younger people submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed in humility (1 Pet.5:5). We must submit to every ordinance of man for the Lords sake, whether to the king as supreme or to governors (1 Pet. 2:13-14).

But since the Fall submission doesn’t come naturally. God said to Eve, Your desire shall be toward your husband (Gen. 3:16). What does this mean? The same expression is used in the next chapter about Cain, concerning sin’s desire for Cain: Sin lies at the door. And its desire is toward you (4:7). In both these cases, this expression is followed by “but…”. As to Eve: …but he (your husband) shall rule over you and as to Cain: …but you shall rule over it (i.e. sin). In both cases, the desire of one party (Eve and sin) was to dominate the other (Adam and Cain). In Cain’s case, God instructs him to take responsibility and overcome sin’s desire to control him. In Eve’s case, her desire would not be fulfilled. In fact, the opposite would happen - Adam would rule over her in accordance with God’s design for the marriage relationship. Thus began the history of the battle for control in marriages.

It isn’t only wives for whom submission is a challenge. It’s true of us all. Submission to authority isn’t popular today; contemporary philosophy is one of permissiveness, freedom. This is an age of liberation, some of which is good and some bad.

As Christians, what should our attitude be to this?

1. We welcome the liberation of those who have been oppressed - women who have been exploited; children who have been abused; ethnic groups who have been enslaved, ridiculed, oppressed; workers whose work conditions were deplorable.

2. We affirm the unity of believers in the body of Christ, in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free. Barriers of sex, age, race, and rank have been abolished.

3. We affirm the dignity of women, children, employees, minorities.

4. We affirm the equality before God of all human beings regardless of race, rank, class, sex, or age, because we are all made in his image.

But none of this negates the admonition to submission!

1. What, Then, Is The Nature Of This Submission?

Submission is not a matter of inferiority – there is no suggestion of that. Rather, husband’s are to give honour (1 Pet. 3:7) to their wives, who are equal to their husbands by creation and redemption. This appeal for submission is given within the context of that equality - equality in relationship but distinction in function.

Thus, the nature of a wife’s submission is to be a voluntary yielding. That’s undoubtedly why the verb “submit” is in the middle voice - literally, “place yourself in submission,” submit yourselves (22a). In other words, Paul is saying to wives, Submit voluntarily because you want to, not because you have to. Submission isn’t a matter of displaying certain attitudes and actions externally, while at the same time rebelling internally. Paul is saying, “Previously, you were forced into submission. But now, as Christians, you have the voluntary choice to submit, an act of your will rather than a legal requirement.” Paul was after a heart attitude, a spirit of humility by choice, not coercion. Paul wanted women to exercise their free choice to submit to their husbands because they have submitted to Christ.

Richard Foster says, (Paul) made decision makers out of those who were forbidden to make decisions. What an incredible opportunity for the Christian wife in Paul’s time. Submission isn’t something imposed on wives but something they do willingly. There is no thought here of forced submission but free, voluntary submission.

But, notice that submission does have its limitations. The submission of wives is limited by the phrase, to your own husband (22b). This limits your submission. It is not to all men. Every relationship between a woman and a man is not one of submission and headship, but within marriage the woman is to submit to the leadership of her husband.1

The submission of wives is also limited by the phrase, as to the Lord (22c). To submit as to the Lord is:

1. To submit to your husband in the same way that you do to the Lord.

2. To recognize that the Lord has invested certain authority in him and that behind the husband is the Lord. Therefore, to submit to your husband is to submit to the Lord and, by implication, to not submit to your husband is to not submit to the Lord. Instead, it would be an act of rebellion against the Lord.

3. To submit out of obedience to the Lord. That’s a condition of submission. If your husband misuses his delegated authority (by commanding what God forbids or forbidding what God commands), then you cannot submit to it. If there is a conflict of interest, our primary obedience is to God rather than men.

The nature, then, of a wife’s submission to her husband is voluntary. But...

2. What Is The Basis For This Submission?

…because, the husband is the head of the wife (23a). Husbands and wives are equal personally. Both were created in God’s likeness. Hence, both equally bear his image. They were both equally given the position of vice-regents of God’s creation. But they are not identical functionally. A biblical perspective holds simultaneously the equality of men and women in their persons and a distinction in their functions. We sometimes call this distinction in the functions of men and woman a “complementary” relationship in order to stress their equality as persons and not any sense of inferiority.

Eve was given to Adam to complement him, to be his helper, someone who was meet for him.

Submission presupposes “headship”. The basis for the wife’s submission is the husband’s headship, which comes from God. That’s why she is to submit to it because she recognizes the divine order.

