How Is Your Marriage?
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, November 14, 2004
Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. . . . Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. - Ephesians 5:22, 25
Marriage is God's foundational institution. According to the Bible, marriage is not an invention of man. Rather, God created it as the basic institution from which all other institutions, such as the church, the state, the schools, and so on, arise. So when marriage and family function correctly, all other aspects of society will function correctly as well.
Within marriage, the husband has been given the ultimate responsibility for the welfare of his household. Thus, when God created man, he endowed him with the necessary gifts to rule. Woman was created after Adam, out of Adam, and for Adam, to assist him in his work as a deputy of God. So we must note that homosexuality is rebellion against God's order.
According to this passage, Christian marriage can only be understood in the light of the relationship of Christ to the church. As Christ is the head of the church, so the husband is the head of his wife. We cannot get away from that conclusion. As the church voluntarily submits to Christ, so a wife must voluntarily submit to her husband; and as Christ sacrificially loves the church, so a husband ought to love his wife sacrificially. These two duties of Christian marriage are emphasized in this passage-the wife's voluntary submission to her husband, and the husband's sacrificial love for his wife.
In order to enjoy a happy Christian married life, several conditions must be met. First, both must be believers in Jesus Christ. Second, because these duties relate to the command in Ephesians 5:18, "Be filled with the Spirit," both husband and wife must be filled with the Spirit, meaning they must be under the sovereign rule of the Holy Spirit of God. Third, they must submit to one another, according to Ephesians 5:21, which speaks of the mutual submission that is required of all believers. Fourth, both must fear Christ enough to do his will. Verse 21 says to submit to one another "out of reverence for Christ," but in the Greek it is "in the fear of Christ." You see, even the devil believes and trembles, but he never obeys God. But the one who truly fears God will obey him implicitly. So here in Ephesians 5:22-6:9, we are given three specific illustrations of submission: wives to husbands, children to parents, and servants to masters. And elsewhere we are told citizens must submit to the state, and believers to their elders.
I. The Duty of a Christian Wife - Voluntary Submission
During the time of Jesus, the disobedient Jewish people treated women as chattel. In fact, Jewish men prayed, "I thank you, God, that I am not a Gentile, nor a slave, nor a woman." Gentile men had the same view and treated their women as mere property with no legal rights.
But the Bible elevates men and women to the same level. There is no difference between male and female (Galatians 3:28). Men and women are equal before God in respect to their being, or personhood; they are just given different responsibilities. It is similar to the roles within the Trinity-there is equality in being among the Persons of the Godhead, but difference in function.
The duty of the Christian wife is to submit to her own husband. If a Christian woman does not wish to submit voluntarily to a husband, that is fine-but she should not get married, because when she marries, she automatically comes under biblical order. A married Christian woman is required to submit to her husband by Jesus Christ, the head of the church. Paul describes a wife in Romans 7:2 by a single Greek word, hupandros, which means "under husband." A woman is under her father before marriage, but once she is married, she is under her husband.
We must note that in all relationships, submission must be rendered in the fear of Christ: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (v. 21); "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord" (v. 22); "Children, obey your parents in the Lord" (6:1); "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ" (6:5). Therefore, submission to a delegated human authority is submission to the Lord. There is rule and order in all God's institutions.
What, then, does it mean to submit? It means to relinquish one's rights voluntarily. It is a willing action. And notice, this submission is unqualified; it has nothing to do with the gifts and talents of the husband. It does not matter whether he is tall, handsome, brilliant, monied-no such qualifications are given. If a woman is married, then she must submit to her husband.
Submission is a humble recognition of the divine order of society and of another's worth. Submission is a form of agape love, a surrendering and giving of oneself for another's benefit. The Bible teaches submission in seven areas of relational life: Christ submits to and completely obeys the will of the Father; a church submits to Christ; believers submit to elders; a wife submits to her husband; children submit to their parents; citizens submit to the state; and servants submit to their masters.
