EPHESIANS 5:22a (cont.)
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:22a (cont.) “Wives,. . .”
Our word “wives” is derived from an Old English root meaning “weaver.” The wife was one who weaved. Before clothing factories, every family made their own clothes. Wool was spun into thread by girls, who were thus called spinsters; thread was woven into cloth by the mother, accordingly called the weaver, or the wife. Another remnant of this olden day is our word “heirloom,” which now applies to any article handed down by ancestors, but originally referred to inheriting the most important article in every house, the loom.
This derivation of “wives” highlights a vital truth. “Wives” are vitally connected to the inner workings of a household. Scripture clearly teaches that a wife’s first and foremost responsibility is to oversee the ongoing, everyday affairs of her household.
Paul admonished older women to “teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands” (Titus 2:4-5). I am excited about our new ladies’ ministry because it follows this Biblical injunction precisely. Women are teaching women “the priorities of Christian womanhood” (MacArthur).
The wife’s role in the home is not one of servility or inferiority, but rather one of honor and prominence. Paul advised young women to “marry, bear children, guide the house” (1 TM 5:14). The New English Bible translates “guide the house” as “preside over a home.” This is a significant truth. Home is the domain of the woman. She should supervise the everyday affairs of her household.
In Proverbs 31, the “excellent wife,” one whose “worth is far above jewels,” decides about clothing (v. 13), purchases food (v. 14), prepares meals and prescribes household tasks (15, NASB margin), purchases property, gardens (16), extends help to the poor and needy (20), dresses well (22), makes her husband proud to be her man (23), trades and makes money in the marketplace (24), and opens her mouth in wisdom, implying input in family matters (26).
This does not sound like a repressed woman. The Bible pictures the ideal wife as one who understands her role and accepts it eagerly. She has a job to do, to run her household smoothly. She takes care of responsibilities inside the house, and then is free to expand her activities, to be involved in the community, to earn money, to make investments, to “pursue a career.” Godly Priscilla worked with her husband in the trade of tent-making (AC 18:1-3).
In our culture, Christian women pursue various career options. Some choose homemaking as a full-time occupation. Others work outside the home as well. Many, including most single mothers, would rather do nothing more than quit their jobs and come home to care for the family, but have no other option than to work. All these decisions must be prayerfully made by the adults involved.
The vast majority of Christian women in America at one time or another work outside the home. Hence, this message addresses the subject of balancing the dual management of a home and of a job. Most of my remarks are for wives, but lest I be misunderstood as advocating a double standard, I will speak some to husbands.
A woman who works outside the home is in danger of becoming enamored with the business world, and thus letting her family responsibilities slide. It is fine to work outside the home, but remember, Scripture says the household comes first. A lady may begin outside employment with right intentions, but as time goes by, house work may become less and less satisfying. The home-front can easily become a bore, a burden, something not very important.
The same can happen to men. They often become so absorbed in work that home life becomes unimportant and thus nonexistent; wives become husband-less, children fatherless. Always be re-evaluating the standard of living you seek to attain. In trying to provide better things for their family, couples often lose their family.
A wife who works outside the home increases the statistical possibility of an extramarital affair. More than half (54%) of all affairs begin with a contact made in the workplace. Husbands and wives, be careful at work. Try to avoid social and business situations which involve being alone with someone of the opposite sex.
A mother who works outside the home needs to provide the best care she can for her children. Fathers must share in this vital selection. Investigate who is caring for your children. Provide the best child care possible. Do not let your home become an afternoon orphanage. Latch-key children constitute an American tragedy. Do not neglect the little ones. If the children suffer, Mother come home, if at all possible. Having someone at home at all times provides a family with an emotional anchor. This was certainly true in my childhood. Mom sometimes worked outside the house, but home was immeasurably more pleasant when she did not.
A wife who works outside the home needs to step back often, analyze her situation, and see if she is being cheated. Husband, protect your wife. Occasionally help her evaluate whether or not the result justifies the process. Even with the progress made by women in recent decades, America’s economy is still male dominated. For many women, the work-place is very unfair and unfriendly.
In an article from “Barron’s” financial weekly, economist Richard Hokenson says an estimated 80% of every dollar earned by the average working mother goes to taxes, child care, meals at work, gas, and clothing. For many women, going to work just does not pay off. This factor is influencing some women to leave the work place. The percentage of women in the work force between the ages of 25 and 44 is dropping for the first time in 25 years. The decline is most pronounced in the 20 to 24 age group, where the level of working women has slipped to 70% from 75% since 1989.