What is “headship”? Some argue that it means “head” in the sense of “source” (i.e. the “head” of a river, its source) but that makes no sense. “Head” implies authority, responsibility, care, protection, leadership. All these adjectives describe Christ’s headship over the church.

God’s order of headship is a principle in Scripture - man over woman; Christ over man; and God over Christ (1 Cor. 11:1ff; 1 Tim. 2:13). This principle of man over woman is based on the creation account:

1. The order of our creation. Man was created first; then the woman. The principle of headship is not the consequence of the Fall but the order of creation (Gen. 2; 1 Tim. 2:13; 1 Cor. 11:12).

2. The mode of creation. Woman was made from man, not vice-versa (1 Cor. 11:8).

3. The purpose of the woman’s creation. Woman was created for the man (to help him), not vice versa (1 Cor. 11:9). But also notice …

4. The man is produced from the women. Male headship does not imply independence - without women we (men) wouldn’t exist. This is the balancing factor in the equation of headship. Though the original man was not made from a woman (in the same way that the woman was made from the man), nevertheless, all subsequent men come into being “through” the woman. Thus, men and women are interdependent (see 1 Cor. 11:11-12).

3. What Is The Pattern For This Marital Relationship?

The husband is the head of the wife just as Christ also is head of the church; and He is the Saviour of the body (23b). The husband is the head of the wife in the same way that Christ is the head of the church, his body (of which he is the Saviour). He redeemed the church with his own blood - He is its Saviour. And the church stands, therefore, in subservience to him. He is its head by virtue of redemption and all that redemption implies.

Christ’s headship of the body, then, expresses: (1) his self-sacrifice not self-indulgence; (2) protection not oppression; (3) nurture not neglect. Similarly, a husband’s headship of his wife is not domination but leadership, protection, provision, responsibility, care.

How should a husband’s authority be used, therefore? 2 Never selfishly but always for the benefit of those for whom it was given. Husbands are not being told here to exercise their authority, to be authoritarians. Rather they are being warned against its improper use. They are being exhorted to exercise their God-given headship and authority properly and sensitively, to love their wives and care for them. What they are being urged to do is to give expression to the primary aspect of their relationship to their wives – viz. love and respect for them. Authority does not grant a licence for oppression, domination, or cruelty. It does not give the husband license to rule insensitively. He is not to lord it over his wife.

4. What Is The Conclusion Of The Matter?

The point has been stated, the nature of submission explained, the reasons given, and the pattern established. And the conclusion is this: Wives should submit to their husbands in the same way that the church submits to Christ. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything (24).

Conversely, we could conclude that if the husband exercises his headship in the same way and with the same objectives as Christ expressed and exercises His headship over the church, then the wife’s submission to her husband will reflect the submission of the church to Christ, not demeaning or stifling, not mindless subservience, not the submission of a scared puppy, but rather, a voluntary, joyful partnership in which they can act and express themselves in perfect freedom, while gratefully accepting their husband’s headship.

And it encompasses all aspects of life: it’s in everything. The wife’s submission to her husband is not partial but complete. You do not submit only when your husband’s wishes coincide with yours, but you submit in everything.


When the husband’s headship imitates Christ’s headship, then the wife’s submission to him is free and fulfilling. The argument here is concise, clear, and unequivocal. Without this order in marriage there would be chaos. And that’s exactly what you’ve got in many marriages today – chaos; the constant striving of one party to dominate the other; the wife striving for control over her husband and the husband striving to dominate his wife like a tyrant. I believe that in good marriages, headship and submission are never an issue. It never comes up.

Submission produces unity in the church and at home. God wants the church to live together in unity and he wants husbands and wives to function together in unity, not as two autonomous individuals. There is to be a sharing of thought and action - wives are to share their desires, thoughts, actions with their husbands (as they with their wives). But, the point is, that she must be willing to submit to his leadership in everything.

That’s the challenge of the text to wives and to husbands. If your home is not characterized by harmony in your marital relationship, start to correct it now by changing your attitudes and actions. It starts with the husband. You must be the kind of husband God wants you to be - not a dictator or controller but a lover, provider, protector, friend; a reflector of the nature and character of Christ in your home. And if that is what you are, your wife will gladly be your lover, friend, supporter, defender, and cheer leader.

So, we have noticed firstly that Spirit-filled wives submit to their husbands. Secondly…

II. Spirit-Filled Husbands Love Their Wives (5:25-33)

We just discussed the relationship of wives to their husbands, now the relationship of husbands to their wives. God’s pattern for a harmonious marriage is a Spirit-filled wife who voluntarily and joyfully submits to her husband and a Spirit-filled husband who willingly and gladly cares for and treasures his wife.

After telling wives to submit to their husbands, you might expect Paul to tell husbands to “rule” their wives (especially if ruling were to be the outstanding characteristic of the husband). Instead he says: Husbands love your wives (25a).

