God’s grace comes, not just as a ticket to heaven, but as a way to make all things new. That certainly includes forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and a righteous standing before God, who has become our heavenly Father. But God’s grace also changes our personal relationships, and Paul details three of those relationships toward the end of his letter to the Ephesians: marriage, parent and child, and bond-servant and master. Today, we’ll examine how God’s grace changes our marriage.
“Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”–5:21-24
You may have wondered why verse 21 wasn’t included in the previous two posts, as part of the section usually titled “Walk in Love.” This is one of those times where dividing what is meant to be read as a letter into sections hurts. Verse 21 precedes the subsequent section by bringing the reader’s mind to the topic of submission.
As a church, we submit to others. We won’t fully understand or appreciate God’s commands regarding submission in marriage, to our parents or to authorities until we understand the truth that as believers, we submit in humility to everyone, out of reverence for Christ, who submitted Himself to the point of death on a cross.
The million-dollar question that’s always asked when these passages are discussed is: What is “submission?” What does that mean; what does that look like in my life?
To submit means recognizing that I am not my own. If we belong to Christ, we belong to the body, which means my life is not simply lived for own sake, but for the sake of others. I have a role to play, and it does not revolve around me, but around the Lord and other people.
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” Mark 10:45 says. We follow our Savior’s lead, realizing that we work for others, not the other way around.
That character trait must be understood before it is applied to specific situations. So what does it look like in marriage?
For the wife, it means loving submission to her husband. This is not a simple acquiescence to whatever her husband asks, but an attitude of love, trust and respect that seeks to help her husband lead the family. As a believing woman, she submits to God’s will for her life, and, in doing so, submits to her husband and his leadership. Wives submit to their husband because they submit to the Lord.
Does that mean, as some unfortunately take it to mean, that “a woman’s place is in the home?” Or that women ought not speak in the presence of men? Or that a woman should never speak her mind? By no means! Paul is not advocating that women silently go along with their husband down ungodly paths, or that women never contribute to the home or to society as a whole. As the son of a hard-working woman, who worked tirelessly to raise me by herself while working a demanding, full-time job, I’m proud of women who get up early and stay up late to help lead their families. The subject of whether or not a woman should stay at home isn’t discussed anywhere in this passage, and as such, isn’t really up for debate from this text. A woman’s submission to her husband should exist regardless of what job she holds or who brings in more money, just as a husband’s love should exist regardless of those conditions as well. Submission doesn’t mean silence. Submission means respect; submission means trust and, for the wife, submission means respecting her husband’s authority while seeking to humbly offer wisdom and input into important family decisions.
Now, for the husband:
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”–5:25-33
Notice how much more Paul says to men here. The role of a husband is not to dominate the marriage and rule with an iron fist, but, like Christ, to sacrificially love, serve and lead his wife and children.
Submission, for the husband, means considering his wife’s needs before his own. Ungodly husbands do this, so how much more so should godly men? Sacrificial love, for Christ, meant bearing a cross to take away our sin. Sacrificial love, for husbands, means seeing your wife’s needs and meeting them. Sacrificial love means we’re more concerned with how our family is doing than we are with the score of the ball game. Sacrificial love means coming home, and instead of expecting our wives to take care of everything, actively seeking ways to love our wives and make them more like Jesus.
Marriage, according to Paul, should be a lifelong growth in holiness. As great as it is to experience life together, the goal of marriage, as is the goal of everything else in the Christian’s life, is to glorify God by becoming more like Christ and fulfilling God’s will for our lives.
I know I struggle with making everything in my life about me. It’s very subtle, because it plays out in how I spend my time, how much time I spend talking to others, and what I expect out of other people. I can be extraordinarily selfish. And if that doesn’t get killed by God’s grace, it will ruin my marriage. So, by God’s grace, I seek to kill that so that I can love my wife in a Christlike way that will honor God and sanctify us.
If I expect my wife to submit to me, I ought to be a man worthy of that trust and submission. See the beautiful picture Paul describes: A man loves his wife more than he loves himself. He sacrifices daily to meet her needs and lead her closer to Christ. The wife lovingly trusts her husband and allows him to lead her and seeks to help him fulfill God’s plan for their lives. This is a wonderful picture of the gospel.
Christ lovingly humbles Himself, serves us, meets our need of forgiveness and salvation, and now calls us to humbly and lovingly submit to Him, listening to Him, following His lead as we live lives that glorify Him. Marriage is a picture of the gospel. Believe the gospel, let it sink into the depths of your heart, and let your marriage be changed by it.
Lord, may we seek to honor you in our marriages. May we be godly husbands who lead our wives, and may we be godly wives who submit to our husbands. May we glorify you in all things, and may we let the gospel and your grace change everything about us and our lives.