The submission of the wife in the home has nothing to do with any intrinsic inferiority of the wife or any intrinsic superiority of the husband. As noted earlier, the Persons of the Trinity are co-equal, and yet Christ submits to the Father. Even so, there is equality of persons between husband and wife, yet there exists functional role differences. We could also call this a difference of office. So, for instance, suppose there is a policeman named Joseph Brown. We all are equal to him in being, but not in office. There is a certain authority invested in Mr. Brown by virtue of his office; therefore, we must submit to him. Suppose Joseph Brown is married. God has invested him with certain authority in that realm also, the authority of being a husband. Or consider P. G. Mathew, pastor. I am equal to you and you are equal to me in being, but we are not equal in office. Authority is given by God to the policeman, the pastor, the magistrate, the parent, the husband, and so on.
So there is equality of being but difference in function. This difference of office is not of human origin, but of divine appointment. So a husband does not just take that authority to himself. It was given to him in the creation ordinance. He is appointed by God to the office of husband for the purpose of maintaining order in the family. If we disagree with this, we are disagreeing, not with the husband, but with God.
A wife is to submit to her own husband. Some wives are eager to submit to everyone except their own husbands. But that is wrong. And verse 22 says they are to submit "as to the Lord." So when a wife obeys her husband, she is obeying the Lord, and disobedience to one's husband is an expression of one's lack of obedience to the Lord. Additionally, the Lord commands that a wife submit to her husband voluntarily. Christ has appointed the husband as ruler in the home; he did not take this office of husband upon himself, but functions in it in Christ's name. Therefore, to submit to the husband is to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom all authority is given.
Colossians 3:18 tells us, "Wives, submit to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord." This means that it is a legal requirement of the Lord, a divinely given duty, for the wife to submit. This is not partial submission or obedience. Ephesians 5:24 tells us, "Wives should submit to their husbands in everything" (italics added). Of course, a wife must disobey her husband if he asks her to violate the word of God and commit sin. She must obey God rather than men, because she is under God's sovereign rule. However, if her husband is not asking her to sin, then a Christian wife must submit to her husband in everything.
However, a submissive wife is not a passive wife. Husbands and wives complement each other, which means one is incomplete without the other. So a wife should not be passive, but must express her views. The husband does not know everything; that is why God gives him a wife! Therefore, within Christian marriage, there must be discussion, communication, consulting, and sharing of ideas.
But the wife should never act independently as Eve did. Initiative and leadership in the home belongs to her husband. Neither should she engage in paralysis or convulsion. Paralysis is when one does not act when directed; convulsion is when one acts without direction. There should be coordinated, not independent action: the wife follows as the husband leads.
Why should a wife submit voluntarily to her husband's leading? Two reasons are given: creation order and redemption order (1 Timothy 2:13-14).
Creation order. The husband is the head of the wife based on the order of creation. Eve was created after Adam, out of Adam, and for Adam, to help him rule as God's deputy. But Eve failed to do this, and, by acting independently of Adam, she plunged the entire cosmos into sin. Adam also sinned, but he did so deliberately; he was not deceived. Notice, then, man's creational headship came into existence, not after the Fall, but before it.
So there is equality of persons between men and women, but not of roles and functions. Galatians 3:28 speaks of the equality of persons: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." And 1 Corinthians 11:3 speaks of the difference in function: "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." This difference is not manmade, but God-ordained.
Modern feminists rebel against such divine order. They seek, not even equality, but superiority over men. But just as homosexuality is rebellion against God's order, feminism of this kind is rebellion against God's order, although even Bible-believing Christians are influenced by these ideas. We must therefore be very careful to be faithful to God's word.
Redemption order. The second reason a wife should submit voluntarily to her husband's leading is found in the order of redemption. Because she acted independently of her husband, Eve was deceived and sinned. Now, in redemption, a wife is to submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ, the head of the church. Ephesians 1:22 speaks of this headship of Christ: "And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church." Ephesians 4:15-16 says, "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."
As head of the church, Christ directs and provides for the church, which is vitally united to him as his body. A husband likewise should function as the head in directing and providing for his body, his wife. In fact, the Bible says one who does not provide for his household is worse than an unbeliever.
II. The Duty of a Christian Husband - Sacrificial Love
As we noted earlier, before a man can execute his role as a husband, certain conditions must be met. First, he must be filled with the Holy Spirit, as commanded in Ephesians 5:18. Second, he must understand that God demands mutual submission in the fear of Christ, as in verse 21. Third, he must fear Christ enough to obey him completely. Fourth, he must realize that he also has a head, the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom he must fully submit. So submission is not just the wife's responsibility; it is also the responsibility of the husband.
