Online Bible Commentary
Submission in Marriage
Ephesians 5: 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God. 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (NKJV)
It is critical to the understanding of this passage that it be put in the proper context. Previously in this chapter we learned how each of us should not be controlled by anything but the Holy Spirit. We do this by emptying ourselves of self and allowing the Holy Spirit to fill (control) us. In other words, all selfishness must have left our bodies. We are no longer living to please ourselves but to please the Lord.
Now, once we are in this state we are free to submit to the Lord whatever He asks. The first thing He asks of every Christian is for each of us to submit to every other Christian (v.21). So this is a message to both husband and wife. Both are to submit to their brothers and sisters in Christ, and to each other.
Next the Lord addresses wives. He says that wives should not only submit to their brothers and sisters in Christ, but also should submit to their husbands just as they should submit to the Lord and just as the church submits to the Lord (v.22-24). Again, this does not work if she is being controlled by self. She must have relinquished control to the Holy Spirit. She is now living to please the Lord, not herself. Even if her husband is not a Christian, she should submit to the Lord’s instructions to submit to her husband’s leadership. However, if her husband asks her to do something that is not Biblical, not pleasing to the Lord, she should refuse because her first allegiance is to the Lord.
This is the way the Lord has chosen to maintain order, to make final decisions, in the family. Just as the Lord is submissive to the Father (1 Cor. 11:3), He asks the wife to be submissive to her husband. Neither is inferior to the other. Christ and the Father are equal in the Godhead and wife and husband are equal in the family.
Next, the Lord turns to the husband. The Lord says that husbands must love their wives as Christ loved the church. Christ gave up his life for the church and the husband must be ready and willing to do the same (v.25-27).
The Lord calls the husband to love his wife as his own body (v.28-30), because they are united, one flesh (v.31). Just as the husband feeds, protects, and cares for the needs of his own body, he should also do the same for his wife.
This only happens if the husband has emptied himself of self and allowed the Holy Spirit to fill (control) him. The husband must be living to please the Lord and not himself. Again, if he is leading on an unbiblical track the wife’s first allegiance is to obey the Lord.
Finally, the Lord concludes this teaching with the commandment that the wife must respect her husband (v.33). Our creator knows that a wife’s respect for her husband is a great motivator. It can make him, or the lack of respect can destroy him. Respect for her husband is not something that the husband must justify or “earn”. It is commanded by the Lord, and is necessary for a loving relationship.