As a side note, Dr. Dobson says many of these younger women are staying at home because they feel they were neglected by their mothers. We baby boomers deemed our 1950s mothers as trapped in the drudgery of housework. We often took family for granted, opted for business careers, and sought fulfillment outside the home. Now comes the backlash. Our children want to give their youngsters the kind of home we boomers had as children, but many busters did not.
A wife who works outside the home must always be on guard to stave off exhaustion. In households where both husband and wife work outside the home, a feeling often creeps in of everything being out of control. People sense they are on a treadmill. Home becomes a havoc rather than a haven. Each member of the family, including the wife, who works outside the home becomes subject to an authority outside the family. Thus, the family schedule becomes automatically more complicated. A full-time homemaker is accountable only to her family, and thus has more flexibility in scheduling. “In his kindness toward womanhood, the Lord, fully realizing that within the family much of the care of children will rest on the wife, has been pleased not to overburden her” (Hendriksen).
Juggling work and family exhausts many women. My friend, Bob Curtis, pastor of Ballwin Baptist Church in St. Louis, says, “Women are under a considerable amount of stress at work and also stress at home, because their husbands sometimes take them for granted.” Men, we often are wrongly insensitive to the needs of our working wives. Someone forgot to teach men what their response was supposed to be to the women’s revolution. What happened is, women changed and went to work, but men did not change in their attitude about house-work. Thus, wives often take on a 40 hour work week in the business world, but still have to do a full-time job at home. The result is havoc, for no one can survive an 80 hour work week.
The bottom line is this, the traditional one-paycheck family is America’s fastest-growing household unit. Wives and mothers, let me encourage you. Beware the world’s mind-set and propaganda. Our culture tends to be cynical about the home, and often implies that what husbands and wives do outside the home is more important than what they do inside it. Who says it is more important to be CEO of a large corporation than to be the manager of a household?
No business, corporation, club, or institution is more important than a household, and God has entrusted the management of this most sacred group to “wives.” What an honor and blessed glory this is. She who does it well receives great honor. “Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her” (PR 31:28). And best of all, the Creator of the home shall someday say to her, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
Eph. 5:22b “. . .submit yourselves. . .”
These words are not present in the Greek text. The verb in our present text is understood, and dependent on the present participle in verse 21.
Our text begins Paul’s discussion of how a family should be managed. Like churches (EP 4:7-13 and elsewhere), families have a God-given organizational structure to follow. The family, conceived and created by God, belongs to God, and is to be managed according to His prescribed management style.
In any group, to maintain order, cohesion, and direction, there must be leadership. When a decision has to be made, the group members need to agree on who should make it. The Bible gives this role in the family to the husband.
Husbands, I urge you to use this authority only as a last resort. Encourage discussion and input. Seek consensus. All involved are equals. Often the wife and children’s ideas are better than the husband’s. Once adequate input has been received, if no consensus is reached, and a final decision has to be made, this prerogative resides with the husband.
Note that Paul said nothing about individual submission until after he collectively placed everyone under an umbrella of mutual submission. A wife is called to particular submission in a setting requiring mutual submission.
In a Christian family, equality is always the beginning premise. Happy homes are built on mutual esteem. “The best security blanket a child can have is parents who respect each other” (Jan Blaustone).
Submission of a wife to her husband is never the subjection of an inferior to a superior, but the voluntary–emphasis on voluntary–submission of one equal to another. Not even God forces people into submission. Husband, never yell at, or hit, your wife. Do not try to coerce submission. No woman is to endure beating or abuse from a brutal or drunken husband. A wife is not the pawn of “a little, miserable, poorly-made toy of a man who is the head of his wife because he could not make himself the head of anything else!” (Parker).
Submission does not mean a wife is to cowtow or resemble a muzzled ox. She rather willingly submits in her attitude, and then manifests it in words and deeds. She submits because she chooses to. Hers is a voluntary submission which accepts the husband’s leadership as rightful, not because he is better than she is, but because this is God’s organizational plan for the family.
In all relationships, ultimate satisfaction is found in finding one’s God-ordained role and fulfilling it. God’s arrangement, always created in love for all involved, is in every situation the best plan for everyone. Since submission to the husband is ordained of God, the wife can be certain it is the surest way for her to find true happiness and fulfillment.
Eph. 5:22c “. . .unto your own. . .”
”Own” here is more than a simple possessive. I call it a possessive of endearment. It sounds a note of intensity, as when we say a person betrayed his “own” country, or a mother deserted her “own” child. Each wife has her “own” husband, a special and precious man who is exclusively hers.
Husbands belong to wives as much as wives belong to husbands. Each belongs to the other, a truth pictured in the unique physical relationship they share. “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 C 7:4).
