Ephesians Teaching Series

This beautifully constructed letter can best be understood by paying attention to its amazing structure.

20. Eph 5:22-33 Wives and Husbands - Addressing the Difficulties with this Passage

  • How des this passage make sense since husbands are not like Christ?
  • But when you really understand what is going on with this passage, it is deeply encouraging!

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  • We are going to focus on the passage in Ephesians 5 on wives and husbands
    • First I am going to set up what the problem is

Wives and Husbands - Addressing the Difficulties with this Passage

  1. The Problem
  2. Suggested Solution
  3. Some practical application, including for single people

1. The Problem

Ephesians 5:22–24

  1. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
  2. 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.
  3. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (ESV)
  • That’s the ESV, but most translations are pretty much the same.
  • There seems to be a parallel between the way we are supposed to submit to Christ and the way a wife submits to her husband
  • But there are some problems:
  1. Christ is perfect, but husbands are not!
    • “I have no problem submitting to Christ!!”
    • In fact, sometimes it is unfair, oppressive or even abusive
  2. Women are not in any way inferior, so what is the reason? (We are inferior to Christ!)
    • Sometimes women make better decisions
    • Often they are more responsible
    • So how does this make sense?
    • If we say that the reason was the social context of the time,
      • we have a problem with the reason that Paul gives—the parallel with Christ and the church.

Some Problems

  1. Christ is perfect, but husbands are not!
  2. Women are not in any way inferior, so what is the reason? (We are inferior to Christ!)
  3. What about single people?
    %Is this passage in any way relevant to single women or men?%
  4. 5:31–33 One flesh with Christ?
    %See that later: Paul seems to be saying that we, the church, become one flesh with Christ%
  • Some people who don’t believe the Bible is God’s word say that Paul:
    • began well by being counter-cultural in Galatians 3:28, “there is neither male nor female”
    • but later weakened and gave in to social pressure in this passage

2. Suggested Solution

  • My solution is going to be
    • Paul is going to turn upside down all the social ideas of the time
    • He has a new understanding of reality that radically changes everything
  • But before we get to that...

First thing to note: The word submit is maybe not the best translation

  • The Greek word can be used to mean control and coercion, but not when it is used in this way
    • Just to be a bit technical here, active vs. middle or passive
    • The bottom line is that here it is a totally voluntary and free choice to follow the lead
    • A better (but more awkward) translation might be
      • “voluntarily choose to lift the other person up and put yourself in a position of allowing their leadership”
  • 1 Cor 15:28 Jesus submits to the Father
  • Now for three curious things...

First thing: The passage is about what it looks like to be filled by the Spirit

Ephesians 5:22–33 – Wives and Husbands

previous verses:

  1. Βλέπετε οὖν ἀκριβῶς πῶς περιπατεῖτε, Watch carefully then how you walk:
  2. ἐξαγοραζόμενοι τὸν καιρόν making the best use of the time….
  3. συνίετε τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ κυρίου. …understand what the will of the Lord is.
  4. πληροῦσθε ἐν πνεύματι, be continually filled by the Spirit,
  5. λαλοῦντες ἑαυτοῖς [ἐν] ψαλμοῖς καὶ ὕμνοις καὶ ᾠδαῖς πνευματικαῖς, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs
ᾄδοντες καὶ ψάλλοντες τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμῶν τῷ κυρίῳ, singing and making music with your hearts to the Lord
  1. εὐχαριστοῦντες πάντοτε ὑπὲρ πάντων… τῷ θεῷ καὶ πατρί, giving thanks, always and for everything… to God the Father
  2. ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις ἐν φόβῳ Χριστοῦ. submitting to [lifting up] one another out of allegiance to Christ.

