To Love and to Cherish

Lesson Focus: This lesson presents the Christian ideal for the husband-wife relationship.

Understanding Submission: Eph. 5:21-24.

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

[21]  Verse 21 is a transition verse forming a bridge between two sections. Verses 5:18-20 teach that submitting is one of the results of being filled with the Spirit.  While the three paragraphs which follow verse 21 are given as examples of Christian submission. In the light of the teaching of Jesus and His apostles, we may confidently and repeatedly affirm at least three relevant truths: first, the dignity of womanhood, childhood and servanthood; second, the equality before God of all human beings, irrespective of their race, rank, class, culture, sex or age, because all are made in His image; and third, the even deeper unity of all Christian believers, as fellow members of God’s family and of Christ’s body. It is only when these truths are firmly kept in the forefront of our minds that we are ready to consider the teaching on submission. Negatively, the submission which Paul enjoins on wives, children and servants is not another word for inferiority. Positively it is important to grasp the difference between persons on the one hand and their roles on the other. Husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants have equal dignity as God-like beings, but different God-appointed roles. The husband, the parent and the master have been invested with an authority to which others should submit. Two questions immediately arise about this authority: where does it come from and how is it to be used? This authority comes from God. In His ordering of human life, God has established certain authority or leadership roles. And since such authority, though exercised by human beings, is delegated to them by God, others are required conscientiously to submit to it. Submission is a humble recognition of the divine ordering of society. Paul tells wives to be submissive to their husbands as to the Lord [5:22], children to obey their parents in the Lord [6:1], and slaves to be obedient to their earthly masters as you would Christ [6:5]. That is, behind the husband, the parent and the master they must discern the Lord Himself who has given them their authority. Then, if they wish to submit to Him, they will submit to them, since it is His authority which they exercise. The same is true of the mutual submission expected of all Christian people. It is out of reverence for Christ that we are to submit to one another, the Christ who both wields authority as Lord and humbled Himself as servant. We have to be very careful not to overstate this biblical teaching on authority. It does not mean that the authority of husbands, parents and masters is unlimited, or that wives, children and workers are required to give unconditional obedience. No, the submission required is to God’s authority delegated to human beings. If, therefore, they misuse their God-given authority (e.g. by commanding what God forbids or forbidding what God commands), then our duty is no longer conscientiously to submit, but to refuse to do so. For to submit in such circumstances would be to disobey God. The principle is clear: we must submit right up to the point where obedience to human authority would involve disobedience to God. At that point civil disobedience becomes our Christian duty. In order to submit to God, we have to refuse to submit to human beings [Acts 5:29]. This is the exception, however. The general rule on which the New Testament insists is humble submission to God-given authority. Concerning the second question about the use of divinely delegated authority, it must never be used selfishly, but always for those others for whose benefit it has been given. Perhaps the most striking feature of this section is that in each pair of relationships reciprocal duties are laid down. When Paul is describing the duties of husbands, parents and masters, in no case is it authority which he tells them to exercise. On the contrary, explicitly or implicitly, he warns them against the improper use of their authority, forbids them to exploit their position, and urges them instead to remember their responsibilities and the other party’s rights. Thus, husbands are to love their wives and care for them, parents are not to provoke their children but bring them up sensitively, and masters are not to threaten their slaves, but treat them with justice.

[22-24]  Two reasons are given, or at least implied, for the wife’s submission to her husband. The first is drawn from creation and concerns the husband’s headship of his wife, while the second is drawn from redemption and concerns Christ’s headship of the church. The origin of the husband’s headship is not elaborated in these verses. For a fuller understanding of Paul’s argument we need to turn to 1 Corinthians 11:3-12 and 1 Timothy 2:11-13. In both of these passages he goes back to the narrative of Genesis 2 and points out that the woman was made after man, out of man and for man. Paul’s emphasis is on the order, mode and purpose of the creation of Eve. And since it is mainly on these facts of creation that Paul bases his case for the husband’s headship, his argument has permanent and universal validity since it is based on the way God structured the created order, and is not to be dismissed as culturally limited. The cultural elements of his teaching are to be found in the applications of the principle, for example, in the requirements of veiling and silence. But the man’s headship is not a cultural application of a principle; it is the foundation principle itself. The new creation in Christ frees us from the distortion of relations between the sexes caused by the fall, but it establishes the original intention of the creation. It was to this beginning that Jesus Himself went back [see Matt. 19:4-6]. He confirmed the teaching of Genesis 1 and 2. So must we. What creation has established, no culture is able to destroy. The biblical perspective is to hold simultaneously the equality and the complementarity of the sexes. Partnership is a good word so long as it is remembered that the contribution which each brings to it is not identical but distinctive. The biblical teaching is that God has given to man a certain headship, and that his wife will find herself and her true God-given role not in rebellion against him or his headship, but in a voluntary and joyful submission. In order to understand the nature of the husband’s headship in the new society which God has inaugurated, we need to look at Jesus Christ. For Jesus is the context in which Paul uses and develops the words headship and submission. Although he grounds the fact of the husband’s headship in creation, he defines it in relation to the headship of Christ the redeemer. It is from Christ as head that the church derives its health and grows into maturity. His headship expresses care rather than control, responsibility rather than rule. If the husband’s headship of the wife resembles Christ’s of His church, then the wife’s submission will resemble the church’s. There is nothing demeaning about this, for her submission is not to be an unthinking obedience to his rule but rather a grateful acceptance of his care. Whenever the husband’s headship mirrors the headship of Christ, then the wife’s submission to the protection and provision of his love, far from detracting from her womanhood, will positively enrich it.