What, then, is the duty of the husband? As we study this passage, it may come as a surprise. If the duty of the wife is to submit voluntarily, we would expect the duty of the husband to be something like, "Husbands, rule your wives well." But the word "rule" does not appear here. Instead, it says, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (v. 25). That does not mean the responsibility of ruling is absent, but it is an aspect of love.
Ephesians 5:25-33 specifically says,
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church-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.' 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.
That final verse should actually be translated from the Greek as: "The wife must fear [phobeomai] her husband." We find the same word in verse 21 about mutual submission: "Submit to one another in the fear of Christ." I like the word "fear." The idea is that you fear Christ enough to obey him, because the Bible says the fear of God keeps us from sinning. If a child fears his father, he will not sin. If a wife fears her husband, she will not sin, but do what is right.
Notice, God demands only one thing of a Christian wife-that she submit to her husband. But he makes a much greater demand of a Christian husband: He must love his wife as Christ loved the church and died for her. This is asking nothing less than death of oneself in loving one's wife.
Now, it is interesting to note that the word "submit" does not appear in direct reference to the duty of the wife in this text. Verse 22 simply says, "Wives, to your own husbands as to the Lord." But it follows verse 21, "Submit to one another. . . ." Likewise, verse 24 says, "Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives to their own husbands in everything." In other words, the submission is implicit from the text. However, when it comes to the divine demand of the husbands to love their wives, it is stated directly, not once but three times, twice in the imperative mood and once as an infinitive. So in verse 25 we read, "Husbands, love your wives." It is stated again in verse 28: "Husbands ought to love their wives," and in verse 33: "Each one of you also must love his wife." It is a direct command of the Lord and head of the church; therefore a Christian must obey it. And the imperatives are present, meaning a husband is to love continuously, not once in a while.
The word "love" used here is agapaŰ. This love that Christ is demanding of the husband is a self-sacrificing love. So this is a serious command: a husband loves his wife by sacrificing himself for her. This is certainly not the worldly view of love. When the world, especially Hollywood, speaks of love, it actually means lust, which is self-centered, always trying to get something for oneself at the expense of others. Lust is like a black hole sucking everything into it. But true agapÍ love gives oneself to the other.
Only Christians know how to love in this manner. The world only knows lust, because the world is self-centered. But Christians are commanded to deny themselves, take up the cross daily and follow Jesus. A Christian is to live a selfless life so that he can serve others. (PGM) If one is self-centered, he cannot serve anyone, and when self enters marriage, marriage is destroyed. Self-pleasing and Christian love are opposites. Just examine your own married life. Whenever there was a fight, you found it was rooted in self-centeredness. Absence of self-centeredness means absence of quarrels.
AgapÍ love is demonstrated in the story of Hosea and his wife Gomer. Throughout the book of Hosea, God reveals how we must love. Hosea married Gomer in obedience to God's command, but she was unfaithful to him and went after other lovers. What did Hosea do? He sent provisions to his wife even while she was living with her lovers, and when she sank so low in her sinful life that she was brought to the marketplace of Samaria to be sold, Hosea showed up where they were auctioning her off. He gave the maximum price-fifteen pieces of silver and a homer and a half of barley-to redeem his wandering, sinful wife, brought her home, clothed her, and told her, "I still love you and you are my wife." It is just amazing to read that story.
But agapÍ love is expressed in even greater brilliance in the life of Jesus Christ. The price he paid for us rebels was not silver or gold or barley, but his own precious blood. God demands every Christian husband should love his wife in the same way.
The Manner of Love
What is the extent of this love demanded of husbands toward their wives? "As Christ loved" (v. 25). This is a very high demand. Paul uses five verbal phrases to describe such sacrificial love in verses 25-27.
"Just as Christ loved the church . . ." The first verb is "loved," referring to agapÍ love. When did Christ love us? From all eternity. In eternity past God looked upon us and saw us in our fallen, rebellious condition. Though we were unlovely, he loved us. So the Father planned our salvation, Christ agreed to accomplish it, and the Holy Spirit agreed to apply it to the elect.
