Wives - Ephesians 5:22-24
Message 3 in a series on Marriage
In our third study on the topic of marriage, we turn the page from looking at marriage as a whole, to the question of how to stay married. And, we start, where the New Testament starts, which is with wives. It’s important to get the Biblical understanding of submission, as it is not solely in the realm of marriage.
The other messages in this series are:
Marriage - Ephesians 5:22-24 “Wives”
Marriage - Ephesians 5:25-34 “Husbands”
Marriage - Hebrews 12:24 “Kept”
Here are my notes:
Marriage - Ephesians 5 “Wives”
Let’s turn in our Bibles and Bible apps to Ephesians 5, where we will read from verse 22 through 24.
Ephesians 5:22–24 (CSB): Wives, submit, to your husbands as to the Lord, 23 because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.
This is the third study in a series on Marriage. As we have pointed out each time, when we study marriage in the Bible, we aren’t only talking about marriage. Just like we read, marriage is a primary metaphor to describe the relationship between Jesus and the church. And, so, all of us, whether married, or unmarried here today, have an opportunity to learn about Jesus and the nature of our relationship with Him.
If you’ve missed the first two studies, let me encourage you to find them on the church website on the “listen” page. I think we have the podcast feed fixed, and I’m told that we should have it on Google Play and iTunes shortly.
This series on marriage is based on the content that we go through in Pre-Marital Counseling. And, those first two studies are eye-opening. The heart behind them is to try and talk people out of getting married!
But, today, we turn the page, and we turn our attention to staying married. How should Christians, who are married, behave themselves in marriage. And, we will start where Paul starts and that’s with wives.
A couple of months ago, I attended a lunch-n-learn that Christian Horizons was hosting for pastors with special needs kids. They had a panel, and it was good to hear from other local pastors who have special needs kids. Ron Rudd from the Met was there. Don Hutchison was there, but it was something that Bob Davies from Kanata Baptist shared that really made me think.
He quoted the work of Geert Hofstede, the social psychologist, who measured the unequal distribution of power in relationships. What’s interesting, is that he measured it by observing not the people in power, but the followers. He said that it’s actually the “followers” the ones not in power, that have power, because they give power to the ones in power. When you walk into a room, and you see an attractive person, well dressed, carrying themselves upright and proper, people will often attribute power to that person. They will give that person power. They will assume that they are unequal.
I think this is why anytime the New Testament speaks of marriage, or family or work or government relationships, it always speaks to the person under authority first, rather than the person in authority. Because the power actually rests with the person under authority.
And, Paul here writes:
Most of us here today, are genuinely interested in making choices in life that will please God. Jesus has touched our hearts and lives, and we want to live for him. And, so, for many of us, when we read this, we are genuinely interested in doing this, and want to do it well, because we love the Lord. So, what does it mean, what does it look like to submit?
There may be someone here, or a lot of people here, that hear Paul’s words and they make you angry and frustrated and you think that we are all stupid for listening to anything that this book says about women. If that’s you, can I just encourage you to wait to make any judgments until you hear the whole thing. Your definition of the word submit might not be the same as Paul’s. It might not be the same as what the Bible describes submission to be. And, so, please, let the whole idea be explained, and then you can make a judgment about its merits. And, if you’re willing to talk to me, I’ll listen to you for 40 minutes too.
The first thing about submission that you have to see is in the sentence before. Look with me at verse 15. In this letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul is now applying all these great truths he’s elaborated on in the beginning of the letter about being “in Christ,” and says to everyone:
Ephesians 5:15–21 (CSB): 15 Pay careful attention, then, to how you live—not as unwise people but as wise—16 making the most of the time,, because the days are evil. 17 So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit: 19 speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.
So, that’s everyone. Everyone should submit to one another. That’s all Christians. We are to have a submissive posture towards each other.
This of course, comes from Jesus directly. Remember, back in:
Matthew 20:25–28 (CSB): Jesus called them (the disciples) over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. 26 It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
So, let’s understand this first of all. Submission isn’t something that is solely, and only for wives. This is something for all Christians with each other.
So, this is what happens next. Paul now takes this idea of submission and shows what it is to look like in marriage, starting with wives. And, then he moves to the family, starting with children, then he moves to work, and starts with slaves. In other places in the New Testament, he will also talk about the government and starts with the citizens.
Again, this is probably because Geert Hofstede is right, the power actually rests in the ones under authority.
Here’s the point. Wives aren’t the only ones that are called to submit. Everyone is called to submit. So, the question is what does biblical submission look like? Because that’s for everyone. And, then why are Christian wives called to submit to their husbands specifically? And, then, the biggest question and concern out there. What about a bad husband?
