A Study of Ephesians 5:22-24
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.”
Marriage is to be a picture of Christ and the church. We cannot say that too often. We cannot emphasize that too strongly to our souls. I cannot remind you of that as a husband or a wife too often. You cannot hear that too much.
The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 5, says to us that this is a great mystery, that is, a man and a woman joined together in the bond of marriage as one flesh. But he goes on to say, “But I speak concerning Christ and the church.” In other words, Paul says, I’m telling you that God intends marriage to display, to mirror, to promote, the thing that is most dear to his heart: Christ and the church. We do not, then, want our marriage to lie to the world. We want it to tell the truth. Thus we need grace to be fitted as a husband and as a wife.
Shall we allow remarriage while one’s spouse lives?
Is this a picture of Christ and the church, of Christ who never forsakes His wife for another?
Shall there be sex before marriage?
Is this a picture of the commitment that Christ makes to one woman, to His church?
Shall there be such a thing as homosexual or lesbian marriage?
Is this a picture of Christ and the church?
We want our marriage, the marriage of one man and one woman under God, and in faith in God, to be a picture of Christ and the church. And if that is to be the case, then the Word of God says there are fixed roles that are given for marriage in order that marriage may, indeed, be this picture of Christ and the church.
The role, or the calling, of the husband calls a man to accountability, to leadership, and to sacrifice to provide for and to protect his wife and family.
In this study we want to focus on the meaning of the wife’s submission to her husband, for the Scriptures say (Ephesians 5:22-24) that the calling of the wife is to “submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.”
Now I am very desirous in the Lord Jesus that we, both married and single, young and old, young adult or child, hear this Word of God as a call to something that is strong, noble, good, dignified, and worthy of a woman’s highest spiritual efforts. The Scriptures say, “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
Our society, and many in the church-world, despise or simply ignore this Word of God that calls women to submit to their own husbands. It is especially that word “submit” that is called degrading, abusive, unequal, demeaning. Many will simply write this off as the sub-Christian culture or the sub-Christian values left over from the culture of the first century. And there are others, on the other side, who will distort this Word of God. There will be men who believe that their wife cannot go from one room to the next without their permission and, therefore, distort this Word of God with sinful abuse or tyranny.
But the truth of submission, the submission of a wife to her husband, is the will of God.
It is therefore something beautiful, good, and dignified.
It has the mark of Christ’s majesty upon it.
It is part of the wonderful and profound display, to the world, of the grace of God.
It is good and beautiful. For, listen: “As the church,” says the apostle, “is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.”
The submission of the church to Christ is something that is good and beautiful.
Submission, according to God’s Word, is a beautiful grace given by God. It is a heart issue, fundamentally. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husband. The word “submit” means “to place under, to defer, to come under the will of another.” It is always first to come under the will of God. Submission, the grace of submission, is that grace whereby we bow our knee, as the apostle says in Ephesians 3:14, to our God and Saviour, whereby we kiss the scepter in the hand of our Lord, who sits upon God’s throne.
Submission means that I make my will, by God’s grace, and my abilities, to serve the purpose that God has given to me in this life.
It is a grace.
By nature, the apostle says, we are self-willed (II Peter 2:10).
And then, describing us according to the flesh, the apostle says that we are always presumptuous, self-willed.
“They are not afraid to speak evil of dignities [or authority].”
(II Peter 2:10)
In other words, by nature we are rebellious. We place ourselves upon the throne of our own heart. So the Bible sees that submission to God is, in reality, an evidence of His wonderful grace.
It is liberation from the tyranny of my sinful self. He, says the psalmist, hath made me free, free to submit, free to serve, free to follow not my will but the will of God.
Now, wives, submit. In your heart, with an eye to God, recognize that Christ calls you to come under the husband that God has appointed as your spiritual leader.
The Bible says now that this is something honourable and that it belongs to the calling of every Christian.
It is dignified, it is not demeaning.
Christ also has humbled Himself and has submitted to the will of His heavenly Father in our redemption. He has laid aside His own rights. It is part of the noble calling that we have that we, as the children of God, submit ourselves always to the will of God and submit ourselves one to another, seeking not our own but the things that will edify and bless and benefit one another as fellow members of the grace of God.