Romans 5 tells us how unlovely we were when Christ loved us. First, we were powerless to save ourselves. We were like Lazarus, who lay dead in the tomb for four days. That speaks of the utter powerlessness of a sinner to save himself. Second, we were ungodly. Third, we were sinners. Fourth, we were enemies of God. It was as if we had grenades in our hands and were throwing them at the very face of God, hoping to destroy him. That is how serious the enmity in the human heart is. Christ loved us because we were not lovely, and he loved us in order to make us lovely.
So Ephesians 5:33 says, "Each one of you also must love his wife." There is no exception. Each husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. Each husband is to love his wife as himself, in spite of all the problems she may have. Now, this can be difficult. We can find many reasons not to love, and we can articulate them, one after another. Your wife may leave her shoes in the middle of the living room, and when you go to the sink, it is full of hair. Do you understand? We may have a hundred and one reasons not to love. But think of how God loves us. He loved us when we were unlovely. So you have no right to say, "I don't want to love my wife because she has problems." You may have addressed a particular issue with her a hundred times, and still there is no change. But that does not give you a right not to love her. No, you must love in spite of her problems and deficiencies. You must love her "as Christ loved the church."
Each husband has power to love his wife as Christ loved the church. That is why he must be filled with the Spirit, for it is he who gives us the power. God never asks his people to do something of which we are incapable. And each husband is to love his wife until death. This is the divine requirement.
"And gave himself up for her . . ." Christ loved the church and died for her benefit. That is what "gave himself" means. Christ gave himself up for us in complete submission to the Father's will. Christ died for our sins. So the standard of love is the cross of Jesus Christ. The standard is nothing less than the doctrine of the atonement. A husband must always keep in mind Christ's death on the cross as the governing principle for his love for his wife.
In Philippians 2 we are told about this voluntary humility and submission of Jesus Christ to God's plan that he die for us: "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!" (vv. 6-8) Keep that in mind. That is what "gave himself up" means. It is speaking about the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The eternal Son of God humbled himself, became man, and was born of a virgin. He humbled himself and became a servant, living a life of perfect obedience. Finally, he humbled himself and became obedient to the cruel death of the cross. Why did he do it? Because he loved us. There was no other way. Jesus himself said: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). So we read in Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
"To make her holy . . ." The third verbal phrase used to describe Christ's sacrificial love is "to sanctify her" or "to make her holy." It answers the question of why Christ gave himself up for the church. Man's problem is sin-the guilt of sin, the pollution of sin, the power of sin, and the presence of sin. God is holy but we are sinful. So God's plan of salvation took care of this problem of sin: Christ died in our place for our sins that he may sanctify us, separating us to God's use and making us holy experimentally. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all our sins. We need forgiveness and righteousness, and we are granted both on the basis of the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.
"Cleansing her by the washing with water through the word . . ." There are many difficulties in interpreting this phrase. Roman Catholics would say Christ purifies us through baptismal regeneration. Protestants would also say this is speaking about baptism, but as an outward sign of inward grace brought about through the preaching of the word. Another interpretation is that the water is the word; therefore, cleansing is brought about by the ministry of the gospel. But no matter how you interpret it, one thing is constant: salvation does not take place without the proclamation of the gospel.
As the gospel is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit regenerates us and imparts saving faith to us. The Holy Spirit also gives us the gift of repentance. The moment we trust in Christ, we are justified-forgiven of all our sins and clothed in the righteousness of Christ-and then begins the ongoing work of sanctification. Through sanctification God makes us experientially holy. And we are glorified when Christ returns. Our problem was sin, but Christ died to make us holy, having cleansed us by the washing with water by the word.
"And to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." The ultimate purpose of Christ's death is to present us to himself in glory. We are seen by God from all eternity as filthy, morally corrupt, wandering, rebellious people. Yet God sent his Son, and through his work and the work of the Holy Spirit we will one day be made glorious.
Note that the church is not making herself glorious; it is the work of Christ. Our heavenly Bridegroom is going to marry us, but he wants a wife whose character is like his. So he works on us until we are made glorious, with brilliant purity and dazzling beauty. C.S. Lewis said all people are going to become either creatures of dazzling beauty or creatures of extreme horror. If we are Christians, we are going to be made glorious. This is the work of Christ, and he will achieve it even if he has to do things that we do not like. The ultimate purpose is that he will present us to himself in brilliant purity.
