These are some of the most wonderful and amazing verses in all of Scripture, yet sadly, they are among the least understood, for over the years many have seen fit to twist them to their own personal purposes, while others have bristled at the notion of submission to anyone. This is sad for a number of reasons, but I think the saddest of all is that those who react this way miss out on some of the greatest blessings of all.
It really isn’t my purpose here to go through a definitive study of this passage; I have done so more than once on TLP already. However, I would like to give a brief overview of the passage in light of our ongoing topic of naked before God in community, for these few verses shed a great deal of light and lead us to our next and last area of discussion in this series.
Paul set the context in the first verse: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Notice that no one is in a position to dominate or abuse any other person; in our metaphor of “nakedness”, everyone is “naked” in this context. Then Paul moves on to instruct wives to submit to their husbands in vv. 22-24. This is where many today are likely to object, for they see an inequality between husband and wife, and I will admit that if you only look a 22-24 you have a good point, but the context is set by 21; they submit to one another− Paul simply spoke to the ladies first.
He turns his attention to husbands in vv. 25-29: Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. Christ sacrificed His life for the Church, and husbands are to sacrifice their lives for their wives. Where is there room for childish, selfish, self-centered, domineering husbands to abuse or dominate their wives in this? Unless you can find the self-centered, childish and selfish Christ, there isn’t. Paul in this passage is giving us an illustration of what it means to “submit to one another” which dear reader is a partnership, not a dictatorship. In other words, it is naked before God in a very special community of two.
You also will notice that in the husband remarks, there is more comparison between the husband and Christ Himself, for husbands are expected to act accordingly. Yet I have heard of husbands who do not quite behave like Christ, claiming that they are the ones firmly “in charge” of everything because of verse 23: “ For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church”. Obviously this view is taken outside of the context of verse 21, and even worse, it omits the rest of verse 23 which reads in full: “ For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior” How did Christ become the Savior of the church? By sacrificing His life for her!
Paul goes on in vv. 30-31:
for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
No doubt you will recall that in our study of the image of God, we saw the tremendous significance of this as it relates not only to God’s purpose for marriage, but for His purpose in creating humanity as bearers of His image, for it is only when husband and wife come together as one that His image finds its full expression.
So, there is a glance at the section about husbands and wives, but Paul is going to throw us a curve:
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. (5:32-33)
From the beginning of this passage in verse 21, Paul’s instruction to married couples was actually Paul illustrating the relationship between Christ and the church.
In his writings, Paul often uses the word “mystery” to refer to a truth that was long hidden from Mankind, and which has now been revealed in Christ, and the same is true here, for all along marriage has been an illustration of what would come in Christ; it is an illustration of the relationship God wants between Himself and His people. This is a relationship that is so close, so intimate in every way, and which is so expressive of God’s nature, that the most ideal relations between husband and wife are but a picture of the fullness He has in store for us as a Body of believers.
So there you have it, a process by which Christ increases in us, beginning with our learning to be naked and unashamed before God, and then learning to be naked and unashamed before God in community, and then the community itself being naked and unashamed before God (where “naked” is understood in the metaphorical sense). This quality of intimate relationship is there for us to have in this life, in the here and now, and even more so at the culmination of this age.