Husband-wife is an extraordinary relationship, unlike any other in the human realm. I find it significant that in this section on the family, Paul did not tell wives to “obey” their husbands, but did tell children and servants to “obey” (6:1,5). In Titus 2:5, Paul instructs wives to be “obedient to their own husbands,” but the fact he avoids the word “obey” here in Ephesians implies a wife’s obedience is not identical to the obedience of children to parents, or of servants to masters. A wife does not fill the position of a child, or of a servant.
The wife accepts a marvelous role. Along with her husband, she enters into life’s most precious relationship, a bond paralleled only by the relationship between Christ and His Church.
Husband-wife is the highest of all human relationships, higher than parent to child, spouse to parent, sibling to sibling, friend to friend. The parent-child relationship is priceless, but secondary, a product of the love between a husband and a wife. Employer-employee relationships take much of our week, but are secondary, and are largely a spouse’s attempt to provide economically for the other spouse.
Young people, you need to understand and accept the priority of your parents’ relationship. When I was a boy, Dad always let Mom buy an extra milk-shake, ride in the front seat of the car, pick the motel we stayed in, etc. Dad was teaching me a valuable lesson, though it was painful at the time. To Husband, Wife matters most.
Husband-wife is the first human relationship that God ordained. The relationship itself is extremely important. Thus, every married person must do things which demonstrate not only the importance of their spouse, but also demonstrate the importance of one’s relationship with that spouse. We are not merely friend with friend, homemaker with breadwinner, employee with another employee. We are husband and wife, and the relationship is critical.
Two people can live under the same roof, encourage one another, and brag on each other, yet not fully develop their relationship. A husband and wife can be complimentary of each other, yet live on parallel tracks, their lives not intersecting in a meaningful way with regard to the relationship they have.
When I married Ruth, she was already a career woman, a school teacher living on her own. We left for seminary, and she continued to work full-time. When the children were born, she came home. As John and Becky grew into adolescence, she started part-time, and ultimately went to full-time, work.
Ruth recently decided to give up employment for a while because we both sense a need to spend more quality time together. This is a major sacrifice on Ruth’s part. I know she will some day want and need to go back to work. In the meantime, it is hard for me to express how much it means to me as a husband to have a wife willing to give up something of value to her in order to enhance our relationship. She already thought I was a good provider, pastor, father, friend, son, brother, and so forth. We have always been mutually complimentary toward each other. Ruth came home to make a statement about the importance of our relationship as husband and wife. Her sacrifice has given me a great sense of security and has reminded me again of how important I am to her, not only as provider, pastor, and friend, but as her “own” husband. It is that kind of sacrifice that makes a marriage great.
By the way, I know how I must respond to her sacrifice. My role is to make concessions for Ruth, to be extra careful to protect her feelings of self-worth, and in my schedule to make time for her, thereby making a statement of my own regarding the value of our relationship. On most days, we are setting aside quality time to be alone together, to talk, to get off the parallel tracks, and to bond as one.
I challenge all husbands and wives, each week seek to spend three to five hours alone together enhancing your relationship–no TV, no movie, no children, no interruption, just two of you eye to eye, discussing life and making a statement about the importance of the relationship which binds you together.
Eph. 5:22d “. . .husbands, as unto the Lord.”
This does not mean the husband’s authority is equal to Christ’s. Wives are not to yield the same deference to husbands as they do to Jesus, the supreme Lord. Their submission to husbands is part of their duty to Christ. Submission is rendered ultimately not for the husband, but for the Lord.
When a wife willingly and sincerely submits to her husband, Jesus sees, is pleased, and accepts that submission as an offering presented unto Himself. Viewed in this way, submission becomes worship, a sacrament rather than a servility. Paul will now seek to explain the reason for wifely submission.
Eph. 5:23a “For the husband is the head of the wife,. . .”
“Head” here refers to being the leader, having authority over another. Notice the limit which is set on a wife’s submission. It is to her husband, not to all men. Wifely submission is not meant to be used as a tool to repress women. A woman has freedom to exert leadership and authority in the work-place. The guidelines taught in our text apply to the inner workings of a home.
Also, I reiterate the fact that the husband being the “head” and the wife being submissive does not imply inherent superiority and inferiority. Many sergeants and lieutenants are more gifted soldiers than their Colonel, but they know they must submit or there will be disarray. A committee’s first need is to appoint a chairperson. The chairperson may not be the most gifted committee member, but everyone knows to follow the leader, or nothing will get done.