Our text addresses the middle question first. Why are Christian wives called to submit specifically to their husbands? Paul begins in verse 23 with the word...
23 because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. (See, we aren’t necessarily talking about marriage, we are talking about Jesus) He is the Savior of the body.
This is why wives are called to submit to their husbands. It’s because of the model of Christ and the church. Christ is masculine. The church is feminine. We are the bride of Christ. The beloved. Keep your finger here in Ephesians, go with me to 1 Corinthians 11, where we will look at verse 3. We may need to see this in an even bigger picture.
Paul is writing here too, and says:
1 Corinthians 11:3 (CSB): But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ.
Here’s the things to notice. Everyone is submitted to someone, and ultimately to God. These principles of submission apply to everyone, including Christ. So a person can understand submission by the way that Christ calls the church to submission to himself. And, it’s true also of Christ. He’s the ultimate model of submission to the Father.
And, so as the church is the physical representation of Christ. We are his body, we are the manifestation, the hands and feet, presence, voice of the risen and ascended Christ. So, in the same way, a wife is that physical representation, the body of the husband. You can see who the husband is by seeing and hearing his wife.
Go back to Ephesians, look at verse 24. Paul writes:
24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.
That word “as” is an invitation. It means that as you meditate on the relationship of Christ and the church through the metaphor of head and body, you’ll see better the place of headship and submission in marriage. Here’s what I mean.
My body is 46 years old. And my body communicates to my head nonstop. The other day, I was trying to read a phone number off the back of my credit card. My body communicated. “I can’t see that.” My head responded. “Try again.” My body responded. “Nope.” My head responded. “Try again, this time in more light, and squint!” My body responded. “I can’t see it.” My head responded. “Go get the phone, open the camera app and zoom!” My body responded. “I see it!”
I was driving two days ago. The side of my knee just brushed against the side of the car door. My body communicated. “Ouch.” My head responded. “What? That’s not supposed to hurt. What’s going on there? Use your hand to go check things out.” My body responded. “Yow! That really hurts! Stop touching me there! I’m injured there.” My head responded. “I guess that hasn’t healed yet. I’ll have to remember to do some stretching later.”
I could go on and on. Friday night was Chicago Mix. That was a lively conversation. My body saying… “I love this! Give me more!” My head, “Help! Someone help! I’m powerless over Chicago Mix!”
Here’s the point. Submission has embedded in it… Communication. The Head can’t do its job if the body doesn’t communicate. And, of course, Jesus was a beautiful example of that communication with the Father. All the pleasure, all the pain, all communicated in prayer. Studying the prayer life of Jesus is a fascinating endeavour for that person, man or woman who wants to be submissive like Jesus.
So… as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.
Be that accurate representation. You see the order, everyone is submitted to someone. And, submission requires communication and commitment to accurately represent the Head.
It’s the Head that decides, and it’s the Head that is held responsible for the decisions.
And, now we get to the problem. It’s all well and good when we are talking about Jesus. Jesus is the Head… no problem. He’s good! He’s perfect! Sinless. He’s going to do right by us. But, this guy? This boss? This government official? This corrupt authority? What about a bad husband?
Leave Ephesians, go with me to 1 Peter, we will begin in chapter 3.
1 Peter 3:1–6 (CSB): In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands (stop there for a second.)
Notice how the sentence started. “In the same way.” In the same way as what? Go back, up into chapter 2. Look at the preceding paragraph. In the Bible I’m reading, the Christian Standard Bible, that’s verse 18. Peter writes:
18 Household slaves, submit to your masters with all reverence…
Household slaves? Women are like household slaves? Wait! Back up. Household slaves is another application. The principle is earlier. Look at verse 13.
13 Submit to every human authority because of the Lord...
Let me encourage you to back up one step further, go back to verse 11. Peter is writing to the church that is disbursed all over the Roman world. Many of the scholars believe that Peter is writing this because persecution against Christians has broken out all over, and the news that the Apostle Paul has been beheaded, martyred for his faith. This is a wicked, corrupt, evil, hostile authority. Peter writes, starting in verse 11.
1 Peter 2:11–25 (CSB): Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul. 12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits.
13 Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority 14 or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. 15 For it is God’s will (I have that underlined) that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 Submit (there’s our word, notice it) Submit as free people (you don’t have to, you’re like Jesus, you’re free, but willingly submitting, for a greater purpose) Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (that’s the same one that is ordering persecution against Christians.)