It is for this purpose that Christ's ministers labor daily. In Colossians 1:28-29 Paul says, "We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me."
Christ's goal is our perfection. Thus, he will eliminate our every stain and wrinkle, and will even use sufferings and chastisements in the process. Whether we like it or not, he will do it, because his purpose is to make us glorious. He will not rest until we conform to his own character (Romans 8:29). One day we shall be like him.
Zephaniah 3:17 says, "The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Even now he is singing. Even now he is pleased with us. But there is coming a day when the Lord Jesus Christ will be filled with joy and he will sing, as he sees the fruit of his labor in the glory of his bride, the church. So we read in Revelation 19:6-8, "Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: 'Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.'" Finally, that day will arrive. And in Jude verses 24-25 we read, "To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy-to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen." Jesus Christ makes us holy and blameless.
Sacrificial Love Imitated
In verse 28 we are told, "In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies." The word "ought" means we have no choice in the matter. This is a divine demand. The word "ought" is not used with reference to the wife, but it is used with reference to the husband. This responsibility is clearly stated: the husband ought to love his wife as his own body.
Next it says, "No one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it. . . ." That is always true, unless a person is mentally ill. A normal person nourishes and cherishes his own body. The verse continues, "just as Christ does the church." Think about that. Every moment Christ feeds, clothes, nourishes and cherishes his church, both corporately and individually. Not only does our heavenly Father know what we need, but he provides for us every moment of our lives in Christ.
A husband must love his wife because she is part of him. In Ephesians 5:31Paul refers to Genesis 2. Eve was created after Adam and out of Adam, and so Adam says she is "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." Paul quotes Genesis 2:24, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." The divine point of view is that your wife is part of you. Thus, you must love her as you love your own body. You are the head and she is the body. You never hate your own body; you nourish and cherish it. Do the same with your wife.
A husband should treat his wife as himself. A married man should leave his parents, cleave unto his wife, and be one flesh with her. There is a three-dimensional unity between husband and wife in Christian marriage. First, there is the physical union, human sexuality. Second, there is a union of souls, an intellectual and emotional union. And third, there is union of the spirits in terms of worship, prayer, Christian service, and reading of the word. So if a Christian marries a non-Christian, he will not have this communion. Only within Christian marriage is there this three-dimensional union and communion.
Husbands, do you realize that your wife is part of you? You are no longer two, but one. I hope we will all think this way. You are one physically, spiritually, intellectually, and in all ways. This means in all your thinking you must include your wife. When you think in isolation, not including her, you have broken marriage. You must include the wife because she is part of you. Just as you cannot detach yourself from your body, so you cannot detach yourself from your wife. You must treat her as you treat yourself, and to abuse her is to abuse yourself. Do not neglect her, as Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, by living as though you are still a bachelor. Do not accept an invitation if your wife is not invited. Do not take her for granted. Just as Christ nourishes and cherishes every one of us every moment, so you are to nourish and cherish your wife.
Married people can live in great happiness when they realize Christian marriage is an illustration of the greater reality of the marriage relationship that exists between Christ and the church. As members of Christ's body, we are daily nourished and cherished by our Bridegroom. He meets our every need. He is with us in sickness and in health, whether we are rich or poor, in joy and in sorrow. He is the vine and we are the branches, so his divine grace flows into us always. And no matter what, his grace will be sufficient for all our needs, even in the hour of our death.
Never marry a non-Christian. Be sure the person you marry is a Christian in truth (1 Corinthians 7:39).
Be filled with the Holy Spirit. Every aspect of the Christian life is connected to this. Being filled with the Spirit means to be continuously governed and controlled by the Holy Spirit through the Scripture (Ephesians 5:18).
Submit to one another in the fear of Christ (Ephesians 5:21). There should be mutual submission.
Fear the Lord Jesus Christ enough to obey him (Ephesians 5:21).
Keep your eyes on your God-given duty alone, not on anybody else's. Don't ask, "How can I benefit from this?" but "What is my duty?" The duty of a wife is unqualified submission-submitting voluntarily and freely. The duty of the husband is unqualified love. This is all each person needs to do.
Realize that all blessings will come to you when you do your duty (1 Peter 3).
Rule out divorce from your thinking. Christ's relationship to the church is indissoluble. He will never divorce us. In fact, the Bible says God hates divorce.
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Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
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