Translation and structure by Andrew Fountain

  • This is somewhat surprising
    • You might expect signs and wonders, healing, prophecy, tongues etc.
    • But it describes this filling with 4 “…ing” words (participles)
    • speaking, singing, giving thanks and submitting
      • And then the last expansion of Spirit-filling opens up to 6 groups of people
  • This is our first clue that something much bigger is in view

Curious things

  1. The passage is about being filled by the Spirit
  2. Wives are only told indirectly to submit...
  • Paul has gone out of his way to be indirect

Ephesians 5:22–33 – Wives and Husbands

  • This does not mean it can’t be implied, e.g. “I love honey and I love peanut butter”
  • It’s very strange that it’s TWICE and is a big clue (along with the Spirit) that something else is happening
  • Passage has an almost poetic structure, not uncommon in Paul’s writings and other writings of the time
  • Every word is placed carefully to reflect what it means.
  • Wives are only told indirectly through the picture of Christ
  • Right in the middle it “saviour of the body” is a reference back to 2:14–15 where Jesus brings about a new creation at the cross

Curious things

  1. The passage is about being filled by the Spirit
  2. Wives are only told indirectly to submit (via a reference to Christ)
  3. The New Adam and Eve
  • Both submits are indirect and come through a picture of something else
    • So the bottom line is that the wife-husband relationship is part of a bigger picture
  • This is the strangest of them all, but suddenly everything makes sense

Ephesians 5:22–33 – Wives and Husbands

  1. Αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ, Wives … to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
  2. ὅτι ἀνήρ ἐστιν κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικὸς For the husband is the head of the wife
ὡς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς κεφαλὴ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, even as Christ is the head of the church,
αὐτὸς σωτὴρ τοῦ σώματος. he is saviour of the body
  1. ἀλλὰ ὡς ἡ ἐκκλησία ὑποτάσσεται τῷ Χριστῷ, But as the church submits to [lifts up] Christ,
οὕτως καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐν παντί. so also should wives … to their husbands in everything.
  1. Οἱ ἄνδρες, ἀγαπᾶτε τὰς γυναῖκας, Husbands, love your wives,
καθὼς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς ἠγάπησεν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν as Christ loved the church
καὶ ἑαυτὸν παρέδωκεν ὑπὲρ αὐτῆς, and gave himself up for her,
  1. ἵνα αὐτὴν ἁγιάσῃ καθαρίσας τῷ λουτρῷ τοῦ ὕδατος ἐν ῥήματι, that he might make her holy, cleansing her by the washing of water through the word,
  2. ἵνα παραστήσῃ αὐτὸς ἑαυτῷ ἔνδοξον τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, μὴ ἔχουσαν σπίλον ἢ ῥυτίδα ἤ τι τῶν τοιούτων, that he might present to himself the church, in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
ἀλλ’ ἵνα ἁγία καὶ ἄμωμος. that she might be holy and without blemish.
  1. οὕτως ὀφείλουσιν [καὶ] οἱ ἄνδρες ἀγαπᾶν τὰς ἑαυτῶν γυναῖκας ὡς τὰ ἑαυτῶν σώματα. In the same way husbands should love their own wives as their own bodies.
ὁ ἀγαπῶν τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γυναῖκα ἑαυτὸν ἀγαπᾷ, He who loves his own wife loves himself.
  1. οὐδεὶς γάρ ποτε τὴν ἑαυτοῦ σάρκα ἐμίσησεν, ἀλλὰ ἐκτρέφει καὶ θάλπει αὐτήν, For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it,
καθὼς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, just as Christ does the church,
  1. ὅτι μέλη ἐσμὲν τοῦ σώματος αὐτοῦ. because we are members of his body.
  2. ✽ἀντὶ τούτου καταλείψει ἄνθρωπος [τὸν] πατέρα καὶ [τὴν] μητέρα “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother
καὶ προσκολληθήσεται πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ, and hold fast to his wife,
καὶ ἔσονται οἱ δύο εἰς σάρκα μίαν.✽ and the two shall become one flesh.”
  1. τὸ μυστήριον τοῦτο μέγα ἐστίν, This mystery is profound,
ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω εἰς Χριστὸν καὶ εἰς τὴν ἐκκλησίαν. and I speak with reference to Christ and the church.
  1. πλὴν καὶ ὑμεῖς οἱ καθ’ ἕνα ἕκαστος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γυναῖκα οὕτως ἀγαπάτω ὡς ἑαυτόν, However you, each one of you should so love his own wife as himself,
ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἵνα φοβῆται τὸν ἄνδρα. and the wife should respect her husband.