Understanding Love: Eph. 5:25-30.

[25]  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, [26]  that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, [27]  so 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. [28]  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. [29]  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, [30]  because we are members of his body.  [ESV]

[25-27]  The wife’s subordination to her husband has its counterpart in the husband’s duty to love his wife. This exhortation to husbands begins the second main part of this section [25-32]. Although the husband’s headship [23] was mentioned in the section addressed to his wife [22-24], Paul does not here, or elsewhere for that matter, exhort husbands to rule over their wives. They are nowhere told, ‘Exercise your headship’! Instead, they are urged repeatedly to love their wives [25,28,33]. This will involve each husband showing unceasing care and loving service for his wife’s entire well-being. The model and ground of the husband’s love for his wife are Christ’s love for the church. The character and description of that love are amplified in the following clause, gave himself up for her. Christ took the initiative in handling Himself over to death [5:1-2]. He went to the cross as the willing victim, and this action on behalf of His people was the supreme demonstration of His love for them. Such self-sacrificing love provided the earlier warrant for calling all believers to serve one another in love as they imitate God [5:1-2]. Now it furnishes the basis for the exhortation to husbands to sacrifice their own interests for the welfare of their wives. Their love, which is modeled on Christ’s love for the church, means they will be willing to make even the ultimate sacrifice of life itself. If they heed this apostolic injunction, husbands will not behave in an overbearing manner. All areas of married life will be characterized by this self-giving love and forgiveness. If Christ’s love for the church is to be the model for husbands in its self-sacrifice, then it is also to be their pattern in relation to its goal [26-27]. Accordingly, Paul proceeds to spell out the goal of Christ’s sacrificial love for the church by means of three purpose clauses: that he might sanctify her [26], that he might present the church to himself in splendor [27a], and that she might be holy and without blemish [27c]. The imagery from the Old Testament about God’s relationship to Israel stands behind this use of the marriage analogy. In particular, the background to Ephesians 5:26-27 is probably Ezekiel 16:1-14, which describes God as caring for, washing, marrying, and adorning His people with splendor. The first of the three purpose clauses states that Christ gave Himself up for the church in order to sanctify her. The basic idea of this verb ‘sanctify or make holy’ is that of setting someone apart to God for His service. Through His sacrificial death Christ claimed the church as His own to be His holy people. There are two elements: a separation from all that is unclean and evil, and a consecration to God and His will. Closely related to Christ’s sanctifying work is His cleansing the church by the washing of water with the word. When Paul speaks of washing, his focus, as in 1 Cor. 6:11, is on the spiritual cleansing accomplished by Christ rather than on baptism. Nowhere else in the New Testament is the church baptized. Paul asserts that the church is made pure by a spiritual cleansing and this is accomplished through the purifying word of the gospel. Christ gave Himself to the church to make her holy by cleansing her. This cleansing was effected by a spiritual washing brought about through Christ’s gracious word in the gospel. His love for the church is the model for husbands in its purpose and goal, as well as in its self-sacrifice. In the light of Christ’s complete giving of Himself to make the church holy and cleanse her, husbands should be utterly committed to the total well-being, especially the spiritual welfare, of their wives. The goal of Christ’s sanctifying and purifying work, and thus the ultimate purpose of His sacrificial love for the church, is to present the church to himself in splendor. Just as in verse 26 Christ is the one who makes the church holy, so here also He is the subject who presents the church in all its splendor. He has done everything necessary to achieve this goal. Paul does not say when this presentation will happen, but it seems likely that he has in mind when Christ returns, for it is then that the glorified church will be with Christ forevermore, and will be seen to be glorious. What is meant by the church being glorious or in splendor is now described in physical terms. Paul states that the church will be without spot or wrinkle … and without blemish. Nothing will mar the unsurpassed beauty of Christ’s bride when He presents her to Himself. Hers will be a splendor that is exquisite, unsurpassed, matchless. For the present, the church on earth is often stained and ugly, despised and rejected. Christ’s people may rightly be accused of many shortcomings and failures. But God’s gracious intention is that the church should be holy and blameless, language which speaks of a beauty which is moral and spiritual.