Efficiency demands a leader. A house with many heads is a monster. A house with no head is a chaos; anarchy invites disaster. Dr. Ed Wheat, noted author, and father of our own Merry Ann Peoples, describes marriage as the most valuable institution on earth. I agree, and God, deeming marriage too valuable to put at risk, did not allow this wonderful jewel to drift aimlessly along on the tides of time. He Himself prescribed an effective form of management for marriage. The husband is to be the “head,” the wife is to submit.
To properly understand the reason for this prescribed relationship, we must go back to Eden before the Fall. God’s original ordinance provides us the accurate and fundamental understanding of the husband/wife relationship.
Before woman was created, man already existed, already had an occupation–Adam was “put into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (GN 2:15)–and already had begun to exercise dominion, to exert leadership; Adam named “every living creature” (GN 2:19). Thus, before woman was created, man already was a “head,” working and leading. Woman was created as a helper for the man (GN 2:18). Submission of a wife to her husband is the original arrangement, the divinely intended order of God. This is not to say Eve was inferior to Adam. She shares in his dominion over the creation (GN 1:26-28). The submission applied to her relationship within the marriage bond.
This first couple sets the example for all time to come. Husband was leading, Wife came to help, everyone was happy, all was well in paradise. Then something went wrong. Ever since Eden, women have often been oppressed, put down, relegated to sub-human classification. What happened? We know our loving God would never ordain such a thing. Sin is the culprit. Marriage went amok when evil entered the world. The holy husband/wife relationship became distorted. God said to fallen Eve, “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (GN 3:16). “Desire” denotes an impelling urge, and implies wanting to possess and control. “Rule” connotes tyranny and oppression. After sin, wives sought to control and manipulate husbands, and husbands wanted to tyrannize wives. This battle has raged ever since.
The good news is, though sin perverted things, Jesus can undo its damage. Paul’s words are not addressed to everyone, but to Christians who want to please God. These standards are impossibly high to achieve in our own strength, but by being filled with the Spirit (EP 5:18) any couple can be restored to the original joy Adam and Eve shared before sin entered the picture.
Husbands have authority, but uncontrolled authority can lead to abuse. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Thus Paul will now clarify its limits.
Eph. 5:23b “. . .even as Christ is the head of the Church:. . .”
Husbands, Jesus is our divine role model. This is appropriate. He is a husband, His bride being the Church. “As Christ” lifts us above little details and propels us into the ultimate and eternal principle expressed in being a husband. Having Christ as our example lifts our understanding of husband-hood to a higher level. The husband’s role on earth is to mirror Christ’s role in Heaven. Thus, Paul presses ahead to describe Christ’s leadership style.
Eph. 5:23c “. . .and he is the savior of the body.”
What kind of “head” is Jesus? He leads as “the savior of the body.” To His “body,” the Church, He is “savior,” a word full of self-sacrificing love. What management style should husbands use? Servant-leadership, Savior-style.
Christ’s reign is not a tyrannical dictatorship, but a considerate, serving administration of love. “Christ’s rule is a rule for the advantage of the ruled” (Gore). Jesus safeguards His Church, looks after Her, cares for Her. He nourishes Her, cherishes Her, and supplies Her with every good thing.
Christ expresses His will with infinite tenderness. The Church feels His love and thus counts His laws as neither grievous nor burdensome. “The body” delights to obey Jesus, and never considers any other option. The family should follow this lovely model of sacrificial love eliciting joyful response.
Husbands, rule without domineering, lead without cracking the whip. Our families should see nothing but love in our every command. Every husband’s aspiration must be nothing less than to reproduce the savior-ship of Christ. Men, let us be the ever-diligent, self-denying protector, guardian, and deliverer of our families. The purpose of our authority is to safeguard, and to provide our wives with every necessity of life. With a vital interest in the wife’s welfare, the husband’s leadership must be “absolutely remote from all that is harsh or tyrannical or selfish” (Eerdman). Then, based on this unselfish love, and in joyful response to it, the wife is to offer free and loyal allegiance.
Jesus’ role as “head” of the Church was gained by virtue of His willingness to be first of all Her “Savior.” Head-ship is based on Savior-ship. A husband who abdicates his rightful role of sacrificial savior in essence abdicates any legitimate claim to be the head of his wife. God’s management style succeeds when each family member fulfills their ordained role willingly and well.
Eph. 5:24a “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the
wives be to their own husbands. . .”
