Being Married

Explore the Bible Series

November 14, 2010


Lesson Passage: Ephesians 5:22-33




At the outset, let me acknowledge the difficulty of this lesson for me.  The difficulty does not arise from the text; rather, my uneasiness relates to an interpretation of the passage that remains quite common among evangelicals, and interpretation that may not accurately reflect the apostle’s thought.  Let me explain.


Kathy and I married at a very young age, and, during the formative years of our marriage, a family in our church volunteered to pay my way to a Bible conference scheduled for our area.  The well-known conference leader travelled the country holding seminars that primarily addressed issues of Christian conduct, especially as related to marital relations and child-rearing.  After attending the meeting, my youthful enthusiasm accepted the teachings uncritically. 


Frankly, careful study this passage in Ephesians had little influence on my acceptance of these views; instead, superficial perusal of the material seemed to reinforce these new-found convictions.  The apparent demands for marital submission appealed, no doubt, to my manhood, and, for years, I simply assumed that women who struggled with these verses just weren’t willing to obey God (In the interest of fairness, some men expressed reservations about the “conservative” interpretation of the passage, but it proved easy to criticize these men for failing to be the “man in their own family”). For many years I preached the views imbibed at the Bible conference, and I did so without much concern for the effects of my preaching, especially on the women who heard my messages.  However, God has a way of correcting his children, sometimes in ways that drive home difficult lessons.  This Sunday School outline, therefore, comes from the hand of a chastened man.


For many years, I found myself submerged in a subculture that evidenced the same kind of teaching I had encountered, many years before, in the Bible seminar-- but something wasn’t right!  My uneasiness, more and more, drove me to re-examine the Bible. And, greater study convinced me of the imbalance and danger of the views I had embraced.  Strangely, preaching through the Sermon on the Mount (some years ago) changed my life, a change that profoundly influences my current views on modern expressions of Christianity. Please know I mean no offence in expressing these views; rather, I hope these reflections will foster, in all of us, greater humility and love (Please read Matthew 5:3-10—really read Jesus’ words).


Lesson Outline:

The Controlling Interpretive Statement of this Paragraph (5:21): This verse serves as the sinew that connects two paragraphs. The admonition to mutual submission, therefore, concludes the lesson material from last week (5:15-21) and the paragraph we consider this week (5:22-32).  Paul’s term (upotassomenoi), translated “submitting” in the New King James Version, denotes deference, compliance, or submission.  The word came from Roman military background and referred to the order and discipline of army life. Note, however, that the text imposes this directive on all Christians, not just wives.  Also, it won’t do to retreat into the view that men are submissive to God, but not to their relationships with their wives.  Ephesians 5:21 will not allow that artifice because the verse uses a reflexsive pronoun, “be submissive to one another.”  This submission occurs in the context of the fear of the Lord.


The rest of the paragraph outlines how this mutual submission should work in a Christian family.


The Wife’s Duty to her Husband (5:22-24): Paul began his treatment of this important topic with the duty of a Christian wife.  She must defer, in gracious humility, to her husband as a token of her recognition of the lordship of Christ.  The passage does not require the submission of all women to all men; rather, each wife must defer to her own husband; nor does the verse demand that the husband’s leadership rival the lordship of Christ.   Christ’s headship to the church connotes vital union and meaningful leadership.  The husband must foster this submission by loving his wife sacrificially, as the Lord Jesus loves the church.  This deference must apply to every aspect of the marriage (“in everything”).


The Husband’s Duty to his Wife (5:25-33): Husbands demonstrate their submission to their wives through profound love, a self-giving, sacrificial love.  Paul made three claims about this love.

  1. Each man must treat his spouse in a manner that will promote her holiness and purity (vv. 25-27): The Lord’s relationship to the church serves a model for spousal love. Baptism symbolizes the cleansing power of Christ, and, as the words spoken at a person’s baptism solemnize the rite, so a husband’s treatment of his wife must set her apart as his sacred, holy partner in life.  Verse 27 reflects the wedding practices of the First Century.  An essential element of the wedding ceremony centered on the public presentation of the bride and groom, a presentation that symbolized their holy union.  Again, this marvelous redemptive image mirrors the spousal relationship. 
  2. Each husband must love his wife as he loves his own body (vv. 28-30): All normal human beings nurture and nourish their own bodies; so, the husband must extend this self-preservation to the nurturing of his wife.  She has, in God’s eyes, become like her husband’s flesh and blood; thus, he must care for her as he cares for himself.
  3. Each husband must regard his marriage as the most important relationship in life (vv. 31-33): The marriage covenant transcends the previous relationship a man shred with his parents.  His wife becomes the lynchpin and axis of his life.  It seems noteworthy that Paul singled out the man’s relationship with his parents.  Perhaps he implied that men may tend to hold too dear the parental bond, and, if so, they must learn to give priority to the marriage relationship.  Again, this admonition mirrors Christ’s relationship with the church. 


Conclusion: The Bible is clear about the sanctity of marriage and the sinfulness of divorce-- But why?  Malachi 2:13-17 says that God hates divorce, a hatred that stems from the connection between marriage and God’s relationship with his people.  The Old Testament often compares Israel’s unfaithfulness marital infidelity, and Paul seemed to have this in mind as he wrote Ephesians.  In a sense, Christian marriage has an evangelistic and redemptive purpose.  The marital bond “preaches” the gospel to the world.