Husbands and Wives

Ephesians 5:21-33

With these verses, Paul moves from the general instruction about a Christian’s life to a more specific instruction, beginning with the relationship of marriage, a subject that he writes about in more than one letter, as you know. To be perfectly honest, these aren’t my favorite topics to blog about, for it’s easy to get the wrong impression about where this is headed; a post on this text tends to run a bit long as a result; even so, let’s try the short version today.

The main point to keep in mind as you read this, (ladies in particular) is that the relationship between husband and wife isn’t even Paul’s main point. Gentlemen, I think it is also very important that we recognize right off, that historical and cultural attitudes of the past might color our view of some of this, for over the centuries in male dominated societies, our forefathers sometimes ignored the rules of context here, preferring to seize upon certain verses to impose upon their wives some pretty idiotic ideas, ideas that are entirely in opposition to Paul’s teaching.

Yep, one of these days, I’ll do a series of posts, maybe a whole book on Biblical marriage; that’s probably what it would take to it justice. Biblical teachings on marriage aren’t what most people think they are, at least in my view, for they are always really about our relationships with God more than anything else.

Context: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (verse 21) Did you catch “to one another”?

Verses 22-24 are historically our favorite verses in the entire Bible to quote out of context: Yes sir, wives should submit to their husbands in everything! Ladies, please bear in mind that I usually refer to my wife as “She Who Must Be Obeyed”! Paul is using a cultural attitude from the first century Roman Empire to illustrate the relationship between Christ, represented here by husbands, and the church, represented by wives. He is not authorizing husbands to mistreat their wives, for that would be a violation of the marriage covenant.

Verses 25-31 are instructions to husbands, who are supposed to love their wives as Christ loved the church… “and gave Himself up for her.” Jesus gave up His very life on the cross for the church, and likewise, Paul is telling husbands they should give up their very lives for their wives. Most of the time, husbands don’t need to give up their physical lives for their wives, no it’s more like their will, ambitions and “self”. Thus, for a preacher to teach, and a Christian husband to assert domination over wives is purely a perversion of the text.

Wives give up self by submission, husbands give up self by devotion, and the result is a partnership, not domination; everybody wins.

Consider this: Isn’t this what we’ve been saying all along? Giving up self and serving others? Sounds like love doesn’t it?

The final two verses were seldom quoted in days gone by, and they aren’t always mentioned now either:

This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Ephesians 5:32-33

You see, this whole conversation is about Christ and the church; marriage is supposed to be the illustration of that relationship, an illustration that we all recognize and understand, but thanks to the sinful nature of this world, it requires a lot more explaining than perhaps it used to in Paul’s day.

Oh yes, and by the way, husbands really should love their wives as they love themselves, and wives really should respect their husbands.

Isn’t that really a no-brainer?

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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13 Responses to Husbands and Wives

  1. We just covered these verses on Sunday in the imarriage series. Great job!

  2. Tom says:

    I love to tell men (and myself) the part about loving your wife as Christ loved the church. This is being the servant as Jesus was. Excellent short view on this passage.

  3. seeingdeep1 says:

    Because I enjoy your blog and find it very inspirational, I have nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Details can be found at:

  4. Very good! Nice to read a take on this passage by someone that gets it. Verse 21 even more clearly belongs with the rest of the passage when you realise that the word “submit” isn’t even in verse 22. It ought to read “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ; wives to husbands, as to the Lord…”

  5. Thank you for that, good timing since we starting our pre- marital counseling soon.

  6. Don: Thanks for emphasizing that verse 21 introduces the passage. I have always felt that if you pay close attention to verse 21, you can not read the rest of the passage as advocating male dominance.

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