Build Strong Marriages
Sunday School Lesson for May 12, 2002
In this section, Paul continues to present the picture of the radical transformation of the sinner by the grace of God. Here the focus is upon the implications of Christianity for the home, the basic and essential unit of society. As we will discover, Christ’s Lordship is to be expressed in specific and unique ways within the home.
The Responsibility of the Wife (5:22-24)
According to Paul, wives have the specific God-given responsibility of being in submission to their own "husbands." The word translated "submit" means literally to rank oneself under another person. It indicates an attitude of humility and a willingness to follow the leadership of others that manifests itself in outward actions. This word, in its particular form here, strongly suggests that the wife’s submission "is not something forced upon her by a demanding husband; it is the deference that a loving wife, conscious that home must have a head, gladly shows to a worthy and devoted husband" (Vaughn, 116). Therefore, in this passage it essentially indicates that the wife is to joyfully and obediently follow the leadership of her husband whose God-given role is that of headship over the family (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3-12; 1 Tim. 2:11-13).
The qualifying phrase "as to the Lord" (v. 22) tells us that she is to willingly subject herself to her husband in the same way that she would subject herself to Christ. F. F. Bruce comments that this means the "Christian wives’ submission to their husbands is one aspect of their obedience to the Lord" (384). This would include:
- Manifesting an attitude of love and grace toward her husband.
Assuming the posture of complete trust in and support of her husband’s leadership.
- Displaying a heart of commitment and dedication to her marriage and family.
Furthermore, Paul indicates that she should recognize and respect her husband’s divinely mandated role as leader of the family (v. 23). In this verse Paul states that the husband is the "head of the wife" in the same way that Christ is the "head of the church." This presents several points of major significance:
- The husband-wife relationship follows the pattern of Christ’s relationship to the church, His bride.
- The headship of the husband provides stability, authority, protection, provision, and leadership for the family unit.
- The scope of the wife’s subjection is comprehensive and extends to "everything" pertaining to their marriage and family relationship (v.24).
It is important to note what this passage does not teach:
- That the wife is of lesser worth or value than the husband. The distinction between the husband and the wife is set forth in terms of role, not value.
- That a woman is under the headship of all men. The emphasis here is clearly upon the wife’s relationship to her own "husband," not to every male in society.
- That the husband is more important than Christ. While the husband stands in the role as head of the family, he too is the bond slave of Christ and is to live and conduct himself as such. It should be noted here that a wife is under no obligation to follow the leadership of her husband if he directs her to do things that violate God’s will. As John Stott observes, to "submit in such circumstances would be to disobey God. The principle is clear: [the wife] must submit right up to the point where obedience to human authority would involve disobedience to God" (219).
Take careful note of what is set forth in this passage:
- The marriage relationship is the most beautiful picture of the spiritual relationship between Christ and His church and is, therefore, a sacred and holy institution. Note how Paul expresses this fact in verse 32—"but I am talking about Christ and his church."
- The wife’s role of submission is the most important thing a woman can do. While such an assertion is indeed controversial to modern ears, it is nevertheless true that the role of wife is a holy and high calling before God.
- A woman’s subjection is for her own welfare and well-being. Since this is God’s expressed will for her, it follows that her joy and fulfillment will naturally come in obedience to the divine design.
The role of the woman, then, is to manifest the type of submission to her husband that "will resemble the church’s" (Stott, 226). As John Stott helpfully adds, there is "nothing demeaning about this, for her submission is not to be unthinking obedience to his rule but rather a grateful acceptance of his care [italics added]" (226).
The Responsibility of the Husband (5: 25-29)
The husband’s responsibility is centered on the word "love" (v. 25). This word is the verb form of agape that indicates love in its highest form. Note the features of this love:
It is constant (the verb "love" is present tense) and is not subject to changing times, seasons, conditions, or circumstances.
- It is totally unselfish being patterned after Christ’s self-emptying live for sinners.
- It is commanded (the verb is also an imperative) and is the declared will of God for the man.
This radical and even mysterious love of the husband for his wife, in terms of its magnitude, duration, and intensity, is to be patterned after Christ’s love for the church. Note the phrase "as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her." This indicates:
- A self-sacrificing love (v.25), which finds its ultimate expression upon the cross—"and gave himself up for her." Thus, the husband must love his wife enough to die for her, even literally if necessary.
- An up building love (v. 27), having the wife’s best interest in mind with particular attention given to her spiritual needs and Christian development—"to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word." The husband should display his love for his wife by constantly building her up and encouraging her in her walk with Christ. In one very real sense, the husband, as designated "head" of the family, is personally responsible for the spiritual well-being of his wife and children.
- A reconciling love (v. 27), patterned after Christ’s initiation of our salvation—"to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish." The husband’s love for his bride should be characterized by grace, patience, forgiveness, and a readiness to be reconciled when fractures in their relationship occur.
- An affectionate love (v. 29), which "feeds" (to bring to maturity) and "cares for" her (to keep warm). Again, this feature is perfectly displayed in Christ’s love for His bride—"just as he does the church." Note the interesting way that Paul illustrates his point—"After all, no one ever hated his own body." Husbandly love, then, should be passionate, tender, fulfilling, practical, and attentive at all times.
Husbands, then, are called to the solemn task of providing the family with a living example of authentic love. It should be apparent that the wife’s submission is made much easier in an environment of this type of Christ-like love. With Stott, we agree that at those times when the husband’s "headship mirrors the headship of Christ, then the wife’s submission to the protection and provision of his love, far from detracting from her womanhood, will positively enrich it" (226).