Now, to submit, as a wife, at its simplest meaning, means to recognize that God has given you a head, your husband, and to follow his leadership.
Because we are sinful – sinful husbands and sinful wives – God’s truth so quickly becomes twisted in our understanding. Let us be clear, first of all, what this does not mean.
It does not mean that you, as a wife, leave your mind on the wedding altar; that, as a wife, you have nothing to say in the marriage; that the development of your talents, abilities, wisdom, and insight is to be brushed aside; that you cannot think for yourself; and that you have become a dumb servant.
A humble, wise, Christ-filled husband knows the blessing of his wife and seeks the blessing of the counsel of his wife. Proverbs 31 says of the woman that her husband doth safely trust in her. To submit does not mean that you do not have a mind of your own. Wives, be subject. But that does not mean that you renounce all of your abilities and all of your talents.
Nor does it mean that you put the will of your husband before the will of Christ.
If a husband calls you in some way to do what you are convinced by God’s Word is sinful, you follow Christ’s will. While submitting, while reverencing, while coming under him, you say, “Honey, the Lord has placed you over me as my head. I want to show you that. But, Jesus is our Lord. And when you ask me to do that which is sinful, I may not do it. I will not.”
Nor does this submission mean that a husband is given license to sinful tyranny. Marriage is a holy covenant of both husband and wife, who vow that they will behave toward each other in a Christ-like manner. If a wife is contentious and will not submit to the yoke that Christ gives, and she does wrong to her husband, then she has set herself against the majesty of God. But if a man insists on his own fancy, despising his wife, and is cruel to his wife, he also defies God openly. The way that we are to approach our wives is not with harshness, acting like a madman, expecting to scare them with a grim look. If we do so, we defy God.
What does it mean to submit?
The apostle says, “As the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” In other words, the apostle says that a picture is worth a thousand words. The church is subject to Christ, and that is beautiful. That is a good thing.
It means two things. It means, first, that the church gives herself willingly to advance Christ’s purposes and cause, and seeks the advancement of the Lord’s kingdom on earth.
Do we, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, submit to Christ?
How would one know?
We would teach the sound doctrines that Christ has given to the church.
We would show to any visitor or to anyone who would look into our assembly that the interest, the purposes, the causes of the Lord are our passion and our desire.
We will not, as a church, say: “What do we want, what do we think we ought to do? How shall we get a name for ourselves in the community? How shall we influence people according to our own wisdom and get our name in the headlines?”
But we will ask one question: “What are Christ’s purposes for us? What is the cause that Christ gives us to advance?” We will look carefully into the will of the Lord in Holy Scripture. We will come to know the heart of the Master, and we will devote ourselves to His purposes, to His task, and to His truth.
Secondly, the church submits to Christ by seeking His honour. If you read, for instance, Psalm 45, you will see that the church, the bride of Christ, enjoys making known the majesty of her Master and Lord. The church delights, takes great pleasure, in extolling our Lord, our King, and our Husband.
“Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips: therefore God hath blessed thee for ever. Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty.”
The church desires Christ to be seen in all of His glory and majesty.
The bride of Christ, the church, has a sheer delight, a deep impulse, to proclaim the majesty and the glory, the worth, the might, the splendor, and the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The church submits, therefore, to Jesus Christ in two ways:
1) She sees herself as serving the purpose of advancing His cause. She sees herself as expendable in His cause.
2) She finds great joy in proclaiming the honour of Jesus Christ.
Now, as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wife be to her husband. That means, fundamentally, you follow his spiritual leadership. But it means also that you desire him and his purpose in life to be carried through. It means that you delight in seeing him prosper in his gifts.
Christ, of course, is sinless, and a husband is not. A husband is sinful. And yet, as the wife, we will say, “I give myself to serve the advancement of your calling in this world. And I delight in seeing you take that calling and glorify God in your calling.”
You will say to your husband, “I delight for you to take the initiative in our family. I’m glad when you take responsibility for things and lead. I flourish when you make sure the family is going in the way of wisdom and the way of the love of God.”
There is your husband before you. He is a sinner, saved by grace. He has gifts. He has a personality. He has a calling in this life. To submit to him means that you will see it as your place to encourage him, as God’s son, to develop in the calling God gives him.