The Church is fulfilled, not demeaned, by her role of submission to Christ. Neither the Church as a whole nor any individual believer has ever lost anything of true value by being subject to Christ. Likewise, submission brings a wife wholeness. The same God who created this world to be a place where the Church and believers are fulfilled by submission to Him also created marriage in such a way that a wife is elevated and enriched by her submission. When a marriage functions properly, a wife is no more demeaned or squelched by her submission to her husband than by her submission to Christ.
Eph. 5:24b “. . .in every thing.”
Within marriage, the wife is to submit “in everything,” a phrase we must view in context. “As unto the Lord” in verse 22 sets the limit. A wife must submit “in everything” consonant with the character of Christ. A wife must never commit sin for her husband. Sapphira followed Ananias’ lead in lying to God. Wifely submission did not excuse her behavior. She was smitten along with her husband (AC 5:1-11). Christ alone is a wife’s supreme authority.
Two months after my parents married, they left for college in Walnut Ridge AR. One Saturday night Dad told Mom they would sleep late the next morning and not attend church. This fifteen-year-old girl, away from parents, alone with a twenty-one-year-old ex-marine, responded, “I always go to church.” Next morning, she got up early, put on her one Sunday outfit, a pretty yellow dress, and gently asked Dad, “Are you going to church with me?” Dad yelled, “No! I’m going to sleep late!” Mother was not harsh, she was kind and sweet, but went out the door and walked to church. Dad, steaming mad, decided to teach her a lesson. He left home to show her who was boss. He hitchhiked into town and loitered a while. Having no money, being hungry, and missing Doris, about 2:00 p.m. he decided he was being foolish. He hitchhiked back home, went to church with her that night, and they have been going to church together ever since. I’m glad Mom knew Jesus was her ultimate authority.
Even with qualification, “in every thing” might sound “offensive to modern woman with her far-reaching freedom in society” (Taylor). Nevertheless, as believers, we must trust God, and obey Him. Much secular literature deals with the family. Some is good, some bad. Since marriage is not man-made, be wary of man-made suggestions regarding it. The best way to have fulfilled family members is for each to fill their role as God prescribes. God’s plan for the family, outlined in the Bible, is for the exaltation and fulfillment of every family member. To disregard and cast off one’s God-given role hurts the family and spites one’s own self. God’s ways are not burdensome.
A wife is free to fulfill any role outside the house, but at home must accept Biblical guidelines for a wife. This week I was asked if I thought it possible for a wife to exert authority in the business world and to switch into the submissive role at home. It has to be possible, for God Himself outlined the paradigm. He gave women equal dominion with man over the creation (GN 1:26-28), yet also ordained that within marriage wives are to be submissive to their husbands “in every thing.” Mary, wife of Prince William of Orange and heir-apparent to the English throne, was asked what role her husband would fill if she became Queen. She promised William he would always bear the rule in their home, and asked only that he obey the command, “Husbands, love your wives,” as she sought to obey “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands.”
Wives, Scripture commands you to focus on submission to your husband. You are his equal. He is not to coerce your submission. There is no legitimate means of enforcement. Your submission must be voluntary, and must be.
Eph. 5:25a “Husbands,. . .”
“Husband,” derived from the Old English “house-band,” denotes one who holds a household together. A husband keeps his family undivided. He holds it together, as a band keeps together a sheaf of wheat. A family should never be deprived of one who unites, but unfortunately many husbands do not act like “house-bands.” They often do not know how to be the glue which holds their family together. Thus, we turn to Holy Writ for help.
Eph. 5:25b “. . .love. . .”
The Biblical counterpart of “Wives, submit” is not “Husbands, command” or “Husbands, rule,” but “Husbands, love.” A wife’s main duty is to submit, a husband’s main duty is to love. This over-riding thought controls all else.
The true husband is a royal man who rules by benevolent influence–no sharpness, no severity. His love is so strong that he leads almost always by gentle persuasion, rarely by direct command.
Forcing the husband to focus always on love was Paul’s way of safeguarding husband-authority from abuse. Without this command, husbands would exploit their leadership role.
The term used here is “a·gap·a·te,” the word used of divine love. God is “a·gap·e” (1 J 4:8). No love is more demanding than this. Paul could have used “eros,” which refers to erotic love, sexual passion. If you have the kind of marriage God desires for you, physical attraction will be a vital part of it, but this is not the main thing. Paul could have used the beautiful word “phil·e·o.” Normally used for bonds of family affection, “phileo” referred to brotherly love, being very fond of a person. In strong marriages, Husband and Wife are good friends. They do like each other, but Paul chose to use “agapate,” which denotes a love that is totally unselfish, that refuses to seek its own satisfaction.