Translation and structure by Andrew Fountain

  • (Note the quote from Genesis in v.31)
  • Explain what is meant—not a literal marriage but actually much closer
  • Up till now in human history, marriage has looked back to Adam and Eve for its pattern
  • Now it looks forward to the new Adam and the new Eve
  • It has been re-oriented towards the new creation
  • Instead of being a copy of the past, it has the potential to be a copy of the future

Picture of looking forward and not looking back

  • Men and women have the opportunity to pull the future into the present
  • Actually both have to submit
    • For both partners it is about submitting your own interests to the needs of the other
    • It is the new life of Christ in us, flowing out
    • It is the Spirit who empowers the New Creation
  • I should acknowledge that I got a lot of insights from a book:

Miletic Marriage and the New Creation p.118

  • The potential for being hurt, abused, disrespected, betrayed as well as the potential for being accepted, affirmed, loved, healed and set free is greatest within interdependent relationships where the deepest and most intimate human vulnerabilities and needs surface.
  • It is precisely here where wife and husband might know the temptation to dominate, betray, destroy, or, to create, love and give the self to the other.
  • The text addresses this core of human experience with a message of hope: the giving and receiving of agape love has the power not just to heal, but to take the husband and wife from brokenness to wholeness;
  • it holds out the promise to re-create both spouses into the image of the New Adam and New Eve.
  • The re-creating occurs in the depths of human experience, where the power to live the challenge of giving and receiving agapic love must find its home.
  • The kind of life Paul is asking them to live is where you submit your own self-interests to what is best for the other person.
    • Actually Paul starts this passage saying that in the church community we should all do that with each other
    • This is just as true both ways here.
  • So here finally we have a reason for this relationship in marriage
    • When you act in this way, you pull the future into the present
    • You pull in the power of the age to come
    • You pull in the power of the Spirit
    • You pull in the presence of Jesus, who you are copying in this behaviour
      • This is going to be true about the other relationships in the verses to come.
  • It’s not that men are better than women,
    • and in the age to come there will be no marrying
    • but for now, we are given this as an opportunity

3. Some practical application, including for single people

  • Practical Implications
    • Both partners in a marriage submit their self-interest and put the other first
    • Part of the husband’s role in loving his wife is to listen to her and making her views part of any decision-making process
      • This is the opposite to dominating!
    • There might occasionally be times when a consensus cannot be reached between them, and he must take the responsibility of showing leadership
    • Respecting her husband’s leadership does not in any way require that a wife submit to abuse, either verbal or physical
    • Nor should she submit to anything that is against God’s laws

Single People

  • Paul gives six example relationships in this passage
    • Husbands, wives, parents, children, servants, masters
  • But we can extend the principles to any relationship
  • Every friendship carries commitment and requires self-sacrifice
  • Sometimes we have to give ourselves like Christ
  • Sometimes we have to put up with stuff out of love
  • Jesus love is the best we could ever hope for! We are secure in it for eternity!
  • Friendship today in the West can be very lightweight
  • That does not mean that we should not have healthy boundaries
    • Submitting to one another does not mean allowing them to trample over you, but lifting up their best interests above your own
  • If you are struggling in any kind of relationship right now, ask Jesus for his love to flow through you
  • But the best news of all is that we are the bride!
    • What a perfect husband!
    • What an incredible example of love!
  • If you are not a follower of Jesus today, they don’t wait!
    • He is offering his love to you.
      • You can receive his love, and become part of that perfect marriage in the future
      • Submit to him and he will love you for eternity with that self-sacrificial love that is too beautiful for words.
Last updated on 22 Oct 2023
Published on 22 Oct 2023