As we begin a new year, it’s worth reviewing some of the most basic assignments we have in our marriages. The central paradigm is the gospel, and the central duties are love and respect. But as with many of these things that we hear often, it is incredibly important that we determine by God’s grace not to be merely hearers of the Word but doers.
The Text: “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 Savior of the Body…” (Eph. 5:22-33).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
The Bible teaches that marriage is one of the central pictures of the gospel (Eph. 5:23-25, 32), and therefore generally speaking, the state of marriage in a land will tell you a lot about the state of the gospel in that land. This gospel is embodied by a wife submitting to her own husband as to the Lord Jesus (Eph. 5:22), and each husband taking responsibility for his wife just as Christ does as the head of the church (Eph. 5:23). This means that a wife is to obey her husband as the church obeys Christ in everything (Eph. 5:24). And husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church, laying down his life for her efficaciously, making her pure and holy (Eph. 5:25-27). This love is exemplified in the way a man cares for his own body, nourishing and cherishing, again, just as the Lord does the Church (Eph. 5:28-30). A man leaves his father and mother to become one flesh with his wife, and this is all a great mystery that proclaims Christ and the church (Eph. 5:31-32). Therefore, a man must love his wife, and a wife must reverence her husband (Eph. 5:33).
The command is for husbands to love because men need to be reminded to do this and because it is what a wife particularly needs. A man more naturally tends to respect, but that is not the particular command given. Christ is the model of this love, and what the Bible particularly points out is the duty of taking responsibility for her as her head and sacrificing for her good (Eph. 5:23, 25-27). This requires you to understand the difference between responsibility and guilt: you may not be personally guilty for some sin of your wife, but you are responsible for all of it, just as you may not be guilty for some injuries in your body but you are responsible (Eph. 5:28).
This love also requires thoughtfulness about your wife’s needs. You are not to love her aimlessly. You are to love like Christ, which is to say efficaciously. You are to give yourself for her to make her more holy and pure (Eph. 5:25-26). And you are to do this in order to present her to yourself more glorious and lovely, just like Jesus does (Eph. 5:27). Loving your wife well doesn’t mean doing whatever she wants; it means doing whatever it takes to make her a better woman.
The command is for wives to respect because women need to be reminded to do this and because it is what a man particularly needs. Women tend to more naturally love, and while that is certainly good (Tit. 2:4), the particular command is for wives to respect (Eph. 5:33). And this is also word for single ladies: your standard for a man needs to be not whether you do or could love him; your standard needs to be: do you respect him?
What is respect? Respect is honor, looking up to, thinking highly of, including the kind of trust that willingly submits to and obeys (Eph. 5:22, 24). Just as we live in a world that despises fathers; we live in a world that despises true husbands. And unfortunately many Christian women feel free to dishonor their husbands openly, making fun of them, talking them down, complaining about them, or simply being difficult for them, and it is often all dismissed with the hand-waving excuse, “but I love him.” However, the example a woman is given is the obedience of the church to Christ. How would you have the Christian Church submit to Christ? Then show the world in your submissive respect for your husband.
This love and respect is designed by God to result in a glorious unity and fellowship. But sin has twisted every son and daughter of Adam, and the curse has particularly attacked marriage, creating tension and hurt where there was none before (Gen. 3:16). This is why the only way for a marriage to have true Christian fellowship is by the blood of the Lamb: “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:7). If this is true of Christian fellowship in general, it is most certainly true of Christian marriage in particular. But the thing to underline here is that marriage fellowship is one of the primary contributors to all fellowship. What you are sharing with one another is either true Christian fellowship (koinonia) (1 Cor. 10:16, 1 Jn. 1:3) or else it is some kind of Satanic, pharisaical cancer. You are one with your spouse, and when you come here, you are sharing that with one another (1 Cor. 11).
Never forget that these instructions come as part of the great “therefore” of Ephesians 4:1. We love because He loved us first. We work because we are His workmanship (Eph. 2:10). Which is to say that all of this is only possible by God’s grace. But grace is not something vague, like a Christian version of “luck” or “good vibes” or random windfalls. Grace is the personal favor and blessing of God in Jesus Christ. It begins with His personal forgiveness, but it also includes the wisdom and power to obey all of His commands: we stand in His grace (Rom. 5:1-2).
There are particular strengths and glories that men and women bring to the world, and they take shape as men take responsibility and love their wives and as women submit to their husbands and respect them. Harmony is not the result of everyone singing the same music. Harmony happens when each part sings the part assigned to them.