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 A meditation on Ephesians 5:22-33


In Ephesians 5:22-33 Paul, in describing how the principle of submission applies to Christian husbands and wives, speaks of Christ’s headship over and sacrificial love for the church. He tells us:

That Christ is head of the church.

That Christ is the Saviour of the church.

That the church submits to Christ.

That Christ loved the church.

That Christ gave himself up for the church.

That the result of this self-sacrificing love of Christ is that the church is made holy, cleansed, and presented to Christ as radiant, without stain, wrinkle or blemish.

That Christ feeds and cares for the church.

That the church is the body of Christ.

All of this demonstrates the mutual self-denial that is commanded of Christian husbands and wives. 

Here the wife, out of reverence for Christ, jettisons her personal ‘rights’ in submission to the leadership role God has ordained for the husband; here the husband, out of reverence for Christ, jettisons his personal ‘rights’ in loving his wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. The degree to which each one is able to submit to the other in this way will be paralleled by a reduction of the difficulty the other finds in practising the principle of submission within marriage. Each, in fulfilling their God-ordained roles in marriage, puts him/herself in second place and the other in first place. 

We must be careful to use this passage in keeping with its original context, as an expression of the Redemption Factor, not as an expression of the Sin Factor. It is meant to help us to ‘live a life worthy of our calling’ [Eph 4:1], to ‘no longer live like the Gentiles’ [4:17], to ‘live a life of love’ [5:2], to ‘live as children of light’ [5:8], and to live under the control of the Spirit of God [5:18] – all expressions of the Redemption we have in Christ.  

This passage is not about domination and subjection:

It is not telling the husband he must demand submission from his wife.

It is not telling the wife she must demand sacrificial, Christ-like love from her husband.

It is not authorising the husband to verbally, emotionally or physically abuse his wife.

It is not telling the wife she has to put up with such abuse from her husband.

It is not defining the husband as superior and the wife as inferior.

Rather it is about love and freedom: that the wife so loves her husband that she by deliberate choice gives him the freedom to be the head of the family, including her; and that the husband so loves his wife that he does his utmost to make sure she is free from all that would fret, harm or destroy her.  

Mutual, but different, love. Mutual, but different, submission to the other. As Christ and his church, so the believing husband and his wife.

 Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2006, 2011.