Walking worthy of the Lord in marriage is a proving ground of our devotion to God. Christ Jesus is our example of how to walk in His way. In just 11 verses, Paul sets it forth.
22 Married women, submit to your own husbands as if to the Lord; 23 because a husband is the Head of his wife as Christ also is the Head of the Church, being indeed the Savior of this His Body. 24 And just as the Church submits to Christ, so also married women should be entirely submissive to their husbands. 25 Married men, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself up to death for her; 26 in order to make her holy, cleansing her with the baptismal water by the word,
27 that He might present the Church to Himself a glorious bride, without spot or wrinkle or any other defect, but to be holy and unblemished. 28 So too married men ought to love their wives as much as they love themselves. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For never yet has a man hated his own body. On the contrary he feeds and cherishes it, just as Christ feeds and cherishes the Church;
30 because we are, as it were, parts of His Body. 31 “For this reason a man is to leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife, and the two shall be as one.” 32 That is a great truth hitherto kept secret: I mean the truth concerning Christ and the Church. 33 Yet I insist that among you also, each man is to love his own wife as much as he loves himself, and let a married woman see to it that she treats her husband with respect. Ephesians 5:22-33 WNT
Rather than write about application of those inspired words of Paul myself, let me present what Paul E. Kretzmann wrote about 100 years ago.
Of this entire section it has been stated that “it gives the Christian ideal of the marriage-relation, It is the loftiest conception of that relation that has ever come from human pen, and one than which no higher can be imagined.” Expanding the thought of the last admonition, the apostle writes: Wives, to your own husbands be subject as to the Lord. To their own husbands, to the men with whom they have entered into the relationship of holy wedlock, Christian wives give subjection. This they do, not unwillingly, as in the obedience of a forced submission, but by virtue of their willing consent at the time of the betrothal; for they are not subject to the husband as their lord and master, but “as to the Lord,” that is, as to Christ. Just as Christian women are, by virtue of faith, in a state of submission to Christ. so the obedience which they render to their husbands is one rendered to Christ, the Christian husband being the head of the wife and typifying to her Christ, the Head of the entire Christian Church: For the husband is the head of the wife, just as also Christ is the Head of the Church, Himself being the Savior of the body. In the case of Christ it is a matter both of superiority and of headship, for He is both God and the Savior of the body; His Church, the Christians, having accepted Him by faith, they have individually and collectively become the members of His body, the communion of saints, united in one great organism. In the case of the husband not all points of comparison can be stressed. It may not be a question of superiority, but it is always very distinctly a question of headship. It is God’s will that the husband be the head of the wife; the provision made at the time of creation is thus confirmed for the time of the New Testament.
Just how far this relation will extend in the sense as here given, is stated by the apostle: Nevertheless, as the Church is subject to Christ, so also the wives to the husbands in everything. The apostle makes no concessions to modern overemancipntion, neither does he give to the husband unlimited latitude. The meaning of the apostle is this: The fact that Christ is the Savior of the Church in no way affects the fact that He is also the Head of the Church; now, though the husband is not the savior of the body, the question of obedience for all that is not affected thereby; as the Church is subject to Christ, so, too, are wives subject to their husbands. It is expressly stated that this is to be in all things, the wife thus not being given permission to make arbitrary exceptions. But it is self-evident that the headship of man is confined to the matters of this life only. So far as the sphere of Christianity is concerned, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus, Gal 3:28
On the part of the women it is a matter of voluntary submission in a relation to their husbands which is compared to that of the Church to Christ. Being coheirs with the men of the hope of salvation, they might he inclined to demand equality in the marital relation and life: in answer to such thoughts the headship of the husbands was emphasized. On the part of the men the danger consisted in assuming an overbearing lordship, in deeming themselves authorized to make use of severity. To them St. Paul saps: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and offered Himself up for it. The apostle wants the husbands to show their love for their wives in their actions at all times; it should be an active, willing love. The apostle does not introduce a reason for this love, since its presence is assumed on the basis of the order of creation, but he offers the highest example and comparison that could be conceived of. The chief proof of the love of Christ for the congregation consisted in this, that He offered up Himself, that He sacrificed His own life for the Church, in the interest of the Church, for the expiation of sins. The redemption was merited for the whole world, but only in the case of the believers is it actually realized; and so the vicarious work of Christ, the supreme proof of His love, is here represented as having taken place in the interest of the Church. And the result of this work, as it actually appears in the life of the believers, is: That He might sanctify it, cleansing it by the washing of the water in the word. It is not only justification that the apostle speaks of here, he is referring not merely to the righteousness and perfection which was imputed to every believer at the time of His conversion, but he is speaking of the sanctification which is going on in the Church, having been begun in the believers in their baptism to be perfected on the last day. Christ consecrated His Church, set it apart for Himself. And this He did by cleansing each member of the Church by the miraculous washing of water, by the sacrament of Holy Baptism. For this water is not simple water only, as Luther very correctly writes, but the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s word. The water of Baptism cleanses from the corruption of inherited sin, it has the power to regenerate, to renew heart and mind, the nature of man. Cp. Ro 6:3; Col 2:12; Titus 3:5
The final object of the sanctifying done by Christ is given in the second dependent clause: That He Himself might present to Himself the Church, glorious, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any of such things, but that it should be holy and unblamable. Christ, as the Bridegroom, having purchased the Bride with His blood and having cleansed all believers, the members of the Church, by the water of Baptism, now presents or sets forth His Bride. The sanctification of this present time will reach its climax in the final glorification, when the Kingdom of Grace will become the Kingdom of Glory, when the Church Militant will become the Church Triumphant. “Christ presents the Church to Himself, He and no other, to Himself. He does it. He gave Himself for it. He sanctifies it. He, before the assembled universe, places by His side the Bride purchased with His blood. He presents it to Himself a glorious Church. That is glorious which excites admiration. The Church is to be an object of admiration to all intelligent beings, because of its freedom from all defects and because of its absolute perfection. It is to be conformed to the glorified humanity of the Son of God, in the presence of which the disciples on the mount became as dead men, and from the clear manifestation of which, when Christ comes the second time, the heavens and the earth are to flee away. God has predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son. And when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2. The figure is preserved in the description here given of the glory of the consummated Church. It is to be as a faultless bride; perfect in beauty and splendidly adorned. She is to be without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, i.e., without anything to mar her beauty, free from every indication of age, faultless and immortal. What is thus expressed figuratively is expressed literally in the last clause of the verse, that it should be holy and without blame.” (Hodge.)