Why does he say this? For the same reason that he told wives to “submit” to their husbands – namely, because it isn’t natural. Again, the Genesis account supports this. Sin has corrupted the relationship of husband and wife so that the wife wants to dominate her husband rather than submit and the husband wants to dominate his wife rather than love her.

Sadly, so many husbands love other things more than their wives – golfing, skiing, football, baseball, work, hobbies, cars etc. Some husbands don’t show much interest in their wives. They never do the things their wives want to do. They don’t go shopping with them; don’t talk to them. In fact, some husbands are downright cruel to their wives.

So, how should a husband love his wife? Two analogies explain this…

1. A Spirit-Filled Husband’s Love For His Wife… Is Like Christ’s Love For The Church (25b-27)

just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her (25b). Just as the church’s submission to Christ is the model for the wife’s submission to her husband, so Christ’s love for the church is the model for the husband’s love for his wife.

Notice that Christ’s love for the church is an exclusive love: He loved the church.

He loved her, his bride, his body. She was the object of his love. She was the “rose of Sharon”; the “lily of the valley.”

Christ’s love for the church is a sacrificial love: He gave himself. He determined to save his people. He set his face as a flint to go to the cross. He sacrificed himself for the church at the cross. It cost him his life-blood.

Christ’s love for the church is a personal love: He gave himself. He didn’t send someone else to redeem her. He didn’t send an angel. He came himself. No one else could pay the price except him and he wanted it no other way. Here am I send me (Isa. 6:8). His love was a personal love.

Christ’s love for the church is a redemptive love: He gave himself for her. He bought her back to himself, redeemed her from slavery to Satan and sin, retrieved her from an idolatrous love affair with sin.

Christ’s love for the church was a purposeful love. Three purposes are given:

a) His immediate purpose was to make her holy. …that he might sanctify and cleanse her (26a). Sanctification is both positional and practical. Positionally we are sanctified at the moment of conversion - separated from the sinful world and set apart to God for his worship and service. Practically we are sanctified throughout our lifetime - made pure and holy in character and conduct.

Sanctification involves cleansing ...through the washing of water by the word (26b). Some say that the water here refers to baptism and that the word refers to a baptismal word of confession or some sort of baptismal formula. But, it says washing of water by the word not washing of water and the word.

Surely, then this must be a spiritual cleansing through the agency of the word of God, a cleansing that is analogous to washing with water.3 Washing of water is figurative of spiritual purification; 4 that’s why it is called pure water. 5 And the means of this cleansing is the word of God that washes us spiritually clean from the world’s spiritual defilement. 6

This washing by the word is a daily thing that rids us of spiritual impurity and makes us fit for communion with a holy God.

b) His ultimate purpose is to make her glorious. …that He might present her to himself, a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish (27).

He will present her to himself (27a). Christ has paid the dowry for his bride, bought her and presently betrothed to her during this time of separation. And his redemption of her looks forward to the eschatological presentation of her to himself on the final “wedding day”.

Today society considers it “bad luck” for a groom to see his bride in her wedding dress before the wedding. But our heavenly bridegroom has his eye on us and is preparing us for the wedding day. Our presentation to himself will be no surprise to him for he has made it all possible!

Husbands, work to make your wives glorious in their own eyes and in the eyes of others, with the result that your marriages will be glorious for all to see.

He will present her to himself a glorious church (27b).

  • She will be glorious because the glory of God will shine from her. She will not be as the church often is today, stained and dull, but a glory that is unsullied and dazzling will radiate from her.
  • She will be glorious because she will be a bride adorned for her husband, arrayed in the splendour and beauty of her wedding day.
  • She will be glorious because she will be free from blemish …not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing (27c). Her beauty will be unequalled - no wrinkles on her skin, no age spots on her face, no evidence of the pollution of earth, no traces of defilement. Her cheeks will have colour, her eyes will sparkle, her teeth will glisten white, just as she emerges from the spiritual beauty parlour in all her freshness and vigour, in flawless beauty.
  • She will be glorious because she will be holy and without blemish (27d) - no moral or spiritual stain; a bride adorned for her bridegroom, the holy, spotless Lamb of God.

c) Christ’s love for the church had one overall purpose - the redemption and purity of his bride, the church. He died to make her his own, cleansed her and set her apart. And He is preparing her for that glorious day of presentation when he will display her to the world in all her glory and holy perfection; when she will be the eternal object of his delight; and when she will glorify him for what he has done.

That’s the kind of love husbands are to have for their wives. If you are a Spirit-filled husband you will lead by giving yourself for your wife in ways similar to Christ’s giving of himself for his bride, the church.