“Husbands, agapate,” love as God loves. These words were a radical, straightforward, bare-knuckled, no holds barred, attack on the custom of Paul’s day. Husbands provided for, and had children by, wives, but rarely loved them.
The same dangerous mind-set haunts marriages still. A subtle cultural stereotype is wreaking havoc in many marriages. We emphasize motherly love, and wifely love, but downplay husband-love as being not macho, not manly.
Men in America are losing softness and gentleness. Many husbands are miserable because they deny the way they are made. Bowing to cultural influences, they refuse to let their God-given inner love and softness surface, and choose to be artificial, plastic, cold, hard, macho men.
I know. It happened to me. Raised on the wrong side of the tracks, to survive I learned to be rough and tough, or at least to bluff people into thinking I was. My Grandma Hill says I was the cuddliest baby she ever held, yet I have had to spend years rediscovering that loving, tender side of my original nature. I had to go through personal and professional tragedy before my tough, business tycoon, CEO exterior began to peel off. In brokenness I started to find in me a long buried softness that had been yearning to come forth.
Many husbands share this dilemma. Culturally reinforced hardness on the outside is squelching God-given inner softness which yearns to express itself. Soft love dwells somewhere within every husband, for He who creates us commands us, “Husbands, love,” and what God commands, God provides.
Eph. 5:25c “. . .your wives,. . .”
Godly love for “your wives” is the way husbands submit to their wives (v. 21). The husband’s duty is to submit to his wife through his love for her. I reiterate, in response to wifely submission, Paul does not say, “Husbands, rule.” This they will seek to do without any encouraging. The exhortation “love your wives” seeks to keep things in balance. A husband’s love makes the wife’s submission more pleasant, as easy as possible, and prevents it from ever becoming degrading, as submission to a tyrant always is.
A husband’s submission to his wife produces a love which makes her his main focus. His affections should be drawn with fascination from all other objects, however dear, to focus on her. His purpose centers around yielding to her his entire essence and personality in self-giving. He delights to glance upon her not merely with the eye now and then, but rather engraves her image in his innermost being. He keeps a sanctuary in his heart from which thoughts of her are never removed. Under God, a wife is to be a husband’s obsession.
When Adam, who had suffered loneliness, first saw Eve, he immediately saw in her a perfect companion for himself, and exclaimed, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (GN 2:23). Thrilled and thankful, Adam saw no blemishes or shortcomings in her. No criticism, no selfishness, no self-will, no tyranny, no manipulation–instead, all-consuming love and fulfillment. That first, magical, husband/wife moment sets the standard for all time.
Husbands, “your wives” are to be, under God, your main affection. A husband should see his wife and say, “Here is my joy, my delight, my breath.”
“Rejoice with the wife of thy youth” (PR 5:18b). A wife is to enhance a husband’s happiness. Husbands look here and there, and travel near and far, for happiness, yet it resides, according to God’s design, within one’s own house.
“The woman is the glory of the man” (1 Cor. 11:7), his honor, ornament, and pride. She is not just another casual acquaintance, one among many–she is the crowning jewel of his life.
The heart of the husband “safely trusts in her” (PR 31:11). In his wife a man finds rest, refuge–yea, definition. He cannot envision his life without her. Kent Hughes tells of Winston Churchill, who attended a formal banquet where the dignitaries were asked, “If you could not be who you are, who would you like to be?” Churchill responded last. Everyone was anxiously awaiting his response. He said, “If I could not be who I am, I would most like to be”–here he paused and took his beloved Clemmie’s hand–“Lady Churchill’s second husband.” Therein lies the essence of a good marriage. Each resides so much in the other’s heart that self-existence is indefinable apart from the other.
God desires this type of marriage for every Christian couple, but it can happen only if both partners fulfill their marital roles according to God’s prescribed design. Each husband and each wife must, as Paul has done in these verses, emphasize their duties, not their rights.
Herein is the failure of hyper-feminism and male chauvinism. Both are self-centered and self-serving, demanding rights and concessions. God’s formula for a successful marriage highlights what husbands and wives put into it, not what they can get out of it. Someone has said, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.” True, but you can be sure of one thing. If you keep taking out chocolates without replenishing the supply, the box will go empty, and no candy will be left. For the nuptial “box of chocolates” to never go empty, both husband and wife must be putting in at least as much as each is taking out. Selfishness kills marriages, for it can never be satisfied. It drains a relationship until it is bled dry. Like a huge vortex, self always wants more, sucks away life, and exhausts everyone nearby.
Spouses must always be contributing to their “box of chocolates,” and the husband’s main contribution must always be love. Wives are scouring the box, looking for pieces of affection only husbands can put there. Love is critical to marital bliss. Where love is, things go well. Where love fails, all goes awry. Without love, even the simplest duties of matrimony are a stab at the heart.