[28-30]  The concluding application (in the same way) is drawn from Christ’s love as husbands are urged again to love their wives. The main point of verses 25-27 is driven home as Paul reinforces his assertion with a verb that stresses obligation: husbands should love their wives. They are to love their wives as their own bodies, a statement that applies the second great commandment in a direct way to the love which the husband should have for his nearest and dearest neighbor, namely, his wife. Husband and wife are regarded as one person, a single entity. Accordingly, the husband’s obligation to love his wife as his own body is not simply a matter of loving someone else just like he loves himself. It is, in fact, to love himself. Finally, the idea of husbands loving their wives as their own bodies reflects the model of Christ, whose love for the church can be seen as love for His own body. As Paul continues to urge husbands to love their wives, he supports and develops his statement that whoever loves his wife loves himself. It is natural for people to regard their own bodies as important, to nourish and cherish them. Within the flow of Ephesians 5 there is an inner appropriateness in the husband tenderly cherishing and nurturing his wife since they have in fact become one flesh [31]. But it is the powerful example of Christ that is again invoked. For all its imperfections Christ nurtures and tenderly cares for His body, the church. He is both its Head and Savior. He gave Himself up for the church in order to sanctify it, and He constantly provides for its nourishment and growth. Let each husband, then, follow Christ’s example and be wholehearted in loving and tenderly caring for his wife. In a magnificent supporting statement Paul underlines the fact that both he and his readers are so intimately joined to Christ that they have become part of Him. What has been said in the preceding argument about Christ’s care for the church applies to them all. They (and we) have been incorporated into Christ and are the very members of His body, whom He nourishes and cherishes. For Paul, the body is a term that expresses the solidarity of believers with Christ. Indeed, so intensely personal is this truth that Paul interrupts his style and changes to the first person singular we, thereby including himself within the sphere of blessing. He, like them, is a member of Christ’s body and knows what it is to be cared for and nurtured by Him. Let the husband, then, who understands Christ’s tender affection and nurture, follow this example in his love for his wife.

Understanding Respect and Honor: Eph. 5:31-33; 1 Peter 3:7.

[31]  "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." [32]  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. [33]  However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. [1 Peter 3:7]  Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.  [ESV]

[31-33]  A mystery is a revealed truth, and the profound mystery in verse 32 refers to the church’s union with Christ. Paul thus sees the marriage relationship as a beautiful model of the church’s union in and with Christ. When applied to Christ and His church, the one flesh is identical with the one new man of 2:15. Indeed, the three pictures of the church which Paul develops in Ephesians – the body, the building and the bride – all emphasize the reality of its unity on account of its union with Christ. Verse 33 is a succinct summary of the fuller teaching which Paul has been giving to husbands and wives. Paul began with one couplet: love and submission. He ends with another: love and respect. We have seen that the love he has in mind for the husband sacrifices and serves with a view to enabling his wife to become what God intends her to be. So the submission and respect Paul asks of the wife expresses her response to her husband’s love and her desire that her husband too will become what God intends him to be in his leadership.

[1 Peter 3:7]  Husbands should live together with wives informed by the knowledge of God’s will, of what He demands them to do. The wife is described here as the weaker vessel. In what sense are woman weaker? Nothing else in the New Testament suggests that women are intellectually inferior, nor is it clear that women are weaker emotionally, for in many ways the vulnerability of women in sharing their emotions and feelings demonstrates that they are more courageous and stronger than men emotionally. Nor did Peter suggest that women are weaker morally or spiritually than men. Such a view would suggest that men are actually better Christians than women, which is not taught elsewhere in the Scriptures, nor is it evident in history. The most obvious meaning, therefore, is that women are weaker than men in terms of sheer strength .The husband who lives according to God’s requirement shows honor or respect for his wife. The reason he does so is that women are heirs with you of the grace of life, showing that women are fundamentally equal with men. The language of heirs points toward the eschatological gift that both men and women who believe will receive on the last day. Men should honor women because they share the same destiny – an eternal inheritance in God’s kingdom. Husbands who ignore such a command will find that their prayers are hindered, which means that God will refuse to answer their prayers. God does not bless with His favor those who are in positions of authority and abuse those who are under them by mistreating them.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What three truths must we affirm whenever we consider the biblical teaching on submission?

2.         What is the key biblical principle every believer must follow when deciding how far we must go in being submissive to authority?

3.         What are the two reasons Paul gives for the wife’s submission to her husband? Explain how Paul uses each of these reasons in developing his teaching on this subject.

4.         What is the husband’s duty concerning his wife? What is the model and ground Paul uses to define that duty?

5.         Discuss the three purpose clauses Paul uses in verses 26-27 to describe Christ’s sacrificial love for His Church.

6.         What do you learn from this passage concerning the God-ordered roles the wife and husband are to play in marriage?


The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.

The Letter to the Ephesians, Peter O’Brien, Eerdmans.

1, 2 Peter, Jude, Thomas Schreiner, NAC, Broadman.

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