  • Your love is to be exclusive - eyes for no one else.
  • Your love is to be sacrificial. Love her to the point of death. Don’t crush her or despise her but sacrifice yourself for her in order that she may rise to the fullness of her God-given glory and so to become all that God wants her to be.
  • Your love is to be personal. Pour yourself into her life. Don’t leave it to other people like her friends or her family.

Your love is to be redemptive. Draw her closer and closer to God. Make her more and more like Christ.

Your love is to be purposeful. To make her holy; to set her apart for God; to encourage her to be a godly woman. And to present her to God in all her spiritual and physical beauty for God’s pleasure and glory.

So, a Spirit-filled husband’s love for his wife is like Christ’s love for his church. And…

2. A Spirit-Filled Husband’s Love For His Wife… Is Like His Love For His Own Body (28-31)

A) Spirit-Filled Husbands Love Their Wives As They Love Themselves: In The Same Way Husbands Ought To Love Their Own Wives As Their Own Bodies (28a)

That’s the example that Christ left us. He loved the church as his own body so much so that he gave himself for her. In the same way, the husband should love his wife as (i.e. in the same way and to the same degree that) he loves his own body - a preserving love, protecting love, nourishing love.

B) Spirit-Filled Husbands Love Their Wives As Their Own Flesh: He Who Loves His Own Wife Loves Himself For No One Ever Hated His Own Flesh, But Nourishes And Cherishes It, Just As The Lord Does (I.E. Nourishes And Cherishes) The Church, Because We Are Members Of His Body (28b-30)

The wife is the husband’s own flesh. She is intimately joined to him physically and spiritually. She is a member of his body. Therefore, when a husband loves his wife he loves himself.

It isn’t normal to hate your own body. No one hates his own flesh. You may not like the way you look but you do not hate your body in the sense of not taking care of it. That’s why you nourish and cherish it. You feed it and lovingly care for it.

And that’s why you care for and treasure your wife, because she is a member of your body. That’s why Christ feeds us and cares for us because we are members of his body - we are his personal concern (1 Pet. 5:7), the object of his care.

All of this is in accordance with the principle of Gen. 2:24, For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh (31). In marriage a man and a woman are united together in a bond that is stronger than any other human relationship because they are one flesh.

You are to love your neighbour as yourself. Since your wife is your nearest and dearest “neighbour”, she should be your deepest love. She is a member of your body. So nurture her, care for her! Cherish your wife as one who is inseparably joined to you.

To mistreat your wife is to mistreat your own flesh! Don’t abuse your position of headship. Don’t be negative, punitive, oppressive, and critical. Don’t treat your wife as a servant to take care of you, but as one who is part of you. You have a “one-flesh” union with her. Your role as head is to give yourself for your wife’s good, sustenance, nourishment, comfort, love, and care. She is your equal who voluntarily submits to your leadership. So make sure you earn her voluntary submission


The marriage union is a picture of Christ and the Church. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church (32). The wife’s one-flesh union with her husband in marriage is a model of the church’s union with Christ, a union that was a great mystery in ages past but now it is revealed, known, and understood through the work of Christ on the cross.

Since the marriage relationship from the very beginning was a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church, we conclude that the voluntary submission of the wife and the loving leadership of the husband are not accidental, temporary, or cultural but part of the essence of marriage as God planned it.

Harmony in marriage is a matter of love, respect, and commitment. For the husband it is a matter of love. Let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself (33a). Your love for your wife is to be the same as your love for yourself - no exceptions, no deviations, absolute loyalty, total devotion, constant faithfulness, the care and affection as for a priceless treasure. Your headship is to be used for the ultimate and eternal good of your wife. Use your position to care not crush, to serve not dominate.

For the wife it is a matter of respect. Let the wife see that she respects her husband (33b). You are to defer to him as the head with God-given responsibilities, to “reverence” him just as all believers are to “reverence” Christ (21).

A harmonious marriage is, above all, sacrificial. It is to be viewed in terms of the atonement. That’s how Christ thought of his relationship with his bride, the church. It’s a matter of committing yourselves to each other fully and unconditionally, loving each other no matter what - the wife submitting because she reverences her husband and the husband giving himself because he loves his wife and both working together for God’s glory.

1 The other instance where this same principle is true is in the leadership of the church (1 Tim. 2:11-12; 1 Cor. 14:34ff.)

2 Adapted from John Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 219-220.

3 See Ps. 51:2, 7; Lev. 15 and 16

4 Tit. 2:14; James 4:8

5 Cf. Ezek. 16:9; 36:25; Heb. 10:22; Tit. 2:14; 3:5.

6 See Fee, NIBC, Titus 3:5, 205. See 1 Tim. 4:5

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