You will not say, “I want my own interests, I want my own life, I want my own career.” But you will say, “I want to use my time, my talents, for his good, for the good of our marriage.” And you will honour and you will affirm your husband’s leadership and help him carry it through.
You were made to be a help meet for him (Genesis 2), to help him be the man of God that God calls him to be. You will, then, be his counselor. You will be his aid. You will be his help meet. You will delight that his name be held in respect through your actions. And that, through you, he is honoured.
As the church is to Christ, we want the name of Christ to be honoured by our actions. That is the desire of the church. So also the wife will want her husband to be honoured as the world looks at her in her actions. The wife, then, will not run around criticizing her husband publicly, belittling him, telling everyone his shortcomings, discouraging him in what he wants to do in this life.
As no Christian man may have his wife in terror of him, for to do so is to despise God, so also no Christian woman may have her husband feeling hopeless, resigned, and deflated, for this too is to despise God. But as the church delights in God’s cause, and as the church delights in the honour of Christ’s name, so also the wife will delight in seeing her husband fulfilling his calling to be a man of God.
Submit in that way to your husband.
The apostle brings out that this submission to the husband is an exclusive thing. Submit yourselves to your own husband as unto the Lord. And again, Let the wives be subject to their own husbands in every thing. This is a unique submission to your own husband that is not fitting in relation to any other man. You are not called to submit to all men the way that you submit to your own husband. Marriage is exclusive. The husband and wife stand in a relationship to each other that they do not stand in toward anyone else.
Further, Paul makes plain that this submission is always to be rendered.
“So let the wives be subject to their own husbands in every thing.”
This is usually more than what we might feel like or want to do. It may not always be obedience, for the wife must always obey God first. But there must always be submission. It comes out this way. You will say, “It grieves me when you venture into sinful acts and want me to go with you. You know that I can’t do that. I have no desire to resist you. I want to follow you joyfully. But I cannot follow you into sin, as much as I love and honour you and your leadership.”
It may not always be that you agree with your husband’s decision. There may be times when the most submissive wife will hesitate at her husband’s decision. It may look unwise to her. Then it will go like this: Your husband is about to make a decision that seems foolish to you. At that moment you will express your submission in the following way: “Dear, I know that you’ve thought a lot about this, and I love it when you make decisions and plan for us. But I really don’t have peace with this decision. I feel we need to talk about it some more. How about some time today?”
In your disagreements, you make it clear that you honour him in his role. And you make it clear that if all the talking that needs to be done before a decision is reached has been done and you still disagree, you will defer to your husband willingly.
Wives, submit yourselves.
Husband, it does not say, “You subject your wife.” Nowhere does the Bible say that. It calls the wife to do this willingly. Submission is something that is given. It must be given freely and willingly.
And cheerfully. As the church is subject to Christ. Not grudgingly, not stiffly. But joyfully. Because you want to show what your Christianity means to you in your marriage. This is not slavery. This is not degrading. This is the very heart and the demonstration of Christianity.
The wife declares before the world, “I have one Master, not many. I have one Lord. I am His servant. And for Christ’s sake, I take up my calling and place to submit to my own husband.”
As husbands and wives, we must always begin by looking not to the other, but to the Lord. Do not begin by looking across the table at each other and asking yourselves, “What do I see?” But look up to God. Do not just trot out the name of God at your marriage ceremony, but put your marriage into His hands and guidance. Call upon Him with sincerity. If you do not look to God, if you look only at your husband and at all those things that can make you scream, the whole house is going to come down in confusion and ruin. And it will turn out to your pain.
As marriage is ordained of God, we who enter into this sacred union must look completely unto God, completely to Him and desperately unto Him.
We must make God our refuge.
We must make Him our motive.
We must see Him who has joined us together.
We must have our eye upon God.
For God has designed marriage between husband and wife to represent the relationship of Christ and the church. And as a wife you have a calling, a holy, sacred trust. Not for your husband’s sake, but for Christ’s sake. To show to all who see you what it means that the church is subject to Christ, to show what the church thinks about Jesus Christ.
You do that by heartfelt submission. You show in all of your life toward your husband how much we, as children of God, are indebted unto our Saviour, who has poured out the treasures of His mercy upon us.
By Carl Haak