Husbands, I challenge you to be the instigators of the “love cycle” in your home. The Greek word for submission carries the connotation of responding. Wives are to submit, to respond, to husbands. Men, our love is to take the initiative, thereby making the wife’s love a reflection of our own. In the beginning, Husband loved Wife first, not vice versa. Husband-love should still be the cause, woman-love the consequence. “Husbands, love your wives.”
Eph. 5:25d “. . .even as Christ also loved. . .”
About two weeks ago I reached a critical moment in these sermons on the family. In crisis and depressed, I decided it was a pipe-dream to think most people could have as wonderful a marriage as Ruth and I have. Having decided our marriage was extraordinary, I was about to give up on holding the marriage standard extremely high. I was ready to lessen the challenge.
While in this blue funk, my thoughts drifted to the passages which say wives are to submit to husbands as the Church does to Christ, and husbands are to love wives “even as Christ also loved the Church.” I realized my error was not in lifting standards too high, but in having the wrong model.
The Biblical challenge is to have marriages not like mine, but rather like Christ’s with His Church. This realization lifted everything to an infinitely higher dimension, and rebuked me as a husband. Instead of being satisfied, thinking I have “arrived” in my relationship with Ruth, it positioned me as a suppliant, as one who needs more, and who must continue to aspire to ever higher levels of accomplishment. I was also rebuked as a pastor, being reminded I am not free to determine acceptable levels of conduct and standards of behavior. I am to preach the Word, to deliver its challenge without concession.
Wives, do not submit as Ruth does, but as the Church does to Christ. Husbands, do not love as John does, but as Christ does the Church.
In much marriage counseling, a basic premise is “husbands, give a little; wives, give a little.” Each is encouraged to change a thing or two about one’s own self. The wife has a list of needs. The husband does, too. The world says, “Husband, look over your wife’s list. Wife, look over your husband’s list. Both of you, seek to do two or three things that the other person wants you to do.”
Change self a little, accommodate the spouse a little, try to meet each other in the middle, compromise. This is often the world’s approach to marital counseling, but is not the Biblical pattern for marriage.
Comparing Husband and Wife with Christ and Church casts a new light on everything. In light of what the Church does for Christ and what Christ does for the Church, both husband and wife must seek to completely fulfill each other’s desires. They must trade lists in toto. His list must become her “to do” list, and her desires must become his standard of conduct. The Biblical model is not to meet halfway, but rather with absolute, reckless abandon, to lay our lives at each other’s feet in total giving, total surrender, total love.
Eph. 5:25e “. . .the church,. . .”
What Christ provides “the Church,” a husband is to provide his wife–leadership and love. Scripture is flawless in every way, including as an accurate interpreter of human need. The Bible’s definitions for roles perfectly match the innermost desires of people. For example, studies reveal that women, when seeking a man, are first and foremost attracted to the trait of confidence. This complies with the Biblical description, “the husband is the head of the wife” (5:23). Once a romantic relationship is established with a man, the main thing a woman desires from him is affection. This complies exactly with the Biblical command, “Husbands, love your wives” (5:25).
The Bible is our best hope for accurately discerning our person-hood and the role we are to fill in life. Husbands, to understand themselves aright, must look to Scripture, and our text emphasizes loving wives as Christ loved “the Church.” Never has there been a greater challenge for love to emulate. No love could ever exceed Christ’s love for the Church. For Her, “thoughts of love nestled in His heart; words of love lingered on His lips; deeds of love flew from His arm; and His steps left behind them the impress of love” (Eadie, in BI).
Since husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved “the Church,” we must ask the question, how did Christ love His Church? In at least four ways.
First, Christ served “the Church.” Every husband must be willing, for his wife, to stoop as low as Christ did when He took the towel and washed the feet of disciples who were unworthy. Jesus was willing to accept any position, however lowly, for the happiness and well-being of His Church. In the home, petty disputes about supremacy, priority, and position are expressions of an unutterable insanity spawned by selfishness, and reveal absolute ignorance as to how to have a happy home. In contented families, the question most often being asked is not, “How can you serve me?” but rather, “How can I serve you?”
Second, Christ protected “the Church.” When Peter worried about taxes, Jesus sent him on a fishing expedition to get the money (MT 17:24-27). When Jesus saw the hungry masses, He fed them. Husbands, we must, as best we can, provide security for our family with regard to food, clothing, and shelter. Let’s protect our wives and children by relieving them of worry in this area.