Further application of the comparison: V.28. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. V.29. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church; v.30. for we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. V.31. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. V.32. This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the Church. V.33. Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself, and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
The apostle here returns to his comparison: Even so ought husbands to love their own wives as their own bodies. It is not a matter of choice, but of obligation, of duty. It is true indeed that mere human beings cannot love their spouses with the same measure of love which Christ showed in His solicitude for the Church. But every Christian husband can and should have the love of Christ for the Church as an example before His eyes always; he should be willing to make sacrifices for the sake of his wife; he should always be ready to strengthen his wife, as the weaker vessel, in all good things. But Paul here expressly states that men have the duty of loving their wives, because a man’s wife is his flesh by virtue of the marital relationship. It is thus a self-evident duty which Paul is trying to inculcate: He that loves his wife loves himself. It follows, therefore: For no one ever hated his own flesh, but every one nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also the Church. What Paul implies is that there surely is no need of reminding a man of the duty which he owes to his own flesh and blood, to his very own body. He takes the very best care of it, he covers and protects it. So the Christian husband will comport himself toward his wife in providing for her needs, both as to food and shelter, physical and moral. And here again the apostle brings out the example of Christ, whose nourishing and cherishing love toward the believers is so abundantly substantiated in Scripture and in personal experience. By way of explanation Paul here adds: For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. We Christians owe our existence, especially in spiritual matters, to Christ; by and through our conversion we became His members, we have His Spirit, His life, within us, we are connected with Him by the most intimate bonds of fellowship. As the wife in marriage becomes one flesh with her husband, so we, the members of the Church, the Bride of Christ, are united with our Bridegroom, deriving from Him our spiritual life and power at all times.
Returning now to the thought of v.28, Paul refers to the order of God in creating the estate of holy matrimony: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. Cp. Gen 2:24; Mt 19:5. Here the fact that the wife is one flesh with her husband is supported by Scriptural proof. That is the plan, the design, of God. Marriage having been entered upon, former relations and considerations are altered, are placed secondary to this new relation between husband and wife. The wife is thereafter the man’s own body, and upon him devolves the duty which the apostle has set forth in such a convincing manner.
The apostle is now ready to draw double conclusion from the discussion. So far as the example of Christ and the Church is concerned which he has adduced, he writes: This mystery is great;—I speak, however, with reference to Christ and the Church. That marriage is here not called a sacrament, as the Romish Church teaches, is shown by the very words of Paul, who declares that He is speaking of Christ and the Church, and not of the estate of holy matrimony. But that is a mystery, a secret of faith, that Paul should use the relation obtaining between Christ and the Church as a type of the relation as it should obtain in holy wedlock, as he has set it forth in the preceding verses. No one but an inspired writer could have made the comparison in that way and attached to the comparison such solemn admonitions. But Paul has now said enough of that, so he concludes: Nevertheless (not to say more of that higher union), see that you, every one of you for his own person, so love his own wife as himself; the wife, on the other hand, reverence the man. There is no evading the issue here, and no excuses are acceptable. Each and every husband is under the express obligation to love his wife, no matter whether he encounter the difficulty of a temper or of some other unpleasantness. And so far as the wife is concerned, her position requires her to be obedient to the husband in reverent fear, which, on her side, also proceeds from love and is willing to overlook human frailties. It is mutual love, mutual understanding which will solve all the problems of married life, if both husband and wife are actuated and governed by the fear of the Lord.
- May our God make you worthy of His calling
- and by His power accomplish every good thing you decide to do and every work of faith,
- so as to glorify the name of our Lord Jesus among you, and you in Him,
- according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. From 2 Th 1:11-12