Ephesians 5:22-33Theme: Love and submission.This week’s lessons teach us the only path to marital bliss. LessonSo far as marriage is concerned, Paul is saying that the wife is to assume a subordinate role in the home. This is not due to a lack of equality. The equality of male and female, child and parent, servant and master as to their being made in God’s image and being valuable to God is absolute and unquestionable. Moreover, the subordination involved, particularly that of the wife and child, is voluntary. No woman need accept the proposal of any man. However, if she does voluntarily accept that proposal and thus enter into matrimony (and if she is a Christian woman, desiring to be what God here and elsewhere declares she is to be), she thereby accepts the headship of her husband and promises submission to him. We know that there are thousands of women who rail against this, and there are thousands of men who obviously give them just cause. But a Christian woman will nevertheless desire and seek to live up to God’s standard.
Moreover, this is what wives really want. We hear much to the contrary today, particularly from advocates of the feminist movement, and might, therefore, think that women want to dominate their husbands – and should, if they have the brains and the will to do it. But this is the devil’s lie. No good woman, (indeed, hardly any woman at all) wants a man she can boss around. She wants a man she can look up to, whose judgment she can respect, and whose leadership she can respond to. If she does not get this in her man, she feels cheated. True, wives are sinners like their husbands. Wives will struggle with their husbands for the mastery. They will fight for their own way. But deep inside, what wives really want is a man who will rule them and their home – gently and with love, to be sure – but rule them nonetheless.
According to Paul, the wife is to submit to her husband “as to the Lord.” That is, there is an analogy between the way she submits to Jesus Christ as Lord of her life and the way she submits to her husband as lord of her home. This is because God has made the husband to be head of his wife just as he has made Christ to be head of the church, which is his body.
But just because the wife is to submit to her husband does not give the husband a right to act like a petty tyrant around the house. In fact, he is not to be a tyrant at all. If the wife’s standard in the marriage is to be the very high standard of her love for and submission to Jesus Christ, well, the man’s standard is to be even higher. He is to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. No woman will have much trouble submitting to a man who loves like that. No good woman will struggle hard against a man who is willing to die for her.
In talking about the husband’s duty toward his wife, Paul uses five verbs drawn from Christ’s actions toward his bride, the Church.
The first verb is found in verse 25: “Christ loved the church.” Love is Paul’s key word for Christian husbands, just as submit is his key word for Christian wives. It is not to be taken lightly. What does love mean? I like Walter Trobisch’s definition: “Let me try to tell you what it really should mean if a fellow says to a girl, ‘I love you.’ It means: ‘You, you, you. You alone. You shall reign in my heart. You are the one whom I have longed for; without you I am incomplete. I will give everything for you, and I will give up everything for you, myself as well as all that I possess. I will love you alone, and I will work for you alone. And I will wait for you…. I will never force you, not even by words. I want to guard you, protect you and keep you from all evil. I want to share with you all my thoughts, my heart and my body – all that I possess. I want to listen to what you have to say. There is nothing I want to undertake without your blessing. I want to remain always at your side.’ “1 Love like that blesses and makes homes stable. It is learned only at the feet of Jesus Christ.
Do husbands love like that? Do men even understand that this is what true love is? Not many! Yet this is their standard, and they are responsible for getting to know it and then for acting upon it. In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter tells husbands that if they do not love like this, God will not even listen to their prayers. “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” Why should God listen to a man who does not even know how to treat his wife properly?
1. Walter Trobisch, I Loved a Girl (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), pp. 3-4.
Why is it that a wife can submit to her husband while retaining her equality?
Describe the sort of love God desires husbands to have for their wives.