When the disciples returned from their preaching trip, Jesus took them to a resting place where they could relax (MK 6:31). In the midst of a busy, exhausted society, we husbands must be sensitive to our wives’ need for rest. The old saying is still too often true, “Man works from sun to sun; woman’s work is never done.” Husband, look at your wife. Is she tired? Is life pulling her down? Do you need to take her away for a while? It is your responsibility to protect her by helping her rest, even as Jesus helped the disciples rest.
When a storm threatened to drown the disciples, Jesus stilled the storm (JN 6:18-21). When their lives were in danger, He delivered them at His own peril, saying, “If ye seek Me, let these go their way” (JN 18:8). Husbands, we must be the house-bands, the ones who hold things together, who provide stability by protecting from outside harm. Are pressures from work or school or others straining the family? If so, you must step in and protect your family.
Third, Christ satisfied “the Church.” I wish we could have seen the look in the healed leper’s eyes, and the adoration on Mary and Martha’s faces when Lazarus arose. However radiant their countenances were, I wish we husbands would elicit the same gleam from our wives due to the love we shower on them.
Christ served, protected, and satisfied the Church, but this was not enough to satisfy His loving heart. He performed a fourth kindness for Her.
Eph. 5:25f “. . .and gave himself for it;”
Spurgeon portrays Christ as speaking to His eternal spouse,
“Forget thee, I will not, I cannot; thy name
Engraved on my heart doth for ever remain;
The palms of my hands whilst I look on, I see
The wounds I received when suffering for thee.”
Jesus gave not merely tears, pain, and groans, but His whole self. He gave His Deity–remember, this was no ordinary person who gave Himself. He gave His humanity, a robe of existence He voluntarily donned. He gave all of His essence as a God-man. All that was in Him to suffer, He gave freely.
Had He given His crown, robe, and scepter, we would have built separate museums to house each one. Had He given up Heaven’s happiness for only a little while, and then quietly returned, that would have been amazing, but He did more. “He is stripped naked to his shame; he gives his last garment that he may cover the nakedness of man” (Spurgeon). In Heaven our robes will be white (RV 19:14) solely because His is blood-red (RV 19:13).
Jesus did not count the cost, nor consider the shame. He deemed the Church’s happiness and welfare as more important than His own. On the cross He could have at any moment called ten thousand angels, or willed the iron nails to release. Love for “the Church” bound Him and held Him to the cross.
The ultimate litmus test of true husbandhood lies in the two words, “gave himself.” Legend tells of Tiberius Gracchus, a Roman who found two snakes in his bed. Superstitiously fearing it to be a terrible omen, he consulted the soothsayers, who told him one of them must be killed. If he killed the male, he himself would die soon; if the female, the wife would die. His love to his wife, Cornelia, was so great, that he killed the male, and died quickly.
Cyrus once condemned a wife of one of his generals to death for treason. The husband, hearing the sentence of death against her, fell prostrate before the king and begged to die in her place. Cyrus was so touched that he said, “Such love must not be spoiled by death,” and let the wife go free. As the couple walked happily away from the king, the husband said, “Did you see how kindly the king looked upon us when he gave you a free pardon?” She replied, “I had no eyes for the king, I saw only the man who was willing to die for me.”
If two pagans of antiquity could love their wives this intensely, what must be expected today from husbands filled with the Holy Spirit? A Christian husband should be prepared to endure any loss, even his life if necessary, for his wife. Few, if any, of us will have to die physically for our wives, but we all must die to self for them. We must be willing to make any sacrifice for their happiness and well-being. The kind of love demanded of husbands is always costly. James Boice relates the legitimate plea of one wife, “Dear, I know you are willing to die for me; you have told me that many times, but while you are waiting to die, could you fill in some of the time helping me dry the dishes?”
One more illustration may help us make practical application of our text. I know a couple who have been married 54 years. The first 31 years were a nightmare, the last 23 a dream come true. The turnaround took place at the very time when their marriage had essentially ended. The nest was empty, years of warfare had destroyed their bond, they had not spoken calmly to each other in a long time. One day about noon, the husband, convicted about his responsibility before God to save his marriage, quietly slipped into the kitchen unnoticed and sat down at the table while the wife was doing dishes. He softly and gently said to her, “I will do anything to save our marriage.” She sat down and, as the afternoon went on, poured out years of hurt and frustration. He silently listened and, once she finished talking, agreed to do everything she had asked of him. He “gave himself” unconditionally to her. The result has not been loss for him, but unspeakable gain and bliss. Husbands, be a husband the Bible-way. It is our best and only hope of finding true fulfillment.