SUBMISSION OF SLAVES TO MASTERS
18 Household slaves, submit to your masters with all reverence not only to the good and gentle ones but also to the cruel. 19 For it brings favor (if you’re following along in the ESV, you’ll see the word “gracious” because the Greek word there is “charis” which is almost always translated “grace” Peter says, it brings favor, grace, which is God’s power) For it brings favor if, because of a consciousness of God, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if when you do wrong and are beaten, you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor (same word, a gracious thing) with God.
21 For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (listen, he submitted to the authority, the chief priests, the Pilate, the Roman Prelate. He was free, but submitted himself, and suffered, we are following Jesus. We are Jesus-followers) 22 He did not commit sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth;, 23 when he was insulted, he did not insult in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten (no ultimatums) but entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. (God sees. God knows, God will make things right. And, listen, He does. In a minute, Peter will give an example of a husband who makes a bad decision, and God judged.) 24 He himself (that’s Jesus) bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds, you have been healed. (his willing submission to unjust suffering, physically and emotionally and psychologically suffering for doing what’s right, allowed us to be healed) 25 For you were like sheep going astray,, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.(all the power truly does rest in the ones under authority)
1 Peter 3:1–6 (CSB): In the same way, (in the same way as slaves? No! In the same way as Jesus!) wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word by the way their wives live 2 when they observe your pure, reverent lives. 3 Don’t let your beauty consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and wearing gold jewelry or fine clothes, 4 but rather what is inside the heart,—the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (who are you living for? A man, all men? Or Jesus? I had a barber one time tell me that in his experience, everyone, both men and women, dress for the approval of men. Peter says… the beauty of the heart is of great worth in God’s sight) 5 For in the past, the holy women who put their hope in God also adorned themselves in this way, submitting to their own husbands, 6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, (that’s the example, Sarah obeying, and no doubt he’s referring to when Abraham asked her to tell everyone she was his sister, a half-truth, she was his half-sister, but she was also his wife, and it ended up causing her to suffer. Not once, but twice, she was put in a king’s harem, and both times, because of her submission, the Lord judged Abraham, humiliating him and honoring Sarah) just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. You have become her children when you do what is good and do not fear any intimidation.
Submission is ultimately to God. Everyone has to submit to someone. It requires communication. It requires a commitment to accurately represent the Head. It requires a willingness to suffer unjustly. It requires faith that God is the just judge.
What if the authority wants you to do something sinful. Daniel is a good example of what to do. You see, submission isn’t actions. It’s an attitude. Daniel was required by the authority to eat food that as a Jew, he wasn’t permitted to eat. They were asking him to sin. Daniel didn’t tell them off. No, Daniel tried to understand what they were attempting to accomplish, and thought of a way to accomplish it without sinning, and then made a winsome appeal. Let us do a trial. We will eat bread and vegetables and water, and then test us to see if we can accomplish those goals. And, they agreed.
Later on, you’ll remember, the Babylonians ordered that everyone bow down and worship the statue of Nebuchadnezzar. As you read that account. You’ll remember, there was no alternative. There was no room for an appeal. But, go back and read it. They demonstrate a submissive spirit even though they had to dissent. And, the Lord was a just judge. They survived the fiery furnace.
Someone has asked, should a spouse endure abuse as unjust suffering? Not in Ontario. Not in Canada. We have laws. She has rights. And, to cover for that abuse by not reporting it, is actually against the law. It has to be reported. And, yes, that may mean facing the fiery furnace of being a single parent, navigating the fallout of someone’s sin. But, the Lord is a just judge, and by being submitted to the higher authority, which is the government, there’s a chance given for that abusive spouse to be set free.
One more example from Daniel. You remember the lions den. Daniel was condemned to the lions den because he prayed three times a day. Again, his speech all through that was submissive in attitude and heart, even though he couldn’t obey the law without sinning. Again, the Lord was a just judge in that situation. His submission opened the door for charis, God’s power.
Would you let me point out one more thing from Daniel and the lions den. He prayed three times a day. No one is more free than the man or woman who spends time with the Lord. No human can control them. And, they become a mystery to everyone around them. Mystery is powerful in relationships. It sets up that dynamic of submitting as a free person.
Last example. There’s many. But, this one shouts off the page. Esther. The book opens with an unsubmissive wife. She refuses the kings orders. His order was inappropriate. But, she came across in her response as rebellious instead of submissive. She was banished. Esther became queen. And, remember, it was Esther, employing all the tools of a woman, prayer, faith, beauty, charm, mystery, patience, soft speech, invitation, allure, a beautiful example of submission, and she turned the heart of the king, and opened the door for grace.